BT starts Wi-Fi revolution in British homes

By introducing short-radius wireless broadband internet into flats and houses, BT intends to make music and video web content conveniently available anywhere in the home without cables on devices ranging from laptop computers to TVs and hi-fi systems.

A new partnership deal with Toshiba will mark the first step in BT’s plan to make Britain Europe’s leader in the 21st-century technology of the fully-networked wireless home. BT customers will be able to turn their homes into “wi-fi hotspots” of the kind currently used to give business travellers access to e-mail and corporate data while waiting in the executive lounge of an airport.

Until now, broadband access in the home has generally only been available via a strange-looking clunky modem running a cable attachment to a PC.

BT will initially offer home customers wireless broadband access across the airwaves via a range of Toshiba laptops. The latest wi-fi Centrino version, with a five-hour battery life, is priced at UKpound 999 — UKpound 100 less than the usual retail price. Delivery and connection charges for BT’s wi-fi base station, a small box that will sit quietly by the phone connection outlet, will add another UKpound 194 to the price.

The cost of the laptop can be paid monthly and, if endorsed by an employer, can qualify the user for an additional 32 percent-40 percent reduction in the form of a tax write-off depending on the individual’s rate of income tax. Currently, unlimited broadband internet access is available from BT at roughly UKpound 28 per month in most areas of the UK.

BT is determined to take the mystique out of wi-fi and will send an engineer to install the kit and make sure it is working flawlessly before leaving the premises. But being able to surf the net via a high-speed wireless connection from a hammock in the garden is only the start of a much bigger wireless revolution.

BT’s board has a vision of “a wireless connected world”, networking home entertainment products such as the TV and hi-fi, allowing families wireless access to music and film content from the internet from a growing range of devices.

BT and Sony acknowledge they are in talks about the best way to deploy broadband internet across all these devices. Last week, Sony unveiled its first wi-fi-enabled TV set. Pierre Danon, the chief executive of BT Retail, told The Business that the BT board has set itself a September deadline to finalise its strategy for offering customers a range of wi-fi- enabled home electronic products and has already drawn up a final shortlist of manufacturers as potential partners.

In the US, wi-fi is already widely deployed in homes as well as in public places such as coffee shops, bookstores and truck stops. But, until this week, Europe has lagged behind as a result of traditionally high internet call charges and low PC penetration in countries like Italy.

Although Apple offers users a self-install wi-fi base station for early adopters, BT’s initiative is the first to deploy the technology to the mass consumer market.

If BT’s wi-fi initiative is successful, it is likely to be copied across Europe, boosting IT software and hardware sales. IT and electronic manufacturers are already starting to design new products aimed at the kind of connected world envisaged by BT.

According to Toshiba, the home electronics market will now see rapid convergence between the home computing and home entertainment markets, with a handheld remote control managing content across the PC, the TV and the hi-fi.

Source: Sunday Business, London

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