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Easynet takes on BT in wholesale broadband

Upstart looks to grab a share of business from ISPs, system integrators and carriers.

Easynet Group has launched the first challenge to BT in wholesale broadband with its 8-megabits-per-second LLUStream service.

The new service is aimed at carriers, Internet service providers and system integrators, and the company is already in talks with a clutch of ISPs.

"You can take it for granted that we wouldn't announce this if we didn't have customers ready," said Easynet CEO David Rowe. He did not say how many customers were lined up or name them, but he did compare the service to BT's standard product, IPStream.

"This does appeal to high-volume ISPs and to specialized business ISPs who are concerned with service-level guarantees," he continued. "It is much bigger and broader than IPStream."

BT Wholesale announced last month that it was testing a 2mbps ADSL service, which is expected to become available to all British ISPs in early 2005. Rowe has high hopes that the regulatory barriers to allowing Easynet to offer ADSL+2 at speeds of up to 18mbps will be overcome before the end of 2005.

"The conditions are right for a major change," Rowe said. "We're moving on to the next wave of broadband, which will offer voice, Internet and TV-quality video. There has been industry and regulatory pressure on BT, and now is the time for an alternative structure for the U.K."

Easynet was a pioneer of LLU (local loop unbundling) and currently has connections in 240 local exchanges, giving it access to 4.4 million homes and 700,000 businesses. Last month, Easynet's UK Online launched Online 8000, an 8mbps broadband service for 39.99 pounds ($77) in selected areas.

UK Online's service is based on Easynet's unbundled pipes. The ISP said it hopes to add voice, TV and video-on-demand next year. Competitor Bulldog Communications is selling a 4mbps service in central London and parts of southeast England on its own unbundled network, which it is expanding.

Easynet's business broadband services offer speeds of up to 8mbps, which--with service-level agreements, multiple IP addresses and a good contention rate--can cost up to $385 per month.

Ron Coates of reported from London.