Rejoice? BT launches 'no frills' DSL in the UK

Direct DSL - what it is, how it works, where to get it...

BT has launched a new version of DSL, with lower costs, possibly better service, and very little prospect of ISPs such as Freeserve making any cash from it.

The new product will launch in June and it will be a couple of pounds per month cheaper than the current wires-only DSL product. End users currently pay around £25 a month for DSL access. The basic difference is that data traffic from the customer's home goes straight from the BT network to the internet, without passing through the network of any ISP.

To use a motoring metaphor: under present arrangements, internet traffic goes from your home (your PC), down the driveway (DSL line), through local A and B roads (the access network) to the motorway (BT's backbone network, Colossus). Then it goes off the motorway to the ISP's premises, then back onto the motorway and finally to the internet, which on a good day is like an airport, taking you to web servers in Hong Kong or Nebraska, or perhaps in London.

The new BT product cuts out that seemingly unnecessary loop to the ISP, which only handles authentication and not much else. With Direct DSL, the user authentication will be handled elsewhere on the network.

A BT spokesman claimed cutting out the ISP loop could deliver a performance improvement eventually, but current trials were not showing a significant difference. Ben Verwaayen, CEO of BT, described the new product as "unbundling the access and service parts of the internet".

The trouble is, the service parts of the ISP business aren't commercially a very exciting prospect. The key service is email, which does at least offer impressive customer loyalty - it's very inconvenient to have to change your email address.

However, customers aren't used to paying for email, and that attitude will remain as long as email services are widely available for free. They certainly aren't used to paying for the other services like portal content and newsgroup access. They might pay for customer support but most customer support issues are to do with access - which would have to come with Direct DSL, rather than any add-on ISP product.

Alison Ritchie, BTopenworld's CEO, described the coming of Direct DSL as "a good thing for ISPs as it gives them access to a lot of customers that they didn't have before".

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