Coppering the net

Fibre optic cables,, though touted as 21st century's big hope, can still be given a run by the copper wires in the race for providing ultra-fast access to the Internet

Published: Wednesday 15 May 1996

IF YOU had presumed that the latest fibre optic cables have relegated the good old copper wires into the dustbin of history , you may well be wrong. The us-based Bell Atlantic Corp is turning back to its roots -the copper phone lines running into our houses -in the battle against the cable television industry to provide ultra-fast access to the Internet. The company is rapidly embracing a new technology that relies on copper lines instead of the fibre optic cables to solve the problem of waiting minutes to download a large file or video clip from the World Wide Web.

Bell Atlantic officials say they will launch a technical trial providing this kind of Internet access -christened as 'asymmetrical digital subscriber line' or ADSL -to about 100 users in Northern Virginia in April, followed by a market trial in 500 households in July this year. If successful, consumers in the us may be able to get the service as soon as a year from now, says John Seaholtz, chief technological officer of the company.

ADSL is reasonably fast, and unlike fibre optics, relatively easy and inexpensiye to upgrade phone switches inside homes. It works by squeezing large amounts of computer information through telephone lines at rates starting at 1.5 megabits per second -this is about 52 times faster than today's 28.8 kilobit computer modems. Potentially, ADSL can work as fast as eight to 10 megabits per second, which is more than enough to simul- taneously talk on the phone, watch a movie and also switch frequently to a live ballgame.

ADSL was first envisioned only as a video delivery technology. But now, Bell Atlantic Corp is the first company to have chosen ADSL as a way to counter rising interest in cable modems as Internet access device. "These carriers are going to playa tug of war with the home Internet user. On one hand will be the cable modems and on the other will be ADSL," says Chris Crespi, vice- president of San Francisco-based Montgomery Securities.

Bell Atlantic and other phone com- panies in the us have also been touting the: idea of ISDN or 'integrated services digital network' as an answer to speedy Internet access. ISDN also uses today's copper lines and promises rates of up to 128 kilobits per second -much faster than today's modems, but nowhere near what cable modems or ADSL can offer.

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