Telecoms execs push plans to wire UK with broadband

April 10, 1998

Better training for teachers and doctors could be delivered by a broadband health and education network in the United Kingdom, according to a group of former BT executives who presented their plans to members of parliament on March 31.

"Broadband and only broadband can carry TV-quality pictures and images and multimedia two-way," said John Harper, former managing director of BT's inland services. He said that a broadband network serving all schools and doctors' surgeries could be operational by 2001 and save the government Pounds 400 million a year. "We worked out that there would be a saving of Pounds 100 million a year on teacher training alone," he said.

The government would pay Pounds 160 million a year rental to an operator such as BT, which Mr Harper says could fund the capital investment out of its Pounds 7 billion cash.

Stephen Heppell of Anglia Polytechnic University backed the plan. "This is fundamentally about winning back the hearts and minds of our schoolkids and enabling them to be really good with technology," he said. Professor Heppell's research has shown that eight-year olds learn quickly to create and communicate with multimedia technology.

MPs were shown live demonstrations of a variety of technologies which could deliver broadband services to urban and rural areas. Cable TV operator Telewest is planning to expand into the broadband data market from next month, when cable modems conforming to the new MCNS standard become available. Wireless operators such as Winstar, which provides phone services in many American cities, are moving into Europe. Winstar uses microwave equipment from California-based P-Com. About Pounds 10,000 buys the electronics for a point-to-point link but masts and other expenses can increase costs.

Telemedicine could cut NHS costs by saving time and travel expenses for doctors and patients. With the help of Pervez "Budgie" Hussain, senior lecturer in ultrasound at Portsmouth University, two local health centres now run regular ultrasound clinics in which consultant radiologist David Kay gives advice online from St Richard's Hospital, Chichester using BT's ISDN2 service at just 128 kilobits per second. Mr Hussain said: "We have saved 550 patients referral to the hospital."

However, broadband advocates point out that other medical applications require the sharp detail and superior image quality that only a broadband network can deliver.

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