A start-up has promised to offer 36Mbit/s of fixed wireless broadband connectivity to 75 percent of small and medium businesses, starting with London. Libera will start with a trial in Docklands this summer and expects to cover the whole area within the M25 by summer 2005.

"We are the first real alternative to BT's local loop," said Libera's chief executive, Robert Condon at the Voice on the Net conference in London. He plans to offer services as fast as BT's expensive fibre leased lines, at the cost of the 1Mbit/s to 2Mbit/s DSL services. Libera has licences in the 5.8GHz and 28GHz ranges, covering most of the country's more populous areas, and claims to be the largest holder of wireless licences suitable for delivering broadband services (read a longer interview with Condon).

"True broadband is considerably more than one or two megabytes per second," said Condon. However, faster services are usually provided on expensive fibre, and are hard for smaller companies to get hold of. Libera's service will plug the "copper-fibre gap", he said. The whole London network will need about twenty masts, he said. BT, meanwhile, is offering somewhat slower brodaband in Ireland.

The equipment required to receive Libera's service would cost £2,000 at the moment, he admitted, but that is expected to fall dramtatically before the full service rolls out. Another drawback might be confusion with WiMax which will start rolling out fixed wireless links during the start-up phase of Libera. Although Wi-Max uses different bandwidth, it is a much more highly promoted technology (see feature)

Other providers at the VON show welcomed the arrival of Libera. "People seem to think we are in competition," said Niall Murphy, chief technical officer of Wi-Fi hotspot provider The Cloud. "But Libera is a provider of backhaul, and I'm a big user of backhaul."

Read a longer interview with Condon.