BT Wholesale is to offer ISPs a service that combines multiple broadband links into a single reliable high-speed pipe, for users that want a better service than ADSL, but don't want to pay for a leased line.
"There's a gap in the market, between a single broadband connection, which is good enough for lots of people, and a leased line which costs £1000 a month," said Keith Collins, sales and marketing director at SharedBand, the startup that is providing BT Wholesale with the bandwidth-bonding software.
ISPs will take the service from BT Wholesale, and sell it users, on two major benefits: increased reliability, and a greater combined uplink bandwidth, both of which are major weaknesses in ADSL services. Users will pay a small monthly charge on top of the extra leased line charges.
No ISPs have yet confirmed they will be offering the service, although SharedBand is hopeful that BT's own Retail deivision will adopt it. SharedBand also plans to launch the service in the US in January, where Collins expects it to be a success: "The average loop length in the US is a lot bigger than it is here, so a lot of people get very poor speeds," he said. "In fact, the UK is one of the tougher markets to launch in."
Sharedband's client software will run on standard routers, and creates multiple streams across the Internet, that are integrated by server software running in Internet points of presence like Telehouse, said Collins. Placing the aggregation server close to a peering point reduces the latency, he said.
The software can work with any other Internet links including cable, WiMax and cellular, or even leased lines. "One customer is considering bonding a leased line with ADS," said Collins. "As far as the application is concerned, it looks like one pipe."
The company was founded by Paul Evans, who previously led the Internet Infrastructure Lab at BT. He founded SharedBand in 2003, after developing software to share dial-up connections in response to the broadband shortage of 2002. Some villages, including Evans' own, seemed unlikely to get broadband in any realistic timescale, so Evans planned to let neighbours share dial-up connections over a wireless network.
"The problem now is the upstream speed," said Collins."New applications, such as VoIP, remote backup and VPNs, require upstream bandwidth that is just not available with standard broadband."
Although symmetric DSL (SDSL) might seem to be an answer, it is only available from a few exchanges, and is very limited in distance, said Collins. ADSL uses a lower speed uplink because of physical limits, caused by crosstalk between the cables aggregating at the exchange, he explained.
Other bonding solutions have used specialised appliances to bond links together, but SharedBand is entirely software, said Collins. This means it can be put in firmware on any router - so far they are working mainly with Netgear, on its popular DG834 router.
The software has been tried by local ISPs in the Ipswich area, where SharedBand is based.
Angus Flett, director of product management for BT Wholesale said: "Our priority is enabling our customers to perform the tasks they need and ensuring they can offer their customers access to the services of their choice. Sharedband presents an opportunity for ISPs to further satisfy their customers' requirement for additional performance while improving their own revenues and profit margins."