BUSINESSES and residents in the Swindon borough can now sign up for super-fast wireless broadband – but some are sceptical about whether the council-supported scheme will be a commercial success.
The first borough-wide 4G LTE (Long Term Evolution) network in the UK went live on Monday under a commercial scheme led by UK Broadband, one of the world’s biggest broadband providers.
It will be followed later this month by a microwave network, which has been created in partnership with Swindon Council’s IT service provider Capita, and will provide the capability for ultrafast broadband connections to schools, businesses and the council.
More than 67,000 residents and 2,600 businesses can sign up for a range of wireless broadband services, via a 4G box that can be plugged into any power socket, as a flexible alternative to fixed line broadband services. Mobile services will be launched later at a date to be announced.
The Now Wireless Broadband monthly packages vary from £21.50 to £40 for householders and from £20.83 to £52.50 for businesses.
The introduction of both new networks marks investments made by UK Broadband at its own cost.
Using the new microwave network, Swindon Council expects to save £480,000 over three years – covering the £400,000 loan it invested in the failed wi-fi project through Digital City. The council will also receive some cash from sales of this microwave service to the public sector, although it would not reveal how much on the grounds of commercial confidentiality.
Coun Garry Perkins, cabinet member for regeneration and culture, said he was confident the new scheme would be successful.
He said: “There will be a market. I’m certain there will be a market. Companies like UK Broadband will not just step into it without knowing there’s a market there.
“They have a very professional team on sales and marketing which will draw these customers in, so I don’t doubt that UK Broadband have got a very strong business plan based on involvement in the public sector and private sector.”
But Chris Watts, a self-employed IT consultant, of Eastcott, said: “Normally, broadband is a loss-leader that’s included in a package from the likes of Virgin and BT and I cannot see why someone is going to be buying a broadband package off UK Broadband when they’ve already got it included in their package with their mobile phone.
“It’s a very tough market to get into and make headway. They really have to crack the market and get huge numbers.”
Political commentator Des Morgan added: “What is being offered is nothing like the Digital City Wi-Fi network and as was widely forecast there is no ‘free use’ element attached to the programme being sold by UK Broadband.
“In fact what is on offer is interesting but hardly life-changing and it’s certainly not something many cash-stretched households in Swindon will be splashing £30 per month to have.”