National rural wireless scheme defended

X-Systems marks the spot

X-Systems Management has responded to criticism of its business model following its announcement of plans to offer a nationally available wireless broadband service.

As recently reported by the Reg , X-Systems announced a plan to overcome rural gaps in ADSL and cable service with a wireless LAN-based broadband service through a service called X-Systems Broadband.

Monthly subscriptions to X-Systems Broadband start at £25 for the 1Mbps service. Set-up costs £149 per household. Backhaul connections will be over either satellite or leased-line links, as appropriate. Services can be set up within four weeks, the company claims.

X-Systems company is inviting home users in rural areas, community groups and businesses to register their interest in the service on its site. So far 1,300 people have registered an interest, according to X-Systems.

However some punters who followed through on this offer and registered on the site were surprised to find they had to pay £499 for a pack containing legal documents, before a community can apply to purchase the service. This line of criticism was picked up in postings to the popular forum.

Your site sucks

Reg readers also picked up on the quality of Peterborough-based X-Systems' Web site, which many felt diminished the credibility of the offer. Reader John Wallace's comments were typical.

"If you look at the Web sites there is almost no product info and even less contact info. To get more info from them you have to fill in everything about yourself about from your shoe size."

"If you or your colleagues had an in-depth broadband background (either DSL or wireless) you'd realise that their claims of 'national coverage' and 'immediate availability' are simply not credible."

"When someone like Pipex announces they're doing national wireless, I'll believe it. But not from this lot," he added.

Reg Manuel Lourenco added: "It amazes me how some businesses approach product launches. Considering their Web site will be the first port of call for most of their prospective customers you'd have thought they could spend more than fifty quid on developing it."

"Interestingly enough, Bulldog was just as bad with their Web site when they started offering high-speed ADSL in Central London ... is this a trend developing?"

Tim Helstrip, a director of X-Systems, said he would take these criticisms on board. He said the site was developed by a Prince's Trust-supported Web designer.

Why community associations might make sense

On the more substantive criticism about the cost of initial paperwork in setting up a community association, Helstrip was vigorous in his defence of X-Systems' approach which he compared to a share club model. Setting up a community association did not create barriers to entry, he said.

The cost of the community pack is £10 per household and would be discounted from installation costs if groups decided to go with X-Systems.

"A local community association creates a legal framework for distribution of broadband service, provides a mechanism to collect funds and to find local public site to have public point of access. Without legal framework this is all difficult," Helstrip told us.

Horses for courses

However, in support of the basic concept, Helstrip added that least a 1,000 people sharing Net connections using wireless in the UK already.

But doesn't this suggest the complexity and cost of setting up a community association isn't needed by many, we wondered.

Helstrip stuck to his guns.

"People can share on an informal basis but without a legal framework this is difficult," he argued. "If people set up wireless LANs on an ad-hoc basic then where are the guarantees of support?"

"A community association is neat tidy, specific and clear cut," said Helstrip, adding that if X-Systems fails then supply contracts could be picked up by a community body.

Other models are possible, he conceded, and it came down to a case of "horses for courses".

"We've been accused of operating a franchise or running a pyramid scheme. Neither of these are true," Helstrip said. According to Helstrip, X-Systems Broadband was recently visited by local Trading Standards officers and he was able to convince them of the legitimacy of the company's plans.

"We're simply business people who have idea which may or may not work. X-Systems Broadband is not a panacea but it does address the real problem of supplying wireless access to rural communities."

Helstrip is a former management consultant who responsible for leading and implementing the
development of mobile and wireless communications technologies with organisations such as Cap Gemini Ernst Young (where he worked for five years) and Marconi. X-Systems was founded a year ago and employs eight full time staff. ®

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