BT is running trials of radio-based broadband internet access for rural communities in the UK unable to get high-speed access over their telephone lines.

Homes more than 6km from an ADS exchange or near small exchanges that have not been ADSL-enabled have so far been unable to receive broadband service from BT.

The trial offers access using a low-powered antenna on the outside of a house, connected by a cable to the user's PC. The system works via point-to-multipoint radio in the 5.8GHz spectrum to connect back to the exchange, BT spokesman Mike Jarvis said today.

Users in Ballingry Scotland, Pwllheli Wales, Porthleven England and Campsie Northern Ireland, will test the service until March, Jarvis said. The 105 users will have access to the internet at speeds similar to those afforded by ADSL, BT said.

Any eventual rollout of the services will, however, depend on Regional Development Agencies partnering with BT to cover the costs of setting up the service, Jarvis said. He does not expect the end-user subscription to be higher than it is for ADSL, but the infrastructure costs will have to be covered, he said.

BT remains committed to offering broadband to 100 percent of users in the UK by 2005, and this is one possibility for doing so, Jarvis said.

No users were immediately available to comment on how well the radio service is working for them.

Rural communities in the UK have long complained of BT's tardiness in offering broadband services. Earlier this year, satellite company Aramiska of the Netherlands began offering a satellite-based service to rural communities for an annual charge per village or community of £5,000. The villages of West Haddon and Winwick in rural Northamptonshire, England took up the service; 11 local users got together and set up West Haddon and Winwick Community Broadband Ltd in order to run it.

Organiser Trevor Sherman said today that the service is going well and that, while he did not know a great deal about the BT trials, he was not considering changing. "We're pretty happy with the progress of the system, and an added benefit is that it's community-based," he said. "People have met people they never would have otherwise."