According to BT its ADSL rollout will transform some of its network from an “information B-road into a motorway in one fell swoop”.
In reality it is more like a baby step towards bringing true choice to the consumer.
The launch of ADSL in October see Newswire 28 Julywill boost current Internet access speeds by as much as 40 fold. Service providers will be able to offer capacities ranging between 512Kbps, 1Mbps and 2Mbps.
These bandwidths will eventually mean that the whole family can enjoy the promises of the Internet including instant access, home shopping, realtime audio and, video and video on demand, as well as a host of interactive luxuries and practicalities that we can’t even begin to imagine.
However, numerous technical and commercial creases need to ironed out before we see truly competitive diverse broadband services.
To start with the service will only be on offer to people who live in the right geographical area. When BT upgrades 67 of its local exchanges in October, the long awaited technology will be available to just one million consumers, including homes and businesses. By March 2000 six million telephone users will be able to access ADSL when a total of 400 exchanges are upgraded.
The launch is expected to create a flurry of highly competitive high bandwidth services. A number of ISPs are already beginning to flaunt their wares but because the ADSL connection will be offered through a service provider rather than direct from BT, ADSL subscribers will be tied to one supplier for content and access.
David Harrington, director general of the Telecom Managers Association will take up this matter with Oftel. He complained: “There won’t be any option for subscribers to switch service providers. Being able to select an ISP on a per call basis is what true competition is. As it will be, subscriptions will probably last at least a year so there won’t be real service competition.”
Bill Mieran, chairman of the Telecom Users Association, an organisation for individual and business users, added: “This is good news for the service providers but not so good for the consumer.”
Unfortunately, the fierce battle for ADSL could instead take place in the subscribers home because it is not yet possible to partition bandwidth for different uses. BT’s ADSL home demonstration looks very inviting.
You can watch videos in the sitting room, telework from the study, cyber shop in the kitchen and play online games in the child’s bedroom. But in a real home, with one ADSL line your family won’t be able to do this all at once for at least 18 months.
Harrington explained: “Watching a video will use a minimum of 1.5Mbps. At the moment there is no way of preserving say 500Kbps for online games while video is being transmitted. I understand that BT will wait for about 18 months before it deploys this capability.”
Mieran complained: “You’d have to get another box to provide everybody in the house with enough capacity even though the technology already exists to partition bandwidth. It is possible to create virtual circuits with permanent splits.”
The extent to which ADSL video services will offer a reasonable alternative to digital and cable television is also in debate as few providers have announced services. Videonet has announced that it will offer video on demand to ADSL consumers in London which doesn’t compete with realtime satellite and cable competitors.
While America Online has already committed to offering realtime audio and video broadcasts these will be at a disadvantage to television as we know it. The pitfalls include lack of immediate choice and poorer quality.
John Matthews, analyst at Ovum explained: “You can only download one channel at a time. This would cause arguments in my house for one.”
A lower cost subscription for only 512Kbs would also be useless for realtime or video on demand. Realtime content has to be compressed with a standard algorithm whereas videos recorded offline can have variable compression rates for different type shots.
Predicting that multichannel cable companies will take most of the market share especially with the addition of interactive Internet services through set top boxes. Matthews argued that if viewers are prepared to sacrifice the quality of realtime viewing they’d need at least 2Mbps and for good quality 4Mbps would be needed.
However he conceded: “Consumers used to digital quality would see ADSL as a poor quality but analogue users would probably find ADSL transmission good enough.”
ISP’s including AOL , Virginnet and Microsoft have already been in talks with BT about providing services over the BT network.
Uunet says it is still pushing to interconnect its network with BTs in order to offer ADSL to its customers.
A spokesman commented: “We will be offering a competitive ADSL service with a package that will balance our costs with the price we can charge our customers. We will take a longer view but it won’t be acceptable if BT still has a monopoly on the copper loop.”
BT itself will offer what it promises will be “revolutionary” content services through its Internet and multimedia services division. The services will be based on the range of video and audio services which are on offer in its current ADSL trials.
What BT is charging the service providers to offer ADSL – from £40 to £150 a month - has also been a bone of contention since the announcement (see Newswire 30 July).
Uunet suggested that the notion that service providers will somehow have to subsidise the BT charge, could encourage the content providers to stretch themselves and deliver more innovative services for the consumer.
Mieran argued: “Even BT realises that there’s no room for a margin on their price. We can already get free Internet access so maybe service providers will be able to work to a similar model.”
“Some might be prepared to pay high prices, but not without improvements to what’s on offer. It’ll be no good sticking up the current websites if consumers have to pay,” he said.
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