Growth in localised, high-speed residential broadband services is beginning to open a new chasm between urban and rural areas in terms of internet access, according to new findings from Gartner.
The analyst firm's Emerging Technology Analysis: Ultra-High-Speed Residential Broadband Internet, Global Consumer Services report predicts that a new digital divide will have emerged within three to five years between those able to access residential broadband speeds of 50Mbit/s or higher and those limited to basic access speeds.
This is despite efforts such as the UK government's Digital Britain project, which aims to provide a basic broadband service to everyone who wants it.
"Ultra broadband will exacerbate the digital divide among different world regions, as well as within countries," said Fernando Elizalde, principal research analyst at Gartner.
"Governments in countries that lag behind in the deployment of ultra broadband will come under increasing pressure to use public funds to upgrade broadband infrastructure to avoid falling behind."
Elizalde explained that the need to acquire new customers and retain existing ones will see providers using headline speeds to help differentiate their services from the competition.
From a consumer perspective the growing use of high bandwidth applications such as downloading or live streaming of movies and television, as well as the distribution of user-generated content through email, social networking sites and video-sharing sites, will be a key driver, according to the report.
The demand for high-speed broadband is not limited to the entertainment sector, however. The report noted that e-government initiatives such as telemedicine and teaching, and business cases such as hosted services and telepresence, will all involve high levels of bandwidth use.
Elizalde also highlighted several barriers that may hinder adoption. From a financial standpoint, many people may shun super-fast connections if they are too expensive and fail to offer sufficient value.
The huge infrastructure investment required to roll out this level of service to the majority of the population, meanwhile, poses a financial and logistical challenge as it will often require large amounts of rewiring right up to the building. This is particularly daunting given the steady development of alternative mobile broadband technologies, such as Long Term Evolution.
"Despite these challenges, ultra broadband will happen and application developers should use the opportunity offered by the early adopter markets of Japan and South Korea to carry out live testing of new applications and innovations before it becomes mainstream globally," concluded Elizalde.
"Operators must position faster broadband speeds as a premium service to avoid commoditisation of ultra broadband, and strike a balance between their need to charge more for faster broadband and consumer willingness to pay for the extra speed."
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