UK cable operator NTL today announced details of its planned cable modem service, including partnerships with rival vendors 3Com and Cisco, but still no commercial roll out date.
Cable modems offer significantly faster speed Internet access than ISDN or analogue modems - millions rather than thousands of bits per second. All three major UK cable operators are planning cable modem services as early as this year.
NTL is conducting a trial of its cable modem service using 20 of its staff. An announcement about a commercial roll out date is expected within two months, but no launch date is being given yet - except that it is likely to be this year.
Datamonitor predicts that the number of digital set top boxes containing cable modems in the UK will reach 290,000 by the end of next year, increasing to one million by the end of 2002. NTL's more modest figures predict 400,000 installed cable modems in the UK by 2002.
Cisco and 3Com have battled their way to different parts of the contract, with 3Com winning the contract to supply the cable modems for consumers, and Cisco wining the back end equipment contract.
"3Com, with US Robotics, has got a very extensive distribution array within the UK retail market, which Cisco hasn't got," said Stephen Temple, director of strategic development at NTL network services.
NTL is developing its service using Docsis, the recently developed US cable modem standard that has spurred the uptake of cable modems in the US.
Aligning with a US standard will be better in the long term for UK customers who will want to buy their cable modem products over the Internet from the US, where equipment is cheaper, said Temple. "If you want customers to get the lowest cost modems, you have to align with US standards," said Temple. Europe's alternative to Docsis, called DVB-RCC, will be better suited to digital television, a technology Europe is spearheading, he added.
NTL will be using caching servers around the UK to capture the most frequently accessed Web pages, making them faster to access. NTL says its cable modem service, which will give constant access to the Internet, will be priced based on a flat monthly rate.
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