Small businesses and consumers hoping for high speed Internet access via cable modems are likely to have a long wait while UK cable operators focus on digital TV.
Analysts say operators cable modem plans are too slow and customers craving broadband data may look to other network operators - such as BT when it eventually launches broadband over copper - or a new entrant broadband wireless operator.
In May NTL launched its Hispeed Internet cable modem service in Guildford, Surrey, offering Internet access at up to 512Kbps - four times the speed of ISDN - for £40 per month. It plans to extend the service to most of its franchises by the end of the year.
But it will be well into next year before the UK's other two major cable operators - Cable & Wireless Communications (CWC) and Telewest - launch a standalone cable modem service.
The cable operators say they are concentrating on rolling out digital TV. CWC wants to be first to complete its digital cable roll out. It said far more of its customers watch TV than use a PC.
"The work we've done shows that customers want interactivity through the TV. We're appealing to the vast majority who've not used a PC," said Cable & Wireless spokesman Martin Graham-Scott.
But CWC will launch a cable modem service "next summer", probably using the modem inside its digital TV set top box, to offer high speed Internet access for PCs, he said.
CWC is also aware of BT's high speed plans, or "BT's copper wire retaliation to cable modems," as Graham-Scott called it. But he said CWC will focus on one thing at a time.
Telewest plans to launch a stand alone cable modem service, "in the first quarter of next year," according to spokesman Steve Powers. But like CWC, he said: "Our immediate focus is on digital TV."
Ovum analyst Tim Johnson said if operators are going to launch cable modem services, they should do so as soon as possible before the technology becomes dated.
"They are in danger of spending money on something which by the time they've done it will be too little, too late," he said. He added that ignoring PC users is a bad move: "If Dixons said that, they would be £1 billion short of what they are today."
The most likely reason is because digital TV will make more money, according to Johnson.
"They can ship millions of digital TV boxes and would be lucky to ship tens of thousands of cable modems," he said.
There are around six million PC users in the UK, compared to around 24 million TV viewers.
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