Commercial exploitation of the Internet will only take off when user expectations of its functionality are reset to accept that ?good enough? is the best they can hope for, according to research firm Gartner Group.
Speaking on day one of the Internet and Electronic Commerce show in New York last week, Gartner?s research director Bob Gill warned that good enough functionality would become commercially acceptable to end users, with the potential for universal connectivity being strong enough to drive continued growth.
He predicted that such acceptance was not far off. "By 1998, the largest obstacles to commercial development of the Internet will have been resolved to a ?good enough? level," he said.
Gartner identifies three key criteria for this acceptance - performance, reliability (including security) and the feasability of achieving these in the near future.
By the end of next year, the research firm believes that all three will be in place. Performance will be as good as anything else to which the average IT user has access, reliability will be seen as adequate and feasability improves with each new tool that appears on the market.
Internet growth will be impacted by regional factors. Gartner expects legal, cultural and social issues to influence acceptance in industrialised nations, citing France, Italy and Japan. But in less developed nations, such as those in Latin America and Africa, Internet growth will mirror - and may actively encourage - economic growth.
The growth figures may give a false impression. "In less developed countries currently displaying high IT growth, such as India or China, we expect a two-speed Internet growth," explained Gill. This means that, although Internet penetration in such countries may seem relatively low in absolute numbers, taken as a percentage of the population with access to IT, it will in many cases be superior to levels in the industrialised world.
The biggest barrier to growth of the Net in the foreseeable future will continue to be bandwidth. "Consumer access wiil continue to be seriously bandwidth-constrained, at least through 1998 and probably through 2000," Gill warned.
He cited ISDN as the most technologically advanced solution to this shortage, claiming that it is available to everyone in Europe and around 85 per cent of the population in the US - in theory. "In reality [ISDN is] only actually available - capable of being installed tomorrow - to less than half that population due to the vagaries of telcos and PTT plants," he added.
The following day, a senior representative of one of those telcos painted a far more optimistic picture. Ray Smith, chief executive of Bell Atlantic, claimed new asymmetrical digital subscriber line (ADSL) technology would increase bandwidth and provide consumers with affordable, high speed Net access.
ADSL runs at 6Mbps, whereas Bell Atlantic?s existing ISDN offering runs at 128Kbps. Smith said the company would begin offering the technology within a few months of completing its planned merger with Nynex next month.
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