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The BBC's John Moylan
"Cable firms won't have broadband all to themselves"
 real 56k

Friday, 31 March, 2000, 14:55 GMT 15:55 UK
UK 'at forefront of broadband revolution'

Interactive TV demonstrations are available on the web
The UK is a world leader in broadband, with a range of services already available and much more soon to come on stream.
Broadband revolution
Heralds a new age of communications and entertainment - everything from interactive television to high-speed internet access
On the television side, Telewest, Cable & Wireless and NTL already offer cable services, while BSkyB provides an advanced multi-channel satellite system.

On the PC side, Kingston Communications has a phone line service (ADSL) up and running in East Yorkshire offering up to 60 TV channels, fast internet access and local news and shopping.

BT is launching its ADSL service nationwide this year, and other internet providers like Freeserve and AOL are not far behind.

There is also a plethora of much trumpeted internet access services which are not true broadband. They reflect the scramble that is going on to build up subscriber numbers before broadband dominates the market.

Advanced TV

Stuart Collingwood, vice-president in Europe of Liberate Technologies - which provides software for enhanced TV services - says digital TV is as advanced in the UK as anywhere else in the world.

It's a massive cake and there is probably enough for everyone to take a slice.

Kieron Kilbride
Media analyst
He says most people consider cable-based technology to be the most rounded of the broadband options. This is because its ability to carry return data to the service provider makes it truly interactive.

BSkyB's satellite TV services may be very advanced but there is a limited amount of interactivity - the consumer mainly selects from what is on offer.

For example, viewers can choose particular camera angles when watching sport rather than being able to select exactly what to watch and when.

"But once ADSL is established, it will challenge cable," he says. Like cable, ADSL provides the essential return path for information from the consumer not available via satellite.

Spoilt for choice

The range of services currently on offer makes it very difficult for consumers to decide which to opt for, and this has forced companies to compete fiercely for subscribers.

If consumers are not sure, they tend to wait before committing themselves. As a result, more and more of the technology is being offered free.

For example, BSkyB and Ondigital have been giving away free the set-top boxes needed to receive their services.

Similar competition has been driving the march towards ever-cheaper internet access deals, although this may now have stalled.

Multi-channel

When the possibility of having hundreds of TV channels was first talked about, many people asked why we would want hundreds of channels broadcasting cheaply made programmes designed to fill airtime.

The importance of having the technology for huge numbers of channels is this: simply to provide consumers with a choice of 25 films with eight different start times requires 200 channels.

But this technology is potentially upstaged by computer-based services whereby films are downloaded on demand and can then be viewed at the consumer's convenience, with pause and rewind options as on a video-cassette recorder.

As so much is becoming possible, it is inevitable that a future-shaping battle will soon ensue between TV-based and PC-based technologies.

With more and more services offered via the internet and via digital TV, many companies will be competing for essentially the same market.

Clash of cultures

Do you do your shopping via your PC or interactive TV? Do you download your choice of film to watch when you want or select a convenient start time from a range on offer on digital TV?

There will be those who feel comfortable with PCs and will tend towards PC-based services, while there will be others who feel more comfortable with a remote control and a TV.

Already, PC services are being defined as "lean forward experiences" and TV services as "lean-back experiences" - characterising the active, work-oriented nature of internet use and the more passive, entertainment-oriented nature of TV watching.

Kieron Kilbride, lead analyst at independent media research specialists Kagan, says: "Primarily TV will be used in the home."

But he does not see one technology wiping out another: "It's a massive cake and there is probably enough for everyone to take a slice."

He says there will be various points of access to the internet, each of which will have its own strength.

All in good time

But he cautions against expecting too much too soon: "It will take time for the technology to bed down and for markets to become established.

"The key thing for the companies involved in broadband is to get their content out on as many platforms as possible."

This means we shall see a lot more of the kind of merger activity exemplified in the US by the America Online-Time Warner link-up.

For the consumer, there will be a gradual transformation of the way we communicate, work, shop and choose our entertainment.

And the companies involved are only too aware that only those which offer people what they want will be successful in shaping this future.

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