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Last Updated: Friday, 12 September, 2003, 07:37 GMT 08:37 UK
Broadband looks to up its appeal
By Jo Twist
BBC News Online technology reporter

Broadband is quickly spreading its wires across the globe, with almost 47 million homes and businesses signed up to high-speed net services over the telephone.

Computer cables
DSL subscriptions worldwide are rapidly climbing
In the UK, 80% of the population can now get broadband over their BT phone line, according to the latest figures.

But attention is now turning to what people actually do with their high-speed connection,

Leading broadband experts meeting in London this week agreed that providing suitable content, such as video and games, was of key importance.

Broadband and gas

Paul Reynolds, chief executive of BT Wholesale, told a gathering of world broadband technology leaders in London this week that 25 more telephone exchanges in the UK have been upgraded for ADSL.

This means that four out of five homes in the country can get a high-speed internet connection over a BT phone line if they want it.

This is comparable to the number of homes which can cook on gas, says BT.

"We have now brought broadband services to exchanges serving 80% of UK homes.

BT engineer working on an exchange
25 more telephone exchanges have been ADSL-enabled
"Families, schools, and businesses alike are enjoying the benefits of always-on, high-speed surfing," he said.

He added this coverage has happened two years earlier than BT expected.

The figures suggest infrastructure problems which have hampered broadband access throughout Britain could be subsiding.

But to Andy Williams from pressure group Broadband4Britain, things are not so clear cut.

"Overall it's got to be good news that broadband keeps rolling out," he told BBC News Online.

"But we have to careful of bland statistics, like 80%. For example, if you look at somewhere like Wales, it's probably more like 40%.

"Areas like the south east will be well served, but the picture's not so rosy elsewhere in the country. What is BT's strategy for that other 20%?"

Even though broadband is available, in theory, to 80% of the country, take-up is still small compared to global leaders like South Korea.

They are the only country in the world to have achieved mass market status with 29.7% of its phone lines delivering broadband services.

There are now 2.3 million homes in the UK with broadband access, including those using high-speed cable modems.

Sound and vision

While technical issues are supposedly being ironed out, more challenges such as what people do with broadband once they have it have to be addressed, industry experts say.

Global net businesses realise there is compelling content and applications to persuade people to pay for high-speed connections.

Part of that is to do with their concern to continue to make money from broadband, as competition between service providers continues to drive down prices for high-speed subscriptions.

No one is effectively marketing services to small and medium enterprises. They are doing a reasonable job for consumers
Andy Williams, Broadband4Britain
While many agree there is not one "killer application" that will make money for the broadband industry, there are some obvious things people want.

"What people in my position see as the holy grail is 'triple-play'," explained Maury Wood, marketing director for Analog Devices, which provides broadband equipment.

"The first play is data, which is what people are using broadband for today, second is voice over IP (VoIP), which is huge in Japan for instance because it allows you to get very inexpensive long distance phone calls.

"Then video, we're talking true video on demand where you are actually paying for content, not stuff like going on the web and downloading a little clip of an automobile which is essentially an ad."

Mr Wood hopes broadband will become integrated with consumer electronics, so people can watch what they have downloaded on their home entertainment system.

This will make broadband something the whole family demands as opposed to just something that is useful for professionals.

Targeting services

To increase the appeal of broadband, companies need to think about offering tailored services as not everyone wants the same thing out of a high-speed connection.

Music downloads from the internet
Different people want different things from broadband
Some want to be able to work at home and have reliable access to files, voice services and e-mail while others want broadband for entertainment and leisure, like gaming.

Broadband4Britain's Mr Williams said not enough has been done in marketing of applications and services in the UK.

"No one is effectively marketing services to small and medium enterprises. They are doing a reasonable job for consumers," he argues.

"But nobody is really marketing those benefits or additional services to small businesses.

"Someone needs to put their arm up and say here are the benefits for small businesses, like VoIP and cheaper phone calls."

Some 80% of small businesses that can get broadband in their area have no plans to upgrade from dial-up access in the next 12 months, according to a recent poll.

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