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Last Updated: Thursday, 6 May, 2004, 08:52 GMT 09:52 UK
Broadband 'set for speed boost'
Fibre optic cable
Fibre may not be necessary to power faster broadband
Broadband may be today's technology but the future lies with 'broaderband'.

So says the media-to-telecoms regulator Ofcom as it plans what the UK's telecoms and broadcast landscape will look like for the next decade.

The regulator is keen to get its role in the changing broadband landscape right as the UK moves towards superfast internet networks.

It is currently consulting the industry on how to prepare for the world of what it dubs 'broaderband'.

Future networks

"It is very important that regulation does not put off companies that might invest in this next generation of technology," said Ofcom in its consultation document.

"Whether this move forward will happen, and how quickly, will depend partly on whether operators succeed in selling entertainment services to us that are delivered using broadband connections," it added.

There is a realisation that DSL can do more than people thought
Ian Fogg, Jupiter Research
Ofcom believes watching TV and movies over the phone line will eventually be commonplace.

As the world of telecoms and entertainment collide, there is a need for a different type of regulation, it says.

The speed of broadband is becoming a key issue as the UK scrambles to catch up with its European neighbours.

The typical broadband connection speed in the UK is 512 kilobits per second, some way below speeds in Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands, said Ian Fogg, analyst with research firm Jupiter.


In these countries speeds of three, four and even 10 megabits per second are not uncommon, he said.

It had previously been assumed that DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) - broadband via the phone line - would not be able to cope with very high speeds and other solutions such as fibre networks would have to be deployed.

This is very costly and BT has already hinted that government investment would be necessary if such a network were to become a reality.

"The next generation of networks, enabling communications between a variety of devices, will not build itself," BT said in response to Ofcom's telecoms review.

But as even fibre operators such as FastWeb in Italy find DSL a much cheaper solution, the next-generation network could be put on hold for a while yet.

"There is a realisation that DSL can do more than people thought," said Mr Fogg.

Falling prices

New flavours of the technology are being deployed in countries where broadband has been established and the demand for speed is seen as a natural progression.

The speed issue, whether it be providing 4Mbps, or 26Mbps as Japan has introduced, is not so crucial to those just getting acquainted with broadband.

For surfers still considering an upgrade from dial-up there was good news this week as prices fell again, almost to dial-up levels.

UK internet service provider PlusNet has launched a 512Kbps broadband service for 14.99 a month.

It could spark a new price war as operators continue to fight to attract customers.

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