Broadband in the UK has hit a new milestone, with more than five million people now having high-speed net connections, say broadband analysts.
Millions switch on to broadband
It will surpass eight million by the end of next year, according to figures compiled by Telecom Markets' Broadband Subscriber Database.
With 20% of households hooked up to the technology, it is time to look at the next phase say experts.
This includes a new look at how to make super-fast broadband widely available.
"To move past five million is quite significant as it shows a move towards mass adoption," said Antony Walker, chief executive of the Broadband Stakeholder Group, one of the UK's key advisory bodies on broadband.
It means the UK is finally catching up with its European neighbours in ensuring that as many people as possible have access to broadband.
"Just because we are keeping pace with countries like France and Germany doesn't mean that we can sit back," said Mr Walker.
BROADBAND MOVES ON
32% of homes on broadband by end 2005
3.6 million access broadband via telephone by end of 2004
1.9 million access broadband via cable by end of 2004
Only 80,000 subscribers will have an unbundled service by end of 2004
France has 730,000 subscribers to unbundled services
"Looking around the world it is clear that broadband is changing. It is getting faster, more mobile and is starting to deliver much more compelling services, including voice and video."
How faster services will be delivered is a key area for debate, thinks Mr Walker.
Opinion varies on the subject with some arguing for a completely new fibre-based network in the UK, while others claim the technology can be delivered over existing networks as technology gets more sophisticated.
But it is not just a question of making broadband faster
Cheap net calls and video-on-demand are just two services that will make broadband a must-have in homes.
The head of the broadband group said it could also play a major part in delivering online government services for citizens and transforming education and broadcasting.
The BBC could play a key role in the new debate for broadband, not only in terms of educating and communicating the benefits of broadband to the wider public but also in the way the organisation exploits the technology, suggested Mr Walker.
Ashley Highfield, director of New Media and Technology at the BBC, agrees.
"It means creating both reversioned and original audio video content for a broadband audience, which can be used whenever, wherever and however they want it," he said, commenting on the group's suggestions.
The figures collated by the Telecom Markets' Broadband Subscriber Database show that by the end of the year 3.6 million subscribers will access broadband via the telephone line.
Some 40% will get it directly through BT while the rest will use an ISP that buys broadband lines wholesale from BT.
Nearly two million people will access broadband via cable.
So-called unbundled services that operate completely independently of BT have yet to make an impact in the UK with only 13,000 subscribers accessing broadband via this route.
Analysts predict that broadband subscriptions will rise rapidly in the next year as prices fall and new services such as broadband telephony are launched.
There will also be an increase in the number of unbundled services on offer as BT reduces the price of creating alternative networks.