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Last Updated: Monday, 26 December 2005, 05:46 GMT
2006 full of broadband promise
By Jane Wakefield
BBC News technology reporter

TV via a computer screen
Broadband TV is forecast to catch on in 2006

In the Chinese calendar the symbol changes every year. 2006 will be the year of the dog but in the world of technology, broadband has remained top dog for the last five years.

The trajectory for broadband has been on a sharp upward curve during that time.

Next year looks like continuing this trend, with more people turning to broadband, even more increases to the speeds available to people and a wider variety of broadband-enabled services.

Speed alone will not be enough and the key things will be to develop the services that broadband allows, say analysts.

Jupiter analyst Ian Fogg predicted it will be a year of conflict in the two key areas of broadband development - TV and telephony.

"They will be the battlegrounds for 2006 as tensions rise between what internet service providers and third party organisations will offer," he said.

Creative voice

Companies such as the BBC and Apple will compete with traditional internet service providers to pipe content to people's computers and by the end of the year "it may not even be called TV", suggested Mr Fogg.

Similarly in the arena of net telephony, providers will compete with companies such as Vonage and Skype to provide telecom services via broadband.

It could also be the year where experts sit up and take notice of blogs, podcasts and other consumer-generated content.

"Such things are likely to remain a fascinating hobbyist niche but the big question will be 'what is the effect of consumers contributing back to the internet?'" said Mr Fogg.

The promise of a new generation of creative citizens is reminiscent of how the net was talked up in the heady early days of the web. Now though, with broadband available to over 50% of homes in the UK and a similar picture around Europe, the pipes are in place to make the hype a reality.

Faster, cheaper

The past 12 months were an interesting time for broadband users in the UK.

BT announced in February it was to double the speeds of its 1Mbps (megabit per second) service for no extra cost but this seemingly generous offer was overshadowed as rivals went even further.

January - Blurring boundaries between TV and net could need regulation says Ofcom
February - BT doubled broadband speeds for no extra cost
March - Conference hears how broadband will revolutionise TV
April - UK gets first taste of broadband for less than 10
May - Office of National Statistics finds broadband has officially overtaken dial-up in the UK
June - PricewaterhouseCoopers says online games and digital music are driving force behind entertainment industry
July - Bulldog doubles it 4Mbps service for customers
August - NTL ups its speeds to 10Mbps
September - Net telephony kits start to be sold on high street
October - Bulldog, EasyNet and Be promises speeds of up to 24Mbps
November - UK Online offers first nationwide ADSL2+ service
Determined to prove the adage that faster is better, Bulldog upped its 4Mbps service to 8Mbps in the summer. Hot on its heels came cable firm NTL with its offer of speeds of up to 10Mbps and by the end of the year Wanadoo was also offering 8Mbps as its standard service.

Towards the end of the year, the next-generation of broadband, so-called ADSL2+, was on everyone's lips - this time with a promise of even greater speeds up to 24Mbps.

BT announced it would extend its trials of the technology with a view to launching a service in the spring but UK Online pipped it to the post, becoming the first to offer it nationwide.

UK Online was able to get there first thanks to another technology which had matured during the year - so-called local loop unbundling.

This offers rivals to BT the chance to put their own equipment in phone exchanges, and bring new services to market without having to wait for the nod from BT.

It has played a vital role during the course of the year in ensuring services get faster and faster and will continue to be key to developments in 2006.

It does bring its own problems though, as providers tend to chose the more densely populated areas of towns and cities, which in turn are more profitable, to roll out services.

Technology on tap

There has been concern about a second wave of the digital divide, with those in remoter areas stuck with slower speeds, and this is one issue that will be need to be closely watched as speed springs up in more urban areas.

Vonage's broadband telephony kit
Net telephony is likely to be a big hit with users
The limitations of super-fast broadband were highlighted in a report in November by analyst firm Point Topic which cast doubt on how much the technology could offer.

Even for those living in areas enabled by the technology, the performance of ADSL2+ is related to how far people live from their local telephone exchange and what quality their telephone line is.

Point Topic calculated that as few as 5% of the UK population would actually get speeds above 18Mbps.

The lesson for consumers in 2006 appears to be not to believe all the hype that is bound to surround so-called superfast services.

Lines should be tested before they buy into any new service to check what speed they can support.

Despite this, 2006 should prove yet another definitive year for broadband.

Consumer's appetite for the technology shows no signs of abating. According to research firm Datamonitor, demand for high-speed services will not slow down until the following year, by which time around 60% of households will have the technology on tap.

Home broadband sign-ups 'soaring'
28 Nov 05 |  Technology
Internet TV 'to boom' in Europe
22 Nov 05 |  Entertainment
Super-fast broadband hits the UK
10 Nov 05 |  Technology
Internet phone calls on the rise
03 Nov 05 |  Technology
High-speed net could disappoint
02 Nov 05 |  Technology

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