Broadband boom set to transform Britain

DSL alone grew 447 percent worldwide, and high-speed satellite is on its way too

Today the Internet is a world of screeching modems and slow downloads, but in five years' time the picture in Europe will be transformed by a boom in high-speed satellite digital telephone line services.

New studies show a boom in DSL (digital subscriber line) connections and broadband satellite dishes coming to Europe. Research firm IDC found the worldwide DSL subscriber base jumped 447 percent from 1999 to 2000, reaching 4.5 million connections, and is set to hit 66.4 million in 2004. Sixty-one percent of that DSL market will be outside the US.

As for satellite access, it accounted for only 293,500 terminals last year but will grow to 7.2 million by 2005, according to Gartner Dataquest. Europe will account for 30 percent of that market.

DSL, which uses standard copper telephone lines, is expected to grow the fastest, but faces its own hurdles. "The market must contend with rapidly changing standards, installation and provisioning challenges, and competition from other broadband technologies, including cable modems and fixed wireless," said Amy Harris, senior analyst for IDC's Broadband Markets and Technologies program.

Broadband is supposed to release the potential of the Internet, giving people an always-on connection and making it cheap and easy to access media such as audio and video from anywhere in the world. The technology has had a troubled introduction in the UK, however, with delays plaguing British Telecommunications' (quote: BT) rollout of DSL and a slow takeup of cable-modems, which deliver content over cable television lines. Plans to allow competitors to access BT's local telephone infrastructure have also failed to deliver results so far.

The new studies are likely to reinforce fears that Britain is falling behind other European countries and the US in its broadband plans, despite the government's efforts toward a "wired Britain".

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