Broadband - time to get practical

And it could be that voice is the killer app of broadband

Broadband demand is booming but the time has come for solid business plans rather than throwing money at the technology, said research firm IDC at its annual telecoms forum in Rome today.

Eleven percent of Web sites currently have broadband content and this is expected to double in the next 12 months, according to vice president of telecommunications at IDC Mark Winther. But simply investing in broadband is not enough.

"First-generation broadband players had flawed business models and a key factor in their decline was the huge amount of money they invested," said Winther. If firms want to make money from broadband services they are going to have to offer personalised packaged services that answer individual needs, he added.

The dot-com shakeout has meant investors are no longer prepared to offer money on the promise of potential growth according to Winther, who points to Web hosting as a practical broadband service for firms looking to make money from broadband. But, while the outlook for dot-coms is gloomy, there is plenty of money to be made from Web hosting.

Ironically, one of the killer applications of the new high-speed data networks could be the very thing it was predicted to replace -- voice. Despite traditional telcos taking a thrashing on stock exchanges across the globe and many companies abandoning voice in favour of data, IDC believes voice is very much alive and kicking. Winther believes it is about to go through a renaissance, with the current buzzword at IDC being "Web talk". "The stock market thinks people have stopped talking," he noted. "But we think it is alive and well and moving to IP."

Call centres are worth $28bn (£19.4bn) per year, voice-enabled e-commerce sites will be worth around $130bn (£90bn) so the smart remaining dot-coms would be well advised to add voice capabilities to their sites, Winther said. "People want voice-enabled e-commerce transactions. The PC is just not enough."

Other speakers at IDC's European Telecoms Forum 2001 look to different killer applications of broadband. Unsurprisingly, Siemens president of access solutions Dr Ulrich Shoen believes that the future lies in mobility. "Just as all roads lead to Rome, so all broadband roads lead to mobile business," he said.

Inktomi's cofounder and chief scientist Eric A Brewer has a more interesting spin on broadband. He thinks broadband could have a positive effect on the current commuter chaos. "I work at home in the morning to avoid the traffic," he told delegates in Rome. "One killer app will be telecommuting."

Check out ZDNet's Interactive Broadband Guide

The news that matters is not the puff that BT expects to cover "half the population of the UK" with ADSL capability by early summer, and will have reached 70,000 subscribers by April. What Guy Kewney thinks matters is -- whether the various super-powers in the comms business can agree a way of doing business. Go to AnchorDesk UK for the news comment.

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