G.Lite approval paves way for US broadband

What if getting connected to broadband Internet service were as easy as plugging in your telephone?

That vision came a step closer to reality Tuesday with the approval in America of G.Lite, a standard for digital subscriber lines (DSL) that makes the technology easier to install for consumers, and easier to roll out for service providers.

Some experts believe G.Lite could mean a significant decrease in the time it will take to deploy DSL to the mass market. As with every type of broadband technology, DSL is expected to take several years to reach widespread market penetration. But G.Lite "could shorten that time quite a bit," said analyst Rob Enderle of Giga Information Group. "That projection includes the time it would take to pre-wire every house. If we can get away from that, it could reduce it by as much as a third."

Currently, DSL installation requires the telephone company to send a worker to your house to install a splitter and test your telephone line. G.Lite does not require a splitter -- users could buy and install the modem themselves, or it could even be preinstalled on their PCs.

G.Lite, also called Universal ADSL, and referred to as G.922.2 by the International Telecommunications Union, was determined in October and reached final ITU approval this week. It is based on the same technology as DSL, which provides an "always-on" connection at speeds many times that of a conventional modem. The standard will make it easier for consumers to get plugged in, but the real benefit could be in allowing faster rollouts by communications providers.

Besides eliminating the need to send out a technician, G.Lite also works in places where a conventional DSL modem will not. That's because it works with Digital Loop Carrier, a digital technology introduced to enhance phone networks in the 1980s. Conventional DSL can't be carried over DLC lines.

"This removes one more roadblock for deploying DSL," said Clay Ryder, an analyst at Zona Research. The tradeoff for these advantages is in speed. While full-on DSL can reach download speeds of up to 8Mbps and upload speeds of 1.5Mbps, G.Lite is limited to 1.5Mbps downstream and 512Kbps upstream. But that's still much faster than the speediest of modems, which are only 56Kbps downstream. And the availability of the standard doesn't change the fact that communications companies still have to upgrade central switching offices around the US for DSL to work.

"It's still up to the phone companies to make it work, and that's going to be, and has been, a slow ramp," said analyst Chris Mines of Forrester Research Inc. Although G.Lite modems are already being manufactured, Mines thinks that reliable, consumer-friendly versions won't be available until Christmas 2000.

Jupiter Communications expects residential DSL usage to reach just 500,000 users by the end of this year, but as many as 3.4 million homes by 2002.