What the Narrowband Revolution means to you

Free Net access for consumers, it's the start of a revolution... If it can take the strain

The arrival of free Internet access in the UK will cause an explosion in the use of streaming multimedia and digital music, according to experts.

Starting Monday 1 November, CallNet plans to offer UK consumers free Internet access. That means for the first time Internet users in the UK will be able to download streaming audio or video services without losing sleep over the phone bill.

Streaming multimedia, whether it be Internet radio, or live Webcasts, is just beginning to take off in the UK and is still far behind the US, where Internet calls are free. If CallNet's plan works, all that could change with the advent of the narrowband revolution.

Free Internet access will allow UK consumers to have an always-on Internet connection -- although it has been suggested this could bring the scheme to its knees -- leading to a far greater uptake of streaming media services.

Streaming giant RealNetworks claims that even with some of its biggest events, such as the recent Webcast of Ibiza dance club Manumission's closing night, most of the traffic still comes from America. Real confirmed Wednesday that the potential for a greater audience in the UK would mean it would be able to provide far greater UK specific content. "This is excellent news for the industry," says Darellel Purvieance, director of Marketing for RealNetworks, "Our studies have found that the greatest hindrance to watching live events [rather than the bandwidth] is the cost and this will eliminate this problem."

Digital music fans will also benefit from free access. At present, although music is available far cheaper over the Internet than in the shops, telephone charges can often negate the difference.

MP3 download site Crunch.co.uk would "definitely benefit" according to A&R manager Jimmy Knight. "At the moment, you're paying 99p for a track but you're also paying the call charges," he says. "With no call charges customers wouldn't mind the hour or so it takes to download an album."

Knight reckons that as the falling costs and increased ease of access prompts growth in the digital music arena, it will also convince the record industry of the benefits of digital distribution. This should, according to sources, hasten the plans of the major record companies to deliver entire music catalogues online.

Digital Island, which recently built the first global streaming media network for delivering multimedia content, is convinced free Internet access will provide the necessary impetus. "This will give the music companies more confidence that they can get their services out quicker, and that consumers will be able to afford them," said Andrew Davies, managing director of Digital Island.

What the Narrowband Revolution will mean to you:

  • Downloads of single tracks or whole albums with no additional call charges on top

  • Free music downloads that really are free

  • Constant free access to streaming Internet radio

  • Constant free access to streaming Webcasts of live concerts, sporting events and news feeds

  • All-night online gaming with no extra cost.

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