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Ignore the broadband boom at your peril

There's a quiet revolution in the provision of broadband in the UK - which is very good news for the future of e-commerce
Written by Leader , Contributor
A raft of recent numbers underline the inexorable rise of broadband. The EU has taken over from Asia Pacific as the number one DSL region, with a total of over 23 million subscribers, around 11 million taking up DSL in the last 12 months. The UK has jumped from eleventh to eighth place in the Top 20 list of countries in terms of penetration, with more than 1.65 million new subscribers.

On top of that, PointTopic reports that the overall number of broadband lines worldwide, including both DSL and cable connections, has increased by almost 55 percent to over 123 million in the 12 months to 30 June 2004.

This momentum seems set to continue in the UK. BT has made a big commitment to building out Broadband Britain and working out ways to improve the take-up of DSL services. It plans to offer flexible bandwidth that allows user to dial up and down the bandwidth they need, when they need it.

This totally changes what you can offer in terms of e-commerce -- even the ill-fated Boo.com might have fared better if consumers had had the fat pipes needed to access its jazzy, high-bandwidth retail offering.

BT has created products to help people build rich online content and try to increase the number of organisations doing sophisticated online media. It's also thrown considerable resource behind VoIP. Low cost phone calls will provide another lure to get people using broadband at home. And it wants to improve customer service -- an area which has been a nightmare for cable consumers -- by developing clever ways to do remote troubleshooting of people's home network connections.

And behind each of those broadband connections is an online consumer. The latest edition of Mintel's Internet Quarterly reports that three million people got online in the last three months. Mintel claims that 30 million people are now online -- a staggering 57 percent of the UK population. Tesco, the UK's dominant retailer, is reporting record profits. Its e-commerce offering Tesco.com is an important and successful part of that model -- along with its own provision of a no-frills unlimited broadband service in the UK for £19.97 a month.

Another powerful metric that indicates the way the wind is blowing is that Internet advertising in the US generated $4.6bn (£2.5bn) in the first six months of 2004 -- a 40 percent increase over the first half of 2003, and far beyond even the go-go years of the Internet boom. Nobody's waving their hands about. It's a rather quiet revolution compared to the ballyhoo of the dot-com years, but it's worth taking a moment to note the scale of the infrastructure that's being built and, if you're not building now, you probably should be.

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