Bandwidth on the run

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The Independent Online

An almighty battle is brewing, and next summer is when it's all going to erupt. You may have read a few reports recently about local loops and ADSL (Asynchronous Digital Subscriber Line) and not given them much thought because, let's face it, local loops and ADSL are boring techno-babble. But keep reading because a number of significant developments are taking place that will change the way in which we access internet and interactive services.

From September, BT will be forced to hire out space on its local exchanges (ie, the loops) to rival DSL operators, such as Energis, First Telecom, Kingston Communication, NTL and Telewest. Trialling (ie, testing) will start at the end of the year, and by July next year, consumers will be able to choose from a long list of telephony and television packages without having to fork out dosh for a switcher or a satellite dish.

By this time, BT will have managed to upgrade half its network to ADSL, meaning that operators such as Kingston, which up until now has been confined to Humberside, will be able to piggy-back BT exchanges to launch a national service. BT, being the dominant player in the home telephony market, is going to have the upper hand, particularly once it gets the green light to send television signals down its lines. But once people realise how much better and cheaper the other offers are, BT is going to experience churn like never before.

It was no coincidence that BT came out shouting that it was hitting targets for ADSL roll-out just days before Oftel announced the 14 telcos that could conduct trials on the exchanges. But while BT is struggling to install ADSL fast enough to pacify critics, the triallists are fine-tuning strong services that will knock BT for six.

Kingston's offer is bound to do very well. The company, which has been providing telephony services in and around Hull for years, already has a fully commercial ADSL service up and running (costing just £15 per month) and can pipe down Sky channels and video on demand into homes with digital boxes.

 

Yankee invasion

Keeping the theme of battles and killing, what better time could there be to harp on about the US invasion - again. It's been said a thousand times before, but the UK has become a very ripe market for new services and ideas. At the moment, anything goes, or at least that's what all these US companies are thinking.

Whatever the case, the invasion has picked up pace and is happening everywhere, be it in the agency world, the content market or the dotshops. While this is nothing new in itself, the size and calibre of the latest invaders - CNN.com, ESPN.com, the Industry Standard, Slate, Salon, Women.com, iVillage.com - are enough to put out clear endorsements about the buoyant state of the internet industry in the UK. The Industry Standard, for instance, has been eyeing up a Go Europe strategy for a while now, but has only recently said it will have a local service over here by autumn.

Despite the plethora of high-profile limp flotations recently, the market has never been stronger. The UK internet industry has reached maturity and, no matter what the doomsday people say, we're only halfway towards whatever fate can throw at us.

amy@wagswell.co.uk

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