Sign up here for the broadband campaign

Believe it or not, where I live — a mere 3km from the centre of the city of Bath — broadband is not yet available. Although this is a bit of a nuisance in the management of Europe's best-read optical communications monthly (see LWE.audit story on p7), there are signs that this situation is soon going to change. Hopefully, the people-power exemplified by the local "Broadband for Combe Down" campaign group will persuade local provider BT to upgrade the service (see more at www.mcjs.co.uk/broadband.htm). This type of campaign has been successful in France where remote communities have persuaded France Télécom to provide them with broadband access (see LWE November and in this month's France focus pp16–19).

About two-thirds of Britain's 20m households are served by ADSL-enabled exchanges — although so far only 500,000 people have signed up for broadband services. Asking BT about why the take up is only a few percent of the potential market, I am told that the main problem is "low awareness". Hence BT is spending wildly on an "amusing" TV.commercial campaign to encourage the public to sign up for always-on internet etc. This is not quite so amusing when one cannot actually receive the service.

At the end of November BT trumpeted that it had completed its 500,000th ADSL broadband connection. Alison Ritchie, chief broadband officer, said, "This is an important milestone in our progress towards the challenging target of one million broadband connections by next summer, and five million by 2006. The broadband bandwagon is gaining momentum, as awareness and demand are fuelled not only by our marketing, but also that of other ISPs. We all benefit from being in the most competitive broadband market in Europe."

So, hurrah then for the public — or some of us. For companies that can see beyond their next profits warning, there could be some good equipment deployment opportunities when networks are upgraded and switches are switched, especially when consumers and businesses catch on to the benefits of broadband.

At the recent Capacity conference in London, Yankee Group's VP.EMEA Chris Lewis was drawing some positive conclusions about the prospects for both wireless and broadband traffic for business and consumer sectors alike. "The good news," he said, "is that even now the total value of spending on telecoms, wireless, and data services has never been greater. So there's a myth that the telecoms industry is in a trough," he added, bravely.

Perhaps one way to solve the industry's problems is to bridge the potential difference between the business and consumer markets — who have the money and will be keen to pay for new services when they (a) find out about them and (b) can receive them — and the systems and the equipment providers who are so desperately keen to relieve themselves of their inventory and get their hands on the revenue.

This scenario is detailed in our focus on France and some of her key innovators (pp16–19). Moreover, there's a trenchant argument against (French) Government intervention from this month's Viewpoint guest Jean-Michel Mur, chairman of France's Club Optique on page 6.

Matthew Peach
Editor in Chief, Lightwave Europe
matthewp@pennwell.com

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