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Broadband will be driven by rich multimedia content
By Mahesh Rathod

Broadband will really happen when companies come together to offer consumers a convergent solution, from Internet access to voice, and from entertainment & information, to e-commerce. Service providers will first have to address key issues like: content delivery vs. costs

The Internet revolution and the advent of 'anytime, anywhere connectivity' requires today's communication networks to address performance and architectural requirements like scalability, robustness, reliability, affordability, manageability, being future proof etc. Broadband communications offers all this and can cause a dramatic change in the way we communicate. The business world has for long had to contend with legacy business models, legacy technical infrastructures, and legacy regulations. Fortunately all that is set to change.

The Internet and the World Wide Web will be important drivers for the broadband market. Innovative and new Internet-based applications are prompting consumers to go for broadband access. Typical applications include online shopping and electronic commerce, both for home and business segments; Internet telephony, video telephony, entertainment, gaming (including gambling over the Internet) etc.

Bandwidth has been of critical importance and continues to play a crucial role in the evolution of broadband networks. Several factors have caused users, both home and corporate, to thirst for greater bandwidth.

"With increased broadband usage, we will see an increase in the number of diverse 'communities of interest,' both among individual consumers and also in corporate circles," says Bhasker Sharma, CEO, Net Brahma Technologies. "Many special interest groups are likely to develop Web portals and participate in e-commerce transactions. This creates business opportunities for companies looking to personalise their marketing. Distance or technological limitations will no longer divide people and organisations that share common interests. These communities will use broadband applications such as streaming audio and video, and faster data transmission to enrich communication between members."

Nascent industry
But the broadband industry is still nascent, notwithstanding the widely accepted fact that it would create immense value in terms of improved products and services. Various issues relating to technology, standards, regulations, business models, consumer value proposition, distribution etc. still remain foggy. The industry continues to be rattled by several such issues that have yet to be resolved.

Cable modem seems to have won the war against DSL in the US, but in India both technologies are being used. The broadband market in Europe has not grown as fast as expected. The anticipated impact of the economic slowdown on the broadband market is likely to focus on large-scale consolidation.

In the United States, broadband access has been developed and deployed in a series of fits and starts. A number of potential competing technologies and providers exist. Current technologies include landline cable modems/telephony; a myriad of incompatible digital subscriber line services (xDSL), and three fixed wireless technologies, including multipoint multichannel distribution service (MMDS), local multipoint distribution service (LMDS) and personal communications services (PCS).

If you consider Europe, the broadband market is clearly not growing as fast as many had hoped. Technologies deployed mainly include a mixture of cable modems, xDSL, satellite and wireless. Broadband service providers have been hit hard, primarily due to their dependencies on established networks. New players are starting afresh by building and deploying networks from scratch.

Technological divisions
As in Asia, sharp technological divisions exist among players due to regulatory constraints. The typical telco uses ISDN/DSL, CATV (cable TV) operators use cable modems and competitive players use wireless technologies. This pattern is seen in many countries, including Hong Kong, Malaysia, India and recently Singapore.

In a later stage of development, technological divisions are shaped by geography and infrastructure. Players employ several technologies in their networks, each to serve a different niche in the market. This has happened in more mature broadband markets like Korea but is also starting to occur in the Philippines due to a progressive regulatory framework. DSL and cable modems are used where PSTN (public switched telephone networks) and CATV are in place. LMDS is used in densely populated areas, with little infrastructure and unwired business districts. Satellite is used to service rural areas where population densities are low, such as the peripheral islands of Taiwan. Once newer technologies are available in the market, ISDN becomes relatively less important. However, in poorly developed markets like Malaysia and Indonesia, ISDN is still the focus of investment and services.

A potential market
"India is expected to be a prime strategic market for a number of broadband companies looking at bringing in new technology applications aimed at the domestic market," says Bhasker Sharma of Net Brahma Technologies. "There are many players on the field, many of the top Indian corporate houses, existing and new ISP's, telecom and media companies, MNCs etc, are busy deploying their broadband networks and preparing for broadband services. But it will be some time before Broadband actually takes off here in a big way and we will have to wait to experience the promised benefits."

Broadband will really happen when companies come together to offer consumers a convergent solution, from Internet access to voice, and from entertainment & information, to e-commerce. Players will have to address several key issues like: content delivery vs. costs. As various business models evolve and mature, there is likely to be a flurry of activities pertaining to the development or destruction of businesses. Mergers and acquisitions will be inevitable as companies rush to adopt the emerging market realities.

But all said and done, Broadband is here to stay and can revolutionise the communication landscape of today. It's only a matter of time before things happen in this space.

Mahesh Rathod can be reached at rathodmp@hotmail.com

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