As each year passes we look back at how the last twelve months have changed the broadband world and what we're looking forward to in the coming year. This year has probably more than anything shown to us what to expect for next year with hints of faster and faster broadband services, now that most of the coverage battle seems done (although still a number of areas with difficulty getting broadband).
A year ago we looked at how 2005 was going to shape the broadband industry. The trend had by then already started moving from "unlimited" (or the slightly more honest "unmetered") descriptions attached to broadband services to more realistic policies governing heavy users. These have been implemented as fair/sustainable usage policies and usage related charging, although often these policies have annoyed users used to having no reason to limit their downloading. With increasingly faster and faster services however, this was always inevitable and necessary.
During the last year, we've seen a consolidation in the industry with One.Tel buying Rednet, Namesco buying NDO, Pipex buying Freedom2Surf, ntl and Telewest announcing a merger, Sky buying Easynet (yet to be completed), PlusNet buying Metronet, Carphone Warehouse buying One.Tel among others. This is likely to continue as economies of scale demand investment in LLU and other services to retain a competitive advantage.
Bulldog suffered widely known problems with customer service in particular earlier in the year, although recently it has re-invented itself with a major "open the gate" ad campaign on TV and in other media pushing its faster 8 Mbps services. 2006 will certainly be a key year for the C&W owned company as it needs to push to remain a major player as new companies enter the LLU market, probably one of the most significant developments we're going to see next year. Companies such as AOL are investing heavily into local loop unbundling services enabling them to control further the network the services are delivered through, and thus giving them a strong position to compete on the triple-play market (particularly with their Time Warner links) of telephone/internet/television which large companies such as Sky are desperate to conquer (via their acquisition of LLU operator Easynet and launch of skybybroadband). Broadband services up to 24 Mbps are now on offer in parts of the country and this increase will only continue, although the extent to which current technology will support speeds well in excess of 10 Mbps is questionable, giving rise to another question of digital divide.
For a number of years, it has been suggested VoIP / Internet Telephony is going to be the "killer application" that will help encourage broadband take-up and we saw the start of a number of providers in 2004 offering these services in addition to BT launching it's 21CN network plans. Over the last year, increasing take-up has brought VoIP into the mainstream with better support for 999 calls making it a real alternative to a standard phone line. While the triple play market will no doubt be significant, VoIP specific solutions will certainly continue to impact on businesses and improve home working, which we hope will develop the market over the next few months.
With margins of service providers being squeezed as the market becomes more mature, ISPs are looking for other channels to generate revenue to maintain their profitability, in the same way in which many other companies have been able to use their existing customer base to generate additional revenues. Service providers have been in a unique position of offering a service to their users whilst remaining neutral as to what their customers use the service for. With new technologies such as VoIP being very dependent on quality of service, and the trend in traffic shaping, it is possible for an ISP to charge for priority traffic outside its network (e.g. to alternative VoIP providers) whilst waiving these charges for traffic to its own services, thereby putting competing offerings at a distinct disadvantage. This 'two-tier Internet' issue has been highlighted by Michael Geist in relation to a Canadian cable company and it may not be too far away from coming to the U.K. if indeed such arrangements are not already in place at a commercial level.
As always, we'd like to thank all our staff and moderators who have worked hard to make the site what it is. Over the past nine months we have been developing an entirely new infrastructure for the site with superior support for listing of broadband service providers, a feature far overdue. This will be an exciting launch in early 2006 for ADSLguide and we look forward to all the work put into this to come to fruition.
Finally, we'd like to extend our thanks to the ISP staff, some of whom have gone far beyond what is expected of them to help us to help users, not forgetting users of the forum who give their time for free to help others with problems and advice.
We wish all our readers a very Happy New Year!
Sebastien & John
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