Since announcing the availability of faster broadband services at speeds of 1 Mbps, 2 Mbps and now 4 Mbps outside office hours to home users, Bulldog's strategy has been somewhat followed by Internet Central and more are expected bring in higher bandwidth services to the residential market which has so far been restricted to the 512kbps speed as BT's faster products are far more costly.
Bulldog has traditionally been a wholesale provider specialising in business services rather than selling directly to consumers, but are expecting to have 1,000 customers connected to its PrimeTime services by the end of March so we decided to find out how they are tackling the typical problems that a residential broadband customer base brings with it.
The most common problem is a small sub-group of users who leave their connections running at full speed throughout the day and night downloading music, videos and anything they can grab. This traffic is usually in the form of "peer to peer" (p2p) traffic and can consume most of an ISP's bandwidth utilisation where residential customers are concerned. The cable company NTL has already introduced a 1GB daily bandwidth limit and other ISPs such as FairADSL have introduced varying packages to ensure that less demanding users are not forced to subsidise the bandwidth needs of heavy users. With many of these users being tempted by the increased speed of the Bulldog services, a lot of heavy users are expected to subscribe to the service if they are within the catchment area.
On this issue, Richard Greco of Bulldog explains: "We have no plans to cap usage. In fact, we have designed our products to appeal to the heavy, savvy Internet user. These users are early adopters and market influencers. We are focussed on delighting them, and over time, growing market appeal to a broader audience." He goes on to explain how the PrimeTime product balances the needs of these users to allow them to take advantage of excess 'off-peak' bandwidth available outside business hours, which is not an unknown concept but still unproven on a large scale. Bulldog have however not ruled out the possibility that such limits may be necessary in the future to stop network abuse which puts them in the most common category of ISPs who are seeing how the patterns develop over time.
Another significant difference between the wholesale and end-user markets is the provision of support services where requirements are far broader. Bulldog have decided to maintain this in-house rather than outsource and have made changes to their internal systems and processes to be able to deal with direct customers as well as providing wholesale support services to companies who are reselling their service. These changes have involved taking on more staff and an online ordering system to streamline operations, and so far users are singing their praises.
This focus on faster residential broadband services has not deterred Bulldog from pushing its business products, recently announcing a fully managed installation of a wireless network for SOHO businesses from £400, taking out the need to have an in-house IT consultant or outsourcing installation to a third party.
The real challenge for broadband this year will be the penetration of faster residential services. Bulldog has a strong position in the London area where it has its own equipment in many exchanges. What will be interesting is to see how the nationwide market for lower cost/higher bandwidth 50:1 services goes. We expect BTwholesale to be forced to introduce such a product this year in order to let its customers compete with companies such as Bulldog and Internet Central but we also think it likely that it will initially be only expanded up to 1 Mbps as the market demand for faster services is still questionable as very little broadband related content is yet available. [seb]