Year in Review: 2002
The past twelve months have seen some significant events in the world of broadband both in terms of price reductions as well as service enhancements. We have also witnessed more exchanges being enabled for ADSL
In January 2002, we wondered whether there would be one million broadband users in the UK by 2003 and were happy to report in October that this has been reached with just under half being on ADSL. If as AOL predicted, "2002 [was] to be the year for broadband Britain", then what will come out next year? Should we be expecting price reductions from BT? Probably not anything major, although we expect them to announce faster residential products in the first half of 2003.
In January, the IPStream Home and IPStream Office product ranges launched with a one month minimum contract from BTwholesale. This not only meant that users were not restricted in the interfaces they were using to access the Internet (thereby creating a large market in CPE hardware), it also decreased the setup cost of broadband, making it a viable alternative to unmetered dial-up for many more users. It also prompted service providers such as Pipex to hit the low cost broadband market initially with free setup and with sub-£20 monthly subscriptions later in the year. Although Pipex's launch was not without problems, they have significantly improved and they are without a doubt one of the broadband leaders today. These ISP price wars fuelled much debate very early on. LLU operators were not particularly happy at the cuts digging into their margins. BTwholesale's price cut bringing the wholesale cost of ADSL to £15+VAT per month (from £25) at the end of February prompted a steady stream of retail price reductions from service providers. In April, BT announced a new wholesale product called 'BT Central Plus' which included Internet access. This hasn't developed into a large number of retail offerings although BT's own brand "BT retail" ADSL service has been quite successful.
At the beginning of summer, BT announced that all future exchange upgrades were going to be based on customer demand. In practice, this meant that users had to 'register their interest' through one of the service providers participating in the scheme. Initially, this resulted in a backlash of public opinion against BT as the view was that the 'trigger levels' at which an exchange would proceed to the second stage of the process, were set too high, some as high as 600 pre-registrations while others were nearer 200. Ben Verwaayen agreed to be put on the spot by participating in a chat session with our users so that he could explain that this was increasing the transparency of the process. In the following months, dozens of campaigns to enable particular exchanges had been created with 50 or so more exchanges either enabled or in the process of being enabled. Although initially some problems arose when some people tried to cheat the pre-registration system, at 10:15 on the morning of Monday 9th of September, Todmorden became the first of the exchanges to reach its trigger level and less than a month later was ready to take orders. BT credited a local site for boosting the demand. Since then, the registration system has been producing a slow but consistent stream of exchanges to be enabled. Those who are still waiting can see their exchange's progress here.
One of the more public collapses of a low cost ISP reselling ADSL services was ET Global Solutions. Both ADSLguide and .net magazine received a lot of correspondence regarding this ISP after users experienced many problems in getting activated. In early September, Don Day from ET Global explained the problems and attributed them to being overwhelmed with orders. After several promises to refund those who had paid but not been activated, it was announced that ET Global Solutions had ceased trading. Finally, only a month or so ago, the company formally entered into liquidation leaving behind many angry customers.
Two months ago FairADSL, another low cost provider, introduced traffic shaping which effectively throttles peer-to-peer (p2p) traffic from applications such as Kazaa and other Napster-clones on their network. This was in response to noticing that a small proportion of users was consuming vast quantities of bandwidth and most of this was for p2p applications. They have not been open about the amount of bandwidth available for p2p but users have seen significant performance decreases and many users have been complaining about p2p speeds on our forums, but FairADSL maintains that adding bandwidth doesn't solve the problem. Meanwhile, Pipex's MD has assured users that no capping of p2p traffic will take place. The bandwidth war has begun :-)
The year has also seen a significant reduction in the price of ADSL hardware with low-end routers now being available from £50+VAT or so, about half the price they were being sold at at the beginning of the year. It is unlikely these will drop much further, although higher end routers will probably fall in price and we may increasingly see ADSL modems built-in on new PCs as manufacturers can start merging them into a single device for ADSL and 56k analogue.
ADSLguide has undergone many changes in 2002 not least our continued expansion. We have seen an approximate sixfold increase in the number of visitors from around 50,000 a month to almost 300,000 in November. We now serve over 5 million pageviews each month. We expect this increase to continue as broadband becomes available to a larger proportion of the population both through technology and price.
During this year, we have had a major overhaul of the main website into a package-based system allowing an ISP to specify a wider variety of options. New features and improvements have been made in many sections including reviews, questions & answers, ISP ratings, speed test etc. We have also worked on adding new features to the forums and just before Christmas, we completed some style changes which we have long awaited to bring online. For the past few months, we have been running a public gaming service with Counter-Strike and UT2003 servers which have proven very popular. We are also very proud to have come third in the Future UK Internet Awards 2002 - Best Site for Broadband category, behind BBC and Heavy.com.
Next year, we will continue to add more information (particularly on ISP products) and new features to the site. We have some unique and intriguing projects planned in various areas and we hope users will make use of these. We expect new challenges in terms of more unbundled products being launched and look forward to being the first to report when BT announces its 1Mbps residential service to keep up with NTL's 600K and 1Meg services as well as Bulldog's new residential offering. It's also likely that SDSL services will become more widely available although we believe they will be targeted at business users rather than home users. Rural areas and those who live further away from exchanges are hopefully going to be the main winners next year as 16-user DSLAMs and other technologies will extend the availability of ADSL.
We would like to thank Ben Verwaayen (CEO, BT Group) and and David Rickards (MD, Pipex) for taking part in online chat events following users' concern over issues raised, as well as all the ISP representatives who actively take part on our forums, accepting criticism where due and trying to improve their service levels and communicate with their users.
We would also like to express our gratitude to rizla for his work on the how it works section, Greg for his work on the graphics, and the game server admins Earthwalker, Napalm, Mrlol, n4nz, Neken, oNz, zen`, Tiger and WiLd0r for their time keeping players in order.
Most importantly, we would like to express our thanks to the ADSLguide staff who have performed a key role in bringing this site to you:
Jeremy has worked long hours to optimise the code of the main site to improve performance, add new features, and write and debug the speed tester tool not to mention the sleepless nights working on the servers that power the site behind the scenes. He has always pushed for excellence (perhaps sometimes too much so :-p) and has reviewed a large number of modems and routers for the site.
Andrew spends a lot of time reading press releases, finding and writing news as well as attending press conferences. He has also written the exchange demand tracker and spends a great deal of time helping users on the forums.
Finally, we owe a huge thanks to Chris and Martin who walk the beat in the forums and keep cool even under pressure. We could not ask for more committed moderators who share our principles and values. We appreciate all the work they do both publicly and the assistance they give to the rest of us privately. Thanks guys.
- john & seb