Broadband World Expanding at the Edges

Carl Weinschenk

We generally only get the press releases hyping analysts' reports -- the texts are saved for the folks that pay.


The firms often fill their releases with meaty tidbits to entice journalists and those ptospective clients. This is one such case. The data included in this In-Stat press release brings to mind the quote attributed to Illinois Senator Everett Dirksen: "A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you're talking about real money."


The release, which refers to broadband subscribers instead of real money, hypes a report, "Broadband Gets Big: Global Broadband Subs Hit 285 Million." The numbers indeed are big. In-Stat says that about 65 million people worldwide became first-time broadband subscribers during the past year. By 2011, 567 million -- about double the estimated 285 million on board now -- will subscribe.


The release says all but 8 percent of today's connections are via cable modems or digital subscriber line (DSL). By 2011, it adds, 58 percent of broadband connections will be via DSL and more than 55 million households will reside on fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) architectures.


These vast numbers suggest some interesting ideas. The first is that broadband, for all the acceptance among people who deal with it on a day-to-day basis, still has a long way to go. This is suggested by the related facts that the number of subscribers can be doubled so quickly and that such a huge number of people subscribed this year. The fact that 58 percent of folks will use DSL suggests that the lion's share of growth will be among people using slower speed connections. That could have an impact on the adoption rates of Web 2.0 and other speed-dependent multimedia applications.


The caveat is that the parallel growth of FTTH means the upper end of the speed continuum also will grow. It will be interesting to find out how much of this growth will be among homes formerly without broadband, how much will be replacement for cable modems, and how much will replace DSL. The fastest and slowest connection options will grow more quickly than the mid-tier. Indeed, taken to its logical extent, we could be on the way to a worldwide, intra-broadband digital divide.


All of this is quite speculative, of course. The bottom line -- assuming the basic premise of the In-Stat research is correct -- is that the broadband world will expand radically and subtly shift during the next few years. It will be interesting -- and fun -- to watch it happen.

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