Study: Australia’s broadband uptake steady, DSL outweighs cable

Australia ranks in the top 20 of nations with broadband subscribers, and DSL is fast overtaking cable, a report released by the DSL Forum has revealed.

According to the report, conducted by UK research firm Point Topic, global broadband subscribers grew by 12.3 per cent (12 million) in the first quarter of 2004 to reach a total of 111.5 million.

Not surprisingly, the US led with 27,467,523 subscribers, followed by China (15,115,000) and then Japan (14,917,165). Australia was ranked 18th with 863,850 subscribers. It was bookended by Switzerland with 976,000 and Denmark with 804,000.

This is slightly more than the most recent figures released by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. The results of the ACCC’s Snapshot of Broadband Deployment report showed adoption of broadband services across the country grew by 14.4 per cent (86,900 users) in the last quarter of 2003 to reach 698,700 subscribers.

DSL grows

Globally, DSL has a 65.8 per cent share of the broadband access market, with the remaining 34.2 per cent held by cable modems, Ethernet and other broadband technologies.

The result is good news for the DSL Forum -- the body that supports xDSL technologies and the uptake of such technology around the world.

The largest cable region is still North America, but this preference may be changing.

“While the Americas remain cable dominated (14.8 million DSL lines, and 20.1 million cable modems), the figures indicate that DSL is growing more rapidly in this area,” said Louisa Stanton, an analyst from Pielle Consulting and spokesperson for the DSL Forum.

The Americas experienced a 12.2 per cent DSL growth compared to 6.8 per cent cable in the first quarter of this year, she said.

“It seems that broadband customers are increasingly choosing DSL as their number one delivery option. The fact that DSL customers are on the increase [in relation to other broadband delivery options] is wonderful news for us, and evidence that DSL has an enormously important role to play in delivering broadband in the short, medium and long term.”

The right broadband technology

Although customers are normally factoring price and download limits when selecting a broadband service, Stanton said it was important for customers to chose the right technology.

“Not only do we strive to develop the DSL requirements to meet next generation demands, it is also our aim to educate consumers of the advantages of choosing a DSL connection.”

One of these, she said, was the no-sharing nature of DSL technology.

“DSL broadband is a point-to-point connection, so it is all yours, all the time. You don't share the bandwidth with your neighbours like a cable modem, so there is no 'go slow' period.”

Australian telco analyst Paul Budde agreed that while technology may be an important factor, it doesn’t seem to register as a major issue with many broadband customers.

“Customers have little interest in what technology delivers them the broadband connection,” claims Budde.

This view may hold true for some broadband subscribers, but not for broadband user Gordon Drennan. He says many factors need to be considered. Currently a dial-up subscriber and now in the process of getting hooked up to ADSL, Drennan said his first preference was cable.

He said his ideal broadband connection would have been to cut off his home phone and direct the $26-$50 per month spent on line rental and dial-up call costs towards a cable connection using a DOCSIS (Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification) modem. This would have given him an Internet data connection, a phone, perfect quality free-to-air TV reception, plus cable TV capabilities such as movies on demand -- all through one high-speed data connection.

“That would be my ideal: one fast connection that everything goes through, with only one service rental charge.” However, he was unable to obtain this because he lived in a block of units that had been pre-wired by Foxtel.

He has since moved to a home in Adelaide, which already has a cable socket in the wall.

“Media reports said Foxtel was switching to DOCSIS cable modems like Optus. So I checked the Telstra Web site but it said I lived in an area where I couldn't have a cable data connection. I could have cable TV, but not data. So scratch cable,” he said.

Drennan has since signed up with iiNet for ADSL, partly because his existing dial-up account is with iHug (purchased by iiNet in October last year) so he can keep his e-mail address, and partly because the ADSL deal was compelling.

His only problem now is getting connected. He was promised a month ago it would be a done deal in five to seven working days. He is still waiting. But that is another story.

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Howard Dahdah

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