Friday, July 22, 2005

Waiting for the next speed upgrade.

This week a press release was on the wire about the PowerLine technology. “The UniversalPowerline Association (UPA) announced that it has published a paper of proposed specifications entitled, "Powerline Communication Systems - Access/In-home & In-home/In-home coexistence mechanism – General specifications". The proposed specifications are intended to be the starting point for the work of standards setting bodies, including the IEEE and ETSI”.

So the Homeplug technology is still alive. But when will it be available? It has been a subject since 1980. During a conference on videotext, an online precursor of internet, I heard about it for the first time. An English consultant told the audience that videotext would be a technology, which could automatically record the power consumption of a household. There was never an experiment in the Netherlands at that time and the technology never materialised. It remained a white elephant.

Since 2000 the technology was promoted again. But this time there were also experiments. In Mannheim, Germany the power company started the internet service Vype. And this service is still alive; in fact it has extended its service with telephony. In the Netherlands the power company Nuon started the trial Digistroom with 180 households in the city of Arnhem in 2001. The maximum speed was about 2Mbps. But in 2003 Nuon terminated this trial as the technology appeared to be unmanageable. I thought that this was the end of the technology. But it is still seen as an opportunity.

Presently the latest upgrade in the Dutch consumer infrastructure is ADSL2+. Versatel is using it in order to start its triple play roll-out. The company tells subscribers that 6Mbps is needed for television and 14 Mbps for downloading internet. KPN has also started with an ADSL2+ upgrade for consumers.

Looking at other infrastructures in the Netherlands, the cable is more successful. The Netherlands has a penetration rate of 94 percent of the households. Cable has presented itself as a player in the broadband market slowly. In 2002 coax cable operator Cai Westland, through its subsidiary Kabelfoon, upgraded internet speed to 16 Mbps (up- and downloading). In 2003 the Finnish company Teleste announced a cable upgrade to 50Mbps; however in the Netherlands no cable company has upgraded its network for this speed yet. Since 2003 the Dutch power company Essent is experimenting with Teleste to upgrade the speed. Recently I spoke with an Essent official who told me that they are using the Teleste technology and are now going for speeds up to 100Mbps over the cable. According to a press release this upgrade should be relatively cheap, up to maximally 200 euro per household.

Yet, I am really wondering how long it will take when this cable upgrade will be executed. In the Netherlands, it would make an end to a long, senseless discussion between the glass fibre lobby with the incumbent telco KPN and the municipalities of The Hague and Amsterdam on the one hand and the cable lobby on the right hand. It would make competition more transparent, at last. A recent bidding procedure for a citywide broadband network in Amsterdam, from which the cable companies were excluded, felt like the Italian bank acquisition fight between ABN AMRO and bank Pop Lodi.

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