Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Annex 2


Narrowband access

per cent UK homes with Internet access
45 per cent

per cent UK SMEs with Internet access
63 per cent

Number of UK homes with Internet access
11 million

Number of UK SMEs[2] with Internet access

Broadband access

Cable modems

End users of cable modem services
196,000 (as at end December 2001)

Availability of cable modems
- Telewest available to 4.9m homes

- 95 per cent broadband capable

- ntl available to 8.4m homes

—56 per cent broadband capable


UK households covered by DSL
60 per cent (around 13 million homes)

End-users with ADSL installed
126,000 (as at end of December 2001)

Operators and service providers that have taken
up BT's wholesale ADSL products

BT exchanges DSL enabled

Exchanges prepared for Local Loop
Unbundling (LLU)
61 (16 physical co-location, 45 distant

Unbundled loops connected


    —  Oftel supports the Government's aims to make the UK the best environment for e-commerce by the end of 2002 and for the UK to have the most extensive and competitive broadband market in the G7 by 2005.

    —  Oftel wants to see choice and value for money for all consumers. This includes choice of access speed (high and low-speed access) for Internet access and other services.

    —  Oftel believes that competition is the most effective way of achieving these goals.

    —  Competition is working:

        —  In narrowband, UK consumers now have a wide variety of tariffs for dial-up (low-speed) Internet access. These include both pay-as-you-go tariffs and unmetered packages. UK Internet access prices for residential consumers are now among the lowest in the world.

        —  In broadband, there is competition at the infrastructure level between cable modem providers and DSL, and numerous service providers competing with BT to provide retail DSL services to consumers. Substantial progress has been made in Broadband access in the UK and take-up has accelerated markedly in the last year. Oftel has played an active role in setting the regulatory framework for broadband markets, and is working closely with Industry to pre-empt and resolve disputes.

        —  Oftel is monitoring closely the evolving Internet access and broadband markets through quarterly consumer surveys in the UK and a programme of regular international benchmarking.

Key events since the previous brief

    —  DTI Secretary of State, Patricia Hewitt and e-Envoy, Andrew Pinder, launched the UK online second annual report (4 December 2001).

    —  Publication of Oftel's latest international benchmarking study of Internet access and broadband (7 December 2001).

    —  Cable end-users up by some 145 per cent since July 2001 from 80,000 to 196,000 as at the end of December 2001. ADSL-enabled end users up by more than 33 per cent since September 2001 from 90,000 to 126,000 as at the end of December 2001.

    —  Launch of "rate adaption" on further BT wholesale DSL products to improve reach from exchange building from 3.5km to 5.5km. Rate adaption is now available with wholesale products used to supply businesses as well products used to supply residential customers. This increases the number of consumers able to obtain DSL services from 70 per cent per local exchange to 90 per cent.

    —  Oftel publication of a draft Direction (21 December 2001) to resolve a dispute between BT, Energis and Thus on xDSL interconnection at the ATM switch. Oftel is proposing to require BT to provide two new interconnection products using both ADSL and SDSL technology, which should stimulate competition at the wholesale level and increase the types of broadband access services available.

    —  Oftel publication of the final statement and direction in relation to BT's service level agreement (SLA) for local loop unbundling (LLU)—15 November 2001. This has required BT to amend the terms on which it offers LLU services to operators (the ANF agreement) and has set the service level standards that BT must offer to operators wanting to unbundle BT's local loops.

    —  During December 2001, Oftel determined that operators can have unescorted access to BT's exchanges in order to carry out maintenance on their equipment. Escorted access will only be necessary where BT would require its own contractors to be escorted by a member of BT staff.


    —  David Edmonds addresses Internet Service Provider Association event on broadband at House of Commons (15 January 2002)

    —  Publication of Oftel's final statement on effective competition in dial-up Internet access (January 2002)

    —  Publication of consultation on amendments to the FRIACO Direction (January 2002)

    —  Publication of quarterly consumer research and Internet access study (January 2002)

    —  BT will introduce self-install variants of its residential wholesale DSL product, reducing both the connection and rental charges (January 2002)

    —  BT will introduce Service Level Guarantees (SLGs) for its wholesale DSL products (January 2002). These will allow service providers to claim compensation where BT fails to meet specified targets for order provision and fault repair.


  38.  Monitoring the Internet and broadband access market

  Oftel regularly monitors the UK Internet and broadband access markets and publishes its findings to aid transparency. Oftel's International benchmarking study takes place every 6 months. The latest set of results from Oftel's benchmarking studies of dial-up Internet access and broadband, published in December 2001(based on services available in August 2001), includes the UK, France, Germany, Sweden, and the US states of Ohio and California. Oftel's quarterly market research surveys ask residential and SME Internet users about their use and experience of the Internet, along with consumer awareness and use of broadband technologies.



  For residential and business users:

    —  Dial-up Internet access is available to all UK households and businesses with a fixed telephone line. The vast majority of UK ISPs are available to consumers nationwide, although the cable companies' ISP services are more limited.


  For residential and business users:

    —  60 per cent of UK consumers and businesses are within the area of a DSL enabled exchange. 90 per cent of those can obtain ADSL services with current technology.

    —  Cable networks pass approximately 50 per cent of UK households—cable modem services available to around 38 per cent of all households. Telewest services are available to 4.9 million homes, of which 95 per cent are broadband capable. NTL services are available to 8.4 million homes, of which 56 per cent are broadband capable. This equals around 9 million homes.

    —  Digital TV offers one-way broadband—available to 99 per cent households. Two-way satellite is developing.

  39.  Leased lines (symmetric broadband) are available throughout country from BT and businesses generally have the choice of several competing operators in metropolitan areas. Oftel's determination on partial private circuits (see below) should further stimulate competition and lower prices.



  For residential users (November 2001 survey):

    —  45 per cent of UK households are connected to the Internet

    —  39 per cent of Internet homes use unmetered packages

  For business users (November 2001 survey):

    —  63 per cent of UK SMEs are connected to the Internet (94 per cent medium-sized and 60 per cent small businesses). Three quarters of small businesses used ordinary phone line/dial-up access to connect to the Internet, whilst just a third of medium-sized businesses did so.

    —  37 per cent of SMEs with Internet access use an unmetered package.


  For residential broadband users:

    —  Around three per cent of homes with Internet access use broadband

  For business broadband users (November 2001 survey):

    —  The number of UK businesses claiming to use a broadband connection has risen from just over three per cent in May to six per cent in November, comprising five per cent DSL and one per cent cable modern. Industry subscriber figures are unable to show which businesses are using broadband, but assuming that users fall within the criteria of Oftel's sample one-250 employees, £50,000 minimum annual turnover) figures suggest that five per cent of these businesses are currently using DSL or cable modem. This equates to approximately one per cent of all small and medium-sized businesses using DSL or cable modem.



  For residential dial-up users:

    —  the price of up to 40 hours per month dial-up Internet access in the UK for residential users compares well on average with prices elsewhere—only Germany is marginally cheaper (by two per cent) for off-peak access and only the US is cheaper (by 10 per cent) for peak access; and

    —  For unmetered access, residential prices in the UK were similar to the US. France, Germany and Sweden to not have widely available unmetered dial-up packages. For France and Sweden this means prices for high usage in these countries are expensive.

  Comparison of residential Internet access prices as at August 2001

  Source: Oftel International benchmarking report, December 2001

  For business dial-up users:

    —  for business metered packages, UK prices are higher than elsewhere; and

    —  prices for business unmetered packages in the UK are similar to those in the US. France, Germany and Sweden do not have any unmetered dial-up packages making prices for high users in these countries much more expensive. However, in Germany broadband access is cheaper than unmetered dial-up in the UK and US.

  Comparison of business Internet access prices

  Source: Oftel International benchmarking report, December 2001


  For residential broadband (DSL and cable modem) users:

    —  in the UK, the monthly charge for residential higher bandwidth services was around £26, compared to £34 in France, £29 in Germany and £28 in the US;

    —  this relatively good position for the UK is due to its cable modem services—a comparison of DSL services only shows services in the UK to be more expensive than elsewhere.

  Source: Oftel International benchmarking report, December 2001

  For business broadband (DSL and cable modem) users:

    —  the results for business were mixed: for a basic broadband service UK prices were lower than in France, close to those in Germany but more expensive than in Sweden and the US; however German prices rose above those in the UK for consumers requiring a minimum bandwidth in excess of 500kbps (average over both directions).

  Source: Oftel International benchmarking report, December 2001

  40.  The International benchmarking study is expected to be updated (for services available in February 2002) with publication expected in May 2002. In addition to the quarterly consumer surveys, Oftel has recently commissioned research looking at UK residential consumers' use and perceptions of broadband Internet services, including demand for services, benefits, costs consumers are prepared to pay, driving factors and switching behaviour. Results from this research will be published in January 2002.

  41.  Oftel is also proposing to carry out an additional benchmarking exercise to establish whether, and if so, why, UK consumers are making more or less use of Internet broadband access than other countries. The results are expected to be available early next year.


Current Technology

  42.  The UK has a vibrant dial-up (also known as `narrowband') ISP market with both pay-as-you-go and unmetered packages available to consumers. Industry sources estimate that there are over 400 ISPs operating in the UK. Unlike much of the rest of Europe (including Germany and France), an offshoot of the incumbent does not dominate the competitive UK dial-up retail market. Over 80 per cent of online households and 76 per cent of SMEs with Internet access use a dial-up PSTN connection to the Internet. A further 9 per cent of households and 23 per cent of SMEs access the Internet via a dial-up ISDN line.

Current Product Offerings

  There are a number of dial-up Internet access packages available to both residential and business consumers. These include:
Metered (pay-as-you-go)Subscription + cost of calls or No subscription—cost of calls only

Partly unmetered
Subscription + free usage at certain times/for a certain amount of time + call costs at other times

Fully unmetered
Subscription + unlimited free usage + no + call costs


  43.  The UK pioneered the pay-as-you-go model, which has been copied by many other countries. Packages are now available which offer consumers Internet access at rates below the price of local-rate voice calls. Some packages include a monthly subscription fee in addition to the cost of calls, whereas others are `subscription-free'.

  44.  Subscription-free Internet access led to a rapid growth in the number of Internet users in the UK, and is likely to remain a good option for occasional or light users, and those who do not want to commit to a contract. However, the number of consumers using pay-as-you-go packages has fallen as more unmetered services have become available. In November 2001, 61 per cent of Internet households were using metered packages to access the Internet (21 per cent subscription-based, 40 per cent subscription-free).


  45.  Unmetered packages can be fully or partly unmetered and have been available for some time. However, the availability and take-up of unmetered packages has grown significantly over the last 12 months. This is partly the result of Oftel's directions requiring BT to make available unmetered wholesale Internet access products (called FRIACO, see below). This has allowed more ISPs to compete in offering unmetered access and offer greater choice to consumers. Several ISPs offer FRIACO-based, fully unmetered retail packages for around £12.99—£14.99 a month.

  46.  BT's SurfTime Internet access products include unmetered Internet calls for a fixed monthly fee, as well as offering cheaper pay-as-you-go prices and discounted telephone calls. However, they do not include the costs of Internet service provision: in addition to SurfTime, consumers need to purchase Internet service provision from a participating ISP.

  47.  The Cable operators also offer their customers unmetered Internet access. Some of these unmetered packages require customers to spend a certain amount of money on their telephone calls each month.

  48.  In November 2001, 39 per cent of Internet homes claimed to use some type of unmetered access (28 per cent fully unmetered and 11 per cent partly unmetered). Oftel estimates that three and a half million customers already subscribe to unmetered packages.

Alternative means of dial-up Internet access


  49.  The mobile phone will be another important technology for accessing the Internet (70 per cent of the UK population are mobile subscribers). Services like these are already available—Oftel research shows that 7 per cent of UK residential consumers owns a WAP mobile phone. With the introduction of `2½ G' technologies providing higher data rate communications, WAP services are becoming faster and therefore more user friendly.

  50.  So-called "2½ G" technologies, such as General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) which allows packet data transmission on GSM networks have been deployed by BT Cellnet and Vodafone. GPRS data rates will be up to 40kbps initially. BT Cellnet launched the first GPRS service to business customers in June 2000. BT Cellnet and Vodafone now both offer consumer and business GPRS products. Orange already offers a High-Speed Circuit Switched Data (HSCSD) product to business customers, which provides data rates of 28.8 kbps.


  Access to the Internet via the television is likely to become increasingly common as web-enabled TV set-top boxes and games consoles become more popular. Consumers can also buy web-enabled TVs (for example, the Bush TV that simply uses the TV as a monitor). These devices are already available and are being used by a small number of consumers. Accessing the Internet in this way may be more convenient for some people who cannot afford, or do not like the complexity or using a computer. Latest published figures show that over 8.5 million UK households have digital television. For more information on satellite access see satellite broadband below.

What is Oftel doing?

  51.  Oftel has taken action in a number of areas relating to dial-up Internet access to ensure fair competition.

  Pricing of Voice and Internet Calls

  52.  In November 1999, Oftel removed the link between the pricing of Internet calls and price of voice calls to enable ISPs to price more flexibly.

  FRIACO (flat rate Internet access call origination)

  53.  In May 2000, Oftel made a direction requiring BT to make available an unmetered wholesale Internet access product (called FRIACO) to enable other network operators to offer their own unmetered Internet access products in competition with BT. In February 2001 Oftel required BT to offer other network operators a new wholesale unmetered Internet access product known as ST FRIACO (Single Tandem FRIACO).

  54.  At present, Oftel is facilitating industry discussions on the feasibility of enhancements to the existing FRIACO products and on the development of a new IP interconnection FRIACO product. IP interconnection would provide a more efficient means for operators to connect to BT's network and has been recognised as the best long-term option for handling the growth in dial-up Internet traffic. In addition, Oftel is reviewing the FRIACO adjustment ratio, which is used to calculate the price of FRIACO.

  Effective Competition Reviews of dial-up Internet Access

  000-01 effective competition review of dial-up Internet access was published in July 2001. Oftel carries out effective competition reviews to assess the level of competition in a particular sector and to ensure that regulation is appropriate. Oftel has measured levels of competition against a number of indicators including price, consumer behaviour and market shares. A separate effective competition review of Internet connectivity was published in August 2001. Oftel has consulted widely on both reviews—the deadline for each was 30 October 2001. Oftel is due to publish a joint final statement on effective competition in the New Year (2002).

  Oftel Internet Forum

  In order to communicate with the Internet community more effectively, Oftel established a dedicated forum called the Oftel Internet Forum (OIF). This supplements Oftel's existing regular meetings with key companies, trade bodies and consumer groups. Oftel uses the Forum to gain opinions and ideas about key regulatory developments. It is also used to inform the Internet community of key regulatory developments. The OIF meets about four times a year, each time addressing a particular issue.

  Minutes of previous meetings:

  19th September—ISPs' terms and conditions

  23rd March 2001—Internet consumers—well informed and adequately represented?


  55.  Roll-out of broadband services started later than in some other countries in Europe, possibly due in part to the availability of flat-rate Internet access products which may have met some demand. However, since launch, take-up has increased rapidly and the prospects for future growth look promising.

  56.  The UK has one of the most competitive marketplaces in Europe for broadband, with competition at the infrastructure level between cable providers and DSL and numerous service providers competing with BT to provide retail DSL services to customers. Operators have the choice of local loop unbundling, shared access, wholesale services and now xDSL interconnection services with which to deliver broadband over BT's network.

  57.  There is also some limited provision by fixed radio that, together with mobile radio and satellite technologies, should in future also be able to deliver broadband services more widely. Larger business users access broadband services via leased lines.

  58.  Downstream data rates (from the network to the customer) are usually higher than upstream rates (from the customer to the network) since the kind of information that needs to get to the user—including still and video images and sound—requires a higher data rate. Data rates on the upstream path can be smaller since user responses usually involve small quantities of data only e.g text.

Broadband Cable

  59.  Both NTL and Telewest offer high-speed Internet access over their cable networks via cable modems. Data rates are 512kbps downstream and 128kbps upstream.

  60.  Telewest charges £50 connection and a monthly fee of £33 or £25 if you subscribe to other Telewest services. NTL charges £25 for installation and either £150 for the modem and a £20 monthly fee, or a monthly charge of £25 including the cost of the modem. Customers can also pay around £30 per month to receive telephone and digital television services bundled with broadband Internet access.

  61.  Most of NTL and Telewest's cable networks are broadband ready, but not all. Both operators are working to upgrade their networks where necessary. The availability of NTL's service has increased as the service has been made available to 500,000 more potential subscribers in the South East by the end of 2001. NTL's availability has now increased to 56 per cent from 50 per cent.

  62.  According to publicly available figures at the end of December 2001, Ntl has around 101,000 customers of their cable modem service (up from 52,000 in July 2001) while Telewest reports that it has around 95,000 cable modem customers (up from 38,000 in July 2001).

Digital Subscriber Line (DSL)

  63.  DSL creates a high-speed digital connection over an existing telephone line using a pair of modems, one at the user end and the other at the Exchange. DSL is the major competing access technology to broadband cable.

Competition between Service Providers: BT's Wholesale Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line ('ADSL') Service

  64.  The downstream data rate of ADSL is much higher than the upstream data rate. DSL is a distance-dependent technology, which means that it is normally available to those consumers who live within 3.5km of their local exchange.

  65.  BT's key products are:

    —  IPStream 500: an entry-level ADSL product aimed at the residential market. It uses rate adaptive technology to extend the range from 3.5km to 5.5km from the local exchange at the expense of slower upstream speeds.

    —  IPStream S: available in 500, 1000 and 2000 kbps variants. Its higher prices and better service quality means that it is aimed at the SME market.

    —  VideoStream: enables the provision of video-on-demand services.

    —  DataStream: enables the provision of IP-based networks, such as corporate intranets.

  66.  There are around 200 operators, service providers and corporates that have signed a contract for BT's wholesale ADSL products, including BT's own service provider, BTOpenworld, which we estimate has around 50 per cent of the market. The number of end users with ADSL installed is increasing at a rate of around 10,000 per month and stood at 126,000 as of the end of December 2001. Around 30 per cent of these end-users are businesses.

  67.  BT has enabled 1010 exchanges covering 60 per cent of households for the delivery of ADSL wholesale products (up from 839 exchanges covering 50 per cent of UK households in May 2001). BT has made no commitments regarding roll-out past this date though is working with development agencies to develop broadband services in rural areas. Information on rollout is available at

  68.  On 1st September, BT reduced its wholesale monthly rental charge for IP Stream 500 from £35 to £30 a month to enable BT's wholesale customers to stimulate take up by end users. The connection charge for VideoStream was also reduced from £625 to £50 for 6 months from 1st October 2001. Wholesale rental charges will fall further on 15th January when BT introduces self-install variants of its IPStream products, called IPStream Home & Office. Connection charges will fall to £50 (ex VAT) with monthly rental charges starting at £25 (ex VAT) for IPStream Home.

  69.  Kingston Communications introduced its own wholesale ADSL product, RapidTime, on 4 October. The product is currently only offered by Kingston's own ISP, Karoo.

  70.  For more details on future developments, pricing and what Oftel is doing, click here [ADSL fact sheet].

Local Loop Unbundling ('LLU')

  71.  LLU enables competing operators and service providers to create their own ADSL products rather than having to buy BT's ADSL products on a wholesale basis. Under LLU, operators and service providers are able to install their own equipment in BT's exchanges in order to offer their own broadband services to end users.

  72.  The LLU condition in BT's licence came into force on 8th August 2000. This sets the legal framework and obligations on BT and gives Oftel powers to act if problems occur. In addition, the EC Regulation on LLU came into force on 2nd January 2001. Since the introduction of LLU, Oftel has intervened on numerous occasions on its own initiative and at the request of operators to settle detailed issues relating to the terms and conditions under which it is offered.

  73.  Unbundling is available at all of BT's exchanges and BT is accepting and fulfilling orders on a business as usual basis. As at January 2002, co-location facilities have been prepared at 61 exchanges (16 for physical co-location and 45 for distant co-location). 164 unbundled loops have been connected. Take-up of unbundling is increasing, but is lower than was originally anticipated, due in part to the adverse economic climate which has affected operators' plans for investment. Most unbundled loops are being used to deliver tailored services to SMEs and businesses.

  74.  Oftel has recently issued a number of documents relating to LLU. In summary these are:

    —  Direction on BT's service level agreement.

        Oftel has set out the service levels that BT must offer to operators wishing to unbundle BT's local loop. The direction has set out the compensation that BT must pay to operators, where it fails to meet these service levels. For example BT will have to pay operators £10 for each working day an unbundled loop is unavailable and £80 per operator for each working day's delay in providing co-location facilities.

    —  Direction on access to BT's exchanges by third parties Oftel has determined that operators can have unescorted access to BT's exchanges in order to carry out maintenance on their equipment, unless escorted access is required for BT's own contractors.

    —  Draft direction on backhaul LLU backhaul is a wholesale service, which provides a link between an operator's equipment at a BT exchange and an operator's point of interconnection with BT's network. Oftel is proposing that BT be required to provide backhaul services at a cost oriented price.

  For more details on what is happening on LLU and what Oftel is doing, please see the Local Loop Unbundling Fact Sheet.

Leased Line Access

  75.  Leased lines are permanent high capacity telecommunications links supplied by network operators to predominantly business users, providing dedicated capacity to the user. Operators and services providers also use leased lines to supply, for example, backhaul for mobile networks and connections to the Internet for Internet Service Providers. Leased lines may be provided at a variety of bandwidths. These range from analogue to digital circuits up to 622 Mbps.

  76.  Oftel initiated a review of the national leased line market as a result of concerns about the extent of competition in this market (particularly on the wholesale side). In August 2000, Oftel published a consultation document on national leased lines, which found the market not to be effectively competitive. In the light of responses to the consultation document and a request from Energis for a direction in relation to permanent private circuits (PPCs), there have been several major developments in Oftel's national leased lines policy:

    (a)  Following consultation, Oftel issued a final Direction to BT on 29 March 2001 allowing BT eight weeks to conclude negotiations with ten operators regarding the provision of cost orientated PPCs at all bandwidths. The Direction allowed BT a further six weeks thereafter to make the products available to all Annex 2 operators. Constructive negotiations between BT and OLOs continued past the initial eight week stage and resulted in the OLOs signing commercial agreements with BT for the provision of PPCs.

    (b)  BT launched PPCs on 1 August 2001 and since then, approximately two thirds of operators' retail private circuits which were eligible for migration have been migrated to the wholesale product. The availability of wholesale PPCs at all bandwidths makes it possible for operators to achieve cost savings of over 30 per cent.

    (c)  Since 1 August, Oftel has received requests for determinations on a number of issues from seven of the OLOs. OFTEL has decided to deal with some of the issues on a `fast track' basis and to issue a Determination on them within a substantially reduced timescale compared to normal determinations. The remaining, more complex issues will be determined by the end of January 2002.

    (d)  Oftel will publish a final statement on the state of competition in the leased lines market alongside the second Determination described above. The statement will include Oftel's conclusions on the need to regulate wholesale prices on some or all partial private circuits, in the light of developments following the March Direction and Oftel's decisions on the most recent disputes.

Broadband Fixed Wireless Access

  77.  Broadband fixed wireless access (`BWA') allows high-speed data connections using radio links between an aerial located on the user's premises and a base station, rather than using a telephone line or a cable television network.

  78.  Tele 2 currently offers commercial BWA data-only services for business and residential users in the Thames Valley, (Reading, Wokingham, Bracknell, Windsor, Slough), Leicester, Nottingham, Coventry, Leeds, Bradford, Uxbridge (including Heathrow), Crystal Palace (including Croydon) and Bristol using spectrum at 3.4GHz. Additional cities due this quarter are Birmingham, Bath and Sheffield.

  79.  The Radiocommunications Agency (`RA') auctioned spectrum for BWA at 28GHz in December 2000. Energis, Norweb, Faultbasic, Broadnet, Chorus Communication and Eircom won licences in seven out of fourteen regions, collectively covering 60 per cent of the UK's population. There were no bidders in the remaining seven regions. There is no current commercial deployment and no times given by the winners as to when they might deploy, although trials have started in at least one area.

  80.  The 28GHz licences that were not awarded in the auction will be made available from mid October 2001 at the original reserve prices (varying from £1 to £2 million), and with the same conditions as previously (minimum coverage, no backhaul etc) for 12 months.

  81.  Other operators have spectrum that could be used for higher bandwidth fixed wireless access services but deployments have been limited. For example, there has been some trial deployment by Ntl of 10 GHz equipment for its customers.

  82.  Zipcom (formerly Radiotel) has a FWA licence suitable for narrowband services. Atlantic recently closed their FWA services following administration. The future of Ionica's 3.4GHz and 10 GHz spectrum is also currently under consideration and a number of FWA licences are expected to be made available.

Mobile Higher Bandwidth Wireless Access

  83.  The Universal Mobile Telecommunication System (`UMTS') is a so-called "third-generation (3G)," broadband, packet-based system to be deployed in Europe for the transmission of text, digitised voice, video, and multimedia to mobile computer and phone users. The likely data rates range from about 144 kbps for fast moving users in rural areas, up to 384 kbps for slow moving users in urban/suburban areas, and perhaps up to 2Mbps for indoor users on pico cells (indoor base stations).

  84.  The UK auction for 5 UMTS licences was held in April 2000. The winners of this competition were the existing 4 GSM operators and TIW (which subsequently sold the licensee to Hutchison Whampoa). Due to lack of widespread availability of 3G handsets, commercial services may not be available until well into the year 2002, although Hutchison has stated plans for mid 2002.

Broadband Satellite Access

  85.  At the moment, some satellites in orbit around the Earth can offer broadband services, however data transfer has traditionally been in one direction only (from the network to the end user). Interactive applications have recently become available whereby a narrowband return path via the PSTN is used. The big two players in Europe are Eutelsat and SES (which operates the Astra fleet).

  86.  In July 2001, BTOpenworld announced that it would soon be offering two-way broadband satellite services to consumers in more remote parts of the UK (beginning in Northern Ireland and the Highlands and Islands of Scotland). BT will be in partnership with the satellite operator Gilat and expects to offer this service to home-based, small and medium sized businesses from November. This service will probably be based on VSAT (Very Small Aperture Terminal) technology.

  87.  Eutelsat has submitted a proposal to the Department for Education and Employment's (DFEE) `Wired Up Communities' initiative. This proposal will offer satellite Internet access to homes in Cumbria, using the PSTN as return path.


Oftel's Aims

  88.  Oftel's approach is to promote competition in the provision of access to the Internet and broadband services, thereby giving consumers a greater choice, better value and higher quality and spurring take up. Oftel seeks to match the level of regulation to the level of competition in the market, while continuing to protect and inform consumers where the market cannot do so.

Government Initiatives

  89.  The Government's aim is to make the UK the best place for e-commerce in the world by 2002 and to make the UK a leading knowledge economy and ecommerce nation. Major Government targets are:

    —  UK to have the most extensive and competitive broadband market in the G7 by 2005

    —  Ensure that everyone who wants the Internet has it by 2005

    —  Ensure that all Government services are online by 2005.

  90.  The Office of the e-Envoy [OeE] is leading the Government's drive to get the UK online and to ensure that the country, its citizens and its businesses derive maximum benefit from the knowledge economy. A UK Online Broadband Stakeholder Group has been set up, chaired by the e-Minister, to assist the Government in the development and implementation of broadband strategy. The group published an initial summary of its recommendations (25th September 2001) to drive forward the rollout of broadband services in the UK.


  91.  This brief summarises the key developments in the market for Internet and broadband services in the UK, and describes Oftel's involvement in these markets. `Dial-up' or `narrowband' Internet access is used in this brief for access speeds up to and including 128 kilobits per second (kbps). `Broadband' is used in this brief to refer to higher bandwidth, always-on services, offering data rates of 128 kbps and above.

2   SMEs are defined as businesses with 1-250 employees and minimum turnover of £50,000. Back

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