Tuesday, May 4, 2004

Asian broadband : Is there a business out there yet?

Whatever the future of broadband might be, Asia is the place it’s surely being written. From near-saturation of Korea to the fast growth of China, it has markets in every stage of evolution.

The one common thread is that operators in all these markets are looking for applications beyond connectivity: Wi-Fi roaming, IP TV, VoIP, games and security packages are all part of the mix.

But in a tough and often over-competitive business, the new services are not necessarily bringing home the bacon.

Research house Ovum points out that DSL deployment can reverse the long-term decline in ARPU “but [carriers] should not expect high margins.”

The plus for telcos is that the mass takeup of broadband is changing the way people behave online.

Hong Kong users – of whom 60% have access to broadband – are spending 21 hours per month online, according to Peter Steyn of Nielsen//Netratings. A year ago, that was 16 hours. “Broadband has a huge impact on customers’ behavior,” he says. P2P downloads, video and audio streaming and Internet radio are the big improvers.

The problem with broadband, though, is that it is flexible, scalable and highly efficient: 111 times more efficient than private network options, per megabit per second, according to the ITU.

So while large carriers are focusing on residential customers and apps, smaller competitors are chasing the business market. The combination of IP and DSL could be a lethal one yet for incumbents.