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Chapter Highlights from ITU Internet Reports 2003: Birth of Broadband

Chapter One:  Broadband Dreams

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Like most technology-driven industries, the telecommunication sector has historically been characterized by steady growth punctuated by an occasional leap forward, usually when a new technology is introduced. In the latter part of the twentieth century, the almost simultaneous arrival of two major innovations—mobile phones and the Internet—not only changed the face of communications, but also gave fresh impetus for economic growth. However, as these innovations reach saturation—in the developed world at least—the search is on for possible drivers for a new wave of innovation and growth.

In the 2002 edition of ITU Internet Reports, “Internet for a Mobile Generation”, we examined the likelihood that the coming together of the Internet and mobile communications will provide a major future driver for growth. This convergence of mobile and Internet technologies still seems likely to come to such fruition, though the indications are that it will take longer than expected. But in the meantime, a new technology is emerging that promises to provide a unifying platform for three converging industrial sectors: computing, communications and broadcasting. That technology is “broadband”, and it is the subject of this report. The title “Birth of Broadband” reflects the view that broadband is still just at the start of its growth cycle, with the main phase of market expansion still to come.

Because of the nature of broadband (you have to use it to understand the benefits it offers), market take-off requires a certain critical mass of users. Currently, around one in every ten Internet subscribers worldwide has a dedicated broadband connection (see Figure 1, top chart), though many more share the benefits of high-speed Internet access, for instance, through a local area network (LAN), at work or at school. The world leader for broadband is the Republic of Korea (Figure 1, lower chart), which is around three years ahead of the global average in terms of converting Internet users to broadband. There, a critical mass was attained as early as 2000, when prices fell below US$ 25 per month; from which point onwards take-off was rapid (see Figure 1, bottom chart). Over 93 per cent of Internet subscribers in Korea use broadband .

Around the world, there were around 63 million “broadband” subscribers at the start of 2003 compared with 1.13 billion fixed-line users and 1.16 billion mobile phone users. Broadband users enjoy a range of service speeds from 256 kbit/s up to 100 Mbit/s. The number of subscribers is growing rapidly, with a 72 per cent increase during 2002. Digital subscriber line (DSL) is currently the most commonly deployed platform, followed by cable modems, Ethernet local area networks (LAN), fixed-wireless access, wireless LANs (WLAN), satellite and other technologies. The vast majority of today’s users are in the developed world. But even among member countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), there are large disparities, not only in service availability but also in terms of quality of access and price per Mbit/s. But in developing countries, as broadband becomes cheaper, and wireless technologies evolve, broadband adoption can help countries to “leapfrog” traditional telephony technologies, as already illustrated in a number of initiatives.


Figure 1: Broadband penetration

Source: ITU World Telecommunication Indicators Database.

Relevant links

ITU Strategy and Policy Unit  

ITU New Initiatives workshop on Promoting Broadband

ITU New Initiatives Workshop on Regulatory Implications of Broadband

ITU Internet Reports 2002: Internet for a Mobile Generation

ITU Case Studies Website  





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