Wholesale/transport services

SBC's Beck Is Big on Broadband

DALLAS -- NFOEC -- All might look bleak in the telecom industry right now, but better times are on their way, according to the vice president of network engineering at SBC Communications Inc., Gregory Beck, who spoke at the NFOEC plenary session this morning.

“While there still is a black cloud hanging over the industry right now… the industry fundamentals should show us that there is blue sky ahead,” he said.

Had it not been for the ghost-town feeling pervading the Dallas conference center today, Beck’s cheery pep-talk might have seemed refreshing. Faced with the almost deserted halls and the long line of exhibitors that had pulled out at the last moment, however, the talk, titled “The future of broadband – the light years ahead,” took on more of a utopian ring.

Beck insisted, however, that there’s reason to be optimistic. In January this year, for the first time, broadband usage outpaced narrowband usage, he said, demonstrating that broadband is moving beyond the early adoption stage. In January 2002, broadband users spent 1.19 billion hours online, up from 727 million hours in January 2001, according to Beck.

And that number is going to keep on rising, he said, since people who discover the benefits of broadband inevitably get hooked. “When you start to use DSL, you start to think differently.”

Thinking differently indeed. In his presentation, Beck pointed to a survey of what people would be willing to give up in order to keep their broadband connection -- and might have had some folk wondering whether he was confusing DSL with LSD. According to the survey, not only would 78 percent of Internet users rather surrender their daily newspaper than live without broadband, but 63 percent of respondents actually said they would prefer giving up their morning cup of coffee to losing their high-speed Internet connection.

SBC recently announced a new tiered DSL service that would lure customers into broadband addiction with low prices for lower speeds (see SBC 'Personalizes' DSL). Once the customer is hooked, they can easily (at a higher price, of course) move up the ladder to higher speeds and thus more and more possible services. The sweet-spot for broadband, according to Beck, is at 1.5 Mbit/s.

“As broadband technology expands,” he said, “we need a technology that can deliver more bandwidth.”

Ultimately, that technology will have to be built on fiber to reach the performance levels consumers of the future will crave. “We have to start preparing for the next stage of the Internet,” he said, insisting that future services will be bandwidth hogs and that customers will consume them hungrily. “Nothing compares to fiber.”

Despite the overall positive tone of his presentation, Beck let it slip that the road to complete broadband deployment still has a few major bumps in it. To begin with, consumers still need to be convinced that they need all the bandwidth intensive services carriers are ready to offer. A more serious problem, however, is that government regulations are dissuading service providers from investing in large-scale deployment of broadband technology. The 1996 Telecommunications Act requires regional Bells to allow competitive carriers to lease lines on their networks at wholesale prices (see RBOCs Should Stop Whining, Says Report). “Fiber is a whole lot harder than copper to unbundle,” he said, bitterly. “We need to eliminate regulations.”

Regardless of the problems facing broadband deployment and the telecom industry as a whole, Beck said he is confident that the future of high-speed Internet connections is a bright one. “The number of Internet hosts are growing at a formidable rate... The Internet is no longer a luxury, but has become a necessity.”

— Eugénie Larson, Reporter, Light Reading

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