Play by Play: The Cable Modem/DSL Showdown Continues

Cable modem versus DSL for those watching the cableco-RBOC death match, a critical prong of the triple play competition isnt yielding a clear winner. While cable trails worldwide, here in the United States, its ahead. That gap however is closing and DSL is edging closer to the lead. But even so, it looks like cable and DSL players will be neck and neck for some time to come, as MSOs turn to enhanced applications and leveraging a core competency of content to keep the cable modem more attractive. Who knows whom the winner will be?

One thing is clear: With some cablecos looking to the indirect channel for distribution, savvy agents may want to consider having both technologies in their portfolios.

Users with a need for greater productivity and efficiency and for instant gratification will find the cable modem well positioned to meet their needs, says research firm IDC, both personally and professionally. There will be nearly 2.5 million business cable modem subscriptions in place in 2008, it predicts.

“The push is on and operators are aggressively marketing broadband services to both residential and business customers,” says Amy Harris, manager of IDC’s Broadband Markets and Technologies service. “Faster speed broadband is quickly moving from luxury to necessity status and users are steadily migrating from their dial-up connections.”

Cable is ahead of the game in the United States, while DSL marketers are winning the broadband face-off worldwide. According to IDC, the worldwide cable modem services market should reach 69.4 million subscribers in 2008, up from 32.8 million last year.

The United States accounted for 46.7 percent of worldwide cable modem subscribers; at the end of 2003, the number of cable modem subscriptions in the U.S. was 1.5 times the number of DSL subscriptions, but DSL continues to close the gap as service providers more aggressively market, price and promote DSL services and value-added applications to consumers and small businesses.

Meanwhile, Yankee Group says DSL will have 84 million subscribers worldwide by the end of 2004, and almost 200 million by 2008.

The key to success for operators is the continued bundling of video and voice services. Cable operators are looking to value-added services such as conferencing and content that takes advantage of the broadband pipe to the home. Rich media solutions such as IP television delivered via a Web portal are around the corner, and Comcast Communications recently rolled out video e-mail. Not to mention, VoIP is a killer app for broadband. In the past year, Cablevision launched VoIP services to its entire high-speed data footprint, Time Warner Cable announced plans to make the service available to its entire footprint in 2004, and hosted providers such as Vonage gained traction in the consumer market.

“After many years of testing, the VoIP technology is finally available and ready for prime time. The U.S. market, which represents almost all the cable VoIP market today, also will drive global MSOs to move forward,” says Lindsay Schroth, Broadband Access Technologies senior analyst at Yankee Group.

Not to be outdone, RBOCs are themselves working on rich media with the TR 59 standard from the DSL Forum. While VoIP plans are under wraps, market dynamics might force the incumbent DSL providers into the mix. Plus, the Bells can use their sheer name recognition and marketing clout, along with well-established multichannel distribution systems.

Regardless of the eventual winner, the broadband game is a good one for agents to stay on top of. “Broadband access continues to be one of the largest and most profitable areas of telecommunications around the world,” says Schroth. “Despite the downturn in telecom spending in the past few years, providers are expanding access networks and attracting new broadband subscribers with a variety of access technologies.”

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