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Tuning in to broadband

The prospect of high-speed access that is always on, delivered for a flat

fixed fee must be one that is highly attractive to any regular internet

user.

This is what is promised in the advent of broadband services. We have had

to learn to love the web (or not as the case may be) using unreliable

dial-up connections at slow speed.

It is not surprising that Fletcher Advisory, in a survey for BT Open

World, predicts massive take-up of broadband services by small businesses

in the next few years.

In its first survey of e-commerce use by UK business, the Office of

National Statistics recently identified that 46 per cent of businesses with

internet access are still reliant on dial-up connections, 32 per cent use

ISDN lines while only 8 per cent have broadband.

However, when broadband use is examined in the context of the size of the

enterprises, it is clear that a digital divide is emerging.

Of the smallest businesses surveyed only 5 per cent had broadband access

whereas 50 per cent of those with over 1000 employees have the benefit of

high-speed services.

There is, of course, a tremendous irony about the fact that BT is

trumpeting the benefits of the wonderful new broadband services against the

slow dial-up and ISDN connections.

Who is the biggest supplier of dial-up and ISDN services to British

business? Who has had a lamentable record in the delivery of broadband

services with countless dates announced and missed, resulting in a

situation where British businesses are at a competitive disadvantage to

many other nations?

It was recently suggested to me that over 50 per cent of businesses in

Korea now have broadband access, compared with the UK&#39s 8 per cent. Hang

your head in shame BT.

Working on the basis of better late than never, however, it is important

to recognise that these services could potentially revolutionise your

business.

My initial experiences with broadband were not as successful as Fletcher

is suggesting. Nearly a year ago, I had an early ADSL circuit installed by

Homechoice which was linked to its TV on-demand service. The level of

service failure combined with virtually total lack of interest on the part

of its technical support staff meant that this was quickly ignored as even

a conventional dial-up connection was more reliable.

Currently, my office is running a series of model office pilots to

identify software and other technologies that really can make life easier

for small businesses.

Microsoft and BT are two of the companies which are supporting this

initiative. The former in relation to its Windows 2000 Small Business

Server and XP products, while BT is giving us broadband services to test.

Other areas to be examined are internet security and document scanning

storage and retrieval.

The results will be covered in future Money Marketing columns and

supported by additional information from the www.financial-technology.net

website in the coming months.

Initial experiences with the multi-user ADSL circuit are encouraging but

not without their problems. Although we are having occasional connection

difficulties, when the service works there is no doubt that it offers

really fast access to the internet and makes it far easier to make the

online experience an integrated part of the way you work.

For IFAs, this should really come into its own when the Exchange finally

offers its service fully over any internet connection rather than just via

its current virtual private network. I understand that this is now only

weeks away.

The Exchange is also working on its Office Web back-office system, to be

designed as software you rent rather than having to pay big up-front

licence fees. This, again, is going to be substantially an online service.

Industry rumours suggest that Misys is working on a not dissimilar

service. It will be essential for any IFA who wants to take advantage of

these tools to have high-speed web access so ADSL-type services will become

very important to advisers over the next few months.

One area where we have had difficulties has been collecting email over the

ADSL connection. Every time you connect to the internet, either via a

dial-up connection or other means, you are allocated an IP address. This is

the series of numbers by which the other computers you talk to recognise

you.

With a conventional dial-up connection, your internet service provider

allocates you an IP address each time you log on. It will not normally be

the same over any two connections. The standard ADSL service also allocates

an IP address dynamically with different addresses being used at different

times. To have your email permanently routed to you, it is necessary to

have a fixed IP address so your email service provider knows where to

deliver it to.

I am told that dynamic IP addresses also create difficulties with other

tools such as NetMeeting. BT is currently amending its service to offer a

static IP address to new customers for between £10 and £20 a

month depending on the number of users.

One other note of caution, – it is absolutely essential to understand that

with an xDSL service (the generic term given to the wider range of digital

subscriber services) you have a permanently open link to the internet. This

means you must have an effective form of protection against hackers,

viruses, Trojans, etc. Effectively, this means you need a firewall.

In March, BT announced a free 90-day trial of an online security scanner

to identify any security weaknesses and give recommended solutions.

Apparently, this is ongoing despite the 90-day period since launch having

expired.

I am told that a full commercial launch of such a service is expected

later in the year although BT was unable to give me any answers as to costs

and the full extent of the service in the time available.

I am very concerned that BT would market a service without having given

fuller consideration to security which should after all be its paramount

concern.

Even ignoring – and you should not –the unsatisfactory situation over

security, it is too early to say that our experiences with BT broadband are

a definite success.

Too many times in the past, I have found that when you work with these

things over time problems arise after the honeymoon period.

If the email difficulties and security issues can be resolved I can see

that this could deliver real business efficiencies for those lucky enough

to be in areas where ADSL is available. I will return to this issue later

in the year.

Ian McKenna is a consultant and director of the Financial Technology

Research Centre which works for a wide range of industry organisations,

life offices and technology companies, including Microsoft, Assuresoft and

The Exchange.

He can be contacted by email at ianm@financialtechnology.net

Tel: 020 7935-2599

Fax: 020 7935-2995

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