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
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
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's 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
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
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
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
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
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
He can be contacted by email at email@example.com
Tel: 020 7935-2599
Fax: 020 7935-2995