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ThE MaStEr

500 million broadband subscribers worldwide



IPTV subscriptions are also up as providers hop on the broadband train

One day in late July, an unwitting citizen, probably in a shop in China, perhaps on the phone, marked a milestone in the global spread of the Internet, their sign-up representing the 500 millionth broadband subscription.

We'll never know who they are, but their enthusiasm for the Internet meant one in every five of the world's households now has a broadband connection. A truly astonishing figure and one that reinforces the great opportunities the Internet presents for the broadcasting industry.

The landmark was revealed at the Broadband Forum's quarterly meeting in Hong Kong, where a seemingly very rosy picture for global IPTV was also disclosed.

Global broadband subscriptions had reached 497,768,162 by the end of June, so working on a 2.63 percent quarterly growth rate, industry analysts Point Topic pinpointed broadband's big day as sometime in the third week of July.

The reason it was probably a Chinese customer is down to China's dominance of global broadband growth. It was responsible for 43 percent of all broadband connections added in the second quarter of 2010, China adding 5,470,888 lines and bringing its total to 120,591,488.

That said, Point Topic reported many Western European markets did better than the equivalent quarter in 2009, with Germany, the UK, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Poland and Turkey all turning in strong numbers.

While broadband markets in Central and South America have "cooled", they were still reporting good quarterly growth of between 5 and 7 percent. I

In overall terms, Asia now accounts for 41 percent of the world's broadband market. Europe is second with 30 percent and the Americas run third on 26 percent.

It's in North America, particularly Canada, where there's been a leveling off in broadband subscriptions. "The end of housing stimulus packages in North America has badly affected growth in broadband. However all other regions performed better in the second quarter of 2010 than the same period in 2009," said Oliver Johnson, CEO of Point Topic.

"It has only taken 11 years to get to half a billion fixed broadband lines. The Internet and all that it brings has taken hold like no technology since the invention of fire. It has brought the world closer together, improved health and education standards and introduced an era of cooperation and information sharing that will hasten economic growth and improve standards of living for potentially billions around the world."

Well, the wheel might have something to say about that, but Johnson's right in recognizing the brobdingnagian benefits the Internet brings. It is part of our daily lives and connects people in a way even the telephone would struggle to emulate.

Certainly, broadband continues to deliver for the broadcasting media. IPTV continues its remorseless advance, with 2.3 million new IPTV subscribers in the second quarter of 2010, taking advantage of the increasingly higher speeds and better value broadband packages on offer worldwide.

According to Point Topic, 38.5 million people were using IPTV by the end of June, growth pretty much inline with broadband growth.

It's taken strongest root in Europe, with 19 million subscribers, nearly half of them in France, where they are able to watch the latest Roma evictions live on their PCs and other, connected devices.

China has 6.7 million IPTV subscribers, none of whom can watch anything remotely controversial. The US is in third place with nearly 6.5 million, all of whom can watch pretty much whatever's available, depending on their service provider.

According to Oliver Johnson, "most IPTV markets have not reached saturation, so there is plenty more room for growth. As more and more consumers switch to fiber for their broadband, we will see the numbers of IPTV subscribers climbing in those markets where FTTx (optical fiber) deployment is powering ahead."

There is some heavy rain forecast for the IPTV parade. The growth in broadband subscriptions is still far out ahead of the growth in Internet-enabled Television purchases, but connected TVs and OTT services, Xbox LIVE, Playstation, Google TV and Apple TV will make it much easier for consumers to grab their content without recourse to a walled garden IPTV subscription from some Telco.

The very same push towards higher broadband speeds, better subscription packages and fiber power, coupled with increasingly affordable Internet-enabled devices, means content producers have more avenues to the consumer than at the moment.

They will be driven down those avenues by Internet advertising services enabling true ad management and interaction for the consumer and real measurement for the advertiser.

The next half a billion broadband subscribers will instantly enjoy all sorts of opportunities their predecessors could only dream about when they signed up eleven years ago, and so too the broadcasting industry can take advantage of all the new ways of getting content in front of eyeballs. As we report in our review of Microsoft's move to take its Zune digital entertainment system worldwide, the share ratings for some of the traditional pay-TV overlords are coming down, with the likes of Netflix gaining credibility and value.

Whatever the broadcasting industry does, the consumer is going OTT anyway, powered by all that broadband.


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