This may sound corny but you've got to ask the question. How long before we consider the communications pipe to our home or office as just another utility? And how long before we focus on what we do with this pipe, rather than what speed it runs at and which particular flavour of DSL it likes?
Let's face it, how often do you find yourself talking about the number of watts your appliances are sucking out of the power cable to your home? All that matters is that you can have Ozzy Osborne booming out of your twin 500 megawatt speakers whenever you choose to and boil the kettle for a nice cup of herbal at the same time.
Don't worry, I'm not about to bleat on about how the lack of broadband is choking our economy or local loop unbundling. I think we already heard enough about this two years ago.
Suffice to say, the UK is last off the blocks with broadband and will probably spend another two years pondering why we're bottom of the European league table yet again.
Need for fibre
Amazingly, you'll still hear Tony talking about 'Broadband Britain' and how our country is the leading e-commerce nation. But boy we have a long way to go.
Until we have single-mode fibre to every home or office block, then we're always going to be facing the same issues. What speed or bandwidth? What about distance? Will it support real-time voice and video? Really, how much can you expect to keep squeezing out of a twisted pair? And I don't mean BT and OFTEL.
Advances in Laser technology, multiplexing, switching and routing are already poised to make Ethernet or even Fast Ethernet the de facto service to the home or business.
But the Ethernet service has to run on fibre, preferably single-mode fibre, in order to conquer any distance limitations. Anything else is a stop-gap option that will need upgrading before the full investment has been recovered.
Why are we waiting?
Ethernet to the home or business (ETTH/ETTB) has already been successfully trialled as the fourth utility. So the technology piece of the puzzle is here now.
But if the technology exists, what's the hold up? In the mainstream and, especially, consumer space, the last few years have seen multi-billion dollar partnerships and acquisitions blur the edges between traditional and on-line content providers.
And while we have seen mergers on the scale of AOL and Time Warner and visionary tie-ups between the likes of Napster and Bertelsmann, the fact remains that there is still a long way to go before these different media types converge.
Yet there is light at the end of the tunnel, particularly in the B2B space, where there are many success stories of real convergence applications that, although not generating impressive column inches, are delivering real business benefits today.
For example, a number of specialist service providers are realising the revenue opportunity for providing converged applications into hotels, hospitality suites and offices.
Their systems are a simple delivery of high quality communication, entertainment and domestic services, all fed seamlessly to a multitude of devices such as TVs, PCs and phones.
If vendors, telcos and governments could focus their 'speeds and feeds' efforts into economics and content, we might just realise that convergence doesn't have to be a thing of the future. It's here today.
Adrian Hurel, SVP European sales, Allied Telesyn I nternational
A fully converged solution for SMEs that want it all
Avaya's new IP Office product is targeted at providing an all-in-one voice, data and applications solution for SMEs.
David Grant, UK managing director of Crane Telecommunications (Avaya's only European Diamond Accredited distributor) comments: "As well as supporting the traditional and IP-enabled voice market, IP Office will make a real impact on the SME market by allowing organisations to evolve efficiently towards next generation voice/data solutions.
"These will deliver real cost savings through convenience, convergence and applications power."
As an integrated part of Avaya's enterprise-class IP solutions portfolio (ECLIPS), IP Office provides a solution able to service the SME-installed base. Grant believes that Avaya has the right package to meet the needs of this market sector by providing a product which delivers low cost of ownership and value added applications, and is scalable, modular, channel friendly and easy to install.
The four markets
IP Office is aimed at four distinct sectors of the SME market:
- IP enhanced office systems: enabling traditional phone systems to be enhanced for IP as and when required
- IP converged office systems: offering a pure IP environment with advanced applications to those SME customers looking to leverage the benefits of IP
- Compact remote office systems: targeting customers with remote site needs of low networking density
- Compact contact centres: the next generation SME call centre solution.
The complete range
IP Office provides a truly converged solution utilising one platform in one box - including PBX functionality, Internet access, data/voice networking, firewall security and remote access server.
The solution is fully scalable from two to 180 extensions, but is optimised for two to 100 extensions. Designed specifically for the SME market and providing the wide range of business applications above, IP Office offers a complete range of traditional, next generation and soft terminals.