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Britain is already behind its European neighbours in positioning itself for next generation broadband access, through high-speed Ethernet connections, even though the technology is still in it's infancy.

Ethernet Metropolitan Area Networks have the potential to allow service providers to offer voice, data and digital television packages to subscribers at over 20 times the speed of ADSL connections.

Service providers like Italian ISP FastWeb and Bredbandsbolgat in Sweden are delivering symmetrical 10Mbps connections to subscribers in multi-dwelling residential units using Ethernet technology from Cisco Systems.

Nigel Moulton, Cisco's director of marketing for Metro Ethernet, said Ethernet connections allow service providers to set up profitable services that cost little more than ADSL (FastWeb Ethernet access in Milan subscription prices start at €95).

This sound's too good to be true, and the only real snag (according to Cisco, at least) is that you first need to set up a fibre optic network with drop off points close to users.

Fibre optics links need not be laid to every user (Wireless LANs or copper connections) can handle local connections to switches from drop off points, but there's still a need for fibre connections to residential or business complexes.

There's plenty of spare fibre capacity in the core of networks, of course, but isn't much help - hence the need to build out fibre optic networks towards users.

France recognises this, and led by local government, has obtained a €2.5bn grant from Europe to build out its fibre infrastructure. The Irish government is spending €300m on rolling out fibre optic connections throughout its cities.

And where's Britain, that pioneer of telecoms deregulation?

Way back and approaching the issue in an "uncordinated" way, according to Moulton, who reckons Ethernet connectivity will become mainstream in around three years. ®

Related stories

Deregulation has done nothing for Broadband Britain - Cisco
Cisco hails DSL 'killer app'
BT spells out plan for broadband domination
DSL has 19m users worldwide
Make broadband universally available
Home broadband market to hit $88bn by 2007

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