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Freeserve gears up for major broadband push

'We're going for it', says Wanadoo UK

Freeserve is set to make a big push for broadband this year, according to a senior spokesman at the French-owned ISP.

Up until now Freeserve has focused on selling broadband to its existing punters rather than chuck money at marketing the service to the wider market.

Now, it seems that the UK division of French ISP Wanadoo is prepared to take on rivals AOL, BT and Tiscali and fight for greater market share.

Today, for example, a new three-month cut-price broadband offer takes effect backed by an ad campaign, although at this stage it's not known what else the ISP is planning to boost sales.

A senior spokesman for the company told The Register: "This is the year for broadband for us - we're going for it."

His upbeat comments come as parent Wanadoo publishes key data from the last three months of 2003. Today's titbits are merely designed to whet the appetite ahead of the publication of full results next week.

That said, today's scraps do show, for instance, that at the end of December Freeserve boasted 158,000 broadband users - an increase of 35,000 in the three months to the end of the year.

So is Freeserve disappointed by this? Not at all, says our senior spokesman. "We're doing broadband our way by migrating existing customers across."

But he went on: "This is the year for broadband for us - we're going for it."

And what about overall numbers? At the end of March 2003 Freeserve had almost 2.7 million punters. Since then, numbers have fallen each quarter and its total user base now stand at 2.58 million as of the end of December.

Once again our Freeserve spokesman said: "We're quite happy with the way things are going."

Indeed, Freeserve reported that average revenues per user (ARPU) reached €9.1 in December 2003, up from € 8.5 in June 2003, mainly as a result of an increase in ADSL customers.

Despite this, today's announcement provides no mention of the ISP's financial progress. In September, after all, the company reported that it had made its first profit. So, how are thing?

Our Freeserve spokesman declined to be drawn on any specific information except to say: "Freeserve has had a very good end of year."

OK - one last thing - the issue of whether Freeserve is going to bite the bullet and rebrand under the Wanadoo moniker. After all, today's statement makes no mention of "Freeserve" and instead refers to Wanadoo "in the United Kingdom".

Is this part of a gradual process of rebranding and a sign of the French company's intentions?

Our senior source said the company's position hadn't changed and that it "continued to look at rebranding". However, we have his assurance that "no announcement [one way or other] is due soon".

Elsewhere, Wanadoo as a whole reported that it now has more than nine million punters in Europe including almost 2.5 million broadband customers. Total revenues for the year were up 26 per cent at €2.6 billion. The company's full annual results are published on February 11. ®

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