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UK top Euro broadband nation, say analysts

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The UK has leapfrogged France as Europe's number-one broadband nation, according to estimates by research outfit Point Topic.

Having totted up the latest numbers available, analysts reckon that, as of New Year's Day, the UK had 9.8m broadband lines compared to 9.7m in France.

This compares with figures from September, which showed the UK lagging behind with 8.86m lines to France's 8.93m.

Germany trailed in third place with 8.4m broadband lines at the end of September.

Analysts also predict that the next 12 months look set to be the "year of unbundling", especially if mass-market operators, such as AOL, Wanadoo and Tiscali, throw their weight behind transferring broadband punters to their own networks.

Indeed, if the big UK ISPs approach the task "with the same aggressive commitment...as the French", says Point Topic, then the UK could see one million lines unbundled by the autumn.

What's more, it's even possible that 1.5m lines could be unbundled by the end of the year - a milestone that could trigger even greater competition in the UK.

Why? Well, last June BT agreed to give LLU the chance to thrive by promising not to cut charges for its wholesale broadband products until there are 1.5m unbundled lines in the UK.

The move is designed to give LLU (the process by which rival operators install their own kit in BT exchanges to provide telecoms services direct to end-users) a fighting chance of becoming an established source of competition.

However, once the 1.5m trigger is hit, BT is allowed to cut the prices on its wholesale services further, which Point Topic predicts could provide tougher competition for those aiming to provide these services by unbundling.

Separately, LLU operator Be is finalising plans for a new pay-as-you-go broadband product due out later this month. "Be lite" - which includes a usage allowance that can be topped up as needed - will offer download speeds of up to 24 meg broadband for under £15 per month. ®

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