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1 BT unveils OpenWorld broadband service

Broadband, of a fashion at least, was available in the late 1990s. But only if you were within the catchment area of one of the few cable companies in operation at the time. And it wasn’t cheap either. Telewest’s BlueYonder offering was priced £50 per month and in order to get it you needed to live in a cable household located in the South East.

In the year 2000, however, everything changed when BT launched its generic DSL broadband services. These were available nationwide and featured a headline speed of up to 512Kb. At £39.99 per month, however, fast internet connectivity still remained beyond the reach of most consumers.

2 Ofcom kickstarts competition

Cheap broadband illustration

In 2000, the telecommunications watchdog forced BT to open up its exchanges in a move aimed at creating a more competitive broadband market. Despite slow initial progress, by the start of this year over two million exchanges had been unbundled.

Did Ofcom’s moves to open up the market work? Without a doubt. Granted some of the junior providers who gave the UK’s early broadband market a charming cottage industry feel have fallen by the wayside. But less choice hasn’t meant a worse deal for the consumer – something that’s evident in the vertiginous slide in prices over the last decade.

Gone are the aforementioned days of paying the best part of £50 for a speed of just over half a meg. These you can sign up to TalkTalk’s Essentials package for £6.99 per month, which will get you a 24Mb connection (depending on location), a 40GB usage allowance and a free wireless router.

3 Virgin Media 50Mb broadband launch

Cable broadband illustration

November 2008 saw the arrival of Virgin Media’s fibre optic broadband service in the UK, bringing speeds of 50Mb to consumers for the first time ever. It was to say the least a seismic event. Not only did it transform online gaming for subscribers. It also slashed download speeds for movies and music to a matter of seconds.

In the meantime, we’ve seen the monthly price of the XXL premium product fall from £51 per month to £33 per month, bringing cutting-edge broadband within reach of millions more consumers.

Of course, Virgin Media is now no longer the only cable broadband provider in the space, after BT unveiled its own Infinity range of products earlier this year.

And there's better to come very soon. Virgin is Media to begin rolling out a 100Mb service, which will allow users to download an HD movie in seven minutes and 25 seconds, by the end of the year.

4 Digital Britain Report

digital britain

The blueprint for the UK’s tech infrastructure has been nothing if not controversial. But at the very least it pledges the government and broadband providers will work together to deliver universal access to a connection speed of at least 2Mb by 2012.

More divisive is what the bill could yet have in store for broadband suppliers. Although not yet set in stone, new regulations look likely to come in which are intended to cut file-sharing. And they’re planning to do this by conferring responsibility for policing usage to broadband providers and disconnecting persistent offenders.

TalkTalk has led the opposition to making them police users’ habits, damning as unworkable and draconian. But you can be sure that every one of its market rivals has similar reservations over the proposals.

5 Rise of mobile broadband

Broadband dongles

The first dongle to go on sale in the UK hit Top 10 Broadband in October 2007 from 3. And little did anyone know then just how much these compact devices’ appeal would outstrip their technological forbears, data cards.

Since then, growth of the sector has far outstripped more established home broadband technology, as Britons took to surfing on the go in their millions. In fact so enthusiastic has take-up been that not even the global economic slowdown could dent demand.

That’s something supported by a study from Report Buyer which found that demand has remained on an “upward curve” since those early rumblings of the crisis back in August 2007. What’s more the group forecasts that mobile broadband will overtake fixed line by customers numbers very, very soon.

6 Majority of UK homes connect via broadband

Hands typing on a laptop

According to the Office of National Statistics, 2007 saw 51 per cent of UK households connecting to the internet with a broadband connection – equating to around 34 million people. From thereon in, we’ve seen take up increasing faster and faster. So much so that the percentage of web users who use broadband is now above 95 per cent.

7iPlayer arrives

iplayer large 1

For all the niche appeal of the likes of Hulu, nothing has done more to spread the reach of broadband TV than the arrival of the iPlayer just before Christmas in 2007. The BBC in its Reithian wisdom forecast it would garner about half a million users in the first six months. How wrong it was.

In reality, three weeks after the on-demand TV service landed 3.5 million shows had been streamed and downloaded. By last year usage had surged yet further, with 70 million requests and seven petabytes of data transferred during October 2009 alone.

And it’s showed no signs of slowing down since. In fact, the end for traditional terrestrial television looks to be looming larger daily. Especially in view of a study of European consumer trends conducted by Microsoft, which found that one in seven 18-24-year-olds now watch no live TV at all.

8 Tiscali takeover

Since the advent of widely available broadband, BT had the largest customer base. That all changed, however, in January 2010 when TalkTalk completed its acquisition of Tiscali in a deal worth around £236 million.

The new entity has 4.2 million home broadband customers and covers 25 per cent of UK households, making it the UK’s largest consumer broadband provider. And it’s going all out to be larger still in 2010, as evidenced by the high-profile sponsorship of the UK’s most-popular entertainment show, the X-Factor, and eye-catching light dancing promotions.

9 Satellite broadband arrives

People using satellite broadband

Cedar Telecommunications was the UK’s first-ever satellite broadband provider to offer a service offering a connection of speeds equivalent to entry level DSL (at the time this was a none-too-impressive 512Kb). Its launch in 2001 meant that people in rural locations need no longer be excluded from broadband access. Or at least that was the theory.

In practice the story was very different. A £600 installation fee and eye-watering monthly charge of £180 per month meant that only those with very deep pockets could afford to sign up for the service on offer.

As take up of satellite broadband services has increased, however, we’ve seen costs come down considerably. You can now sign up for Tariam’s revamped broadband deals for £35 per month with a one-off charge of £399 covering delivery and a £29 charge for connection.

10 ntl: Telewest rebrands as Virgin Media Business

As even ntl: Telewest’s managing director Mark Heraghty admitted, the business broadband provider had for some time been the UK broadband sector’s ‘best kept secret’. That’s not something that’ll affect the company now it’s under the Virgin Group umbrella.

But the rebranding as Virgin Media Business is far, far more than a cosmetic overhaul or mere attempt to leverage Richard Branson’s considerable brand. It also heralds the arrival of super fast, 50Mb broadband packages tailored for businesses – something that’ll give UK small to medium enterprises a real advantage as we tilt ever faster into the new digital economy.

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