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The September 15, 2004 Issue Provided by System Dynamics Inc.
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Briefly Noted: Updates, Observations and Trends

Each month, we collect miscellaneous happenings, studies, trends or observations that you might have missed. This month’s tidbits include online healthcare in Florida; an "area code" for broadband voice in the UK; Blending Mobile and Fixed Telecom and more.

Broadband Applications

Healthcare online

A Wall Street Journal article September 2nd proclaimed: "the doctor is online: secure messaging boosts the use of web consultations". Blue Cross/Blue Shield (BC/BS) of Florida is offering 3000 doctors the option to be reimbursed for online medical consultations, using secure password protected Web visits. It will be available to Florida patients this winter. Its goal is to encourage doctors and patients to conduct non-urgent healthcare interactions online and cut the frequency of expensive office visits--addressing an issue we have written about in past articles. Pilot programs have been held by eight large health plans including Empire BC/BS of New York. A study of the Stanford University School of Medicine noted that one system from RelayHealth cut total health care claims by over $3/month per member. ( )

Broadband Voice gets "area code"

On September 6, 2004 Ofcom (The UK Telecommunications Regulator) published its approach to new voice services, including Voice over Broadband (VoB) phone services. Ofcom believes these new services will offer important benefits to consumers -- including innovative features and reduced costs. Ofcom's approach, which is to minimize regulatory burdens, includes: 1. Setting out the telephone numbering available for new voice services, allowing providers to:

  • Offer their customers geographic phone numbers (beginning with 01 or 02), making it easier to switch from a traditional service to a VoB service without having to change telephone number.
  • Offer their customers a non-geographic phone number beginning with a new code, 056, which would not be linked to any location and could be used anywhere in the country. 2. Publishing a consumer guide to new voice services. 3. Beginning a public consultation on the appropriate level of consumer protection measures which should apply to new voice services.

One of the interesting questions raised by this proceeding is whether businesses will want geographic numbers or will be interested in having a broadband voice "area code". According to an article in Boardwatch, Inclarity, one UK provider of Voice over Broadband (VoB) telephony services, has published research results showing that: -95 per cent of businesses would prefer to have geographic numbering for VoB services -85 per cent of these business would not take up voice over broadband services without it We are not clear how Inclarity's business is affected by these different options but Inclarity believes that geographic numbering is crucial for the development of VoB services.

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Broadband Growth

Nielsen//Netratings reported that in July 2004 the number of people accessing the Internet via broadband in the US was 63 million -- for the first time exceeding the number using dial-up (61.3 million). Overall, growth for broadband connections rose 43% while dial-up dropped 13% on an annual basis. Analyst Marc Ryan said "We expect to see this aggressive growth rate continue through next year when the majority of Internet users will be accessing the Internet via a broadband connection." ( )

King bed and broadband, please

According to the "2004 Lodging Survey," from the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AH&LA), Internet connectivity is rapidly becoming an expected amenity in hotel rooms across the US. High-speed Internet connectivity in guest rooms jumped from 23% in 2001 to 50% this year, with the percentage even higher in higher-priced rooms. 88% of luxury chain hotels offer high-speed Internet access in guest rooms, 75% of upper upscale hotels, 73% of upscale hotels, and 54% of mid-scale hotels. ( )

...and include a TV or stereo with that broadband

A new study published by Parks Associates states that "over 15% of all Internet households in the U.S. have a stereo or TV connected to their home computer. Further, 75% of households with these PC/CE connections play music on their PC through a stereo and over 40% have viewed digital photos on their TV." The study was based on an Internet survey of over 4,000 households. Editors Note: We wonder if the results would have been different if the study was done by telephone or mail instead of over the Internet. ( )

Blending Mobile and Fixed Telecom

Over the last several months, the buzz level has been growing around how mobile and fixed-line telecom are coming together. In mid-July the Fixed-Mobile Convergence Alliance (FMCA) was formed by a group of six telecom carriers; founding members include BT, Brasil Telecom, Korea Telecom, NTT Com, Rogers Wireless and Swisscom. BT, which holds the rotating chairmanship for the first year, also announced that it was working with a number of major infrastructure and handset suppliers and operators to establish a new worldwide open standard for fixed-mobile convergence communications. BT had already announced its work on Project Bluephone, which will allow people to make fixed and mobile calls from the same handset. Similarly, KT has been working on One Phone (KT’s “DU” service).

In early September the next shoe dropped, with the announcement of the Unlicensed Mobile Access (UMA) specifications by 14 participating companies, including BT and Rogers Wireless from the FMCA. UMA participants include telecom operators, infrastructure manufacturers like Alcatel and handset manufacturers like Nokia. Kineto Wireless, one of the UMA members, obtained $35 million in additional funding in June. It creates convergence solutions for mobile, VoIP and WLANs. By deploying UMA technology, "service providers can enable subscribers to roam and handover between cellular networks and public and private unlicensed wireless networks using dual-mode mobile handsets. With UMA, subscribers receive a consistent user experience for their mobile voice and data services as they transition between networks."

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