At the moment the market is pretty much sewn up by Telecom, which has the advantage of owning the local loop. For the mass broadband market, that means DSL, delivered over aging copper lines. Telecom continues to offer its relatively costly ATM, ISDN, leased line and other services to businesses, which only leads to suspicion that DSL enhancement is resisted because the company doesn't want to cannibalise its business customer base. Sure, it has the DSL-based IP.Network family of products, but they're too costly for small outfits, so DSL-based JetStream is pretty much the only mass market broadband choice.
Ihug has long had its Ultra satellite product, though it's never really taken JetStream on and never will. Satellite connections can't match the fixed line user experience. Signal latency mean no gamer can rule his or her universe over satellite, and weather-related drop outs are apparently common. On top of that, Ihug's never been able to solve the problem of uploading via the satellite service, so users still tie up a phone line and are restricted to 33kbit/s (no, this is not a misprint) at best.
TelstraClear has all but given up on the residential market and isn't planning to roll out new network capacity of its own to home subscribers any time soon, preferring to offer services over someone else's network.
Lucky Wellingtonians who live or work within CityLink's reach can opt to connect to that network, but that's limited in its reach to technically competent users who aren't afraid to wrestle with dark fibre.
So for most residential users it comes down to a choice of JetStream, Ultra or dial-up.
This time next year, however, many residential users will have the additional choice of a number of wireless offerings. They'll be variously based on BCL's network and Walker Wireless's portable broadband Ultamo offering, not to mention regional efforts like South Waikato District Council's plans, Counties' Wired Country network, whatever other solutions are rolled out under Project Probe -- and of course Fonterra's offering, again using BCL, Telecom and a satellite dish if needs be.
Did I mention the power companies? United Networks flogged off its fibre network to Vector and presumably one day soon they'll work out what to do with all that lovely cabling they've been stuffing through the gas pipes. That will be nice.
Then there are the wild card entries in the broadband stakes. Telecom's Mobile JetStream and Vodafone's GPRS network are both capable of offering users faster access, for a price. Services based on the Wi-Fi wireless standard have yet to hit the mark in New Zealand, and judging by the way overseas' pundits are decrying 802.11x as the next "dot-com fool's gold", they may never make it. RoamAD has its cellular Wi-Fi network, whatever that is, which may yet scare up an investor or two to make it to the national stage. And there's always IndraNet in Christchurch with the wily Frenchman Louis Arnoux, which combines a broadband mesh network with new end-user computing devices. Hey, it might work. You never know.
Have I left anyone out? I apologise if I have, because in only 12 months the market will be saturated with broadband opportunities.
I'm happy to see such a rush, particularly if it rewrites the price books. All the investment has to lead to more content, more promotion, more awareness all round. Hopefully the clamour will be so great the residential market will also be swept up. The mass market is the real story of broadband.