Now that broadband has become better established in the UK, in theory there should be plenty of opportunities for resellers specialising in networking products and services to capitalise on this new delivery mechanism.
Broadband can provide much faster networking speeds than dial-up modems, making it possible for even the smallest businesses to make more extensive use of the internet.
Jeff Adams, director of reseller Logcom, explained that selling on the back of broadband boils down to one thing. "The single biggest advantage, outweighing all others, is speed. It's as simple as that, and any disadvantages are minuscule in comparison," he said.
"More and more businesses are recognising the advantages, and most of the marketing is done by word of mouth. And that's spreading almost as rapidly as the system."
A whole range of products and services associated with the provision of broadband are ideally suited to the SME market. Obviously, Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) modems, along with standard networking products such as hubs, network interface cards, switches, routers and cabling, are among them.
In addition, firewalls, antivirus software and virtual private networks are becoming essential items when implementing broadband connections.
As usual, the smaller SMEs, many of them working to a tight budget, will be most interested in getting the best value for money.
Andrew Allison, strategic infrastructure manager at Intel, said: "One of the main advantages of selling broadband is that it enables further sales opportunities.
"These could include additional networking and wireless products that enable companies to share information among multiple users, or solutions and services to help the customer establish an effective internet presence."
Building on relationships
Resellers able to offer these additional products can increase their product portfolio, helping them to widen their customer base and build on their customer relationships.
"UK resellers have a different approach to selling broadband from their counterparts in other countries. For example, Deutsche Telekom has a very strong high street presence in Germany and this places its broadband products right in front of the consumer," explained Allison.
"In the UK, you need to obtain the same presence in the consumer mindset, but by linking broadband to other, associated products."
Peter Armstrong, director of marketing strategy at Marconi, added: "The obstacle to overcome for the reseller is how to make additional revenue from a service that is expected to offer unmetered access and free information.
"Users with broadband have access to far more information, simply because of its speed. The big question is what services can be offered that they will pay extra for.
"Take video conferencing, for example, which requires a change in working patterns and culture, not just technology. Often such changes need a compelling event; people need to be forced to change.
"Broadband will answer the technology issue but not the cultural one. However, once users have tried broadband they rarely go back to narrowband. Resellers could start offering free trial periods; this has worked well in the US."
Matthew Bain, business development manager at network integrator Logical, believes that broadband will significantly change the way people do business.
"Broadband will be the catalyst that finally pushes organisations into adopting new working practices," he said.
"Given the appalling transport system in the UK, daily commuting has become a tremendous drain on productivity for many organisations. The only solution is to adopt remote and mobile working technologies.
"ADSL [Asymmetric DSL] and third-generation (3G) will make it possible for staff to be at home or on the road and still be able to use all the applications and facilities they have in the office. We see blurring the boundaries of the office as one of our main growth areas.
"The other great thing about broadband is the new types of premises that can be connected up at high data rates, such as small offices and homes.
"We are no longer limited by cost or the availability of leased lines or kilostream links, and can offer customers what they need."
Selling broadband depends most of all on the availability of DSL services across the country. While more than 85 per cent of UK businesses have access to broadband services, there are still many places where they are not available.
Bain insisted that questions about access to broadband need to be addressed. "BT is still not doing enough to make broadband available nationally. It is still cherry-picking densely populated areas," he explained.
Not everyone agrees with this view. Jon Weatherall, networking business manager at Hewlett Packard (HP), believes that BT has done a reasonable job of supplying broadband connectivity across the country.
"I don't think BT is holding back the advance of broadband, certainly as far as the consumer market is concerned. It is actively promoting ADSL services to both the SME and the consumer market at competitive rates," he said.
Chris Key, director at Voyager Networks, also feels that BT has done quite well in introducing broadband to the UK. "BT is not really holding back the service, although it was quite slow at the outset," he said.
"Initially, although the local exchanges were becoming broadband-enabled, the service could not be delivered to many customers.
"But as competition increases and BT rolls out broadband to more parts of the UK, the technology should soon be delivering what has been promised."
In the meantime, there are two possible alternatives to landline broadband access that may solve the problems of remote users: 3G mobile phone technology, and satellite broadband.
Unfortunately, 3G has been a long time coming and many people doubt whether it will be able to make its mark. "The reality of the technology does not matter; what matters is the potential customer's perception. 3G does not yet exist as far as the mass market is concerned," stated Armstrong.
Key also feels that 3G is being oversold as a way of providing broadband to remote locations.
"We don't really see 3G as a major technology for the near future," he said. "Standard landline-based ADSL is being rapidly taken up by SMEs, with larger organisations deploying the technology to reduce the high costs of wide area network connectivity and remote-users access. I don't believe that 3G will be a viable alternative for quite some time."
Nevertheless, if 3G technology ever becomes widespread, it could have a huge impact on mobile business users.
"The interesting thing about 3G is that most of the 3G service providers are looking to develop only consumer services, like photo email. There is a big space for system integrators to harness the power of 3G for business," said Bain.
Satellite-based broadband looks like a distinctly more promising alternative, according to Steve Petrie, chief marketing officer at satellite broadband provider Aramiska.
"The future lies in the ability to supply business-quality broadband services to all business segments regardless of their location. At present, only satellite-based services can offer this. I believe we have a head start on 3G, which will struggle to catch up," he explained.
Satellite broadband's main problem is the cost of connectivity. Satellite dishes and decoders are not cheap and users frequently have to pay per megabyte transferred.
However, to promote broadband usage in areas where no terrestrial solutions are available, the Regional Development Agencies are using subsidy schemes for local businesses.
The fact that broadband offers customers 'always-on' connections is both a blessing and a curse. Not having to wait for modems to dial and having 24-hour instant access to the internet is, of course, very appealing. But broadband carries significant security implications that resellers must address.
Phil Goff, technical director at specialist security distributor Allasso, said: "Because it is a different technology, any responsible reseller should take the opportunity to advise end users about the risks the business will face.
"A large proportion of the SME market will be attracted to DSL services. These organisations will benefit from clear, concise messages from the channel regarding the opportunities and the threats.
"The real value that a reseller can bring is in helping the SME choose the right product and ensuring that its business is adequately protected."
iPass opens the door
Although 3G technology might still be some way off, the demand for remote broadband access is already with us. One way of tackling this problem is the iPass system, offering access to the internet to people away from their normal place of work.
iPass has one of the world's largest remote-access networks, with 15,000 point of presence in 150 countries, providing mobile users with reliable and cost-effective local dial-up/ISDN or broadband connection from anywhere in the world.
Global dial-up access to the internet is nothing new, but the iPass software focuses on convenience and ease of use.
Tim Gain, sales director at iPass, said: "The rapidly increasing mobility of the workforce and the move to virtual private networks offers resellers a great opportunity to capitalise on broadband technologies.
"As broadband begins to really take off over the next 12 to 18 months, it should pave the way for higher-bandwidth applications and improve the productivity of the travelling workforce.
"iPass' advantage is the ability to offer a seamless global solution that integrates multiple-access technologies in a single service.
"By fully integrating broadband into the company's offering, iPass can offer single, monthly billing and online troubleshooting tools for both dial-up and broadband access."
Gain believes that the future of roaming broadband access will be based on wireless technology. Recently, iPass introduced a number of wireless access nodes or 'hot spots' in various public spaces, such as hotels, conference centres and airports.
"Now anyone within range of an iPass hot spot with a laptop and a Wi-Fi network card can gain high-speed, wireless connectivity to the internet," said Gain.
Logcom (0113) 258 0808
Allasso (0870) 366 8511
Aramiska (020) 8313 7713
Marconi (020) 7592 3100
Logical (01753) 696 699
Hewlett-Packard (01344) 360 000
Voyager Networks (01344) 420 420
Intel (01793) 403 000
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