As part of the EC RACE programme, the ITA together with French, Danish and Italian partners studied factors that are likely to determine the attitude of present and future players in the telecommunications sector to the introduction of an integrated broadband communications network (IBC). In particular, the study examined the requirements at national level with respect to economic, social, security and regulatory aspects, and strategic considerations within the information industry as a result of the openness of the system and an increasing number of suppliers and operators.
It was found that for both economic and technological reasons IBC networks are not likely to be readily available in the short and medium term. Their development will depend on demand and purchasing power. The first step will be the setting up of broadband islands, based for example on MAN (Metropolitan Area Network) technologies. The integration of private households will only be expedient if TV programmes are transmitted. Because of the rival technologies (e.g. satellite versus cable television), it is unlikely that these systems will be able to cover costs in the short term.
The long-term aim of IBC technology, namely the combining of all existing telecommunications networks (telephone, data, cable television, etc.), poses new problems: as integration will do away with the different transmission channels, a very high standard of reliability is required. ATM (Asynchronous Transfer Mode), the technology chosen for IBC, is flexible but does not have a high reliability. The cost advantages accruing through integration will be partly neutralised by the special technical provisions that will have to be made and the reserve capacities that will be needed.
To be able to use the flexibility available and to combine services individually, suppliers and subscribers must be given access to network management functions, which are currently the sole responsibility of the network operators. Reliability could suffer as a result.
Network integration will also cause problems of data protection, as information will be more detailed and the number of potential data pirates will increase with the opening of networks. As data flows cannot be effectively monitored in a networked society, new forms of implementation, e.g. modification of personal compensation legislation, must be considered.
By doing away with the current separation of information channels (speech, data, television), the possibility of separate regulation will also be lost. The planned liberalisation in many countries of the value-added sector while maintaining a monopoly for the basic telephone service will thus be rendered invalid. Because of the increasing number of people involved in the service generation process, there will be a need not only for coordination, but also for the creation in a future regulation system of uniform access conditions and a right to information.
Austrian players in the telecommunications sector are advised to postpone investment. As the technology is still in the development stage at present, there is not sufficient information available for a serious cost/benefit analysis. At the same time, it would be desirable for Austrian institutions to play a more active role in observing developments, particularly in the EC, and in organising and/or participating in pilot projects, so as to avoid the danger of falling behind in a high-technology sector of such vital importance to society as a whole.
01/1988 - 12/1990