The Superhighway - Market Drivers

Another new report "Applications for the Superhighway: Market Drivers" recently published by UK consultants Ovum believes that the the superhighway will develop in a series of three waves up to, and into, the 21st century. Ovum defines the superhighway as a mechanism for providing access to electronic information and content held on network servers. They consider that it has four key features:

The superhighway will allow services to be interconnected using the existing telephony network, as well as infrastructure which has yet to be constructed. The three waves of development include the first wave which is already existing. This is driven by the dramatic increase in computing power and the associated reduction in cost. The Internet has developed in wave one, providing cheap access to basic communications. The report considers that the Internet demonstrates the potential of the superhighways, but in its present form its future is limited, as for example, over the next two years the development of video and voice-processing applications on PC will overload its limited capacity.

During the second wave (1995-1997) Ovum consider that suppliers will build on the first wave and provide added functionality, using ISDN technology. ISDN will give users a wider choice of still images and low quality moving images. Set up times will speed up and costs will fall. By the year 2000 during the third wave, Ovum consider that suppliers will be offering broadband capacity at 1.5 Mbits and above, which will be needed to provide broadcast-quality moving pictures and high-speed local area network interconnection. The new bandwidth capacities will require additional equipment, both in the local loop (telephone exchange to the home) and in terminal equipment. Broadband capacity for business customers will be in both directions, but according to Ovum, residential customers will only need broadband to the home.

Looking at the main categories of users, the report considers that education is a politically active group of users which has so far driven the development of the superhighway, in the form of the Internet. However it is considered that education lacks money to affect the future development of a commercial superhighway. When considering educational applications the authors state that "at present, education is limited by a shortage of suitably qualified staff, due to low pay in education." They continue by stating that "the superhighway has been put forward as a way to remove this restriction and allow students to gain access to leading experts in their educational field." The authors consider that this is unlikely to happen because "the amount of junk mail and work that will be generated by this type of access will become too much of an overhead. By 1999 most tutors will have become aware of these drawbacks and will not provide this type of service."

Key drivers within education

The report states that the key drivers within the education environment are the maintenance of educational standards and cost per head. The key role of the superhighway in education are considered to be the extension of the educational environment into the home and workplace using communication technology. Although so far, access to cheap electronic communications has tended to be mainly limited to higher education as the superhighway becomes more widely available primary, secondary and life-long learning will use these applications. This will enable the classroom to be extended to the home and workplace. The report considers that this will have two major advantages as it will help parents to become part of the process of educating their children and it will extend the scope and range of lifelong learning.

The full report can be obtained from: Ovum Ltd, 1 Mortimer Street, London W1N 7RH, UK.
Tel +44 171 2552670
Fax +44 171255 1995

Issue 5 "Learning in a Global Information Society" 20 September 1995