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Industry Basics: The Line on Access Providers
By Phil Wainewright

January 10, 2002

Access providers take care of the “last mile” connection that allows users to access Internet computing. This gives them a unique role in the ASP value chain, with ultimate control over the quality of service that the user experiences. The need to manage new varieties of mobile and fixed access devices over the next few years will demand increasing levels of sophistication from these providers.

Internet Service Providers (ISPs)
Most businesses rely on ISPs to gain access to the Internet, either through dial-up connections or via some form of fixed, always-on connection such as T1 leased lines. The traditional ISP offering bundles basic access with an email service and entry-level website hosting.

Some ISPs have started to introduce more advanced options, such as online collaborative applications or secure network access. But few have gone on to match these offerings with the consistent quality of service required for full-time use of commercial-grade applications.

Committed ASP users therefore prefer to sign up with specialist business ISPs that offer more assured — albeit costlier — private VPN or leased line access, with guaranteed levels of access either to the Internet backbone or direct to their primary ASP.

Broadband Access Providers
A new generation of telecoms providers is coming to market with high-bandwidth connectivity services based on technologies such as Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) or cable modems.

These broadband connections are able to carry far more traffic than traditional telephone lines, enabling providers to offer additional services such as high-speed Internet access at the same time as conventional voice calls.

Many broadband providers have borrowed heavily to build out their networks and now urgently need to raise revenues, so they are keen to encourage customers to take on new services.

Some are bundling Internet access with “foundation” packages of online applications such as hosted ecommerce websites, business administration suites and collaborative productivity tools. Others offer web-accessed integrated telephony services, such as flexible conferencing and call routing services, unified messaging, and integrated management of both fixed and mobile telephony services. But lack of funds for additional investment may limit their ability to guarantee consistent quality to heavy users of Internet-based services.

Wireless Access Providers
The first mobile telephones and handheld Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) capable of wireless access to Internet applications are just starting to come onto the market. Wireless access providers, also known as wireless ASPs, operate the infrastructure and services that deliver web content and applications to such devices.

Some specialise in taking the output from existing websites and application servers and translating it into wireless-compatible formats for delivery to mobile users. Others aggregate wireless content and applications into service portfolios designed to meet the needs of specific industries or users. Some bundle their services with provision and management of the network access and user devices, which gives them greater control over the performance and features of the service.

Subscription Computing Providers
An emerging new class of providers supplies not only network access and a foundation suite of applications, but also the complete user computing environment — including all customer premises equipment — for a single monthly subscription.

Bundling access, applications and PCs as a package in this way relieves businesses of the pain of managing their in-house computing infrastructure, since providers are able to remotely manage the equipment across the network link. This in turn makes it easier for providers to guarantee a consistent quality of service, and to ensure the integrity of security, data backup and other system functions.

Subscription computing is likely to become an increasingly popular way of managing some of the more sophisticated distributed applications that are set to emerge over the next few years, such as P2P, data synchronisation and integrated wireless and fixed telephony services. Few businesses will wish to bear the cost and responsibility of managing such complex technologies from their own in-house resources.

Phil Wainewright founded in 1998 and is the publisher of Loosely Coupled. He can be contacted at

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