DSL providers expand service options

DSL companies, like their cable counterparts, are beginning to introduce a variety of service plans and pricing options, giving companies with telecommuters a choice of paying more money for a high-end service, or less for a basic broadband offering that's still better than dial-up.

Until recently, DSL providers didn't offer many broadband options, says Matthew Davis, an analyst with The Yankee Group.

"The technology wasn't really there to allow them to differentiate, but it is now," he says.

Many DSL providers offered speed variations, but the speed was controlled at the DSL access multiplexer, and there were no solid service-level agreements or quality guarantees.

But now, service providers are putting software systems in place that let them ensure different levels of service and speed for different DSL offerings, Davis says.

One company making systems that let providers offer different DSL flavors is Spirent Communications PLC. Spirent, which makes a range of DSL testing and management software, has a client list that includes regional Bell operating companies SBC Communications Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc.

SBC is the latest provider to unveil tiered service and pricing.

In late August, SBC announced it would roll out six DSL packages this fall. The packages range from a basic service that offers download speeds of up to 384K bit/sec and upload speeds of up to 128K bit/sec with a dynamic IP address, to a high-end offering with download speeds ranging from 1.5M to 6M bit/sec, upload speeds of up to 384K bit/sec and five static IP addresses.

The main goal of most DSL and cable providers offering tiered services is to attract customers who aren't willing to pay the current cost of a standard broadband service, says Pat Hurley, an analyst with TeleChoice Inc.

Service tiers let providers offer basic packages for less than US$50 per month, which is the standard rate for most DSL and cable plans.

But the tiers also let companies wanting better service for key telecommuters pay more for better service guarantees.

One pricing tier drawback is that companies and consumers that are used to paying a standard one-size-fits-all fee for a heavily used connection might end up having to pay more, or settle for a lower-quality service.

"Consumers are going to have to get used to the idea of paying for more when it comes to broadband," Davis says.

At the same time, if the RBOCs want to attract higher-end business users and power telecommuters, they'll have to offer service guarantees, Hurley says.

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