The Week’s Agenda: Big Opportunities in Broadband

We’re all looking for The Next Big Thing (TNBT). We figure that TNBT will save us from our troubles, create vast new opportunities, and bring back the old days.

I’ve been cynical about this quest myself. The boom was fun, the bust expected, and I figured we should now be looking for “normal” growth.

But maybe I was wrong. Technology moves from strength to strength. The Internet (the original Internet, designed to link scientists and researchers) accelerates the process. It’s not just the Internet that can move in Internet time but also the new markets the Internet creates.

Broadband is one such market. It’s the one upgrade that seems to stimulate interest in lots of new products and services.

For instance, at SUPERCOMM this month, I found a host of home networking modules, all designed to combine a DSL (digital subscriber line) or cable modem with a router, a firewall, and virus protection. Intel’s AnyPoint includes two PCI “slots” (remember when PCs with extra slots were cool?), and it has lots of competition in a new product category called the “modular gateway.”

Home networking is just the tip of the iceberg. A recent report from eMarketer cites a survey done by BroadJump Inc. of Austin, Texas, showing that broadband customers do a lot more with their new power than just play with Napster.

According to the survey, half of new broadband users become interested in streaming and Internet telephony. Nearly 40 percent become interested in video on demand, and nearly a third start wanting automatic back-up services. Even troubled niches such as software rental and video conferencing draw interest from a quarter of the new broadband market.

As broadband use grows, in other words, demand rises in a host of new niches you can fill.

But that’s not all. There’s a new “home automation” market developing around an old technology (so old, its patents have expired) called X-10. This, too, is stimulated by the growth of broadband and home networking.

You can buy X-10 adapters for all your appliances for $6 each. The adapters will let you control your appliances through your home network. You can set your coffeepot to perk before you wake, have the air conditioner turn on just before you come home, and enjoy your VCR from the comfort of your own toilet if you want.

Yeah, it’s kind of geeky, but so was the Internet back in 1994.

The company selling a lot of this stuff has quickly become one of the Internet’s top new advertisers (now I have your attention), and its pop-up ads have become nearly ubiquitous on many top sites. (I like to play “whack-a-mole” with them; I think X10 should buy some banners.)

The point is that while we’ve been moaning about what happened to some markets last year, vast new markets — and new opportunities — have been emerging this year, right under our noses. If you have a list of local broadband customers, they’re both ready and eager to consider home networking, home automation, and a host of other gee-whiz services. If you can build a site that will attract such new users, filled with resources and ads from home-automation experts, you can build a nice little business.

There is a lesson here. The technology world goes around and around, what goes around comes around, and what goes down must come up.

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