Let me propose the real estate agent as the true measure of technology success. When an agent assures you, without having been asked, that an apartment has broadband, then you know broadband has arrived.
It struck me while apartment-hunting recently just how quickly the broadband revolution has crept up on us (if a revolution can be said to "creep"). High-speed Internet access has enjoyed one of the fastest adoption rates of any technology in history.
Broadband was launched in 2000 and by the end of 2006 281 million services were in operation worldwide, according to the DSL Forum. By comparison, it took GSM started three years to crack the one-million barrier and seven years to reach 100 million. The only problem is measuring the rate of takeup. Unlike the mobile phone, the definition of broadband is problematic, as is data collection.
The ITU sets 256k as the broadband benchmark. France sets it all the way down at 64k. Testament to this confusion was the recent spat between the OECD and research firm Market Clarity. MC said OECD's numbers differed from the official national figures, and it also criticized use of the per-head of population metric. Better to use a per household number, says MC.
For the record, OECD said MC's use of data was also inconsistent. In any case, OECD's top five broadband markets were: Denmark, Netherlands, Iceland, Korea, and Switzerland. Market Clarity, on a per-household basis, had Iceland, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Netherlands, Korea.
Both of these studies miss out on the important Asian markets of Hong Kong and Taiwan. Hong Kong, for example, has 1.78 million broadband accounts, or 72.8% of households, which would make it fourth on the MC league table. And we're talking real broadband speeds here. Not 64 kbps - you couldn't buy a 64k service if you tried in those markets.
The other omission is mobile broadband. HSDPA and EVDO certainly meet broadband thresholds and should be included in any national broadband study, unless the explicit purpose is to measure household takeup. And when a real estate agent starts talking 3.5G, you know you can't do without it.