Waiting for the DSL technician is about as fun as watching cement dry, and it takes a lot longer too. DSL providers recognize the problem: Companies such as Verizon, the new entity born from the merger of local phone companies Bell Atlantic and GTE, and Covad, a leading broadband provider, are scrambling to help consumers get DSL faster and with less hassle. In part, it's a race to see who can get it to them first.
The most recent battle fought centered over local phone companies' refusal to share lines they owned with competitors. But thanks to a November 1999 FCC ruling forcing local phone companies to comply, Covad and other competing broadband hopefuls can now piggyback DSL services on existing phone lines. Until the FCC ruling passed, independent providers had to install separate lines to get customers up and running.
At the same time, broadband makes strange bedfellows. In an ironic twist, Covad is collaborating with direct competitors Verizon, PacBell, SBC, and other local phone companies to update their software in order to speed the line sharing process. Currently much of the wait is caused by the time it takes the local phone companies to update their switches. "We are hoping to get down from 30 days to a 10 day installation time," says Rich Wong, vice president of marketing for Covad.
Other companies are focusing on efforts more visible to the customer. Verizon is promising consumers much faster installation times with do-it-yourself installation kits. "Where we don't have to do additional work, our target is five days and many people are getting it in that five day period," according to Jeff Bolton, director of data access and products for Verizon.
A number of companies offer such kits, which include a modem, a power supply, and three or four micro-filters that separate voice from data. The customer simply plugs the pieces together and loads software from the ISP, and in most cases he or she is up and running.
But many small businesses may not be eligible to take advantage of these kits. For starters, the amount of equipment and systems like LANs and PBXs they use can make the installation too complex for them to handle. In addition, the kits are geared for Asymmetrical DSL connections only.
ADSL provides fast download, but upload times are on par with dial-up speeds. While such connections are fine for businesses who only use their connections to do research on the Web and send e-mail, any outfit with greater needs has to have a Symmetric DSL connection, which features both fast download and upload speeds.