By David S. Isenberg
From America's Network, November 1, 1999
Bredbandsbolaget, literally "The Broadband Company," plans to deliver 10-megabit, always-on service to 100,000 Swedish homes by the end of 2000. Bredbandsbolaget, or B2, founded in 1998, already has 14,000 proof-of-concept households online. It has just signed an agreement with Swedens largest apartment co-op to bring 400,000 more homes (10% of Swedens population) into its customer base. B2 service is priced at 200 kronor ($25) a month half the price of cable-modem service.
"Broadband adds gasoline to the Internet fire," says Jonas Birgersson, B2s 28-year-old visionary leader. He expects that the B2 infrastructure will support telephony, video telephony, and audio and video entertainment. Switched Ethernet brings 10 megabits to every home, enough bandwidth for TV-over-IP or video telephony, Birgersson says. With symmetrical input and output, he says, B2 service "is a democratization of the new technology. Each apartment will be able to broadcast its own [IP] TV or start an Internet portal."
"Ethernet is the worlds most ubiquitous communications interface," says Bob Bailey, CEO of communications chip-maker PMC-Sierra (www.pmc-sierra.com). In talking about B2 during Septembers Telecosm conference, Bailey describes B2 architecture as a metro ring that delivers gigabit Ethernet via fiber to each apartment building, where an Ethernet switch puts each customers data on copper twisted pair. Ethernet, says Bailey, "is the cheapest LAN technology" and easily upgradable to 100-megabit or gigabit Ethernet.
"Delivering flat-rate connectivity to ordinary people will destroy the old models of telephony and video delivery," says Birgersson. Flat-rate, always-on service is especially disruptive in Europe, where per-minute charges on local calls inhibit dial-up Internet usage. B2s Internet telephone calls will not be metered. Furthermore, new models of charging [or not] for Internet video content areinevitable.
Before Birgersson started B2, he tried to persuade Swedens PTT-heritage telco, Telia, to offer broadband service, but Lars Berg, its CEO, rejected the idea, exclaiming, "I wont take advice from 20-year-olds!"
"Now we have started a broadband war," says Birgersson. Indeed, in August, Telia announced the same service as B2, at the same price. A third competitor, startup Telecyber, is also offering 10-megabit, 200-kronor service. "I am glad to have competition," says Birgersson. "End users will win this war."
B2 is not Birgerssons first business. At age 24, he founded Framfab (for framtidsfabriken, which means "future factory"), an Internet consultancy and Web design shop. Today Framfab has 18 offices in four countries and is publicly traded, with a market cap of over $400 million. Its customers include Volvo, Saab, Ikea, GE, and Electrolux.
Paul Saffo, director of the Institute for the Future (www.iftf.org), sits on Framfabs board. He says, "Jonas Birgersson is the Steve Jobs of Sweden."
Birgersson is widely recognized in Sweden, winning awards like "Web Guru of the Year" (1998) and "Outstanding Young Person of the Year" (1999). Despite fame and fortune, Birgersson still lives in the same Spartan room he took as a student. He attended college in Stockholm for three years but denies being a dropout, saying he still attends class, "now and then."
"We predicted that entrepreneurs like Birgersson would emerge," says Anders Comstedt, managing director of Stokab, the municipal company that built a dark fibers infrastructure for the entire city of Stockholm in less than two years. ("Intelligence at the Edge," Oct. 1, 1998).
Stockholm has become the openly competitive communications marketplace that the citys leaders envisioned when they chartered Stokab. Today, over 30 service providers use Stokabs infrastructure, including mobile and wireline telcos, ISPs and cable companies plus upstart broadband service companies like Bredbandsbolaget and Telecyber as well as banks, insurance companies and other data-intensive enterprises.
The Stokab model is spreading. Comstedt reports that some 170
of Swedens 289 municipalities have some municipal fiber
infrastructure. And in Stockholm, the original 96-fiber cables
no longer have enough capacity; Stokab is now
pulling cables with 192 and 384 fibers.
"Because the infrastructure is already in place, Sweden
is becoming the worlds greatest broadband services laboratory,"
says Birgersson. "If Americans dont respond in an aggressive
way, Sweden could become the next Silicon Valley or
Copyright 1999 Advanstar Communications.