The number of fibre-optic broadband subscribers in Hong Kong is set to grow from 25,250 last year to about 700,000 by 2006, with market revenue rising from US$116.82 million to US$3.48 billion, according to International Data Corp. Metro Ethernet broadband services, based on fibre-optic networks, provide a maximum bandwidth of one gigabit per second, while traditional ADSL (asymmetric digital subscriber line) and cable modem broadband services offer a bandwidth of three megabits per second to six Mbps. 'With highly scalable bandwidth potential, metro Ethernet services are considered by many to be the broadband ideal,' said Renee Gamble, IDC's market analyst for communications research. The technology runs on a metropolitan area network and is marketed as an alternative to leased line services. In Hong Kong, Hutchison Global Crossing and New World Telephone have already launched premium bandwidth services and a range of lower bandwidth alternatives which better suit small and medium-sized enterprises and the residential market. Their growth has subsequently persuaded Pacific Century CyberWorks to offer a similar range of services. Ms Gamble said CyberWorks would be ready to launch its services later this year. She said Hong Kong was well networked by fibre, which made the service commercially viable. 'Its high-density housing and commercial building developments make provisioning of fibre-optic connections highly scalable,' she said. The decision by three of Hong Kong's four fixed-line providers to enter the market owed much to Government policies that encouraged competition, she said. 'For two such providers, metro Ethernet services are their broadband service focus and they are working hard to gain market share,' Ms Gamble said. IDC forecasts that the number of metro Ethernet subscribers in the Asia-Pacific region, excluding Japan, will increase from just 280,000 last year to 9.29 million in 2006, with a compound annual growth rate of 110 per cent. The market, worth US$395.34 million last year, was expected to reach about US$1.5 billion this year and US$19.44 billion in 2006. IDC predicts revenue from the China market will grow from US$39.09 million to US$1.1 billion over that time, with subscriber numbers increasing from 132,000 to 3.85 million. 'China currently dominates the region in terms of subscribers and will continue to do so throughout our forecast period,' Ms Gamble said. 'All the major service providers in China are vying for the metro Ethernet market. 'Because of the tremendous level of infrastructure development ongoing across China, the laying of fibre is more economical than in other more developed areas - service providers are not needing to dig up roads to lay fibre, but are working with developers to install fibre at the same time.' Ms Gamble estimated that at China's current rate of expansion, at least 150 cities would have optical-fibre network access by the end of last year or early this year, which would compete against ADSL and cable modem technologies. Networking equipment company Unisphere Networks said many cities in China were deploying metro Ethernet networks. Andrew Coward, the company's Asia-Pacific vice-president of engineering, said the system would become common in Hong Kong over the next four years as it was high-speed and easy to use. 'Every PC has Ethernet built in,' Mr Coward said. 'Everybody knows how to plug in an Ethernet cable. A lot of people know how to turn on the Ethernet connection in their PCs. 'All of these factors mean that it is easier to get people to use Ethernet, rather than ATM [asynchronous transfer mode], frame relay, ISDN [integrated services digital network] or some other solutions that people have some fear about. 'When a service provider gives you a socket in the wall which is the network, then allows you to configure it yourself through a Web browser, it is going to have a very high acceptance, particularly among small-business people,' he said.