the one to watch $$$$, page-12

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    re: the one to watch - from today's "west australi DSL Surge Steps Up Swiftel Plans

    By Fran Spencer

    Perth-based network services provider Swiftel will open a Brisbane office more than two months ahead of schedule after subscriber numbers for the company's fledgling DSL service raced ahead of forecasts.

    Swiftel said yesterday more than 1100 new users had signed up last month, topping projections of 1000 and bringing the total number of subscribers to more than 3500 since the service was launched in February.

    The telco had said it expected to sign 7000 DSL users by December, but chief executive Chris Gale said it was now likely that number would be reached earlier.

    "The focus we're looking at here is growth each month, we've gone from 60 subscribers in February to 3500 now . . . if we continue on this path we'll beat that forecast," he said.

    "We've been told by Telstra that we are probably one of their fastest growing DSL wholesale customers."

    Swiftel signed a deal with Telstra in October to resell the telco giant's DSL products. Last month, Swiftel announced it expected to report a maiden profit of nearly $1.5 million for the year to June 30 thanks chiefly to strong growth in its ADSL products.

    The majority of Swiftel's DSL subscribers - an estimated 70 per cent - are small to medium enterprises, with the remainder residential customers.

    Three-quarters of them are based in Sydney, where the company established an office in February.

    The Sydney move was Swiftel's first outside its home town of Perth, and was quickly followed by the opening of a Melbourne office late last month.

    Mr Gale said the Melbourne operation had taken orders for more than 100 DSL connections in its first week.

    Plans for a Brisbane presence, which had been slated for the end of the year, have now been brought forward to mid-October as a result of the rapid DSL growth.

    Despite the impact of DSL revenues on Swiftel's most recent profit result, Mr Gale said the company had not yet discussed what the rapidly swelling numbers might mean for the current financial year's figures.

    "We'll look at the first-quarter figures and then maybe look at putting some numbers out," he said.

    Mr Gale was also reluctant to comment on rumours Swiftel had been eyeing the New Zealand market, home base of one of the company's newest shareholders.

    Swiftel announced last month a 10 per cent stake in the company had been taken by "parties associated with industry professionals Colin Marland and Malcolm Dick" in a deal worth $840,000.

    Mr Dick is a co-founder and director of Call Plus, NZ's No. 3 fixed-line carrier and internet service provider, and also holds a board seat at Australia and NZ ISP iHug.

    Mr Gale confirmed he had travelled to NZ last week and was examining "potential synergies" between Call Plus and Swiftel, but declined to comment on what form any cross-Tasman plans for the company might take.

    "We are interested in looking at the market there . . . it's not deregulated but there's some great innovative projects we've looked at with Malcolm," he said.

    IHug is embroiled in merger talks with Perth-based ISP iiNet, with an announcement expected on that deal as early as next week.

    News of Swiftel's rapid DSL take-up came as the Australian Bureau of Statistics revealed high-speed broadband access had become a key driver of internet connections.

    New figures released yesterday showed the number of Australian internet subscribers topped five million in March for the first time, an increase of 11 per cent over the previous six months.

    The number of ADSL connections surged 65 per cent, reflecting the increasing popularity of high-speed broadband services.

    A Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu report found broadband internet, particularly ADSL, was the most significant growth sector for the telecommunications industry.

    The ABS said the uptake of broadband was a key driver in the increasing volume of data downloaded by subscribers, which rose 5 per cent to just over three billion megabytes.

    It also helped drive down the ratio of phone lines to subscribers, from 7.1 internet users per line in September to 5.9 in March.

    The ABS data also revealed that nearly 70 per cent of both business and household subscribers paid a monthly, quarterly or annual fee for their internet access.

    But the fastest growth was in pay-per-hour deals, which boomed 48 per cent to account for 28 per cent of the market.

    The number of subscribers with permanent internet connections rose 34 per cent, meaning more and more people were installing separate phone lines to surf the web rather than doubling up on their home phone.

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