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Broadband – The argument over access and speed...

So Europe aim for a basic 30Mbps, USA define basic at 25Mbps and we are calling 24Mbps "superfast" ??  Confused? 

I first got involved in broadband (wide bandwidth data transmission, capable of delivering multiple finals and traffic types) in the research labs at BT in the late 1980’s. By 1995 I was generating contact lists for BT  to promote ISDN2 products and services, resulting in one of the fastest growths in uptake of any new telecoms product. By the mid 2000’s I was conducting research and developing reports for economic development agencies and the World Bank on the importance of network infrastructure and digital engagement, and by 2010 I was leading the European Broadband Portal for the European Commission, helping countries and regions across Europe to prepare strategies to meet the challenge of the recently announced ‘Digital Agenda’. This year I wrote an extensive report on the importance of bandwidth for modern business for the Federation of Small Business, and today I am leading an initiative to build awareness and engagement with superfast broadband in Kent, called the Digital Garden.

Does fibre offer the scalability to deliver speeds you might need....real soon?

Since the first use of networks carrying voice and data captured our collective imagination, the race for infrastructure modernisation has struggled to keep up with demand. Today we are mostly undergoing a major upgrade to deliver fttc or fibre to the cabinet (that green box you frequently see at the side of the road). A fibre ‘enabled’ cabinet is essential in order for subscribers to access faster broadband speeds, but does not guarantee the speeds you might want, or perhaps more importantly, offer the scalability to deliver speeds you might need…. real soon.

In the late 1990’s the expectation of broadband was around 64Kbps. (remember when you downloaded ‘headers’ from your eMail and selected only the ones you needed to read, or could spend the time to download?)

By the early 2000’s  ‘basic broadband’ expectation was 256Kbps as we e-mailed more and more, and began to use a growing range of digital content.

In 2007 the US FCC took the step to raise the bar on ‘basic broadband’ to a minimum of 768Kbps and up to 1.5Mbps. This move was designed to combat the practice of ISP’s to throttle down available bandwidth in order to cope with demand at peak times.

The Digital Agenda programme....

Back in Europe in 2010 the European Commission announced an inspired programme called the Digital Agenda,  http://ec.europa.eu/digital-agenda/en/digital-agenda-scoreboard. Basic Broadband was then defined as 2Mbps, but 100% of premises should have access to 30Mbps (the future ‘basic’), and 50% of premises should subscribe to 100Mbps by 2020.

Then back in the US in 2015, the FCC defined 25Mbps as ‘basic broadband’, and the race is now on to bring the country up to speed.

Meanwhile in the UK we have been joyfully running a campaign, using EU funding, to offer what we called ‘superfast broadband’ at speeds of 24Mbps to ’95%’ of the UK premises by 2017.

So Europe aim for a basic 30Mbps, USA define basic at 25 Mbps and we are calling 24Mbps ‘superfast’??? Confused?

You might want to look at this EU report ‪bit.ly/1La7kgb  ‪#TelecomsEU. It only runs up to 2013 but it gives you some indication of the UK telecoms sector investment in national infrastructure. If you can’t spot the UK – try looking at the far right, the bottom of the list. Yep – that’s us. 

Without going into the detail, its technically impossible to deliver the hoped-for 100 mbps speeds over our current “fibre to copper” connections. Those with ‘cable’ (not to be confused with Fibre) solutions are slightly luckier. And those who invested in Satellite, well, at least you have something.

So should we be worried by this?

Government and BT sources studiously avoid EU or USA comparisons, and we are currently being told that 10Mbps is ‘all we need’ to do the internet things we need to do today. Our infrastructure improves by small steps, and nearly every investment becomes redundant as the next technology arrives.  Are we being held to ransom? Is our demand and expectation being suppressed by Government and BT working in collusion? Or have they got it right, and we are on the road to creating practical solutions for UK citizens and Businesses?

The jury is out, but while you are pondering whether the UK is behind, on track or ahead, here are some facts to support your thinking -

·        Sweden had implemented a full fibre solution to well over 50% of its premises by the end of 2014. That provides scalable bandwidth up to 1000Mbps without any replacement. Many of these premises are inside the Arctic Circle. And they aim to connect the whole country.

·        Japan, Korea and Singapore have nationally implemented full fibre 1000Mbps infrastructure as a matter of economic necessity

·        Lithuania has rolled out full fibre and offers 300Mbps today for €26 per month (and the cost is coming down).

·        The President of the USA this year stated intent (State of Nation speech) to deliver 500 to 1000Mbps to all USA premises.

·        You need 25Mbps to stream a 4K format movie

·        By 2019 43% of used bandwidth will be Machine to Machine (M2M) communications (its 11% today).

·        The use of Moore’s law predicts that basic bandwidth needs will run to over 120Mbps by 2020 and 500Mbps by 2024.

·        Internet of Things, Big Data, Cloud Services, Digital Marketing, Broadcast Standards, Social Media and Video Communications are the fixed bandwidth capacity guzzlers we know of today, that were virtually unknown 5-10 years ago. What comes tomorrow?

What else would we spend the money on....?

Organizations like NextGen, INCA and even the FSB and IoD are lobbying hard today to get realistic investment in a truly scalable long term infrastructure for the UK. To fully fibre the UK would cost less than the new High Speed 2 Train Line investments currently under review and the cost looks like a rounding error compared to Trident replacement.

What would you rather have?

 

 

 

 

Freeman Roger Williams