Posts tagged ‘adsl’
It’s been a while coming, but BT has finally responded to industry, press and regulator calls to share its plans for higher-speed broadband. In a press release dated 15th July 2008, the company revealed that it plans to invest £1.5bn in fibre infrastructure to reach up to 10 million homes by 2012, enabling broadband speeds of ‘up to 100mbit/s’.
That super-fast figure, though, will only available in those areas where BT elects to deliver FTTH (Fibre to the Home), which will primarily be in new-build areas, such as the lucky pathfinder community at Ebbsfleet, Kent, where BT has already commenced FTTH trials. FTTH is expensive, and requires new distribution plant and a new connection to every served premises – which is unlikely to make economic sense in the general case.
The alternative approach that BT has announced is FTTC – Fibre to the Cabinet (or Curb if you like). This relies on a single fibre connection from the local exchange to the end-of-street cabinets or distribution points (DP – the green boxes that Openreach engineers set their tents up at). A home’s existing copper connection to the DP will be driven from a mini-DSLAM installed in the green box. Since the copper length is small, new technologies such as VDSL can be deployed instead of the more common ADSL or ADSL2+, allowing real-world speeds of up to 40Mbit/s to be achieved. FTTC provides an attractive compromise between cost and speed, and needs minimal disruption at the customer premises – an upgraded xDSL modem or router will be needed to take advantage of the higher speed, but the phone line and other connections remain the same. FTTC, then, is an attractive option to upgrade existing residential areas.
BT is careful to emphasise that the fibre investment is dependent on Ofcom coming up with a suitably supportive regulatory environment in order for the company to get an acceptable return on its £1.5bn. The commercial model must depend on BT having price-setting flexibility, and not be constrained in how it plans to offer access to the fibre network to other communications providers. Expect to see much deliberation behind closed doors at Riverside House on that aspect.
So the lucky BT-supplied consumers who are currently starting to enjoy the first BT ADSL2+ up-to-24Mbps service, along with those C&W and Be Unlimited users who’ve had it for a while, will only enjoy their position at the top of the speed charts until BT comes along and fibre-enables their exchange – then it’s upgrade time again.
Received wisdom tells me that when someone talks about the UK’s ‘digital divide’, they’re referring to ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ – those who can, or can’t, get access to broadband internet connections. But it’s much more complicated than that.
Last month Ofcom released the results of an investigation into broadband takeup, and found that rural households are more likely to have a home broadband connection than their urban counterparts. This must reflect a greater desire to consume services online amongst rural dwellers – perhaps that’s because theiy are less well provided for with access to local physical services (shops, banks, post offices etc) than town-dwellers. When you pass 5 bank branches on the way to work you’re less likely to need to use online banking than if your nearest branch is in the next town the other end of a once-a-week bus service. When you can pop into the local Tesco Metro near the train station on the commute home, you don’t need to order groceries online.
BBC News Online reporter Rory Cellan-Jones is in the middle of a fascinating report into broadband availability in remote parts of the UK – he’s blogging about it and giving regular updates on Twitter.
Where town-dwellers win, though, is access to higher-speed services. The BBC and other sources are reporting the results of a thinkbroadband.com survey into broadband connection speeds. The site features a speed test application which users can access to test how fast their line is working – the results published are an aggregate of their users’ real-world speeds over the first 3 months of 2008. The results show, in summary, that users in predominently urban areas get significantly faster speeds than those in mostly rural areas.
This shouldn’t really be a surprise. Factors influencing the speed of a user’s connection include
- Whether the user has acccess to a choice of higher-speed operators
- For ADSL, the length and quality of the user’s phone line
The economics of Local Loop Unbundling (LLU) mean that an operator delivering the higher-speed ADSL2+ service is likely to concentrate on areas with more potential customers served by a single Digital Local Exchange (DLE). The more densely-populated urban areas give rise to DLEs with far more connections than urban DLEs, so we see the appearance of a choice of higher-speed operators in those areas.
Another inescapable fact is that the average length of a telephone line from the DLE to the customer is much lower in urban areas. So for a given ADSL or ADSL2+ service, the average speed attained by customers is likely to be higher. In the case of cable, the service is available almost exclusively in urban areas because of the economics of delivery. Virgin Media is starting to roll out new infrastructure to support 50MBit/s internet services – this will only serve to exaggarate the speed advantage of city dwellers.
I believe the real digital divide issue is an economic one. Initiatives to deliver public and private services onine struggle to attract users at the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum. This potential audience doesn’t have high-speed internet access at home for cost reasons (you need to buy a computer as well as be able to receive the service). Until this gap can be closed, we will always have digital haves and have-nots.