Connected Research

Union policy research in the 21st century

Faster broadband speeded up

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BT has announced today that it is to step up the rate at which homes and businesses will be connected to high speed broadband networks.

Previously, it had announced that it would extend fibre-based network access to around 10m premises by 2012, of which about 1 million would be connected by fibre access built directly from their premises rather than from the nearest street cabinet (from where there would be a fibre link to the nearest exchange, coupled with a traditional copper-based link back from the cabinet to the premises). Now, however, it is planning to have 2.5m of these homes linked via purely fibre connections, and that this will be done not just on greenfield sites, which had been the previous plan, but via existing ducts and poles to sites already with copper connections.

Ten million homes represents around 40% of BT’s estate.

Fibre links are capable of delivering much faster speeds than traditional copper. BT has been investing in fibre links further up the network, but the further down the network towards the end customer that fibre goes, the faster the speed to the consumer. Fibre to the premises networks are capable of speeds of 100 Mbps (with ten times that being possible with further investment); fibre to the cabinet networks will deliver speeds of around 40 Mbps. This compares with a maximum speed under traditional copper-based links of around 24 Mbps using ADSL technology.

This is clearly good news for BT customers (whether retail or wholesale) and it is a welcome announcement. What does call to mind, however, is the need for a strategy to deal with areas which are less attractive to such levels of investment and where access speeds will remain much lower.

BT’s own press release points out that such investment would typically require public financing (well it would, wouldn’t it?) but it does remain true that, without that financing, less attractive areas will remain socially disconnected or, at best, an after thought. BIS’s plans for a levy to raise funds specifically for investment in ‘non-market’ areas is a start – but, given the suggested size of the levy, more is likely to be required to ensure full coverage, while the issue of the levy itself remains politically contestable and, because of that, vulnerable in the circumstances of any change of government. Some level of urgency is therefore required to ensure that this country isn’t faced with that level of disconnection.

At the same time, as others have commented, it does raise questions about the level of ambition represented by the commitment to a universal speed of 2 Mbps by 2012. This, again, is a welcome start – but it needs to be regularly reviewed over time to ensure that it does not become outdated, while upstream speeds may need to be addressed as well. Perhaps this might well form an interesting area on which Ofcom could usefully report on the state of the communications infrastructure, which will be required under the additions to its statutory duties by the imminent Digital Economy Bill.

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Written by Calvin

09/10/2009 at 5:23 pm

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