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UK Government Sees Satellite Broadband as Essential for Rural Areas

Posted Saturday, January 5th, 2013 (8:25 am) by Mark Jackson (Score 918)
satellite broadband uk

The UK government’s Minister of State for Universities and Science, David Willetts (Conservative MP for Havant), has said that Satellite based broadband ISP services will indeed become an “essential means” of deliver faster internet access into rural communities.

David Willetts was responding to a parliamentary question from Harriett Baldwin, the Conservative MP for West Worcestershire, whom wanted to know what role satellite broadband solutions could play in delivering internet access into rural areas within her constituency.

David Willetts responded:

We see satellite broadband as an essential means to deliver faster internet access for rural communities, businesses and individuals. Everywhere in Britain can therefore access broadband via satellite. This is an issue we regularly discuss with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

We got an excellent outcome from the European Space Agency ministerial last month. Britain is now the leader of the ARTES 2 programme for the development of the next generation telecommunications platform. It is great to see British businesses taking a lead here, and this will increase broadband speeds and reduce costs for UK users in rural and remote areas, making satellite broadband even more accessible.”

The comments are interesting because previous government reviews and reports have been at best lukewarm on the topic of Satellite connectivity, although it certainly has plenty of viable applications in the most remote areas. But difficulties with high satellite latency, meagre usage allowances, heavily throttled speeds and affordability have often been seen as key stumbling blocks.

It’s still hard to see Satellite as a viable long term solutionto broadband woes, yet performance, affordability and usage flexibility have been steadily improving over the past two to three years. It is now much more palatable than it ever was before but some of the old concerns continue to remain relevant.

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18 Responses
  1. Satellites are at best a stop gap solution. They will never be the answer to rural connectivity, but I guess the government think they are good enough for the peasants. Let us eat cake? As long as the politicians can have an expensive fast train for commuting costing billions what does it matter that rural people remain analogue? These digital dinosaurs will never understand that if they want citizens online they have to make it easy, affordable and effective. Satellites are not the answer. Satellites are virtually one way communication, the latency kills them and the uploads are shocking. If there are only a few on them its not so bad, but if they lump all the european rural areas on them they clog up or if they fire up more then space will be full of the damn things and we won’t see any stars. Far better to invest in a futureproof solution, do the job once and do it right, bring on the fibre, moral and optic and leave the train sets to the kids.

    Satellites are just a ploy to protect the copper phone network a bit longer. That is why BT are partners with Avanti? Government taking the easy way out, but it will come back and bite them.

    • Anon

      The Australian National Broadband Network, which is a publicly funded network, is using satellite for the most remote parts of the country.

      Admittedly they are using a lot more fibre to the premises in their build, but there’s still a chunk of LTE/4G and satellite.

      It is unclear what rural means in this context. I am rural and I live near a major trunk road and a few towns (although I have FTTC). Does it mean the Highlands, back of beyond type places?

    • “They will never be the answer to rural connectivity”

      Yes they will, as the Govt now need to start preparing their excuses (sorry reasons) for us having the best super fast broadband in Europe once 2015 arrives!

      Guess they are introducing this to us now so that we do not (as if we would!!) think in 2015 that they are just copping out.

    • FibreFred

      The Government does want everyone online and I’m sure Satellites can run everything required, after all its just form filling.

      Satellites aren’t a ploy for anything, rural areas just need to face the facts, if they want FTTP they will have to pay a lot more to have it (after all it costs a lot more to deploy it) that’s if they even want it, you are assuming everyone else is obsessed by fibre, most I expect just want a better connection which Satellites can provide.

      Or they can build it themselves slowly (B4RN)

      I don’t see why huge amounts of taxpayers money should go to sub the relatively few for FTTP?

      Why will it come back to bite them, as long as you can file tax returns etc online its a tick in the box. Low latency high speed connections for filling in forms? I don’t think so

    • DTMark

      Satellite broadband is nothing more than a tick-box exercise. While I applaud the providers for getting the things up there and supplying a service, and I also think that this is likely to be the only option for genuinely remote areas, I’m talking about a hamlet of ten houses, ten miles from anyone else, or, remote islands.

      Just in the last year, and perhaps because we’ve bought a bigger TV, the minimum speed required to stream YouTube has gone from about 1.5Meg to 6Meg, purely because YouTube can’t be bothered to supply SD versions of all the videos. Why should they make the extra effort to support all the backward countries like the UK with weak infrastructures?

      Our 3G probably outperforms satellite by a fair bit, and is adequate for “form filling” and for “basic browsing”. It even streams said YouTube HD videos.

      But that’s to look at the quality of provision in the sole context of what’s needed *now*, and that is not what infrastructure is about.

    • DTMark

      @FibreFred – why does it “cost more to deploy it”?

      It’s surely a little bit of a generalisation. For a “village” which is basically twenty miles sq of land with ten properties, certainly. Barely what you might call a “village”, though.

      For a village like this one which is basically an upside-down T-shape with the houses at the side of the roads, I’m not sure why it’s more expensive to deploy a new NGA network here than a similarly sized area in an urban location with a similar layout.

      ROI is certainly a factor, but deployment cost? For a new provider they’d need to get the backhaul here, for BT, surely it wouldn’t be a particularly significant exercise unless the ducting had all collapsed.

    • Gadget

      @DTMark the point about getting a backhaul to the location is that it can be costly to connect to a point where a large ISP can receive it, or to peer it – look at the B4RN example of getting to Manchester. Also if you can’t get the big names on board you run the risk of a Digital Region scenario where there is lack of/slow takeup of end-user interest

    • FibreFred



      If it costs around £1500 for FTTP On demand where the closest fibre spine is around 500metres away, how much do you think it will cost if there is no fibre spine at all and a new one has to be built to the closest POP/Exchange?

    • DTMark

      @FibreFred – I think that’s where I’m struggling here because I’m not a BT engineer.

      Two cabs, both approx 2.5km of wire back to the exchange. Time to pull fibre through those two ducts – maybe two man days at most…? Just a guess, is some kind of “pull through” left in the duct so that you pull, not push, the cable – so how long can it really take just to pull that through?

      You wouldn’t wire up every end premise at once, like cable, you just have a local point of presence that can be tapped into at the street level.

      Time to then connect a customer with 1500m D-side – two or three hours to pull the cable through and half an hour at the property? 500m D-side perhaps an hour in total.. only when the order is placed.

      What puzzles me is that if BT are ideally placed to do this over others, then it’s because (ignore the backhaul, just looking at the end delivery here) they have a ready made network of ducts and poles to do so. The noises about the sheer cost and time involved suggest that’s not true. That’s what puzzles me most, surely it can’t cut both ways.

    • FibreFred

      Neither am I , telecom engineer might be able to provide more info but I would say you have over simplified it somewhat

    • FibreFred

      I mean, lets just say your estimate to blow 2.5km is right (sounds low to me) if you are creating and selling a product is that how you charge for it?

      Direct labour cost + materials = price to the customer?

      Of course not

    • DTMark

      One is a bit longer than 2.5km actually, but not much, was for the sake of an easy example.

      Might we agree then that competition lowers prices and raises standards, and the opposite is also true?

      If so, we’d need to question the entire ethos of the BDUK project and approach.

    • FibreFred

      BDUK hasn’t worked as it should have , no arguments from me on that one

  2. Somerset

    And the prize for the most stupid broadband comment of 2013 so far goes to Chris for:

    ‘if they fire up more then space will be full of the damn things and we won’t see any stars’.

  3. Shropshire

    Satellite Broadband is Not a Solution.

    We have satellite broadband, as our fixed line broadband is too unreliable. It costs £100 per month for 50Gb download limit at a download/upload speed of 18Mbs/6mbs. It is the latest service that is available and is provided via one of the new Ka-Sat satellites that were introduced last year.

    Despite utilising the latest technology to minimize latency with the service, it is still so bad that surfing the web is faster using the erratic 0.5Mbs land line connection rather than using the satellite. The slow latency makes it unsuitable for virtual private network connections, or online gaming. It is only good for downloading large files or streaming video, but then you have to monitor your usage to ensure you don’t hit the rolling four week 50Gb limit. Hitting the limit, (which is very easy to do) puts you on the “Naughty Step” resulting in the service being severely throttled back.

    Latency will always be an issue with satellite broadband and as such does not make it a viable long term broadband solution for rural areas.

    If we managed to get water, electricity & telephone services to every house in the UK, I fail to see why we can’t do the same with fibre optic broadband.

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