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Analyst Claims UK Broadband Rollout Targets Ignore the End User Experience

Wednesday, August 29th, 2012 (9:01 am) - Score 673

Point Topic’s Tim Johnson has told the Broadband Forum’s quarterly meeting in Bucharest that UK and EU plans to deploy superfast broadband are at risk of putting too much emphasis on headline speeds and “not enough on the user experience“, with 40 million homes in Europe still unable to get even basic speeds of 2Mbps (Megabits per second).

According to Johnson, approximately 3.4 million homes in Britain still can’t get 2Mbps today over fixed line broadband services, while official figures show that 4.3 million households in Germany are in the same situation. But the answer, he claims, is not necessarily in a purely fibre optic (e.g. FTTH) approach to deployment as this would be both expensive and difficult to supply (the House of Lords Inquiry tend to disagree).

Tim Johnson, Broadband Specialist for Point Topic, said:

Every European country is planning how to deliver superfast to all its citizens by 2020, but the emphasis is too much on the headline speeds and not enough on the user experience. While politicians may boast of having the fastest internet in Europe, about 40 million homes still can’t get 2 megabits. They need at least that speed for a good experience watching internet video, such as YouTube or BBC iPlayer.

Meanwhile, the media is being sold the message that nothing but optical fibre all the way to the home will do for broadband in the twenty-teens – but that’s not the most cost-effective way of providing what people actually need. Twenty megabits with good quality of service is better than 100 megabits without.”

Johnson added that the official targets also ignored issues like performance across multiple superfast networks using different technologies, which are needed for users to get good quality end-to-end performance on applications like video calls. He also challenged the proposed use of mobile broadband networks to fill gaps in fixed broadband coverage because, he states, they are not “technically well-adapted to supporting the continuous high-volume flows of data” that video applications need.

At present the UK government, which appears to overwhelmingly favour BT’s cheaper hybrid Fibre-to-the-Cabinet (FTTC) approach (i.e. the fibre optic cable is only taken so far as your local street cabinet), aims to make superfast broadband (25Mbps+) services available to 90% of people in each local authority area by 2015 and possibly 100% by 2020 (i.e. if it wants to stand any chance of meeting Europe’s Digital Agenda target). This appears to be more in keeping with what Johnson would like to see.

Meanwhile the European Commission (EC) is known to be switching its focus more towards fostering the development of fully “ultra-fast” fibre optic networks (e.g. Fibre-to-the-Home – FTTH), where the cable is taken right to your doorstep for the best possible speeds. Johnson’s remarks are likely to be aimed at this as the analyst believes that it would instead be better to deliver more moderate but stable speeds to everybody before going for full fibre. This is a position also supported by Consultancy firm Analysys Mason (here and here).

Ultimately, no matter where you choose to set the speed target, the key requirement is always going to be for new telecoms infrastructure. Setting aside the complicated competition concerns, BT’s existing copper based ADSL/ADSL2+ network simply can’t deliver faster speeds to isolated rural areas and an affordable FTTH / FTTP service for everybody is unlikely to happen without a truly massive injection of public money (estimates vary between £15bn and £30bn).

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Mark Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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25 Responses
  1. Avatar Kyle says:

    Common sense prevails…!

    Credit where credit is due, this report is word perfect.

  2. Avatar Chris Conder says:

    How many networks have these consultants built? How do they propose to get the connections to the people if mobile won’t do it? The only way is with fibre. People aren’t lobbying for fibre without good reason, its the only futureproof way to do it, FTTC costs are great, and will be obsolete in a very short time. Yes the fibre may be a kilometre closer to a few, but the equipment in the cabinets is a waste of money when it could have been spent getting fibre further and to more people. The telcos can take care of the urban areas where many customers live, but funding should go to altnets and to the idea of the Lords – the parish pumps which provide affordable backhaul and enable new networks to be built.

    1. Avatar New_Londoner says:

      You could ask their Lordships and their consultants + academics how many networks they have built too, real ones not theoretical models.

      What is wrong with proposing that the many get a decent service rather than the few get a (probably) very good service at their expense? Surely its better that the vast majority (using mixed technologies to suit circumstances, but mainly FTTC) get access than a tiny minority (using FTTP, in the case of the more lunatic proposal from the Lords, using point-to-point fibre)?

      If a more pragmatic approach means that some don’t get the absolute fastest speeds possible then so what, if they really have a need for this then let them pay for it themselves rather than being subsidised by the rest of us for a gold plated service. However I suspect most will be more than satisfied with what is on offer, as with most things its just a vocal but unrepresentative minority suggesting otherwise.

      And as for the EU proposals, all very interesting but IIRC totally unfunded along to date as the budget for 2014 onwards has not been agreed. So these remain an aspiration for now that, if ever implemented, will ultimately be paid for by other peoples’ money – ours!

    2. Avatar DTMark says:

      “If a more pragmatic approach means that some don’t get the absolute fastest speeds possible then so what, if they really have a need for this then **let them pay for it themselves** rather than being subsidised by the rest of us”

      And there’s where your argument falls down.

      Where do you think the BDUK money comes from?

      Are you saying people should pay twice?

    3. Avatar Somerset says:

      Chris refuses to discuss her comments…

      For instance, when and why will FTTC be obsolete in the UK when FOD will be available for those that need and can afford it. Have there been any costings for parish pumps?

    4. Avatar DTMark says:

      FTTC *is* the parish pump concept, AKA Fibre to the Neighbourhood.

      The only difference is that it’s only supplied by one operator (“it” as in the crucial tech and chokepoints) and nobody is allowed to run their own cable to it.

    5. Avatar New_Londoner says:

      Whilst BDUK money contributes towards the cost of FTTC in rural areas, it doesn’t pay 100% of the cost. In any case, my issue is not that there should not be any public subsidy to encourage provision in uneconomic areas, its simply that the provision should be to an appropriate standard and not gold plated. I’d rather see the limited money that is available benefit as many as possible, and let those than want an even better service pay directly towards the cost.

      For example, if a hill farmer could get say 60 Mbps download and 15 Mbps upload with FTTC but really wanted FTTP, then let him/her pay for teh latter themselves. Limit subsidised FTTP provision to those properties where no other technology would provide a viable servicde.

    6. Avatar DTMark says:

      Determining which technology will provide a viable service is not some rural phenomenon or necessity. To pick up your example there are two farms here. One has a D-side of about 800m and the other about 2400m. One could get a competent broadband connection in the short to medium term, the other, probably nothing or near-as.

      It is not an urban versus rural issue. When the intention is to try to connect fibre to homes via an unknown mix of copper and aluminium at differing quality levels and lengths the outcome is far from certain. It would be more akin to an “experiment”. I note an increasing number of threads on sites along the lines of “estimate 60Meg, only got 20Meg” which often turn out to have something to do with trying to provision broadband over a knackered old last mile.

      Trying to upgrade an old phone network to become some sort of broadband conduit is one option, but leaves the customer with no choice at all outside altnet areas. No choice = poor pricing and quality, the same scarcity model we’ve always had.

      The other option is to build a mixed-tech broadband network along the lines of what the analyst quoted is saying, which very much echoes what I’ve always suggested.

  3. Avatar Deduction says:

    quote”Whilst BDUK money contributes towards the cost of FTTC in rural areas, it doesn’t pay 100% of the cost.”

    No but the tax payer contributes equally so should expect equal service for what they have paid.

    1. Avatar Somerset says:

      What do you mean by ‘equal service’?

    2. Avatar DTMark says:

      “Equal” is a bit subjective. After all, different people pay different levels and amounts of tax. It’s generally true to say that those who extract the most from the State (State = “other people”), e.g. those who use the most public services, are those who contribute the least in taxes at a personal level.

      But then as I’ve always maintained, it is neither desirable, nor indeed necessary, to funnel taxpayers money into private companies directly to supply the country with a competent broadband network.

    1. Avatar Somerset says:

      If you mean people get different speeds depending on line length, then that’s how it works. What’s the alternative?

  4. Avatar Deduction says:

    No its not just speed related. Time people are waiting just to get it installed varies massively, some waiting only a week others over a month.

    FTTC is an utter failure. It is an utter disgrace BT have been given tax payers money when they can not even meet the demand currently with less than 40% coverage. They have daydreams of 90% coverage i wonder how long some will have to wait to be connected if it ever reaches that amount of availability if they can not even keep up now. Under staffed, over funded <<< That simple!

    Can you imagine paying your council tax to find they only collect your bin once a month while another area has a collection every week. Well thats basically FTTC some tax payers get it installed quickly, others have a long drawn out wait. ALL though paid an EQUAL amount towards BTs funding of the product.

    It was a joke from the start and as this so called roll out proceeds its becomes a bigger joke (wait a month to get it installed and then the average speed from the 76Mb service is only 50odd Mb) PATHETIC!

    1. Avatar Somerset says:

      Which areas have had FTTC funded by the tax payer so far and how many exchange areas have some FTTC available?

    2. Avatar FibreFred says:

      And in other news.. the tax you pay goes to other areas in other parts of the country, some even on services you never news. eek

      Stop trolling on about tax. We’ve all paid it, it was for the digital cutover, did you also moan about its original usage?

  5. Avatar Deduction says:

    Areas doesnt come into it, the tax payer no matter where they live have funded BT and BT are not giving “equal service” to those they are providing a service to be it tax payer funded areas or BTs own funded areas.

    The service is not consistent (IE NOT EQUAL)… The amount each of us as tax payers have donated to BTs pocket though is.

    How dare BT take money from my taxes and then possibly provide me with a service which is not only slower than another area, but i may also have a longer wait time for it to be installed.

    If they provide less, i should be giving less via my taxes to provide their half baked service.

    1. Avatar Kyle says:

      Fair point, but surely we could bring the transport network and the abysmal state of the railways in the north west?

    2. Avatar Gadget says:

      That’s what you get if you have a national price. Otherwise you have a tiered service like the local DIY store delivery. So are you advocating geographic charging, based on cost perhaps? – think we have been down that argument before.

    3. Avatar Somerset says:

      So each tax payer has given the same amount to BT, no matter what amount of tax they pay through PAYE, VAT etc.? What about non-taxpayers?

      How dare that one person should get a better library service than another…

      Apart from the fact you are unable to tell us the amount the government has given BT for the FTTC roll out to date why have you now brought up provision times, a week or a month does not make that much difference.

  6. Avatar Deduction says:

    “So each tax payer has given the same amount to BT, no matter what amount of tax they pay through PAYE, VAT etc.? What about non-taxpayers?”

    Can only assume from that you hang around with a bunch of criminals if you know of people that do not pay any tax whatsoever, especially VAT.

    “you now brought up provision times, a week or a month does not make that much difference.”

    People that are waiting over a month ill think you will find dont agree looking at this forum and others.

    The situation is actually worse than this analyst claims (no shocker as hes from point topic whos figures are often a bit off)…. QUOTE “According to Johnson, approximately 3.4 million homes in Britain still can’t get 2Mbps today over fixed line broadband services”

    Errr bit more than that….

    1. Avatar Somerset says:

      Please propose how broadband should be rolled out and managed in the UK.

    2. Avatar Deduction says:

      Please stop asking me fruitless questions, ive answered 4 lots of them in this story already, no more will be answered.

      How about you answer a question for a change, rather than me proposing how it should be rolled out and managed why dont you answer…

      How is any other provider expected to be a worthy competitor in the next gen Broadband market when unlike BT they are not being giving millions in tax payers money to roll out a service?

      Maybe that funding should had been “MANAGED” better for a start if this country wants fair, competitive and the best selection of services in Europe. I doubt with BT blinkers on though you have considered that.

    3. Avatar FibreFred says:

      That’s a question for our precious government Deduction

    4. Avatar Deduction says:

      No different to half the rubbish he asks me and others then.

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