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Analyst Claims UK Broadband Rollout Targets Ignore the End User Experience

Wednesday, Aug 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).

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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 X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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