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Next-Gen Broadband for 80% of UK Homes to Cost £16bn

Posted: 09th Jun, 2008 By: MarkJ
The Broadband Stakeholder Group (BSG) has today published two crucial reports at its 'Beyond Pipe Dreams' Conference, which investigates the value of next generation broadband services and how they could be funded:

The reports estimate that upgrading the national infrastructure to reach 80% of UK homes with fibre-optic networks could cost in the region of £16bn. More over, this might end up being a mix of Fibre to the Home (FTTH) and Fibre to the Curb (FTTC), perhaps with some wireless mixed in for those hard to reach locations:

We assume availability to 80 per cent of the population of the UK, corresponding to towns and cities, in our fibre scenarios. Beyond this level of coverage costs are likely to rise significantly and commercial rollout is less likely to be feasible in the foreseeable future. We discuss the question of whether further rollout would bring additional benefits following our assessment of costs and benefits for the 80 per cent availability scenario. We also assume rollout of FTTC over 5 years and FTTH over 10 years or more.

The performance of FTTC would be intermediate between copper and fibre all the way to the premise. A preliminary estimate is that FTTC might offer a median upstream speed of around 10 Mbps and a median download speed of 22-30 Mbps. Openreach is carrying out trials and modelling work to refine estimates of the likely capability of FTTC in the UK.

FTTH offers a capability that is consistent, and utilising current Gigabit Passive Optical Network (GPON) technology with typical architectures can deliver uncontended bandwidth of 37.5 Mbps upstream and 75 Mbps downstream (additional bandwidth is available for television services on a separate optical channel over a single GPON fibre). GPON will also allow substantial increases in bandwidth in future. Fibre also has other characteristics such as a low error rate and improved reliability.

However, Antony Walker, CEO of the Broadband Stakeholder Group, also warned that trying to jump right in and solve the problem immediately was not necessary - just so long as the UK doesn't wait too long:

"It is tempting to jump in feet-first but it matters more to do this right than to do it now. There is a lot of uncertainty about issues on both the demand and supply side and much that we can learn from experience elsewhere without adverse affects in the short-term. On the other hand, the UK can’t wait too long. If widespread network deployment didn’t happen in the medium term (perhaps three to five years), then this report suggests that the UK could be losing out.

The report also warns that it will take longer to deploy next generation broadband than it took to deploy the current generation and that some areas might be beyond the reach of market forces. Communities and individuals that remain beyond the reach of commercial deployment in the long-term will be disadvantaged. Close attention must therefore be paid to the emergence of a new digital divide.

Ofcom's Consumer Panel raised similar concerns in this mornings news item and they will need to be addressed ASAP. Having some communities with access to speeds reaching nearly 100Mbps, while others barely achieve 512Kbps, should be deemed totally unacceptable.
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