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By: MarkJ - 29 October, 2010 (12:30 PM)
broadband stakeholder group ukThe Broadband Stakeholder Group (BSG), which advises the UK government on matters relating to "super-fast" internet access, has concluded that both wireless ( Wi-Fi , WiMAX , Mobile Broadband ) and Satellite ISP based technologies could offer effective solutions for delivering Next Generation Access (NGA) broadband into rural and the hardest to reach locations.

The Analysys Mason authored report itself has been designed to provide an insight into how Satellite and terrestrial wireless technologies can support universal and NGA broadband services. It compares the costs of these technologies with the costs of fixed Fibre-to-the-Cabinet ( FTTC ) and Fibre-to-the-Home ( FTTH ) networks.

Antony Walker, CEO of the Broadband Stakeholder Group, said:

"The story of broadband Britain isn’t just about fibre. It is about how we enable a range of technologies to be deployed. There simply isn’t a one size fits all technology solution to deliver a truly ubiquitous next generation broadband Britain, we’ll need to use all of the technologies available.

Making detailed comparisons between different technologies is difficult. There are always trade-offs to be made. This report seeks to make those trade-offs more transparent and should help to inform decision makers up and down the country who are thinking about the UK’s future broadband capability."

However there are some problems in the report, such as how it describes Satellite broadband as a "next generation" technology, which somewhat ignores the solutions many failings; high latency, slow upload speeds, affordability (in some cases nearly £1000 just for the hardware and setup) and meagre usage allowances. Even download speeds won't get above 8-10Mbps for a good few years.

The report also examines the "bandwidth [broadband speed] required per home" and explains this by modelling scenarios of Low (Scenarios A), Medium (Scenarios B) and High usage (Scenarios C) per household.
For example, under Scenario A, performance of satellite and terrestrial wireless technology is deemed to be sufficient for:

– Watching good-quality (i.e. low level of interruption) standard-definition streamed video content (such as YouTube and iPlayer) most of the time.

– Enabling acceptable, basic, current-technology video conferencing (such as Skype) most of the time.

– Providing a good, responsive web browsing experience

– Support email services.
It goes without saying that B and C highlight higher bandwidth demands (e.g. HD video). The report finds that the average cost per home connected with terrestrial wireless broadband technology would be £260 - £560 in 'A', from £920 - £2100 in 'B' and between £2000 - £3500 in 'C'. This is "deployment" costs, not consumer prices.

It suggests that terrestrial wireless technologies, especially next gen LTE Mobile Broadband ( 4G ) solutions, are capable of delivering a quality of service sufficient to meet the growing demand for capacity from households and small businesses within the decade and that they could provide more cost effective solutions than fibre for about 15% of UK homes.

Meanwhile satellite is deemed to be essential for providing, "next generation broadband to locations that wireless or fibre cannot reach". It goes on to state that the average cost for comparable Satellite solutions would be £500 for 'A', £2800 for 'B' and £5800 for 'C'.

Perhaps the most interesting part of this report is the "Bandwidth required per home" assumptions. Apparently the average "busy-hour" bandwidth required per home in 'A' is an absurdly low 85Kbps (0.08Mbps), while 'B' needs 700Kbps and 'C' gets 1.5Mbps.

Just for comparison, an ancient dialup connection runs at 56Kbps, so good luck loading a single modern Facebook page chocked full of pictures if you're in Analysys Mason's Scenario A and heaven help you if your family is bigger than one or two people.

However, confusing matters slightly, the report then goes on to talk about "peak bandwidth demand per home" (assumed to be driven by 2.3 standard definition video streams running at the same time). This is, apparently, different from "busy-hour" bandwidth (above).

So, in terms of "peak" bandwidth, the figures are more respectable, with 'A' needing 4.6Mbps (sounds about right; plus the UK average is currently 5.2Mbps according to Ofcom). Both B and C required 18.9Mbps (we note that B and C are deemed to be viewing the 2.3 video streams in HD). The report therefore concludes that "there is no pressing need to implement technologies" that can deliver more than 20Mbps (peak) before 2016.

The BSG does at least agree that there will be challenges ahead. Satellite can certainly help to meet the Universal Service Commitment (USC) of bringing broadband download speeds of at least 2Mbps to everybody in the country by 2015, but an NGA solution it is not. NGA is supposed to be about proven superfast services.
Analysys Mason Report Download (Secure PDF)
UPDATE 2:51pm

Forgot to mention that the BSG also believes additional spectrum could be made available to support next generation broadband deployment. In the recent Comprehensive Spending Review the government said that an additional 500MHz of spectrum could be made available in the 3.4 to 3.6GHz bands. Ofcom are considering that but have not reached any firm conclusions.
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