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Sunday, 7 March 2010

Who needs super-fast broadband?

How fast should your next generation internet connection be?

It's a simple enough question. In the last year I've heard answers ranging from 2Mbps right up to 1Gbps. Many people, when not burdened by the economics, seem to be in the 100Mbps camp these days. Perhaps that's because it seems like 100Mbps will be enough for the foreseeable future, but will it?

What does history show us? In 1990 there was nothing much more than simple text flying around the internet that required little bandwidth. Back then, how many of us predicted the arrival of social media sites like FaceBook and Flickr, or the BBC iPlayer or NetFlix? Was the advent of broadband a necessity because of sites like YouTube, or was YouTube a response to the newly available bandwidth?

In 2001 I bought a 2GB hard drive for my computer. At the time it seemed like I'd never be able to fill it. Now I'm installing 2TB drives.

If there's one thing experience of computing and networks tells us, it's that you can never have enough capacity. What seems a lot now may be rendered inadequate sooner than we anticipate. You don't have to predict what's coming, just know that it will.

And something is.

NHK in Japan and British Sky Broadcasting in the UK are proposing an ultra-high definition video format that will deliver a resolution of 4000 lines compared to 1080 for HDTV. Currently it requires about 45Mbps to broadcast in 2D. If the broadcast industry is right this time and 3D is here to stay, that's be even more bits. Multiply that by the number of people in the house watching different programming at the same time. Then there's also the possibility of ultra-HD games running on-demand from the cloud. Suddenly 100Mbps doesn't sound like very much at all.

Broadcast standards take years to arrive in the marketplace. But they will arrive. The fibre we lay now will still be there when they do. Is it time to start talking about gigabit FTTH?


NGA UK said...

Good points & well made. This is something we struggle with in the UK, however. Moore's law does not apply to bandwidth, it only applies to the applications which we can use over that bandwidth.

For me this is a very important distinction: the question of how much bandwidth do you need is dependent on what you want to do with that bandwidth. In the UK we already have a broadcast medium that can deliver HD and beyond- satellite. It is widely used and will take a massive shift to displace. Sadly it cannot deliver high-speed bandwidth as well.

So... how much bandwidth do I need, given I have a Sky+HD service already. Well, I'm a home worker and a high user of internet services. I have a desktop video phone which I use to communicate with my colleagues and customers. I user iTunes extensively, even to download movies and share photos and videos with my family members. I also have 3 other people in my household who have similar usage.

At a rough guess if we each had 10MBit/s symmetrical available to us (therefore 40M total) that would more than meet my requirements today. That is not "a line capable of delivering up to..." it is not something that I can get from the existing infrastructure, regardless of how it may be reused. It is something that can only be delivered by a next generation access technology which will be capable of delivering far more as and when I need it.

Cyberdoyle said...

To replace all the roads and railways so that there would never be traffic jams would be a mammoth undertaking. To replace the copper (and recycle it) with fibre would not be that big a job. If that was done then there would not be a problem with our infrastructure. Everyone would have next gen in abundance. There are enough unemployed folk in many trades getting dole for doing nothing. There are skillsets leaving this country for places with the foresight to employ them. The incumbent already has ducts, poles and wayleaves. We have the technology, we just don't have the leaders who care enough about our country. We also don't have policy makers who understand the physics and are conned by the copper cabal. Not a day passes when I read a news story where a BT or ofcom spokesperson defends the current infrastructure by the statement '99.8% of the UK is connected to a DSL enabled exchange'. Policy makers, politicians, councils are conned into thinking this means the people have broadband, whereas what it actually means is they have connection to a voice line. The figures from CBN's analysis showed that 90% of the UK is too far from an exchange geographically to get a decent broadband connection. I know for a fact this is true because hundreds of homes near me (within 10k of a city) are still on dial up. CBN reckon 40% of the population are grossly underserved.
Until people realise what broadband is and what it can do I don't know how we can fight this misinformation. As to the original question, 'Who needs super-fast broadband?' Well I do. My business does. And what is fast?
My answer as usual is 'As much as I need and am prepared to pay for.'
Fibre can deliver 2meg to someone who just wants to check a few emails once or twice a week and doesn't want to pay much, or it can deliver gigs to a high powered business or rich family. It can deliver whatever the market needs at a sustainable price. It can deliver innovation on a shoestring. It can put this country on the digital world map. If we carry on trying to wring the last dregs of revenue out of the obsolete copper we will be left out and become a third world country for sure.
Bring back the victorians...