In a disappointing but unsurprising move, OFCOM’s recently published review of the future of the UK’s broadband decided that everything is hunky-dory as it is with little to no recommendations that will bring much hope for those praying for an overhaul of the fibre strategy.
Currently the company responsible for upgrading the country’s network, the BT owned Openreach, are working on bringing high-speed fibre connections to the cabinets and exchanges only, relying on the existing copper cable to then take the connection into the home. Prior to the review being published other Internet Service Providers were quietly hoping that OFCOM would separate Openreach from BT and make it a fully independent business opening up the whole system to greater competition and (hopefully) giving consumers a much greater choice over and where and how they get their internet. Unfortunately for them the only reference to this was a rather mealy mouthed statement that perhaps BT would like to give a little more autonomy to Openreach and not control what they do so much. BT were quick to respond that they give Openreach all the freedom they could want (within limits though, freedom isn’t free) and the review gave it’s full support to how to operate.
Other ISP’s tried to claw some kind concession from the report with SKY focussing on the recommendation about Openreach’s independence but ultimately there was little good news for anyone outside the British Telecom Group.
There are three main issues to this report, the physical network upgrades, the competitiveness of the UK digital economy and that these reviews only happen once every ten years. The actual upgrading of the lines themselves was never going to happen at a pace quick enough for everyone to be happy but it’s also true that there are serious inconsistencies about which areas are upgraded first with some areas where one house next door to another is left off the fibre upgrades while it’s neighbours enjoy ‘medium-fast’ speeds. It’s also not unreasonable that high population areas are upgraded first but with some rural areas unable to get broadband it wouldn’t be unreasonable to consider those areas as being a priority for some kind of upgrade if only to bring them into the 21st century.
The second issue is the one of the digital economy and it comes down to the ‘medium-fast’ connections we will actually be receiving. The copper cable that Openreach are relying on to carry the connection to a premises has a maximum speed of 80Mb/sec. This might seem fast but compared to Google Fibre’s 1Gb/sec in the U.S. It’s lacklustre at best. At the moment a few companies in the U.K. offer direct fibre connections but the limitations at cabinet mean these are maxed out at 200 Mb/sec. A 56kb connection was acceptable in the 90’s and broadband became acceptable at the beginning of this decade so it’s reasonable to believe that 80Mb fibre will rapidly become ‘acceptable’ before 2020.
This is all becomes more concerning when you consider the UKs place within the worlds digital economy. If we are unable to connect with other countries on a significant level then the rest of the world will stop connecting with us.
Posted to In the Media