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1Gbps to the home by 2010?
Monday 12 April 2004 13:27:00 by Andrew Ferguson

Graeme Wearden of ZDNet has been talking with Brian Condon, the CEO of the Access to Broadband Campaign. The interview covers what is a vision of broadband in 2010 and issues around what is next in the broadband market place.

2010 seems so far away, but in terms of planning to ensure that networks are in place to cope with demand. One aspect that is worrying, is that while it appears that the governments 2005 broadband targets are going to be met, the PR machines of all interested parties may make it seem like that is the end goal. Clearly it cannot be, any industry that stays static is doomed.

Broadband for many is just seen as a way of getting emails faster, and downloading stuff from P2P networks, and that image is often the marketed image also. For business's email is useful, but with the continuing increase in home working, it is becoming more important for even small businesses to have Internet connections that are able to sustain several home workers at once. Home users are changing their uses too, distribution of home videos to distant family, live video and voice phone calls, on-line gaming and more. There is no one killer application, but it is a myriad of things that people can do.

So why is todays broadband not enough? Well try making a VoIP phone call, while the kids are playing games or web browsing and you hit problems. Broadbands real definition is about being able to multi-task over the same connection, current services find this hard, both through the lack of quality of service controls and the low bandwidths on offer (in particular the upstream side).

Is 1Gbps (Gigabit per second or 1000Mbps) possible to the home? Well yes if fibre is laid directly to households, the issue then becomes, how to interconnect all of this. Sites like LINX operate as massive peering points in the UK, and currently hit a peak of 30Gbps during the day, so if 1 to 2 million home users were to have 1Gbps even with reasonable contention levels, it is obvious that not just the local loop will need rebuilding, but the UK Internet infrastructure. The prices are coming down for larger interconnects, but such massive speeds to users will require the market place to change radically.

Speeds of 10, 100 and 1000Mbps make many Internet users weak at the knees, but reality must set in. Downloading constantly may have to change for some, tiered capping is likely to become more common as bandwidths increase, a lot of the potential bandwidth may be used for providing broadcast video at decent bit rates, some reserved for use during video or voice phone calls. One key factor and it may start to happen soon, is that rather than fixate on the raw speeds of connections, the capabilities, i.e. what applications are supported, will become more important.

The only certain thing is that broadband connections are already changing the way ISPs do business, and this will accelerate. The UK is likely to follow a slow stepping stone route, with 3Mbps being the next jump for the major players, followed by using probably wireless to reach out to where this is not possible with current ADSL/cable networks. There is limited availability of 6Mbps to home users now via ADSL, and not all of DSL technologies cards are played yet, just as the cable providers have various cards up their sleeves.

So who can ensure the next generation of broadband, most likely carried out by pushing fibre links closer to the home, will go ahead? Do we want government intervention? Or should it be left purely to the commercial market-place? It is possible that providers may see the need for co-operation, and perhaps the forming of a co-operative to run a new high speed fibre local loop to replace the current BT copper loop.

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