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NTL - is 100Mbps Internet access on the horizon?
Tuesday 01 February 2005 21:13:00 by Andrew Ferguson

The Business Online website has published an interesting news item, based arourind comments made by Keith Monserrat, the NTL director of policy. The news item seems to suggest NTL may actually be planning a 100Mbps fibre based service to consumers. Though on reading the item, it is possible that this is not actually what was meant.

Much is made of a comparison between the NTL fibre based network, and BTs copper network. Unfortunately it is only the exchange to homes that is generally copper based on the BT network - backhaul from exchanges and between POPs is fibre based, just as with NTL. Also NTL currently does not actually have a fibre connection direct to a customers premises, most still employ a metallic cable in one form or another. So the inference that the 21CN network will only manage 10Mbps, versus a NTL one of 100Mbps seems a bit rich. Particularly as BT are trialling fibre to premises, which therefore should be scalable to much higher speeds than initially it is set to run at. Perhaps it would be wise of NTL to consider that other countries are managing to sell broadband at 20Mbps and higher actually using copper based xDSL services, so to write off the local loop may be a bit premature. The BT loop is due for an upgrade, but so is much of the NTL local area infrastructure, the jump from a 3 or 4Mbps service to a 100Mbps service would require vast infrastructure rescaling by any provider.

On other news, NTL have made various noises and announcements about exploiting BTs older copper network, in the form of local loop unbundling to increase their own network coverage. Originally it was believed that two stages of roll-out would take place, around 50 exchanges initially, rising to perhaps 300 in the first year. Unfortunately indications are that the second part of the roll-out has been abandoned, or at least put on hold. If NTL do not go ahead with a large LLU roll-out, then it puts a big hole in Ofcoms strategy for a competitive UK broadband market, or at least one where the BT Group is not the dominant player.

2005 holds many pipedreams, with regards to increasing choice for consumers, but much of this still looks to be a wide choice in the urban areas, falling back to the BT Wholesale ADSL services in thousands of exchange areas. If NTL are to roll-out anything approaching a 100Mbps service, then it would represent a massive jump for the UK broadband scene. In the current regulatory environment, it is hard to see how BT could roll-out something that would be affordable to consumers, without it having usage caps like many of the cheaper 2Mbps products.


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