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Faster broadband in the UK a reality?
Friday 11 March 2005 13:12:00 by Andrew Ferguson

BBC News Online has run a news item, which mentions a little about the availability of higher speed broadband access in the UK. Unfortunately we feel that it neglects several key areas. For example the article appears to give people the impression that BT Retail is behind a national roll-out of a 8Mbps service in the UK, with Wanadoo to run a trial later this year. The reality is that it is a BT Wholesale trial that is bringing up to 8Mbps to 2,000 ADSL lines in April 2005, with around twenty eight service providers taking part, BT Retail is one, and it is possible that Wanadoo is another.

In the recent weeks we have seen the PR machines service providers kick into action and promote 4Mbps and 8Mbps trials, each provider likes to make it look like it will be a service only available from them. In reality we are expecting the 2,000 line trial to expand to more exchanges and lines around July 2005, with a hoped for nationwide roll-out in Autumn 2005. If all the trials go well then the service should be available as an option to any service provider making use of the BT Wholesale Datastream, or IPStream range, in the guise of IPStream Max and DataStream Max products.

The comments from a ntl spokesmans were interesting in the item: "BT's network is limited compared to that of cable. With all the other services coming on stream such as video on demand, the question is will 8MB be enough?". One hopes that ntl have noticed that the BT Group is planning to trial ADSL2+ during 2005, with plans to run it at up to 18Mbps.

Service providers also need to tread carefully with managing the expectation of users, the trials often headline as an 8Mbps service. In reality the trial is for a rate adaptive product running between 2272kbps and 8128kbps. In non-techie speak this means that as the product currently stands you will need a line that will work at a speed of 2Mbps, and it will run depending on the length/quality of the line at various speeds up to a maximum of 8Mbps. Another issue that is not talked about very often is that the 8Mbps headline speed, which only perhaps 30% of lines will achieve, is actually the ATM line cell rate (i.e. the speed the ADSL modem talks at to the local exchange), the actual throughput in terms of what you can download will be a maximum of around 7.2Mbps. With a normal 2Mbps ADSL line, you actually connect at 2272kbps which allows for 272kbps of overhead in the ADSL modems conversation. Perhaps a slightly academic issue, but with a massed roll-out service providers will need to handle issues like this on their helpdesk.

The UK is going to see a large increase in the average broadband access speed, but all these changes including the relatively simple upgrades onto 2Mbps speeds, are going to raise lots of support issues, and often just simple questions from a confused public.


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