It seems lately we are posting lots of news about people talking about putting fibre into the last mile of the connection between our homes and a central connection point. This continues today with coverage in the Financial Times where it is detailed that Stephen Timms, the competitiveness minister has summoned a number of companies including BT, Virgin Media, BSkyB, Vodafone and Carphone Warehouse.
The meeting is to discuss the building of a true next generation fibre network in the UK. Do not confuse this with the many kilometres of fibre already in place in the ground, most reasonable sized telecommunications providers have their own national fibre network already or rent capacity from someone else. The bit that is missing is the fibre links from these massive networks to our homes (Fibre To The Home - FTTH), or at least the green street cabinets (Fibre To The Kerb/Cabinet - FTTK,FTTC).
It is estimated that FTTH would cost £15bn to do in the UK for the whole country, and FTTC would be cheaper at £7bn. In addition to this most of the major Internet infrastructure in the UK would need upgrading and larger international links would be required to cope with the larger amounts of data flying around.
Virgin Media has a FTTC type architecture already with fibre optic cable to its cabinets in digital areas, and then co-ax cable to customers homes. It is this that makes possible the 50Mbps service promised for next year, but we are concerned that if Virgin Media goes ahead with yet more speed upgrades without improving experience of users on its current products they will sully the reputation built up by Telewest over the last few years and people will leave in droves. Criticism is not just due at Virgin Media a great many providers have networks that just about cope with current broadband usage, there seems little sense in letting us all connect faster if the result will be ever harsher traffic management and actual speeds remaining around 2Mbps at peak times.
"Ultra-fast broadband is going to be a key future technology that will allow our businesses to innovate, grow and create wealth. We need to be discussing today how we can put this new network into place, because delay could be a barrier to the future success of our economy"Stephen Timms, the competitiveness minister
Unfortunately if we wanted to ensure we were at the cutting edge we have failed and now is not the time for talking, but for actual roll-out. With no roll-out in the next few months we appear destined to remain a number of years behind other countries.
Unless Stephen Timms is about to put some form of incentive on the table, we don't really see things moving forward any faster than they are now. Ultimately if ultra-fast broadband is critical to the UK economy, then perhaps the government should look towards kick starting things by putting some money behind the words. Competition alone has brought us to the point where margins are so slim providers have very little spare capital for any project that does not have an immediate return. It is looking like co-operation rather than competition is needed.