Apart from a testbed/show case of fibre to the home (FTTH) services in Ebbsfleet the UK is falling away from the cutting edge of broadband. The much vaunted 50Mbps DOCSIS 3.0 roll-out by Virgin Media is likely to take some time to complete and will only be available at addresses already served by the cable network.
The incoming BT chief executive Ian Livingstone has been discussing his views in the FTTH issue with the Sunday Times:
"We will not spend material amounts of money that will guarantee that we lose money for shareholders [..] It’s just not going to happen. [..] We want changes to the USO to reflect a fibre world."Ian Livingstone, BT Group
The likelihood of the BT Group being allowed to install a fibre network where the only broadband provider is BT Retail is as likely as every visitor to thinkbroadband winning the lottery next weekend. A scenario where connections are available at a wholesale level akin to IPStream products seems the best BT could get whilst at the worst they may be required to lay multiple fibres so that an unbundling process for fibre can take place just like it does for the copper local loop. This would add a fair bit to the estimated £15 billion fibre roll-out costs.
No doubt a common ground may be achievable such as other operators accepting shared access on the same fibre. One common stumbling block is the millions many LLU providers have invested in hardware and business models that appear to assume the existence of the copper local loop for many years to come. Those with foresight will have installed DSLAM hardware that can cope with VDSL2 or fibre connections on the local loop side.
There could be one big advantage to the UK having a single common operator for the local loop, since it provides a potential solution to those pushing broadcast video content over IP networks. Installing a cache server for every exchange or cluster of exchanges would become easier and reduce the costs of delivering traffic from products such as the iPlayer and 4oD.
BT is looking for a way out to make a fibre roll-out return a dividend for its shareholders in the future and issues such as high definition television on Freeview and access to video on demand content appear to be taxing the entire broadcast industry. Perhaps the time is right for the two industries to co-operate to create a TV/internet access infrastructure fit for the 21st Century. Broadcasters have been involved in other technology roll-outs before, for example the BBC Micro and the original setup of the TV transmitter networks and the ongoing development of the Freeview platform.