Fibre to the Premises at an affordable price for consumers has been the subject of widespread debate since Rory Cellan-Jones waved some fibre around on national TV a week ago. We recently provided some indicative pricing for the Ebbsfleet Valley project; if looking at the product range in the cold light of day some people will be wondering what the fuss is when some 50% of the country could phone Virgin Media and have a 20Mbps service in a few days.
In the UK to date for consumer products, we have become used to the maximum speed being the one that is advertised, however the fibre products are being described differently. In theory the premium product should maintain downloads of 10Mbps, and burst to 100Mbps. The big concern some people will have is how often will it burst to the higher speeds. BT is saying that people will get speeds of 50Mbps when needed, but its not clear what defines this need. An unnamed BT spokesman has been quoted with the following on BBC News.
"But a BT spokesman said that the speeds would be 'very decent'.
'Higher in fact that anyone currently needs,' he added."Extract from BBC News item
The spokesman has perhaps missed the point, but then similar comments have been made about the original ADSL roll-out at 2Mbps and the rate adaptive up to 8Meg services. For many people it is not about their current needs, but looking to the future. As the Internet develops, the need to receive downloads and send material faster will become more important. If embarking on a project that may not complete till 2020 then surely one builds in excess to cope with unforeseen developments.
The BT Wholesale part of the trial is based around the 21CN Wholesale Broadband Connect product, which will make it easier for broadband providers to take on customers from Ebbsfleet Valley without putting in new hardware to offer its services in the area. The downside to this will be that Ebbsfleet Valley customers look set to be sharing capacity with ADSL2+ deployed around the country. The experience of shared capacity varies greatly between broadband providers even now.
Some ten years ago our dial-up connections were the massive bottleneck, then ADSL arrived that gave us a fatter pipe onto the Internet, but as we ran ADSL faster, people started to see the effects of sharing the connectivity that is available. Virgin Media cable customers in some areas where there are lots of subscribers can also testify to the fact that as speeds increase, the effects of congestion/sharing seem to be more visible. Now with the deployment of fibre, the bottleneck that is the last mile may finally go but it will instead show up new bottlenecks.
Mark Jackson over at ISPReview has pointed out that in other countries we look at jealously because of their 100Mbps fibre connections, people do see speeds as low as 2Mbps at times.
We hope that Openreach and BT Wholesale review the upstream speeds to be used at Ebbsfleet Valley. Being a new development close to London and with excellent connections to Europe, the development is likely to attract a good number of home workers who would benefit from high upstream speeds. A 2Mbps upstream is what ADSL2+ can already provide via its Annex M variation.
As for what we all need speeds of 100Mbps for, the reasons vary. For some people it means working from home is as easy as being in the office and saves a fortune on time and money by not commuting or having to use childcare. For others it means they can access the PVR in their home to view content stored on it when away from home, or be playing an online game that uses VoIP, while someone else is downloading a film, and another member of the household is doing the shopping.