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Is mobile broadband for Universal Service a foregone conclusion?
Friday 13 February 2009 11:07:40 by Andrew Ferguson

While there has been plenty of positive coverage over the proposal to have a Universal Service Obligation in place and running for 2012 that could see a 2Mbps standard across the UK, as further meetings occur we are consistently seeing mobile operators at the forefront.

For people stuck with dial-up and no mobile coverage or just GPRS services then a 2Mbps 3G or similar technology service will be attractive, but there is a big 'but'. How easily and cheaply can the infrastructure and hardware consumers buy be updated to support 4G or WiMAX, since by 2012 a basic 2Mbps will be the equivalent of having a 256Kbps broadband connection now. Yes it's broadband by Ofcom definition and you can do your online banking, but embracing the digital revolution becomes difficult. Some of us remember that streaming video was possible over dial-up connections, but now no-one would sit and watch a 128 pixel wide online video.

A meeting between Lord Carter and the five UK mobile operators in an attempt to resolve a spectrum row has occurred at almost the same time Ofcom is releasing a consultation on how existing 900MHz licencees will be made to release 10MHz of bandwidth to be sold on through an auction. Exactly how much will firms be willing or able to pay for the capacity at this time when many firms are simply unable to get credit to even just see them through cashflow problems, let alone risky investment in mobile services.

Perhaps the risk of spending millions and millions in the auction is to be alleviated by the income that will come from handing a USO to mobile firms. With some 7% of UK households not having broadband or it runs at speeds under 2Mbps this could be an attractive market, since at the same time improved mobile coverage would allow the upsell of mobile handsets.

For those thinking 3G is a saviour, we'd suggest spending some time in a city with coverage, and while you can most of the time send and receive email, speeds for watching video content are highly variable even if in a static location. Using it for more advanced things like online gaming, or connecting multiple devices and you find out what the services limits are.

Here is an idea that is a long way out of the box- has anyone who holds the purse strings or can make telecoms providers jump considered asking the consumers and small businesses what they want? We don't mean an online consultation which will just see the usual respondents, but sending out physical people to see what it is that people actually want.

Comments

Posted by timmay over 8 years ago
What's the point in freeing up 10Mhz of bandwidth in the 900Mhz spectrum if 72Mhz of bandwidth in the 800Mhz spectrum is going to be made available by moving IDTV channels? I guess It depends on when the frequencies are available and the costs. Of course upgrading a 2G mast to support 3G would probably be a simple change of equipment (or settings) however for 800Mhz may require different antennas to be installed on the masts as well. Anyone able to back up my thoughts with facts?
Posted by Dawn_Falcon over 8 years ago
"2Mbps will be the equivalent of having a 256Kbps broadband connection now"

No, not really. Any ADSL or even ISDN is a major advance over dialup, pings for web browsing (absent massive congestion) fall by a factor of ten or more. Boosting raw speed dosn't have the same kind of effect.
Posted by herdwick over 8 years ago
5 + 5 MHz will give the succesful bidder a *total* capacity of about 12 Mbits/s download with the fanciest aerials. So that's 12M of total download for anyone in range of that base station. Queue here !
Posted by ChrisRedpath over 8 years ago
3G is *much* worse than dialup for ping speeds.
It's not uncommon to see a 4-500ms ping and sometimes much worse.
Not quite as bad as satellite, but close. You won't be doing much interactive on 3G.
Posted by KarlAustin over 8 years ago
We've done VoIP over an IPSEC VPN over 3G before and it was fine, slight delay, but that was down to the handset struggling a little with the IPSEC, if we removed that, there was no noticeable delay.
Posted by timmay over 8 years ago
Yay 12Mbps for a mast that'll probably cover a 1 to 5km radius and many thousands of potential users. As for ping times HSDPA reduces these further to around 100ms and HSPA+ improves the ping further. Wireless will never be better than or equal to wire or fibre though.
Posted by carrot63 over 8 years ago
"has anyone ... considered asking the consumers and small businesses what they want?"

No more this time than they did over the last issue or the one before; handing business a government sponsored gift is a far higher priority. This is more about juggling the pieces to get a desired result re spectrum, with the notion of a 'broadband' USO more of a bribe for the telcos and marketing gimmick for the more gullible voters. As ever, a synergistic Nu Labour fix that is nothing but smoke, mirrors and deceit to the last.
Posted by Spectre_01 over 8 years ago
It was considered, but deemed impractical.
Posted by herdwick over 8 years ago
"sending out physical people to see what it is that people actually want." - years of real terms salary increases have put paid to that kind of activity.

The best you could hope for would be a 1,000 phone call survey or a YouGov panel. Remember that such surveys usually find 50% of people don't know what speed they have, etc.
Posted by mattbibby over 8 years ago
"..has anyone who holds the purse strings or can make telecoms providers jump considered asking the consumers and small businesses what they want? "

That's how most problems arise nower days with IT... most individuals and small business don't really have a clue what they want. They tell you they do... but with limited understanding of what they are asking.
Posted by Spectre_01 over 8 years ago
I won't be satisfied until all 70 million residents of the UK are asked what they want...






...what they really really want.
Posted by Bryan-Tansley over 8 years ago
There once was a requirement for universal access to postal and telephone services, but was dropped in favour of Majority coverage, which has left many areas, not all rural with out mobile, cable or even landline coverage. Perhaps if the Govt reinstated Universal coverage for at least one service?
Posted by AndrueC over 8 years ago
@Bryan-Tansley:Huh? BT's USO is still in force. So far all we've had is a /proposal/ that it be removed.

Where do you know that is unable to get a landline?
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 8 years ago
BT landline USO requires BT to only provide the first line at standard install rate of £125 if this will cost them under £3400, above that they can ask you to contribute.
Posted by mikeblogs over 8 years ago
As a user I have had a go at describing what I need in a broadband service here - http://www.bbbritain.co.uk , it includes a product label describing what I need to know to be fully informed. To aid and abet the USO debate I have provided a description (first draft) of the services and performances needed to support them.

Spectrum trading is one positive step, but delay/jitter characteristics means the services must be labelled fully.

3G coverage is circa 80%? Is the assumption that access to the 900Mhertz will up the national geographic coverage?
Posted by Bryan-Tansley over 8 years ago
Quote: Where do you know that is unable to get a landline?

A number of the smaller Scottish islands, a lot of isolated farms and communities etc. even then if they have a BT line the length or of that line maybe to long, or to poor for an effective Broadband service.
I know I was unable to use more that Std dial-up at my home for years, until I moved into town (well the town moved to me in the form of a new housing estate, complete with a new telephone exchange).
Posted by AndrueC over 8 years ago
@Bryan-Tansley:Yes but you posted "Perhaps if the Govt reinstated Universal coverage for at least one service?"

..and my response is that the BT USO is still in place. It hasn't yet been revoked. I agree that a /better/ USO would be nice but your post implied that there was no USO and that isn't correct.
Posted by cyberdoyle over 8 years ago
Mobile broadband is pretty useless when it comes to providing what a lot of families now need, as it can only help one person per connection. In our house there can be 5 computers at any one time all doing different things. Mobile coverage is a bonus, it should not be part of any USO. IMHO.
Posted by Bryan-Tansley over 8 years ago
Sorry perhaps I should have said if the Govt required the 'Universal coverage for ALL public services' rather than the 'Majority' coverage in all new public service contracts.
Posted by Enrico21 over 8 years ago
In rural areas where cell phone signals are weak/non-existent, provision of the standard 2Mbps being mooted may be expensive to apply. Rural users will feel rightly aggrieved as other users in the larger towns and cities will have much more choice, faster and potentially more reliable speeds for around the same price. This is a question of economics but in a fair society why should some pay more for less? Surely this point needs to be addressed otherwise the digital divide in Britain will progressively widen. Any suggestions on how this issue can or should be addressed fairly?
Posted by ruskin0 over 8 years ago
Some have been paying more for less even in the city you know lol.
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