Virgin Media have announced that their cable network is capable of offering speeds of 200meg to broadband customers however there isn't a business case for products of even 100meg or 150meg at the moment. This comes in response to BT's announcement yesterday about the rollout of it's fibre to the cabinet (FTTC) based network (similar to Virgin's existing fibre-coax hybrid cable network) which will offer speeds of 40meg initially to 500,000 premises, with a potential to rise to 60meg. Virgin offer 50meg now and their network covers around half of homes in the UK, but not all are able to get 50meg services at the moment (rollout is expected to be completed in the summer 2009).
There also comes good news for those in search of a faster upload speed. BT are at the moment suggesting a 15meg upstream on their 40meg fibre product, however Virgin are looking to take this a step further.
"If BT were to meet the time frame they have suggested - of finishing by 2012 - I would see us as having much, much faster upstream speed, running at a minimum of 100Mbps downstream and possibly more. You can see a real opportunity there."Neil Berkett, (CEO) Virgin Media
So does this mean that everyone will be riding a broadband revolution by 2012? Perhaps not. Although there may be a headline speed of 150meg available, not everyone will want to pay the high cost that such a service is likely to attract, and only those on the Virgin network will be able to get it. It could also be seen as 'too fast' as it will break the network equilibrium that exists between access and core networks in service providers.
Traditionally 'core networks' of telecoms and Internet services providers have run at many times that of the access network. Before broadband, the core was perhaps around 150 or 1500 times faster than the access network, with a 10Mbps or 100Mbps connection to servers that run websites and e-mail services compared with 56Kbps for the user on a modem.
However, the ever increasing speeds being made available to the end user over broadband haven't been replicated in the core, and faster connections like 10Gbps (only 66 times faster than Virgin's aim of 150Mbps) are still expensive and rare, with most web servers still connecting at 100Mbps or 1Gbps. This will move the bottleneck away from the 'local loop' of the current broadband access network and in towards the expensive core. One aid to this problem is content. At the moment most content on the Internet is mainly web pages with text and images which doesn't use a huge amount of bandwidth to access. Even video sites such as YouTube or BBC iPlayer will not benefit hugely from an increase in access speeds. Users will probably notice very little difference when simply browsing the Internet on a 5meg connection or a 50meg connection.
Where the extra bandwidth does come in to use is for multiple users and watching high-definition video. Most video on the Internet isn't yet available in high definition and even when it is, existing broadband connections are capable of streaming the content (see our videos for some HD examples). So although you could potentially watch 10 high-definition television channels over the Internet at once, this is an unrealistic use, and the higher speeds may go unused until some new novel application becomes available. This is perhaps exacerbated by the current television platforms where many users subscribe to Virgin or Sky television packages which are provided via a set top box. This is a more efficient distribution platform and also removes the expensive usage charges for doing so over the Internet with some providers. So what will we use 150meg of bandwidth for? The headline speed may not be so useful, but the incremental increase of the lower speed products may be of more use, particularly when fibre to the cabinet reaches those in more rural areas who are still on lower speed products.