Kip Meek has come up with a set of proposals that look set to be integrated into the Digital Britain report with the final version of the report expected in June 2009. The latest proposals cover how the mobile firms will get access to some of the spectrum released by the switch off of analogue TV by 2012, with the proviso that they provide basic mobile broadband to 99% of population, and the added sweetener that they will have their existing 3G licences extended indefinitely.
BT claims around 99% of the population already has access to ADSL via its copper network, but this is at speeds of around 0.5Mbps, the figure drops to around 90% if 2Mbps is taken as the base line (exact figures vary for coverage as no-one has actual ADSL data for all telephone lines in the country). The report in The Guardian does not enlarge on what is considered basic mobile broadband, but does speculate that in five years we could see mobile broadband providing 4Mbps across the UK, and speeds of 50Mbps in urban areas.
To achieve 50Mbps from mobile networks would mean the deployment of technologies like Long Term Evolution. Current 3G coverage stands at a notional 80% of the population, which reveals some of the challenge, and as with the LLU roll-outs, covering the first 50 to 60% of the population is easy particularly when you consider Greater London and its urban sprawl at the fringes account for around 9 million people.
The 800MHz block featured in the proposal is ideal for mobile broadband, since the lower frequency gives greater range, and better penetration into buildings. What the proposal does not cover is pricing of the backhaul from the mobile masts. The baseline packages for mobile broadband are very similar for all the providers and allow for basic web use generally, but go over the usage allowance and the cost per GB varies enormously, and is many more times costly than exceeding an ADSL connections usage allowance.
For the speed freaks, it is likely that Virgin Media cable and the FTTC plans from BT Openreach will always keep pace ahead of the mobile networks, and also offer a substantially lower price per GB. An interesting statistic for when comparing the costs of upgrading the mobile networks is that there are around 50,000 mobile masts in the UK, and 85,000 BT street cabinets.
Some may recall comments made in April 2009, when Kip Meek's BERR work and his role as a non-executive director was a news topic.
"Kip Meek is not working on delivering universal broadband,
He is working on producing a report to Government about a possible solution to the current road block on the release of spectrum, to ensure we have the infrastructure for future developments in mobile broadband. He is not looking at possible funding models for mobile broadband, only the way spectrum is used. There is no conflict of interest in this."Comments from BERR spokeswoman on The Register