This year has been an interesting one for broadband as so much has happened in such a short space of time. The main advancements that can be seen everywhere are to do with broadband speeds. BT moved out of a trial phase for their fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC) broadband and this is now being deployed around the country allowing many thousands of people to connect up each week. They expect to cover two-thirds of the country with this service which offers speeds of up to 40meg by 2015, although 87% of Londoners should be able to connect up by Spring 2011.
Wanting to keep the game alive, Virgin Media have also upped their highest-speed package from 50 to 100meg with rollout having started earlier this month in four areas, and full network deployment expected to be completed in 2012. BT is trying to keep on top with their full fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) service at 110meg to ensure that Virgin can't claim top spot. More importantly, FTTH deployments are future-proof and will be able to support much faster speeds without the need for new cabling.
These evolvements to higher speeds mean that more people than ever will start to be able to get online with access to super-fast broadband. We may find that next year people will need this speed as we are seeing changes in how people use and access media. TV content providers have worked out that users aren't always able to watch things when they are aired and that catch-up services are extremely popular. A collaboration between the UK terrestrial TV channels and the two largest broadband providers BT and TalkTalk, has come together to merge the Internet with the television. Project Canvas, as this was born, now known as YouView, will launch in 2011 and allow people to connect a set-top box to the Internet and their television to view things from BBC iPlayer, ITV Player, 4oD, YouTube and much more. The 'open' standards box should allow access to a whole host of different media and could bring a step change in the way everyone watches television. TV manufacturers are also in on the game; Sony have launched an Internet TV that incorporates Google TV giving you direct access to the Internet and YouTube on your TV.
One of the most significant events of 2010 was the introduction of the much debated Digital Economy Bill in to law. This brought to life government plans to disconnect users who have been found to be taking part in illegal file sharing. Unfortunately, the previous government rushed this through the parliamentary process in the 'wash up' prior to leaving office (with full support of the main opposition) and the incoming government, despite plans to review it, have not repealed or amended the law. Ofcom are in the process of implementing the details which will require all ISPs with more than 400,000 customers (excluding mobile broadband) to process and notify customers of copyright infringements when received. BT and TalkTalk are however in the process of appealing this law through the high courts, so the process isn't as yet set in stone.
Other government plans have seen the 2Meg broadband USC (universal service commitment) pushed back to 2015, with the previous government promising to deliver this by 2012. There will be investment into broadband through funding from the under-spend of the Digital Switchover process and also funds to be made available from the BBC license fee over the next few years. This will help the 'final third' of the country (the areas not expected to be reached by private industry) gain access to faster broadband. Under these government plans each community should gain access to what they call a 'Digital Hub', which is likely to be a fibre connection. From this, connections can be made by, in theory, any technology to allow people to get online.
We expect 2011 to bring many interesting developments on broadband, but perhaps the biggest thing missing is a roll-out of Long Term Evolution (LTE), the next generation of mobile broadband technology. Other countries are already in the process of getting this going and it can offer speeds of up to 100meg over a mobile phone connection. Due to delays in getting frequency auctions running we won't be seeing live networks until perhaps 2014, although limied trials have already started in some areas.
At thinkbroadband we have seen various developments throughout the year and we are still working on many more. We have launched our Broadband Quality Monitor which allows people to monitor their connection 24x7 and identify problems from high latency or packet loss which might indicate the line is disconnecting. We've also launched a broadband mapping tool which aims to identify the different types of broadband that are available in an area, show broadband speeds that people can achieve and also estimated speeds based on distance from your local telephone exchange. We will be adding more data to this over the next few weeks.
For those who have an android based mobile phone, we have a mobile speedtest app which can test the speed of your mobile broadband connection, and also that of your Wi-Fi through your phone. We also have a new flash speedtest available which we are currently testing and hope to roll out shortly with more features. We are of course working on new things which we are excited about and hope to show some of it off in the next month or two.
As ever, we would like to thank all our staff, moderators and users for their hard work over the last year - without them, we wouldn't be the website we are.
Happy New Year to all,
Seb & John