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Are fixed-line broadband days numbered?
Monday 22 August 2011 15:29:31 by John Hunt

Fixed-line broadband could be numbered, at least in Germany, where Vodafone is considering moving its fixed line DSL broadband customers on to (Long Term Evolution) LTE after the company said that it is costing a fortune in line rental to Deutsche Telekom through local loop unbundling (LLU). The move would be seen as quite a radical change as other areas of the market seem to be moving toward using more fixed-line services to help supplement mobile ones.

LTE offers a high bandwidth next-generation (4G) broadband solution which is usually thought of as a 'mobile broadband' product, but can work equally well as a replacement for a fixed-line solution. Speeds are offered at up to 50Mbps, which competes well with equivalent fixed-line services that are available in the UK.

By migrating all its customers over to LTE, Vodafone could save around €500 million a year which it currently spends on LLU with Deutsche Telekom, whose prices are higher than the equivalent here in the UK. We are unlikely to see many UK companies encouraging customers to switch in this way, as we are years behind on deploying next-generation LTE networks, mainly due to the lack of spectrum available to run this, which is hoped to become available through auction so services could go live in early 2014, although Europe is encouraging for services to be made available via other means sooner.


Posted by herdwick over 6 years ago
Headline speeds are one thing, total network capacity is another. With 20 MHz of spectrum (say) Vodafone can put maybe 80 Mbits/s of sector capacity into an area.

20 average UK phone lines would have the same capacity. One FTTC cab can have 6 Gbits/s of capacity into the same area.

Mobile data isn't even the same sport as broadband.
Posted by GMAN99 over 6 years ago
I think we are a very very long way off seeing fixed line broadband being replaced, if ever
Posted by cyberdoyle over 6 years ago
Agree with GMAN99 for a change.
The incumbent will make pretty damn sure we don't have an alternative to fixed line broadband. But people are 'making do' with smart phone internet access and slowly but surely giving up landline access to the 'real thing', therefore saving themselves two phone rentals. As time goes by this is going to have an impact as people become home owners, and access the internet whilst at work.
Posted by tazz_uk over 6 years ago
2 words... Gaming and ping... not goood at all on mobile broadband
Posted by GMAN99 over 6 years ago
Its nothing to do with the incumbent making sure an alternative can't get in, any provider is welcome to do so now they can't stop it. Can't you put aside your hatred of BT just once? I said what I said from a technical perspective, just like wireless cannot beat wired in the home in terms of speed and reliability (i.e. no interference) wireless cannot beat wired outside the home either.
Posted by GMAN99 over 6 years ago

We are in an age where (some) people want more speed and a better service in terms of throughput/latency etc, and wireless doesn't offer that yet, and I don't know when it could ever beat anything that is wired. Wired is here to stay.
Posted by fibrebunny over 6 years ago
It has been a long time since anyone I know has settled for internet at work rather than the home. With pricing so low, I would be surprised if 'making do' was all that popular. Save for those with truly dire lines perhaps. Likewise I'd assume the financially excluded to be a minority.
Posted by timmay over 6 years ago
The fixed line will never be replaced completely. There simply isn't enough spectrum and capacity to do so. However in (very) low population areas wireless/LTE may become the norm.
Posted by SimonWindsor over 6 years ago
The vast majority of Internet users do not worry about latency or capactity, and for these people an LTE service with a high speed connection would be ideal.

Also, many people live in areas that will be covered by LTE, but are missed by BT Infinity or Virgin, and would happily sign with a a mobile provider that provided a very high speed, limited download service.

Posted by Dixinormous over 6 years ago
@tazz_uk this isn't the same mobile broadband we have here, it's the latest and greatest version LTE. Round trip time handset to cell is around the 10-20ms mark, easily a match for interleaved DSL.

Given VM sell 20Mbit on 38Mbit channels no reason to think this isn't feasible.
Posted by AndrueC over 6 years ago
Common sense says this is a bad idea. Paying less nearly always mean getting less. What the article is really implying is that Vodafone DE can't afford to operate a decent fixed-line service so are switching to a cheaper system.
Posted by New_Londoner over 6 years ago
Common sense also suggests that deploying this in urban areas isn't going to work well, is likely to give at least as big a gap to the claimed headline speeds as 3G does now.

Of course in rural areas it might be fine, however to get close to the max speed you ideally want relatively small cell sizes which is uneconomic in rural areas since these need to be connected to power and fibre lines.
Posted by GMAN99 over 6 years ago
I'm not saying LTE hasn't got its place, of course it has, but will it see the end of fixed line broadband? No
Posted by orly2 over 6 years ago
lol ping.
Posted by NilSatisOptimum over 6 years ago
I'm seeing more people opting for 3G services in my part of rural Wales and dropping a fixed line altogher due to poor performance and value. 3G simply a better product as it is now and can obviously only improve with LTE etc.
Posted by SimonWindsor over 6 years ago
With PC desktops disappearing, and everyone connecting to laptops, tablets and phones via WiFi, more people will discover the WiFi hotspot feature on the phone, and will start using that to provide internet access.

Already on long car journeys, my daughter uses my phone, whilst I drive, to provide internet access to her laptop and most of the time is is as good a fixed line connection at home.
Posted by herdwick over 6 years ago
Of course people worry about capacity - in that they see slow speeds on mobile broadband and wail about being ripped off.

Wireless simply cannot provide the bandwidth currently used by nearly 20m fixed line internet users. A few of us can use 3G at the fringes but any substantial growth in use and it'll tank through lack of capacity - which is why there are caps and high £/GB charges.
Posted by Bob_s2 over 6 years ago
Where is the bandwidth going to come from. RF spectrum is a scarce commodity. Voice only neded a narrow band once you start putting Broadband over it you multiple the issue a thousand fold

It may work in very remote rural areas assuming they can get a signal but in an Urban area it is a non starter
Posted by jtthedevil over 6 years ago
Maybe its just me, but everytime there is an article about changes in tech, a lot of people here look down there noses at it. I can't wait for 4g to come to the stone age that is the UK. I'm sure a lot of people complaining on here already have sufficient broadband for their needs, but some of us (final third?) already have high pings and low speeds. If you read the article it says VF will save 500million a year. Surely if they put this to use on their new 4g network, a lot of your concerns would be addressed?
Posted by GMAN99 over 6 years ago
No problem with that jt, but the article is titled are the days of fixed line numbered, I'd say not. Will LTE be good for hard to reach areas? Yes quite possibly, not disputing or looking down my nose at that.
Posted by farnz over 6 years ago
Some quick research says that LTE can carry around 16 bits/second/hertz; it looks likely that LTE providers will have 20MHz per cell spectral blocks, making each cell capable of sharing around 300 MBit/s between all users on that cell. Compared to ADSL2+ at 25MBit/s, and current FTTC deployments at 50MBit/s, that's looking plausible as a last-mile technology, in the absence of an FTTP rollout.

It all therefore boils down to cell size and backhaul provision.
Posted by orly2 over 6 years ago
Are desktops disappearing Simon? Or are they just being complemented with other devices?

I don't see desktops disappearing any time soon. The millions who use them to play games would be a market on their own.
Posted by GMAN99 over 6 years ago
And that market was the lowest ping times possible and most stable connection. I didn't appreciate that LTE's latency was that low, but what about all important (for gamers) packet loss and jitter?
Posted by hecatae over 6 years ago
I've read three sweden are deploying 3g HSPA at 84 meg.

so seeing as that's not even LTE, then LTE replacing fixed lines seems more than plausible
Posted by AndrueC over 6 years ago
@farnz - 300Mb/s between all users is plausible? How do you work that out? It's going to depend on how many people are in a cell of course. As a solution for rural areas I agree it could work assuming the mast backhaul can be upgraded enough.

But in built up areas where the majority of lines are it's a total fail. 300Mb/s shared by two thousand people is not so clever. I suppose it's mitigated by the fact that most people won't get anywhere near the full speed due to distance and obstruction.

Not good for replacing fixed line. Just might be adequate for places with poor fixed line service.
Posted by NilSatisOptimum over 6 years ago
Are there not trials to start/started for Slough, by Telefonica O2 using Huawei’s LTE tech with the remit of gaming and video chatting; unless Slough has changed very recently, hardly rural backwater?
Posted by otester over 6 years ago
This decision is simply due to cost, not superior technology, the usage limits on 3.9G (LTE) will not be able to compete against fixed-line LLU.

Just look at the packages:

Highest is 30GB, pathetic.

Currently on Vodafone 3.5G (HSDPA) I get a stable 95-105ms ping, Quake III Arena (Android) online rocks.
Posted by otester over 6 years ago
You can also get HSPA+ it quite a few areas now from Three/Vodafone, speeds are 5-12Mbps.
Posted by AndrueC over 6 years ago
@NilSatis:But still only a trial. No-one is saying LTE won't work. We're just answering the question specifically raised by the news article.

There is no way in any of our lifetimes that wireless will be a threat to fixed line business. It's going to be very useful but only to patch up the last few remaining gaps where it's just not viable to provide anything better.
Posted by AndrueC over 6 years ago
In other words:Given the choice what you want is a decent fixed line service but an adequate second-best will be LTE. Not as good but beggars can't be choosers and it's an improvement on current wireless tech.
Posted by NilSatisOptimum over 6 years ago
It just surprises me they chose Slough to test the product, if as you say it will fill not so viable areas I can think of fair few other places more appropiate it tells me some intent on what they hope they can achieve. Viable however is always variable scale in time and Fixed line means very little to my wider area.
Posted by AndrueC over 6 years ago
I'm guessing they wanted to see if it could make money in an urban area. Presumably that's still where money is. Think of FTTC - a lot of the roll-out is in cable areas. 10% take up of LTE in urban areas might be more profitable than 80% in rural areas. Plus not all urban areas have good fixed line support.
Posted by SimonWindsor over 6 years ago
They may be using Slough because O2 Operations are based there.
Posted by Bob_s2 over 6 years ago
It is a big exageration to suggest that Wireless can replace a Fixed line for Broadband. There is just not the bandwidth available. Even in rural area more then a couple of uses are likely to cause problem as the cell size will be very big. In urban areas it is pretty much a non started

The only potentially viable Broadband wireless solution is a Mesh Network but very few have been rolled out to date
Posted by farnz over 6 years ago
@AndrueC Simple - for every 1Hz of spectrum allocated to a cell, LTE should give you 16 bit/s to share. Multiply by 20MHz per cell, gets 320MBit/s - then knock off a bit for the inevitable overheads.

This is assuming Vodafone are careful about cell siting, of course. If not, they won't achieve that.
Posted by AndrueC over 6 years ago
@Farnz:I'm not disputing the total bandwidth. I'm questioning how much use that is if it's shared by several hundred people. You're crowing about 320Mb/s from a mast. VM are crowing about 200Mb/s to a /single user/ even though several houses share one cable.

If we look at FTTP then we could be talking about tens of gigabits to individual properties. That's probably more bandwidth to a single user than any mast will ever be able to provide to an entire area.
Posted by mrod over 6 years ago
@Farnz: Remember that this is a broadcast network and so once you hit ~70% capacity you suddenly fall off a performance cliff as the probability of packet collision becomes greater than the probability of finding a free space. You then get re-transmit storms.

So, the real speed limit (for more than one client) is actually 224Mb/s. Actually, each cell can't use all the bandwidth as it has to share with others, so divide by four. i.e. equivalent to 10 average ADSL connections.
Posted by AndrueC over 6 years ago
Posted by farnz over 6 years ago
@AndrueC Exactly my point - with careful cell management, LTE's 300MBit/s shared can be competitive with exchange-fed ADSL2+, begins to show its limits against FTTC, and can't compete against FTTP.

It's therefore a budget solution - and that's assuming Vodafone deploy carefully. If they don't, even exchange-fed ADSL2+ will outcompete it.
Posted by farnz over 6 years ago
@mrod LTE is not a broadcast network in that sense - nodes do not transmit at random and sense collisions, they transmit when the enodeB indicates that they have clear access to the airwaves, so the 300MBit/s is real capacity shared among all clients.

Each cell will be able to use an entire 20MHz chunk to serve its customers - LTE is designed to facilitate immense spatial reuse, and European firms are getting wide spectrum chunks to permit this.
Posted by ChrisRedpath over 6 years ago
I can't see it happening where I live for a while - I'm on Vodafone (corporate contract) in a small town of just over 8K households and I need a SureSignal to even get mobile reception at home - Vodafone don't provide any 3G here, and the 2G coverage is very very poor and doesn't work indoors at my or any of my friends' houses. We do however have ADSL 2+ which I connect to at 14MBit/s.
Posted by Bob_s2 over 6 years ago
People are clutching at straws here . It is not a viable broadband solution. Cells are made as large as the voice traffic permits so there is little spare capacity for Broadband.

A few users and the network will cope although they may well see a big drop in speed at peaks
More than a few users and it simply does not work unless you considerably reduce the size of the cells which would mean thousands of ne tranmitters and lots of hedaches with the band planning.

Posted by AspieMum over 6 years ago
Not everyone can get mobile signals well enough to use mobile broadband or the area is not enabled for it. As my fixed line broadband is very slow I have looked round at alternatives and it turns out I am in an area where mobile broadband is not an option.
Posted by michaels_perry over 6 years ago
An ealier article says that a BBC survey showed that 3G was only covering 75% or users and that in rural areas it was much worse. Rural areas like mine will not see 3G or4G or fibre for many, many years as customer density is far too low so there's not enough profit. So we need fixed lines to get any broadband at all. The liones are almost here to stay unless someonje comes up with a better way that is available rurally at no extra cost.
Posted by chrysalis over 6 years ago
they will lose a ton of customers as latency skyrockets and usage limits plummet.
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