Total Telecom World was a two day conference bringing together carriers and telecoms firms from around the world and Ed Richards, Chief Executive of Ofcom has given a speech today. A copy of the eight page speech is available on the Ofcom website. A very short summary is that if creating a superfast broadband market where it is widespread, innovative and competitive then it is difficult to be precise, in part due to the large degree of uncertainty in the many variables involved. This makes the Ofcom stance of trying to provide certainty to the market very difficult.
"The challenge of risk and uncertainty
However, for superfast broadband, subscriber numbers are still low, perhaps because the nearest thing we have found to a 'killer app' so far is the demands of the multi-user household.
Amid a cornucopia of entertainment and information services, and the promise of advanced telemetry, e-health and interactive education, it is interesting that the only 'killer app' we have so far is the presence of teenage children.
Social networking, streaming and sharing from the teenage bedroom, leading to local contention, the victim of which is the person typically paying the bill, seems to be among the strongest reasons for adopting superfast broadband.
But as an approach to promoting superfast broadband take up, 'having more teenage children' seems a little long term, and a little distant from reality."Extract from Ed Richards speech to Total Telecom World Conference
There is a degree of truth in these comments, in that it is the ability to network multiple devices and they all require a good chunk of capacity that is driving users needs. For example Facebook and twitter in themselves are low bandwidth tasks, it is the uploading of images/video, watching what others have shared via YouTube that use the capacity. HD Gaming was mentioned as a use for some years, and no one really understood, but now with online streamed games, people with a real connection of 7 Mbps can see this fully utilised for as long as they game, compared to most console/PC gaming that barely needs 0.1 Mbps, both also have a requirement for as close to zero jitter and latency as possible.
The speech does concentrate on fixed line access, mainly due to time constraints, but Ed Richards does identify the two distinct areas as being the two thirds of the UK that will see competition with superfast networks available from one or both of Virgin Media and Openreach. He does accept that we are still in the 'early fibre' period, and that as an eventual end goal the logical conclusion is near universal fibre to the premises. The other part of the UK is that final third that is the target of BDUK funding of £530m until 2015, with possibly another £300m to follow in the next parliament.
From the regulatory point of view Ofcom views VULA (Virtual unbundled local access) as being the best option for meeting its goals of competition deep into the network for the areas of the UK where BT is rolling out its superfast network on a commercial basis. The PIA (Physical Infrastructure Access) is seen as being crucial for the final third. The crystal ball that lets Ed Richards look into the future comes with the suggestion that in time we may see wavelength unbundling over fibre networks, to exploit the capability of fibre to carry multiple tens of gigabits per second.
There is a balancing act that Ofcom walks between price, quality of service, speed and availability. There are many who feel that the UK is too low price-wise already, but that has helped ensure the high level of take-up, and hopefully as a generation of teenagers become bill payers, they will value the extra cost of good broadband access and pay for superfast packages. Of course, it is not just teenagers engaging in social media or being attached to their broadband 24/7, the difference may actually be that for the 30+ bracket you tend to be working in the Internet/Software industry if you are fully engrossed in a digital life. Amongst younger internet users it is pervasive no matter what your job.
Ofcom has a big job, and the convergence of TV/Internet/Mobile in some ways means it is ideally placed to handle them all, but at the detail level one does get a sense that there are far too few people who understand the technical issues involved, and a visible sign of this can be the lack of visible depth of analysis into broadband coverage issues and radio interference investigations.