The Broadband Lottery for UK cities is underway, with a deadline of 13th February 2012 for the potential candidates to submit their entries. Ten cities will share £100m of funding recently announced, the four nations capitals are pre-selected, London, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast and a further six cities will be chosen in a competition based on the quality of their proposal.
The cities eligible for entry in this competition are Birmingham, Bradford, Bristol, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, Newcastle, Nottingham, Manchester and Sheffield. There has been no announcement on how the £100m will be distributed, but each city will be expected to provide their own additional funding on top of the money this super-connected city fund can deliver.
The DCMS press release talks of Virgin Media and BT strengthening their networks in the winning cities to provide 80 to 100 Mbps services. This does not appear to be any extra investment by the two large providers, since Openreach was already planning upgrades to its FTTC product to uplift the maximum speed to 80 Mbps in 2012, and Virgin Media is expected to complete its network upgrades to offer a 100 Mbps product on DOCSIS 3.0.
The schemes are intended to provide services in the parts of the cities where BT and Virgin Media does not already have its superfast services available, and thus the most straight forward implementation may simply be infill work to enable FTTC services from all BT cabinets in a city. The important point that is often overlooked in press coverage is that while FTTC can provide very good speeds to those within 100m to 200m of their green cabinet, for those at distances of 1000 metres the speed drop off is significant, and while it will out perform the current ADSL2+ services, it will not always hit the headline grabbing speeds. The clever schemes will find a way to push fibre closer to premises e.g. FTTB for blocks of flats and FTTP for homes and businesses.
While we will find out the six winners in the March 2012 Budget, the money allocated from the urban broadband fund will not be announced until July 2012, and then of course there will be the usual procurement processes to undertake.
The investment in broadband is welcome, but when compared to the billions allocated to infrastructure projects such as the HS2 high speed rail link between London and the West Midlands which are aiming to shave perhaps 15 to 20 minutes off the journey time to Birmingham, this £100m spending on broadband looks insignificant. Good, fast reliable broadband has the ability to help business travelers avoid the need to travel to so many meetings, and improving broadband coverage on the rail networks would allow people traveling to remain in touch, unlike the current fade in/out of coverage.
The amount of construction work involved in a full fibre to the home network means deployment is expensive, but the billions spent on rail projects such as HS2 could deliver full fibre to every home in the UK, and provide a solid ten to fifteen years of construction work and benefit all corners of the UK.