With another year over, we look back at the events and revelations within broadband over the last year, and look to 2012 to see what we might be looking forward to in the industry.
In rural areas, the announcement of broadband funding to provide a basic level of broadband in some areas, as well as speed boosts in others, was a major affirmation that helped shape the broadband future of the UK for several years to come. Different regions received a funding allocation from BDUK (Broadband Delivery UK), the body set up to help ensure that much of the country can get online at super-fast broadband speeds (above 24Mbps). The funds were allocated from a £530 million pot in areas where the government deems that the private sector would fail to deliver next-generation services to enough premises. This should mean that the most rural areas get more funding than urban. Accordingly, the Greater London region was not awarded any funding, even though there may be some people who can't get broadband and some stuck with painfully slow broadband speeds. It is now down to local regions and councils to devise a plan, with matched funding from industry, to make best use of the available funds. Councils should have draft plans submitted by February and government approval by the end of April - a tight deadline for some, but it may give a much needed boost to the process which had been dragging.
Whilst the government has worked to try and help specific regions get online, some are continuing to take things in to their own hands. We have seen this year the announcement of the 'B4RN' project, to deliver fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) broadband to the rural north. Within a short time frame, the group plan to enable gigabit fibre connections to peoples homes and businesses for £30 a month. Based in the north of Lancashire, B4RN will use a do-it-yourself approach. Funding will be gained from community investors through a share issuing and through the use of local people offering time to do some of the work in return for shares. 1,451 properties are projected to be connected for a cost of £1.86 million with work to begin in January / February and a hope of all properties connected during 2013.
One potential aid to rural areas is LTE, long term evolution, a 4G mobile technology which will increase the speeds which users can get through the mobile phone networks. Plans had been set for an auction of spectrum in early 2012 which will be used to enable the technology, but these have been pushed back to later in 2012 due to legal battles from the mobile phone networks. With this in mind, it's unlikely that we will see wide spread deployments of the technology until perhaps even 2015 now. This sets us back far behind other countries who are already deploying networks now, and means we can't use this as an alternative to fixed-line next generation services yet. Here in the UK, we have seen some LTE trials, and there is a possibility that services might be made available on existing mobile frequencies, but we will not get the full benefits of the technology until the auctions have completed, and existing users of the 800MHz spectrum have been cleared.
Elsewhere, there have been continued announcements of fibre deployments from BT. The majority of these are fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC) which currently offer speeds of up to 40meg to homes and businesses, but these are to be increased to 80meg early in 2012 which will enable people to gain the most possible from their broadband connections. Plans are still under-way to deliver full fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) connections to some areas, and this can achieve speeds of up to 110meg. Around 25% of the UK is expected to receive coverage of this, with a large chunk of this being concentrated in Cornwall (around 50% of the area) through the European investment to deliver super-fast broadband to the region.
Speed wars between BT and Virgin have continued with Virgin demonstrating blistering fast broadband speeds to a small business community in East London, with four businesses there being able to connected at 1.5Gbps using the same cable network that Virgin uses to provide services to its residential customers. Whilst this is just a taster of things to come in future years, it is promising to see that the network they are deploying now has the potential to be expanded to support faster speeds. To counter, BT will be increasing their fibre-to-the-home speeds to 300Mbps in the Spring, and this will be available on a wider scale than the Virgin test.
2011 was a key year in the deployment of IPv6, the next generation of Internet technology used for addressing. IPv4, the existing address allocation system, ran out of unused IP address blocks in February which saw the final five address blocks being allocated to regional registries. ISPs will now find it difficult to get new IP address blocks and they will be encouraged to roll out IPv6 instead. Some have already started this, and you can read more about the differences, and who supports IPv6 in our IPv6 guide.
2012 holds some interesting challenges for broadband. The Olympics being hosted in London will spark the interest of many people in the country, and watching online may become the de facto option with the BBC offering up to 24 simultaneous live streams. Whilst we obviously can't watch all of these at once at home, businesses may find that their broadband connections grind to a halt whilst employees keep up with the live video of their favourite events.
One missed launch of 2011 is YouView that we were expecting to see offer on demand television using services such as BBC iPlayer, ITV Player and 4oD, direct on to your television. This is possible through the use of a broadband connection to stream the on-demand services to a set-top box that connects to your TV and partners including BT and TalkTalk are keen to be able to offer this as a bolt on option to their existing broadband services. YouView is now thought to be launching in early 2012.
Over here at thinkbroadband it's been a busy year for us and we've been beavering away on a new version of our website. It features lots of great new tools which will help you find a new broadband provider or get the most from your existing broadband connection and we can't wait to have you guys using it.
As usual, we'd like to thank all our staff, moderators and contributors for their tireless work on the website, and of course our visitors, who make all the hard work worthwhile.
Happy new year to all!
Sebastien & John