The UK political landscape is often accused of a lack of vision, and it seems the same is true of business, with BT firmly pegging its colours to a future that looks likely to revolve around sweating every ounce of capacity out of its copper local loop.
BT Group Strategy Director Sean Williams, while giving evidence to the House of Lords Select Committee has highlighted that partial fibre (FTTC) is five times cheaper to deploy than a full fibre (FTTP) solution. We would not dispute claims that FTTC is fine in the medium term (3 to 5 years), but longer term it will start to prove as limiting as a 2 Mbps service is today, with potential impact on how business is conducted, and the wider impact this will have.
The biggest concern we have with the FTTC roll-outs is the way it is often portrayed as an 80 Mbps service, whereas in reality, the speeds people will receive are dependent on the distance from the cabinet, which mean that around 75% of phone lines should manage 32 Mbps or more, with perhaps 10% connecting at the full 80 Mbps.
FTTC is at the beginning of its development path, with Vectoring technology offering the potential to reduce the impact of cross-talk and boost speeds, allowing the shortest lines to reach over 100 Mbps. Future xDSL variants may offer even more speed boosts.
The issue really is that current broadband policies, are encouraging old incumbents to not be radical enough in how they approach network improvements. While individual announcements such as the Openreach Fibre Only eXchange trial show glimmers of hope for the future, by and large it is the same slow progress from the usual suspects. Or is it really that other countries PR machines are much better at portraying a good broadband picture, and across the world things are not as good as imagine?
With new markets such as telemedicine offering the potential to be worth billions to the economy, the need for a decent broadband connection to every property in the UK is growing. It is these sorts of long term developments that should be at the core of ten to twenty year plans, rather than the constant re-announcement of a few million pounds here and there that seems to form current UK Government broadband policy.