The UK Government with its superfast targets and by implication the large providers like BT, Virgin Media and KC are once more in the spotlight, the Institute of Directors has published a policy paper calling for a nationwide roll-out of 10 Gbps broadband by 2030. The press release section of the IOD website has a copy of the full report.
Starting down a 10 Gbps for all by 2030 path now, would give 14 years to complete the roll-out and actually fits in with what we believe is a likely timeframe for Gigabit and faster services being the norm. So while a 10 Gbps may sound extravagant and impossible it is not impossible just might not will start to take shape until 2025 and onwards.
The question for the whole political and business establishment in the UK is whether this gradual roll-out should take over from existing targets which while often seen as unambitious are resulting in an almost ubiquitous level of coverage as the projects progress. Or put another way, which is more important getting close to over 95% coverage at speeds of 24 to 50 Mbps, or rolling out 5 to 10% of 10 Gbps capable infrastructure per year?
In the coverage we are seeing complaints that places like London are suffering and is only 26th in the league table of European capitals, but we suspect and until we see the report we believe this is based on the old and no longer available NetIndex site that in many European countries was deeply flawed due to its use of Geo-IP e.g. it would for some UK towns claim average speeds above 100 Mbps when the fastest widely option was up to 76 Mbps VDSL2. This measure also reflected what people have actually chosen to buy, rather than what was available to them.
The killer application in the home market to data has proven to be video streaming, which suggests that bandwidth demands might level off to some extent once every individual is already streaming content live. Certainly this plays heavily in research by groups like the Broadband Stakeholder Group.
The Virgin Media cable network may not be able to do 10 Gbps today to an individual, but DOCSIS 3.1 and further enhancements suggest that their infrastructure across almost half the UK might be able to deliver this sort of speed with enhancements over the next decade and Openreach has shown 10 Gbps working over its GPON network (existing deployment shares 2.5 Gbps in a GPON segment, 10 Gbps utilises XG-PON). Then there are those who back a point to point FTTH/FTTP roll-out which can also do 10 Gbps today, and its just a case of being able to afford to fit the correct optics and routing hardware.
So which is more important an almost communist zeal to get everyone to a basic level of broadband coverage speed via things like the Universal Service Obligation, or aiming for a mine is bigger than yours game, where resources are concentrated on a long term goal with some waiting another decade for any major improvement?
Visions are wonder inspiring events but in the cold light of day they have a tendency to become gravy trains a little like projects such as HS2 which are seen as being needed to address the high-speed train gap. So is there a broadband gap that is not being addressed by the commercial market already? Before answering remember that CityFibre has its dark fibre network expanding rapidly and is forming a network of Gigabit cities where business can already order affordable Gigabit or faster connections if they need them.
The UK does have a Fibre to the Home gap, and in theory the changes Ofcom is mandating may help to address that, but even if Ofcom mandated free access to Openreach ducting it needs investors willing to spend the money to actually do the work and compete with Openreach and Virgin Media.
The full report makes for an interesting read and does welcome the USO work but and suggests that for the future of UK Broadband and the business economy to remain bright Ofcom may need to force access to Openreach duct and poles at below cost and roll-out of a 10 Gbps capable network should start in 2017/2018.
"Set a mid- to long-term target of 10 Gbps across the UK by 2030
The Government’s USO of 10 Mbps by 2020 is a welcome aim and it is likely to be successful. But it is time to be more ambitious , and the relaxed approach the industry took towards meeting the target when it was announced indicates its lack of the necessary ambition. Technological innovation is not a linear progression but an exponential one. A longer-term target would future-proof the network to ensure that British companies are able to innovative in new industries made possible by higher-speed broadband, radically increase the global competitiveness of UK firms, encourage foreign investment, and cement our place as a leader in the digital economy."Extract from Policy Recommendation by IoD
The question is really does the UK allow the market to determine where Gigabit and faster networks are available or do the politicians intervene now and agree a policy that might outlast the three or four parliaments in its lifetime and also insulate any build activity from the vagaries of the global economy.