ITWeek yesterday published some interesting comments from John Davies, the outgoing BT Wholesale chief operating officer. The main thrust of this was "Broadband is not just a DSL landscape and DSL will have to learn to survive among many other players," said Davies. "We are in a Jurassic age of broadband populated by dinosaurs."
This is very true, even at present Broadband in the UK is a combination of cable modems, ADSL and a scattering of wireless. Certainly in raw technology terms ADSL is almost old hat now and it is likely that in 3 to 4 years, ADSL will seem as old fashioned as PSTN modems do now. The cable modem services themselves are likely to suffer similar fates, they have been deployed for around 2-3 years in the UK, and have only made it up to 1Mbps speeds, when the technology is capable of much more – just as DSL variants like VDSL are capable of much more.
If the analysts are right and demand for bandwidth and its potential use continues to grow, in particular the merging of TV/Internet/Telephony then 10-20Mbps or more will need to be the standard bandwidth into the average home. At present you are looking at services running over fibre to the home, or possibly to the kerb, and VDSL running over short distances of copper. An alternative may be wireless access, but with the noise currently on whether mobile phone transmitters are safe, wireless Internet access may have a PR battle on its hands.
The serious risk is that BT/NTL/Telewest, aided by the Government, will ensure that the UK remains a dinosaur living in a broadband backwater. BT is likely to continue on the ADSL path for a long time, the incentive and backing to start switching the UK local loop to a fibre infrastructure does not exist. NTL/Telewest appear to be just happy trying to survive and not reaching the parts of the UK that are lacking any service at present. The Government is content to take a hands off approach and let competition drive things, alas this means innovation and risk taking is not part of the language anymore.
In the current climate, the UK may not be able to deploy the next leap in Internet access technology or even catch up in coverage terms with existing technologies. But this doesn’t mean that public trials for new access technologies with perhaps 3000-5000 users should not be taking place, this would allow companies to assess the real costs of deployment and iron out problems. As soon as the capital markets are more favourable, rapid national deployment can take place.
The challenge is for the regulatory environment to change to encourage innovation and for all political parties to consider the infrastructure needs of the UK beyond their current term in office.
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