56% of Scottish households may have a 50Mbps service by 2015
At present the need for 20Mbps (Mega bits per second) and 50Mbps broadband services is not totally apparent, none of the TV over broadband services as yet need anywhere near that level of speed. BT Vision is using just 1.5Mbps and the Joost service that is in its early stages uses even less at around 0.7Mbps. What may well happen is that no single service will need high speeds, but rather the combination of multiple video streams, voice over broadband, gaming to name a few options.
The fact that very high speeds are not a must have now, does not mean the issues and risks of a digital divide can be ignored. In Scotland a report has been published that looks into the Next Generation Broadband market in Scotland, some details in the Scotsman.com. The report praises the near universal access to broadband in Scotland currently, but looks into what will happen as access speeds increase in the commercially attractive urban centres.
One good piece of news is the estimate that widespread access to broadband will add £3.4 billion to Scotland's gross value added (GVA) by 2015. Less good is the expectation that second generation speeds of 5Mbps or faster will remain unavailable to around 26% of the population. Looking further into the future, speeds of 50Mbps which Virgin Media is rumoured to be trialling is likely to only reach 56% of the Scottish population even by 2015.
The big issue for much of the population is that the copper access network which is present across the United Kingdom is becoming the bottleneck. While technologies like VSDL and VDSL2 could give 50Mbps speeds, this would only be to those with a very short telephone line (less than 1km of cable). Therefore the remaining options are wireless, pushing fibre out from the exchange in the guise of Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC) or Fibre to the Home (FTTH), extending the fibre/coax networks of cable operators.
The time is now for the various trials of these ultra-broadband services, and to some extent that is happening. Of course a trial is one thing, but getting a board of directors and major shareholders to commit to expensive network upgrades over a number of years is not going to be easy. In the long term if the economic benefit broadband is as suggested, then the need is much more important than any single company, perhaps even too important to become embroiled in political posturing.