Innovation equals what falls out of the toy box
The DCMS announced two weeks ago how the £10m innovation fund to look at solutions to provide superfast services to the final 5% of the country was to be shared out. Alas while some of the solutions look interesting there are some where the outcome is predictable and almost none of them are actually innovative but repackaging of things that others have done in the last decade or products the provider sells elsewhere. Maybe innovation in Whitehall means anyone who is not BT or another existing major contractor with the Government.
Wi-Fi is great and brilliant in the home, but also the cause of many moans particularly in the 2.4GHz band where it is shared with many other devices that can interfere and even the number of Wi-Fi routers is causing problems with congestion. So any scheme hoping to use 2.4 GHz in a mesh or distribution system really needs to talk to those community projects who dabbled ten years ago and have moved on to other methods since then. NOTE: Fixed wireless can provide excellent speeds when done correctly.
Satellite based services, including the option of a central feed with Wi-Fi distribution was a big surprise, remember we are talking about something that is meant to be superfast (old UK definition over 24 Mbps, current EU definition 30 Mbps). Satellite services have improved greatly but latency over 500ms break online gaming for any game that relies on reaction times, e.g. Forza 5, TitanFall and the CoD and Battlefied series. We chased up on the satellite option to find out more particularly if the Wi-Fi system was going to have a much higher speed central feed and the result is inconclusive with more information appearing in a white paper during August. What we do know is that service speeds of 10/1 and 25/2 (down/up) will be provided using a KA-band service by SES Broadband and Avanti are pushing to a 30 Mbps solution. Clearly if the Wi-Fi service fed by satellite only has 25/2 down service at its core contention is going to be bad.
Update 29th July 2014 We previously postulated that if the satellite service only has a limited speed of 25 down/2 up for its backhaul this would limit the abilities when sharing the connection. SES has refused to confirm the size of the backhaul capacity for the community Wi-Fi solutions, but is keen to point out it is more than 25 Mbps download and 2 Mbps upload. This core speed is apparently going to be dynamic and dependent on monitored network conditions.
Another issue that will need seriously addressing is cost, the general public is used to the option of buying an unlimited broadband service in the UK, and with average usage climbing month on month a 30GB per month package that is for example £50/month is not what the general public will be interested in.
Satellite solutions are a great fast way to deploy broadband to locations around the UK, but in terms of meeting ambitions of a Superfast Britain their current inclusion really does highlight the fact that the decision makers in Westminster are just ticking boxes rather than looking deeper into what is possible. Essentially it is the original BDUK process but with BT excluded and none of the other major players like Fujitsu, Virgin Media, Sky and TalkTalk taking an interest.
Some may read these comments and think they are in support of BT, far from it, we are worried that some of these solutions for the final 5% may make some of the BT solutions that the large Telco talks about for the more rural areas look good (e.g. G.fast, fibre to the remote node). To be frank the innovation fund looks more like a solution to pick up the missing pieces from the 2 Mbps Universal Commitment Fund rather than providing something that far exceeds speeds of 24 Mbps and is fit for all that a digital citizen wants to do now, let alone in five years time.