opinion


UK broadband struggling to meet user demands – is there a solution?

Fibre Network Broadband Fast

Telecoms.com periodically invites third parties to discuss issues affecting the industry today. In this piece, Paul Evans, CEO at Boosty discusses how, amid calls for improved broadband in the UK, the advent of a hybrid broadband access model provides consumers with the promise of faster and more reliable broadband.

The issue of UK broadband connectivity has been in the spotlight over recent weeks. It has recently been reported that Britain has achieved its target, initially set for 2016, of making superfast connectivity available to 90% of the country. However, there is still much frustration over speeds and availability of fast and reliable fixed broadband. Ofcom has pointed out that the level of superfast broadband connectivity in the UK is falling behind other European countries.

At the end of last year, David Cameron pledged that every home and business in Britain should legally have a minimum broadband speed of 10Mbps by 2020. However, in the last month the government has made a U-turn on this promise, with Minister Ed Vaizey admitting that there were some parts of the UK where the cost of improving broadband is too prohibitive.

As a result, the CLA, which represents owners of land, property and businesses in rural England and Wales, has called for the government to offer compensation to anyone that does not receive speeds of 10Mbps by 2020. The body has highlighted the importance of applying a mix of technologies to ensure that households and businesses receive coverage. It deems this a key factor for growth in the rural economy.

It is not just rural areas that are currently being let down on the promise of superfast broadband. Many urban areas, including parts of London and Glasgow, are yet to receive fibre broadband connectivity. Dense urban areas can often be as challenging an environment as rural areas to build fibre. It can require considerable engineering in order to extend fibre lines to urban homes and businesses, and can cause great disruption. Even when fibre broadband connectivity is installed, its reliability can cause much frustration.

According to a survey from Cable.co.uk, most broadband customers don’t appreciate that most of BT Openreach based fibre is delivered to the nearest telephone cabinet by fibre optic cable, but it then travels from the cabinet to your home along standard copper telephone line. The result is that if people are a good distance from their telephone cabinet, there’s a high chance they will not be getting the fast, reliable service they are expecting. There is also an expectation from customers that Fibre is more reliable; the reality is the error prone copper line element is still there, so reliability is similar to that of standard ADSL based Broadband.

The coming together of BT-EE, however, signifies promise for UK consumers, with the availability of internet access set to improve greatly. EE has announced that it intends to provide 4G mobile connectivity to 95% of the UK landmasses by 2020. In doing this, it could also improve fixed broadband access.

Whilst fixed broadband can prove difficult to roll-out across the UK, mobile phone coverage has grown exponentially over recent years and is only set to increase. This trend has created an opportunity for hybrid access solutions that combine 4G signals with fixed line broadband to offer faster and more reliable fixed broadband. This model is resilient enough to deliver the equivalent of fibre broadband connections to the home and work place.

Hybrid broadband can enable a network provider to deliver a consistent, high quality of service and also make a steady return on its investments, providing residential customers with reliable internet access. Many households could achieve broadband speeds up to three times faster than they get with their home broadband connection alone.

Customers of BT broadband and EE mobile, in particular, will be rapidly exploring how hybrid solutions can combine the fixed and mobile broadband service they receive, to give them an enhanced broadband experience. However, this model is also applicable to anyone that has a 4G connection but an unreliable or slow broadband connection. The UK broadband market is in need of a quick fix to improve connectivity, and hybrid broadband access could be the solution.

Paul Evans, high resPaul Evans is a communications software specialist whose career has included development roles at BT Labs where he led the Internet Infrastructure Lab (IIL), and CTO of a BT spinoff company. He founded Sharedband in August 2003 with the objective of finding new ways of efficiently delivering content across the Internet.

 

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