Speaking at last week's Westminster eForum: Delivering the UK's Broadband Future, Simon Towler of the Department for Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) gave a thorough overview of recent broadband developments in the UK:
- Ofcom's first infrastructure report (which the regulator is required to submit to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media & Sport every three years), published on 1st November 2011, shows that 58% of UK premises now have access to superfast broadband.
- On 31st October, BT announced it was accelerating its fibre rollout, delivering fibre broadband to two thirds of UK premises by the end of 2014, one year ahead of its original target of 2015.
- A few days earlier on 27th October, Virgin Media, as part of its third quarter 2011 results, reported that it was "on track for rolling out 100Mbps, the country’s fastest widely available broadband service, right across our network by mid 2012 with over eight million homes already able to access this superfast speed."
- Coverage in the Guardian described a "broadband speed arms race", following an announcement by Openreach (the division of BT responsible for its access network) on 3rd October of the "early market deployment launch" of its fibre to the premises products in six areas; these will offer download speeds of 110Mbps, and upload speeds of 30Mbps, "with even quicker speeds expected in 2012 and technology capability of up to 1Gbps in the future".
- Secretary of State Jeremy Hunt previously identified a "need for speed" in his May 2011 speech to Race Online 2012's National Digital Conference, something echoed by a recent survey by the Communications Management Association (CMA) which reported that businesses constrained by current broadband are demanding higher speeds.
- In a similar vein, a recent study conducted jointly by Ericsson, Arthur D. Little and Chalmers University of Technology in 33 OECD countries quantifies the isolated impact of broadband speed, showing that doubling the broadband speed for an economy increases GDP by 0.3%.
- This speech was where the Government first set out its targets that all homes and businesses in the UK should have access to at least 2Mbps and that superfast broadband (>24Mbps) should be available to 90 per cent of people in each local authority area by 2015. These will provide an important step towards the EU broadband targets, as set out in the Digital Agenda for Europe, that by 2020, fast broadband coverage at 30Mbps should be available to all EU citizens, with at least half of European households subscribing to broadband access at 100Mbps.
- The definition of superfast broadband as >24Mbps derives from Ofcom's context and summary for its 2010 consultations on the wholesale local access and wholesale broadband access markets: "Super-fast broadband (i.e. broadband with speeds greater than 24Mbps) will provide consumers and businesses with higher speed and more capable services, which are likely to enable the use of a wide range of new and innovative applications. These could, for example, include super high definition and 3D video services, more effective teleworking and telemedicine. "
- Allocations to local authorities were announced by Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) in August, with the first three successful areas (Devon & Somerset, Norfolk, Wiltshire) being announced in May and two further areas (Rutland, Suffolk) getting the go-ahead in September.
- Jeremy Hunt's May 2011 speech also contained the phrase "must be mobile" - something borne out by the findings of Ofcom's 2011 Communications Market Report, which described the UK as a "nation addicted to smartphones", with over a quarter of adults and nearly half of all teens now owning a smartphone and 37% of adults and 60% of teens "highly addicted" to them.
- Mobile data rates continue to surge, as recently described by the likes of Cisco (also see here) and Ericsson.
- In the UK it is the Government's intention that the private sector should lead the way, supported by intervention in areas the market alone will not reach. In addition to BT and Virgin Media's plans, earlier in the year Fujitisu announced its intention to work in collaboration with Virgin Media, TalkTalk and Cisco to deliver next generation internet services to 5 million homes in rural Britain (and is currently running an FTTH trial in Greasby in the Wirral, more here).
- More recently on 3rd November, City Fibre Holdings announced its plans to invest up to £500 million to build further metro networks and pure Fibre-to-the-Premises networks in a unique citywide deployment, providing gigabit services in towns and cities across the UK, to connect 1m homes and 50,000 businesses, with rollout commencing in early 2012.
- Openreach at the beginning of October made its second reference offer on physical infrastructure access (PIA, or duct and pole sharing), setting out lower pricing. PIA complements another regulatory element, virtual unbundled local access (VULA) which I've covered previously on this blog here and here. VULA allows competitors to deliver services over BT's new NGA network, with a degree of control that is similar to that achieved when taking over the physical line to the customer (as happens in the case of local loop unbundling, LLU). The Openreach products delivering the 110Mbps/30Mbps FTTH services mentioned earlier in this post are examples of VULA in action.
- A consultation on new deployment of overhead lines for fibre delivery is "imminent", with new guidance on microtrenching and streetworks to be published by the end of the year. Wayleaves are also being investigated to help further facilitate and streamline broadband investment and deployment. A report on the lessons learned from the four superfast broadband pilots first announced in 2010 (Cumbria, Hereforshire, the Highlands & Islands and North Yorkshire) is also to be published before the end of the year.
- Returning to mobile, a number of new technology trials are underway, including BT and Everything Everywhere's trialling of 4G/LTE mobile services in Cornwall, Vodafone's femtocell trials in the West Berkshire village of East Garston, for which it is now seeking 12 locations to take part in rural mobile coverage trials and the BBC, Microsoft and others' trialling of white space technologies in Cambridge.
- Wireless and satellite technologies continue to be the most likely cost effective solution for the most remote areas; to this end on 3rd October the Chancellor announced an investment of up to £150 million to improve mobile coverage in the UK, to improve the coverage and quality of mobile services for the 5 to 10 per cent of consumers and businesses that live and work in areas of the UK where existing mobile coverage is poor or non-existent. The Government will aim to extend mobile service coverage to 99 per cent of the UK population, with the necessary procurement beginning in 2012.
This week sees the NextGen11 conference in Bristol which likely to reveal further announcements of interest. Watch this space...