2Mbit/s not enough for UK broadband

By Martin Courtney
19 Jun 2009 View Comments
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fibre optics
Britain needs more bandwidth, but fibre optic to the home is just one way of delivering it

The Digital Britain report published this week recommends 2Mbit/s as a minimum broadband speed for UK residents, but Karel Helsen, president of the Fibre to the Home (FTTH) Council Europe, tells Computing why the government should be helping telcos such as BT provide FTTH connectivity that will deliver 10-100Mbit/s of fibre-optic bandwidth to UK consumers' doorsteps.

The FTTH Council is a non-profit organisation established to help members - primarily telecommunications equipment vendors and operators) -with planning,
implementing, marketing and managing FTTH systems. Helsen also heads up the
communications business at fibre-optic equipment supplier Draka.

Further reading

Why hasn’t FTTH taken off in the UK?
Companies such as BT have said they would like to provide more FTTH or
similar services to the last mile, but the risk and business case is not
necessarily favourable, and that stops them from investing. What we have to
think about is how we get a favourable regulatory regime and framework to solve
that. The government is interested in research about the benefits of FTTH and
obviously there is a €50bn industry at stake, so it is big on the political
agenda.

Do UK consumers actually need broadband connections faster than
2Mbit/s?

Things like high-definition digital TV are big drivers for higher fibre-optic
bandwidth, particularly if there is simultaneous teleworking, movie downloads
and photo sharing and so on. Any Web 2.0 service needs fast upload and download speeds and it also enhances the quality of life for people because it supports things like more e-learning and remote healthcare assistance.

Why should the UK expand FTTH coverage rather than use fibre to
the cabinet (FTTC) or xDSL technology for the same purpose?

If you look at the arguments from politicians and governments themselves, it
is clear they need to have faster broadband to ensure quality of economic
growth. In countries where FTTH has been extensively rolled out, there is
evidence to suggest it has brought about an increase in that country’s gross
domestic product (GDP), which recent studies conducted in the US, Australia and
the Netherlands suggest. And in times of recession where people in the
construction business are unemployed, there are jobs for those building FTTH
networks.

Does it make sense to roll out FTTH everywhere?
There is a possible business case in many areas, but it depends on the type
of [broadband] infrastructure already in the ground. FTTH might make more sense
in densely populated areas and cities in some countries. But elsewhere, as has
been shown in Sweden [which boasts the largest percentage of FTTH connected
households in Europe, according to FTTH Council figures], it can work
in smaller towns and villages where FTTH deployments have resulted in an influx
of companies and citizens to those areas.

What’s the next step in persuading reluctant European governments
to invest in FTTH?

We need to get new types of members from the content side, such as Sony,
Nintendo and Time Warner for example, to stimulate new services to be delivered
over FTTH networks. We also need to lobby towards a favourable regulatory regime
with local governments and the European Union, and talk to local politicians.

What is the role of the FTTH Council?
We provide recommendations of different types of open access infrastructure
to governments, and also provide guidelines to members on how to come up with
FTTH solutions to meet customer requirements, rather than prescribe what those
solutions should be.

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