A new way of delivering broadband via a virtual local area network (VLAN) has the potential to expand the delivery of broadband in the UK to the very poorest in society.
The new method will be delivered by a standard called Active Line Access, which is being developed by the Network Interoperability Consultative Committee (NICC) and is currently at a draft stage.
If ratified, the standard will allow smaller ISPs to provide high-speed broadband using one of four virtual networks, which will sit on top of a traditional next-generation fibre network. They will do this by piggy backing on the fibre without having to lay their own.
By allowing new entrants into the market, the standard will increase competition, which in turn will push down the price of broadband according to Community Broadband Network CTO Adrian Wooster. This will be likely to make it more affordable to people on low income.
Quocirca communications expert Rob Bamforth said that this new virtual standard will be a step towards delivering affordable universal broadband via a “patchwork quilt style network”, which will see the market opened up to many smaller providers.
Ofcom’s recent report, Enabling a Superfast Broadband Britain, proposed that BT should allow competitors to have access to a dedicated virtual link of this sort over any new fibres laid by the incumbent.
Bamforth said that the "patchwork quilt style" network will need the participation of other players too because laying fibre in hard-to-reach areas simply isn't commercially viable for BT.
"Other players will need to fill the gap. We will see local government, not-for-profit enterprises and community networks all laying their own network, " he said.
“Under the new VLAN standard, further commercial providers will be able to piggy back on these local networks too."
This will mean that prices for the harder-to-reach communities will also be more likely to be competitive.
The controversial 50p landline tax, proposed by the government as part of the Digital Economy Bill, does not look as though it will be made law before the end of parliament, meaning that alternative ways of providing the service will be necessary if the government is to reach its promise of high-speed broadband to 90 per cent of the population by 2017.