Britain risks being left far behind Europe and the rest of the world without immediate major investment in next generation communications infrastructure, says broadband comparison and review site BroadbandGenie.co.uk.
While many other countries enjoy widespread access to both fibre optic fixed line services and high-speed 4G mobile broadband, Britain is only just getting 4G in major cities and many parts of the country still suffer disappointing ADSL links with speeds of just a few megabits.
Ofcom data shows that while the average speed in an urban area is now 10.5Mb rural locations get just 3.5Mb.
Even where fibre is available it is largely fibre to the cabinet (FTTC) which relies on outdated copper telephone lines for the final run into homes, limiting the maximum speed. To ensure Britain has a telecommunications infrastructure which will be suitable well into the 21st century fibre to the home (FTTH) is required but there is reluctance from either the government or BT to invest.
“FTTC is certainly a welcome upgrade for anyone on ADSL,” says Broadband Genie editor Matt Powell, “most of us aren’t going to turn our noses up at a 76Mb connection. But it’s not going to be long before this proves insufficient.”
“We’re fully aware of the importance of the internet now so rather than trying to extend the life of a network which was never built for this purpose there should be a push to bring high speed connectivity to as much of the UK as possible using fibre so we can ensure this country is prepared to go to 1Gb and beyond. Anything less is short sighted.”
The fibre optic lobby group FTTH Council Europe recently reported that the UK has the worst FTTH coverage in Europe, with a tiny 0.05% of homes having access to the future-proof technology. In Amsterdam 500Mb fibre is available to homes while Copenhagen enjoys 250Mb links and Ireland’s Eirecom offers 150Mb. Looking outside of Europe, those living in Hong Kong can get 1Gb fibre to the home for around $40 USD a month.
The government’s BDUK project has been plagued by problems and BT’s fibre programme, while covering more homes than ever before, still leaves many areas stuck on ADSL. BT Infinity is currently providing a maximum 76Mb and Virgin Media cable internet customers can now get 120Mb in some locations.
Government targets call for a minimum of 24Mb ‘superfast’ broadband to be available for 90% of the UK by 2015 but this has been criticised by former BT CTO Peter Cochrane who says that this is “neither super nor is it fast.”
The only real progress has been made by small local firms such as Hull’s KC, Bournemouth’s Gigler and the London based Hyperoptic, who have created real superfast broadband using FTTH, often in areas which have been poorly served by the national network.