Ofcom doubts interest in super-fast fibre

Adoption remains low and primarily driven by large multi-user families
Darren Allan

November 9, 2011
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Ofcom has just produced another report on broadband in the UK, this time focusing on investment and the super-fast fibre roll out.

Virgin and BT are currently rolling out 100Mbps services across the country, and BT is also rolling out fibre-to-the-cabinet 40Mbps lines. And next year the latter will be upped to 80Mbps, although bear in mind these are headline speeds, particularly with FTTC where the real world figure will be a fair amount lower and location/line dependent.

At the start of the report, Ofcom notes the government’s target to have the best broadband network in Europe by 2015 (probably about as realistic as expecting Greece or Italy to have the most robust finances in Europe by 2015).

It also notes the European Commission’s target for European households to have a minimum of 30Mbps broadband by 2020.

But chasing these lofty goals is going to be problematic, and Ofcom says that while good progress has been made with the super-fast roll out thus far, subscriber numbers remain worryingly low.

Ofcom reckons this is because the nearest thing we’ve found to a ‘killer app’ which requires big bandwidth is the demands of a busy net-connected multi-user household.

They further expand on that point by saying that despite the proliferation of entertainment services such as gaming and film streaming, the only sort of ‘killer app’ currently driving usage is the “presence of teenage children.”

Social networking, streaming and sharing by such youngsters is the prime reason promoting super-fast broadband take-up in busy net-connected households.

Ofcom notes: “But as an approach to promoting superfast broadband take up, ‘having more teenage children’ seems a little long term, and a little distant from reality.”

There is an uncertainty about the level of demand which is tied in to the cost of the new speedy services, which are obviously more expensive than vanilla broadband.

Couple this with the fact that your average (non-teenage) net user might not do much in the way of streaming, and is strapped for cash in the current economic climate, and you have something of a picture of what might be going on.

Having said that, Ofcom’s figures show data consumption is up strongly, with a recent report showing the average user now chewing through 17GB of data every month.

A increasing demand for increasing speeds is inevitable as time goes by, of course, but still this initial slower than expected uptake level might hinder the delivery of super-fast fibre to the last third of the country.

Pushing out fibre to the more remote areas of the UK carries with it a considerable investment and risk, much more so than copper deployment did.

All of which means that those lofty targets stand less chance of being hit, or even come close to, if providers aren’t competitive when it comes to pricing next-generation broadband.


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