Broadband Policy Makers Need To Balance Quality And Reach

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While Broadband Britain is concentrating on penetration, a study shows that quality may be just as important


Baselines for quality

To set baselines for “good enough” service, the researchers looked at what people are doing with their broadband. “We went for a simple measure based on the top five applications, and taking the ones that drive quality. We didn’t include email, as no quality is required for that.”

Today, users are expected to do social networking, some sharing of small files (reducing the definition of their photos to upload them), low definition video streaming on sites like Youtube, some video chat on Skype and some IPV from sites such as BBC iPlayer.

This requires around 3.75Mbps downstream, 1Mbps upstream, and a latency (ping) of 95ms – a set of figures which the study combined to a single score, the BQS, of 30.

In three years time people will demand high-definition video, the ability to share photos without reducing them and other improvements, taking their demands to 11.25Mbps downstream 5Mbps upstream and a latency of 60ms. This equates to a BQS score of 50, said de Bernabé (pictured below).

“Policy makers should have a BQS of 30 now and should aim for 50 in future,” said de Bernabé. But governments should be aware that quality and penetration have different effects on a country’s prospects.

The trade-off between quality and penetration

“A high penetration of broadband drives productivity and an innovation-based economy,” he said, “but high quality is more correlated with the knowledge economy.”

The UK government is struggling towards an aim of getting 2Mbps to every home in the country should make Britain more productive, but we will need higher quality broadband if we want to take part in knowledge-based businesses at a higher level. “If you have higher quality, you do more,” he said. “If you don’t increase the quality, you don’t get to the next stage of the information economy.”

“I like the intention to make it universal. Many countries are not doing that,” said de Bernabé. “If you give 100 percent of the country 2Mbps, you are creating a good base, but compared to what an innovation economy should have, that is not up to the best ambition.” He was also “not encouraged” by the UK’s average download speedof 4.6Mbps – amongst the self-selected speedtest users.

To be fair, the Digital Britain plan also includes a goal of getting faster broadband services available, with services planned at 20Mbps or above. But its overall focus on minimum levels may reduce the impact of faster services, warned de Bernabé: “I would like to see the UK, like other countries, also setting thresholds for higher speed services, perhaps at 50Mbps.

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