Europe Likely To Miss Broadband Targets

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Europe might not get there, but the UK seems strangely complacent about broadband delivery before 2015

Broadband penetration looks like missing many of the European Commission’s 2020 targets, with a €150 billion (£128bn) shortfall in investment, a meeting in London heard. Meanwhile, BT claimed the UK would meet ambitious goals for fibre penetration, set by the Government.

Tthe UK Government wants to see 90 percent of citizens to have the offer of “superfast” broadband by 2015.  In fact, the Broadband Delivery UK scheme is set to offer more than 24Mbps to two-thirds of premises in the country by 2015, Sean Williams, a policy director at BT told a Westminster eForum debate on Thursday.

Throwing money at the problem

Simon Towler, head of broadband policy for the Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS), said that ubiquitous broadband connectivity was a key driver for the economic future of the country, since doubling the speed of connectivity will contribute 1.3 percent to Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

There are many ways of achieving this, according to the discussions. By using vectoring technology (VDSL) on fibre to the cabinet, for instance, tests have shown that speeds of up to 20Mbps uploading and 80Mbps downloading can be achieved, said Alcatel-Lucent CEO Lucy Dimes although she believes that, by sweating the copper, this can be pushed even further.

However, Kenneth Ducatel, from the European Commission, remains unconvinced, claiming that fibre to the home (FTTH) is inevitable and the lack of incentive for migrating from copper to fibre shows a marked conflict between short and long term views.

Mobile broadband is another critical way to reach the final third of the country with no access to broadband, “not-spots”, especially when the spectrum is released, said 3 Telecom, which is desperate to see the auction go ahead soon.

Single-operator monopoly shocker

Barclays Capital analyst Maurice Patrick was not convinced and shocked the room when he suggested the 800Mhz spectrum should be given to a single operator, since slicing it up among the four operators negates its inherent benefit.

As a potential contender to complete the penetration picture, the Hylas 1 satellite launched by Avanti last year was touted as a solution. Although it would not have the capacity to be anything beyond a complementary resource, it could be implemented in remote areas where other forms of access are impractical or financially prohibitive, it was suggested.

On the subject of satellite signal latency issues, Hughes vice president of sales Chris O’Dell refused to concede, stating that issues that were prevalent several years ago had been overcome by improved technology. Reflecting Scotty on Star Trek, one speaker said, “You can never escape the laws of physics. You will always get latency from satellite links, simply based on their distance from earth.”

Delays to the 4G spectrum division auction have been caused while “a number of substantial and strongly argued responses” to previous consultation are considered. The actual auction, initially expected early next year, will not now be held until the end of 2012.

Government is spending £150 million on mobile broadband for rural areas, BT is investing heavily, to the tune of £2.5 billion, to accelerate its plans for broadband access by at least a year, Virgin is on track with the expansion of its 100Mbps (megabit per second) service and reporting a growing uptake of superfast, while Fujitsu confirmed its plans to invest $1 billion (£628m) in UK city holdings, and $800 million (£503m) to household access.

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