Is UK broadband strategy on the right track?

Is UK broadband strategy on the right track?

Summary: Problems with the UK's super-fast broadband process could be put right with more joined-up government thinking, says Malcolm Corbett


Recent developments suggest all is far from well with the UK's process of achieving super-fast broadband access. To put it right, government needs to do more joining-up of agendas at the national level while allowing more freedom to innovate locally, says Malcolm Corbett.

While not unexpected, the recent decision by fibre broadband company Geo UK marks a sad day. Geo says it's withdrawing from the Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) framework, which is helping to allocate £530m in government funding to upgrade the UK's rural broadband infrastructure. The company won't be taking part in future next-generation broadband access procurements.

Geo's decision is even more significant given Cable & Wireless Worldwide's apparent withdrawal from the Cumbria super-fast broadband procurement process. There is speculation that BDUK's shortlist may be getting shorter by the day.

One big question we should be asking is: are we getting this right?

Government's broadband ambitions

The government's ambition is for Britain to have the best super-fast broadband network in Europe by 2015. Most in the industry strongly support this ambition. But at the Internet Service Providers Association (ISPA) conference on 9 November delegates were asked if they thought it would actually be achieved. Only one hand went up, and that was the rep from BT. ISPA members are supposed to deliver services over these new networks, so clearly there is a large credibility gap.

At the same time members of Eurim, the Information Society Alliance, have been arguing for a linkage to be made between the broadband and smart-energy agendas. It seems crazy to be investing around £1.5bn to connect smart meters in homes and businesses without linking this plan to the next-generation broadband plan.

As a rep from one of the main industry equipment suppliers said recently, "We're happy to take the money off the government twice, but we can't really see the point."

Government needs to do more joining-up of agendas at the national level while allowing more freedom to innovate locally. Ministers have successfully argued for £530m for broadband and brought in another £150m to support rural mobile coverage. Bringing together the broadband and energy agendas could pay dividends.

Tough challenge for BDUK

BDUK itself has been presented with a tough challenge. The 2015 target is hard to meet if your longer-term objective is to support the development of a competitive market with sustained investment and innovation.

It would be much easier, quicker and cheaper simply to allocate the money to BT. However, if the government wants a competitive landscape, the input problems need fixing and that takes time.

Meanwhile the pressure from MPs and communities wanting better broadband continues. They know money has been...

Topics: Broadband, Government UK

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  • BDUK (Broadband Delivery UnKnown) may have been presented with a tough challenge. But BDUK does not appear to have a clue to take on an easy challenge. It has only just decided (September 2011) or understood what superfast broadband actually is.

    At least superfast broadband roll-out will fail in time for the next General Election (May 2015).
  • The current high powered 3g network is designed around efficiency in costs not coverage so has the highest power possible to the lowest number of towers, only adding more towers if coverage is poor or a if cell has too many subscribers. This is a bandwidth wasteful system, If the whole of the UK was served by one tower and only 500 users (phone and internet) could use it at a time then that is all the users possible, once this was true in the early days of radio wireless telegraphy.

    If HMG wishes to bring high speed internet to rural Britain, building lots of microwave towers is one way. Another is to use Blimps hosting antennas. Spectrum has directional interference, it is therefore possible for an antenna directly above a receiver to share the same wavelength as a second antenna provided the antenna is orientated correctly and cannot see the second antenna. Digital signals are line of sight, unlike FM.

    Having weaker powered Microwave towers hosting smaller cells means we can share the same bands over and over, the next step is beam steering antennas or shielded antennas on both home station and tower, this allows the same band to be used many times over in the cell network. We are in fact using the spectrum less than half as efficiently as possible.
  • Well between Henley-on-Thames and marlow, there are houses where you cannot get broadband from BT any faster than 0.5Mbps, which is simply a disgrace. All the advertising about high speeds stuffed through the letter box, on the Internet, with your bill simply don't hold up to scrutiny when that speed is all BT can deliver. Even with LLU, no supplier can help and this location is not up on the moor of North Enflan or Sctoland, it is with 30 miles of London and 6 miles from High Wycome. Solve the problem of reasonable access speeds for all first.

    Oh yes, no poinyt in bothering with a 3g dongle, there is effectivly no mobile signal either, in a location not more than half a mile from the River Thames.

    It is back to the dark ages if you live there.