Fiber access essential, says industry group

Broadband Stakeholder Group claims the United Kingdom will quickly fall behind its rivals unless next-generation access rollout begins within two years.

High-speed fiber access must be rolled out across the United Kingdom if the country is to avoid falling behind the rest of the world in the broadband stakes, a key industry body has warned.

A report by the Broadband Stakeholder Group (BSG) which includes representation from organizations as diverse as Ofcom, the government, BT, the BBC and Time Warner, suggests that such a rollout must begin within the next two years, despite a current lack of evidence that "fiber to the premises" (FTTx) will be necessary. The report also claims that the investment required for this rollout could be recouped by telcos such as BT selling wholesale access to their networks and making deals with content providers.

Many of the U.K.'s Tier 1 networks are already being upgraded, most notably including BT's 21st Century Network (21CN). These next-generation networks (NGNs) have a much greater capacity for carrying high-bandwidth services, but critics argue that users' access will be limited by the capacity in the local loop.

The local loop is predominantly copper-based, and BT currently has no plans to upgrade the copper to high-speed fiber because it says regulation would force it to open those connections up to rival providers, thus making it not worth the expense. The operator is, however, rolling out FTTx to some greenfield sites, due in part to the rising price of copper.

The BSG claims it is "likely that a significant minority of users will see no real improvement in their broadband access speeds" despite the rollout of 21CN, and it warns that "if the U.K. was to lag significantly behind its international competitors in bandwidths available to citizens and consumers, the pace of innovation in the economy could slip behind that of those competitors".

"Although wireless technologies will play a part," the report continues, "the move to next-generation broadband will require the deployment of optical fiber deeper into the local access network, either to the street cabinet or directly to the customer premises". The BSG refers to figures from Enders Analysis.