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Mobile data squeeze, fibre rising: 2010's networks stories of the year

The changing face of mobile networks and the slow rise of superfast broadband Britain...
Written by Natasha Lomas, Contributor

The changing face of mobile networks and the slow rise of superfast broadband Britain...

As we prepare to bid farewell to 2010, silicon.com takes a look back at the biggest networks stories of the year.

The world of fixed and mobile networks wasn't rocked in 2010, so much as squeezed - especially on the mobile side, with operators warning at the start of the year that cellular networks could not carry on dealing with mobile users' appetite for data.

Something had to give - and that something was looking likely to be the unlimited data tariffs mobile users had been dining out on: All-you-can-eat mobile data: Is this the beginning of the end?.

By May Vodafone announced it was to start charging users for exceeding their data bundle limits, and O2 soon followed suit.

Vodafone also rebranded its femtocell offering in the hope of persuading more consumers to pay to offload mobile data onto their fixed-line broadband network - thereby taking some of the network strain: Can Vodafone make femtocells a sexy sell?.

silicon.com considered the future of the UK's mobile networks in The future of mobile networks: How the comms tech you use will evolve - looking at how cellular network technology is likely to evolve, from HSPA+ to LTE - the long-term evolution of 3G - and even whether wi-fi could play a bigger role in future to ease the strain on cellular networks.

UK mobile users shouldn't expect to see mobile coverage on the London Underground any time soon however, as silicon.com revealed that high costs had scuppered a plan to test mobile coverage on the Tube: Exclusive: High costs kill off London Underground mobile plans .

2010 meanwhile was marked by some key developments in the UK's fixed network infrastructure - as BT announced it would double its planned investment in fibre broadband, pledging to spend £2.5bn to extend access to high-speed broadband to two-thirds of the UK by 2015: BT: Fibre broadband coming to two-thirds of UK by 2015.

So how fast is this next-generation of Broadband Britain going to be? Roughly two-thirds of BT's planned rollout is set to be fibre to the cabinet (FTTC), supporting up to 40Mbps downlink, with just a quarter getting full fibre to the home (FTTH), up to 100Mbps. silicon.com took a look at how fibre is delivered to consumers in: Photos: How BT's FTTH fibre broadband gets inside your home.

Next-gen network users won't be guaranteed 40Mbps or 100Mbps, however - BT Wholesale announced a wholesale FTTC product with a guaranteed speed of just 5Mbps. Next-generation broadband: who knew it could be so, well, current-generation...?

Still, FTTC can be transformational - if it's the difference between a broadband service that's technically useable and actually useful, as this feature about a £48m FTTC investment in Northern Ireland showed: Fibre broadband: Northern Ireland's quiet connectivity revolution.

Meanwhile, Virgin Media launched a 100Mbps service in 2010 in a handful of locations. There was also a spot of broadband my-dad's-bigger-than-your-dad as BT announced it would test 1Gbps early next year - albeit with no plans for a commercial launch of such a fat pipe: 1Gbps broadband: BT tests out its fattest fat pipe yet.

The year ended with BT signalling it could expand its fibre footprint further still - to cover up to 90 per cent of the UK: Superfast broadband: Fibre hubs to connect rural communities, after the government increased the pot of money available for funding broadband rollouts to £830m over seven years, taking another chunk of cash from the BBC licence fee in addition to Digital Switchover underspend funding.

The government also set out an ambition for the UK to have the "best superfast broadband network in Europe" by 2015: Superfast broadband: We want UK to lead Europe by 2015, says gov't. What exactly the government meant by "best" still hadn't been pinned down by year-end, although it said its headline indicators would be speed, coverage, choice and price.

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