The following article is written by Matt Powell from Broadband Genie– see http://www.broadbanduk.org/2013/03/19/guest-blog-matt-powell-broadband-genie/
The UK’s broadband infrastructure is undergoing an important period of change. We’re moving away from a reliance on outdated copper lines in favour of future-proof fibre optic links. In place of a creaking phone network which was never built with the internet in mind, the fibre lines spreading throughout the country can provide far greater connection speeds without the signal degradation which affects copper cabling over long distances.
Going full fibre
But although fibre is becoming a key component in bringing high speed internet to the UK’s internet users we’ve still not completely outgrown the old system.
The most common type of fibre optic broadband service currently available – fibre to the cabinet – utilises copper lines for the final run into premises. This places limits on the speed, but does make it cheaper and faster to install than a full fibre to the premises network.
There is a great deal of debate over the immediate direction of the UK’s broadband, but a full fibre infrastructure is in our future.
What can we do with full fibre broadband?
Fibre optic broadband offers speeds which easily outpace the very best ADSL connections. BT has been trialling fibre to the premises with 330Mb downstream rates, but this is just a fraction of the full possibilities. Smaller firms such as Hyperoptic and Gigaclear already operate their own fibre networks providing ultra-fast 1Gb to customers lucky enough to live within their small coverage areas.
The obvious advantage of such speeds is downloading large files. At these rates full HD movies could be downloaded in minutes. It could rightfully be argued that this is not something that everyone will be doing on a regular basis but for the mass-market appeal of high-speed fibre connections we only need to look at current trends.
Streaming video and audio services are now enormously popular, with a significant number of us watching TV using sites like iPlayer and 4OD or listening to music via Spotify. With ultra-fast broadband, problems with buffering on streaming content are non-existent, even if it’s HD video. This is particularly useful when you have a household sharing a single line, all of them with their own tablets, smartphones and computers using the internet.
More significant is the growing popularity of the connected home. This is the idea that in the near future our houses will be packed full of connected hardware. The doorbell will ring and send a photo or real-time video of the visitor to your smartphone, your washing machine could be switched off with a command, and the curtains and lights remotely controlled via the web for extra security.
This is something which has been widely discussed for many years but with the increasing power of embedded processors and the widespread adoption of high speed internet it’s going to move out of the realm of the tech hobbyist and become a standard feature for homes all over the UK.
Is fibre for everyone?
Despite these exciting applications there is a big question mark hanging over full fibre. Does the average user need it?
We know that there are people out there who will have computers running 24/7 downloading and uploading files, running servers and playing online games, using more than the typical amount of bandwidth, but this is the behaviour of a minority.
Web browsing, email, social networking and even streaming media does not use a massive amount of data or require the kind of bandwidth provided by full fibre broadband. The argument that mass appeal of fibre is limited definitely has some validity; right this minute few people want or care about the provision of a 1Gb fibre line into their homes.
However, it is interesting to see how user behaviour has changed over the past few years as internet speeds increased. According to research from Ofcom in 2012 users were downloading an average of 23GB per month.
That’s not a massive amount, but what’s significant is that this was a 35% increase from 17GB in 2011 – which itself was a sevenfold increase compared to activity five years before. It was also reported that those with 50Mb+ connections were downloading, on average, over 65GB, which indicates that if people have access to faster internet they will change their behaviour and take advantage of its capabilities