Space: The Final Frontier

by Lorne Mitchell on 09/02/2011

I live in the country. I live in the so-called Final Third. Ofcom call it a “Market 1” area – because BT is the only fixed-line service provider providing the physical lines that broadband and telephony run across.

This week, three different views hit me that have changed my whole view on how we roll out broadband to the final third. I expect many of my readers will have switched off by now – but bear with me – because I think it might interest you.

The first view was from Adrian Wooster’s blog – where he has produced a really interesting picture of what the spread of the UK’s broadband looks like by postcode – one image of which I have copied below:

Click on the image on Adrian’s blog site to see each scenario – it loops back at the end to highlight the gulf between where we’re starting from to where we need to get to.  Each spot of light represents a postcode.

At the moment the image only covers England and Wales – Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own statistical output area systems which individually need resolving to postcode level.

The interesting thing is that most of the “final third” remains in the dark – even at 95% coverage!

That got me thinking.  What will be available from WiFi/Mobile/Radio technologies by 2015?  Regular readers will know that I am interested in LightPeak – but there have been two other announcements this week that are very interesting and makes you think differently about broadband for the final third in 2015.

The first was from Alcatel Lucent – who have just announced the launch of the lightRadio cube which can be installed wherever there is electricity.

So this little device will dramatically reduce the costs of deploying mobile phone base stations – whilst allowing extended coverage of 3g networks to areas that are currently far too expensive to cover.

The second was from an In-Stat Report – stating that a new Wi-Fi technology standard called 802.11ac has been developed to provide Gigabit speeds across WiFi networks.  The report predicts 1bn devices shipped with this technology by 2015 – which will allow streaming of high quality video to the TV set – or downloads of BlueRay DVDs in 6 seconds.I expect that many, if not most, will be mobile devices of some sort.

Add these two developments together and you get a very interesting set of technologies that may be able to provide 1Gbps speeds (depending on availability of backhaul) to most households in the country that are not provided with a direct link – i.e those who are in the dark areas on the map.  That is 500 times faster than our current unambitious target for 2Mbps….and will require the cooperation of mobile operators and fixed-line operators who can provide much faster backahual speeds.

Exciting stuff – but I wonder if today’s #digitalbritain thinking is really embracing such ideas as these to create a truly competitive infrastructure for those in the power of the Dark Lord?  As these new technologies are enabled, the bottleneck may well move to the backhaul.  Which is why the current ideas around Fibre to the Community or “Digital Village Pumps” will become even more important.  Then again, I would prefer to redefine FTTH as Fibre to the Hamlet – like the one I live in – or Fibre to the Clachan – as they say in more Celtic countries!


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1 cyberdoyle February 11, 2011 at 00:08

Aye, the final frontier, and only a fibre backbone into it will cure it, none of the other technologies will work without a fat dumb pipe. As you say. we aren’t bored reading it, but I just wish the powers that be would read it and stop protecting the copper cabal. And pouring money, our public money down into the bottomless copper pit.


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