Friday, 20 August 2010

Functional Internet Access: what speed do you need?

The importance of data communications has long been recognised by the european universal service obligation.
Article 4.2 The connection provided shall be capable of supporting voice, facsimile and data communications at data rates that are sufficient to permit functional Internet access, taking into account prevailing technologies used by the majority of subscribers and technological feasibility.
A dynamic definition of universal service is implied: the minimum connection rate for universal access must take into account advances in prevailing technologies. Universal functional Internet access (FIA) is necessary to ensure continuing digital inclusion in the information society.
Median broadband speeds in the UK are already (in 2010) over 5 Mb/s. As the usage of broadband interaction increases, we expect speeds to continue to grow. Prevailing technologies will follow Nielsen’s Law, over the next decade at least, with speeds doubling every 20 months–increasing by a factor of 8 every 5 years. So we anticipate median speeds of 40 Mb/s in 2015 and 320 Mb/s in 2020.
Ofcom guidelines on FIA, that users should be able to expect connection speeds of at least 28.8 kb/s, were issued in 2003. The most recent review (2005) considered that, "the benchmark minimum speed should remain at 28.8 kbit/s for the time being."
A speed of 28.8 kb/s no longer provides functional internet access, on any common-sense understanding of the term. For example, even an optimised page such as the home page weighs in at 54 KB, and would take around 15 seconds to load. The home page totals 740KB, and would take 3m25s to load.
Just updating the 28.8 kb/s figure from 2003 by applying Neilsen’s Law would give figures of 512 kb/s in 2010 and 4 Mb/s in 2015.
The UK government has recently announced an unambitious target of 2 Mb/s for 2015. This will leave us some 10 years behind Finland (100 Mb/s in 2015) and 20 years behind Singapore (where they are currently installing 1 Gb/s connections to the home).

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