Friday, 27 August 2010

Keeping up-to-speed

Scotland was an early leader in broadband access, with a programme targeting universal access to 512 kb/s broadband completed in 2009. This was largely successful. In practice, however, some consumers only achieved somewhat lower speeds, and over 2000 have only satellite services, with latencies of around one second making them unsuitable for many interactive applications. More important, the infrastructures established to deliver these services will not scale to keep pace with the growth of broadband speeds worldwide.
The importance of competitive data communications has long been recognised by the european universal service obligation (USO).
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.
Median broadband speeds in the UK are already (in 2010) over 5 Mb/s. As the usage of broadband interaction increases, median speeds will follow Nielsen’s Law, which predicts continued growth over the next decade, by a factor of 8 every 5 years. So we anticipate median speeds in the UK of 40 Mb/s in 2015 and 320 Mb/s in 2020.
A dynamic definition of universal service is implied. The minimum connection rate for universal access must track advances in the information society to ensure continuing digital inclusion. Our recommendation is that Scotland should plan to deliver minimum speeds that are somewhat less than half of these median figures:
2 Mb/s 16 Mb/s128 Mb/s
These targets should be subject to rolling review. The current Ofcom USO dates from 2005 and cites a figure of 28.8 kb/s. Just updating this by applying Neilsen’s Law would give a figure of 256 kb/s in 2010 and 2 Mb/s in 2015 (which matches the latest Westminster government policy). We recommend that this should be reviewed to take into account prevailing technologies, with a universal service obligation to provide access to the internet at speeds that are not less than one quarter of the median speed delivered to UK subscribers.
These are targets for minimum download speeds for universal access. We expect median speeds to be 2-4 times as fast. In our next post we analyse the infrastructure implications of these targets.
Download speed is not everything – low latency and upload speeds are also important. However, we will find that the infrastructure required to achieve these download speed targets will also support low latencies and symmetric services.
Our aspirations should be compared with those of our international competitors. For example, Finland has a commitment to deliver 100 Mb/s to all by 2015. This places Finland five years ahead of broadband rollout curve. However, current Westminster policy is to lag a further five years behind even our more modest goal.

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