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UK Internet Speeds Disappoint As UN Sets Challenge

An Akamai broadband report reveals poor rankings for the UK, as the UN Broadband Commission sets targets

As the Broadband Commission for Digital Development meets in Geneva this week to set new targets for the future of broadband in the developing world, Akamai released its quarterly State of the Internet Report.

According to the report, the UK showed some improvement in Internet speed and penetration in the last year, but still failed to light any fires.

UK an improver

The European rock-star is the Netherlands, with 68 percent of its broadband speed at 5Mbps or higher and, despite an improvement of 70 percent in the last year, the UK still lags behind in 15th place with only 30 percent of UK connections reaching those speeds. Globally, the figure is even worse, placing the UK in 25th place.

The country is doing little better in the 2Mbps and upwards stakes. The in-depth report figures showed that the UK is now in 11th place in Europe with 91 percent of UK broadband connections now hitting the 2Mbps mark, an improvement of 10 percent over last year.

Despite the overall poor showing nationwide, being placed at 28th in countries with peak connection speeds of 18.9Mbps, a top ten placing for the city of Bradford is a pleasant surprise. Bradford has the fastest broadband connection in the country with peak connection speeds of 23.5 Mbps.

When it comes to IP address allocations, the UK showed a 36 percent increase in penetration this year, putting it in  seventh position with almost 23 million unique addresses.

“Global Internet penetration up 21 percent year-on-year, up 34 percent from last quarter Global Average Connection Speed rose by 21 percent in this quarter to 2.6Mbps In the second quarter of 2011, the level of growth in global high broadband adoption got even stronger, as it increased 11 percent quarter-over-quarter, with 27 percent of all connections to Akamai occurring at speeds of 5Mbps or more,” said the company in its report.

A challenge for 2015

At the same time, the Broadband Commission released a statement regarding its new targets which cover broadband policy, affordability and uptake.

The 2015 targets entail making broadband policy universal, ensuring entry-level broadband services are affordable in developing countries, connecting 40 percent of households in developing countries to broadband, and getting people online by increasing penetration to 60 percent worldwide, 50 percent in developing countries and 15 percent in least developed countries (LDCs).

To this end, the International Telecommunications Union will undertake responsibility for measuring each country’s progress towards these targets; and producing an annual broadband report with rankings of nations worldwide in terms of broadband policy, affordability, and uptake.

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Goverment IT Networking News

Virgin Launches Big Red Internet Business Package

Fill your boots, says Virgin, as 1Gbps and 100Mbps fibre links tumble in price

On  by Peter Judge 0

Virgin Media Business will today launch a flat rate business Ethernet-on-fibre service which offers “more bandwidth than you think you need,” with uncontended, symmetrical services at 100Mbps or 1Gbps.

The service uses the core network that Virgin has built on the assets of the former cable companies and will offer the services at a “small premium” to businesses currently on 10Mbps or 100Mbps leased lines, according to a Virgin executive. The service can be offered at a lower price than competing leased line services because the bandwidth that it uses would otherwise go to waste, as the amount of traffic on a consumer network drops dramatically during working hours.

“Fill your boots!”

“It’s dedicated fibre, symmetric and uncontended,” said Mark Heraghty, managing director of Virgin Media Business. “Fill your boots!”

The 100Mbps service costs £12,000 per year, or £13,000 for a managed service, while the 1Gbps service costs £22,000 or £25,000 for a managed service which includes router installation and proactive network management.

The service is for directly-connected users, and not for resellers, and can be installed within 60 days from order. Although this sounds a long time, the local loop connection to the user can involve digging up the road; being able to afford a higher speed to start with should mean that is a one-off cost and a one-off delay, Virgin Media spokespeople pointed out.

Virgin Media Business has a very strong fibre network, which was built up by NTL and TeleWest and is mostly used by consumers in the evening, explained chief operating officer Andrew Barron: “It’s bankrupted two companies – it’s our pride and joy!” Big Red Internet is able to offer an uncontended service on that during the day.

Long-term perspective

Since taking over the ntl and TeleWest brands, Virgin first sorted out its customer service, and then got its balance sheet under control, said Barron. “We can fund and finance projects, and take a long-term perspective.”

While Virgin Media has been rolling out 50Mbps, using the DOCSYS standard, to large parts of the country, and promising 100Mbps broadband using fibre-to the-cabinet, Virgin Media Business has launched Ethernet extension services up to 10Gbps. The Big Red Internet offering takes that service and simplifies it, said Barron.

“We are an asset-based carrier,” said Barron. “It effectively costs us nothing to offer this service.” The peak demand from Virgin consumers is around 10pm at night, and the network is largely empty during the day. “Our competitors build networks dimensioned around business-to-business, and buy access from BT,” he said.

The company has promised to divulge prices before customers are asked to start putting down real money for the service – the service will be available in managed and unmanaged versions.

Universal access and fast broadband

At the launch event, Barron claimed that Virgin’s broadband roll-out had now met the government’s original target for fast broadband in Stephen Carter’s Broadband Britain report, but providing universal access at 2Mbps would be trickier.  “Universal access means reaching areas which are not economical,” said Barron. “If the government lets us use unconventional methods such as using electricity poles, we will push ahead as fast as it is economic to do so.”

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Networking News

Vodafone Warns Against Excessive Fibre Investment

A new report by Vodafone suggests that mobile is a better way to patch broadband not-spots than fibre

Mobile operator Vodafone claims that many emerging economies are investing unnecessarily in fibre optic broadband networks, when they should be focusing instead on extending the reach and capability of mobile networks.

In its 2011 Social Impact of Mobiles (SIM) report, Vodafone warns that the current level of investment in fibre optic networks in emerging markets is unsustainable, due to the cost of deployment in rural areas. It also points out that, given the ubiquity of low-cost phones in these countries, mobile is likely to remain the primary way for people to access the Internet.

“We believe that our findings show that the current emphasis on delivering fibre optic cable everywhere overlooks other effective means of extending the use of broadband in an affordable way,” said Diane Coyle, chair of the Vodafone SIM Panel and editor of the report.

Fibre vs. mobile

Vodafone used the Indian states of Maharashtra, Karnataka and Rajasthan as an example, to compare the feasibility of extending fibre access networks against mobile networks. The company concludes that the deployment of a fibre access network would only be commercially viable in 3 percent of the districts, while wireless broadband coverage could be provided in 98 percent of the districts.

In reality, the solution to the problem of broadband provision in remote areas is likely to be a combination of different technologies, including ADSL, fibre, mobile 3G and satellite. While Vodafone makes a valid point about the widespread use of mobile technologies in developing countries, it should be noted that the company is itself a mobile network provider, and therefore prone to bias.

The report goes on to state that social networking sites such as Facebook are helping to build demand for data usage to the point where economies of scale accelerate.Vodafone recommends that governments in developing countries make an effort to provide mobile-enabled services free of charge, in order to increase broadband take-up and reduce the digital divide.

The importance of mobile spectrum

The report also highlights that the availability of spectrum will drive technology innovations and better coverage for the growing demand for mobile broadband services in emerging economies.

“It is tempting to see the spectrum challenge as being the same in developed and emerging markets. That would be fundamentally wrong,” the report states. “The reason is that the widespread fixed networks offer the possibility in developed markets of carrying a sizeable proportion of the data traffic (e.g., via Wi-Fi). But those possibilities just do not exist in the emerging markets and therefore all that traffic will fall on the mobile networks.

“Absent plentiful spectrum, the traffic will suffocate service quality. Emerging markets are going to need large and appropriate spectrum assignments to deliver their data applications.”

Meanwhile, in Britain, the communications regulator Ofcom is currently preparing for the long-awaited auction of 4G spectrum around 800MHz and 2.6GHz, which is due to take place in the first quarter of 2012. Ofcom recently released research, stating that 4G mobile technology will deliver more than three times the capacity of existing 3G technologies, using the same amount of spectrum.

This increased spectrum capacity is essential in meeting the UK’s rapid increase in mobile traffic, fuelled by the growth of smartphones and mobile broadband data services. Only this week, a group of MPs opened a debate in the House of Commons, in an attempt to pressurise both Ofcom and the government to expand the provision of 4G technologies to more isolated rural communities.