Page last updated at 08:44 GMT, Thursday, 26 February 2009

UK has 'uphill struggle to 2Mbps'

Lord Carter
Lord Carter has pledged to bring a minimum of 2Mbps to all UK homes

The government faces a "massive challenge" in its pledge to bring UK broadband up to a minimum of 2Mbps (megabits per second) say experts.

Broadband thinktank PointTopic has produced a regional breakdown of areas that currently do not have much net speed.

It shows that Northern Ireland is most poorly placed, with more than 30% of households out of reach of 2Mbps.

In Wales, 26.9% of homes are unable to get speeds of 2Mbps or above.

While London only has 1.2% of its population out of range of 2Mbps, places relatively near to the capital are not so lucky.

"Towns such as Basingstoke and Milton Keynes which people might expect to be well connected have notspots," said Tim Johnson, chief analyst with Point Topic.

"The scale of the task is massive and in order to achieve it there needs to be co-operation between government, the regulator and operators such as BT," he said.

PERCENTAGE OF UK OUT OF RANGE OF 2MBPS
East Midlands - 15.2%
East of England - 15%
London - 1.2%
North East - 15.8%
North West - 10.8%
South East - 13.5%
South West - 19.9%
West Midlands - 10.4%
Yorkshire/Humber - 16.1%
Northern Ireland - 32.2%
Scotland - 15.6%
Wales - 26.9%

Broadband anniversary

Ten years on from the first broadband connections being made, the UK is at a crossroads, thinks Mr Johnson.

If the issue is addressed, it could mean that things in the decade ahead look much brighter.

"We forecast that over 90% of UK homes could have broadband access in 10 years time, almost all with speeds of 32Mbps," he predicted.

But, in order to achieve this, the government needs to back the right technology and make sure conditions are favourable, he added.

"We think that fibre is the right way to go. That will provide the UK with a future-proofed network," said Mr Johnson.

BT has pledged to provide fibre to around 40% of the UK but with the caveat that "market conditions must be right".

Mr Johnson believes this may mean that the regulator has to allow BT to "make profit via some level of monopoly agreement".

Not allowing anyone else to use its newly-created fibre network would boost profits for the telco but many believe it would be a backward step, after years of opening up its copper network to other players.

The government's decision to provide at least 2Mbps to all UK homes by 2012 was the most headline-grabbing idea of the recently published Digital Britain report.

The report, the full version of which is due in May, laid out the government's commitment to broadband and suggested that some of the gaps in coverage could be filled with mobile broadband.

Refuseniks

Mobile broadband logo, GSMA
Mobile broadband may fill in some of gaps

Not everyone is convinced that mobile broadband is up to the job.

"Mobile broadband is not the replacement for fixed line broadband that everyone once thought," said Alex Salter, co-founder of broadband measurement site SamKnows.

"There are issues with the network and services drop off the more people who use it," he said.

There are a couple of firms offering satellite broadband which has been touted as a solution for rural areas. It is not cheap though. Avanti offers a 2Mb service for 45 a month.

Whatever technology is used to fill in the gaps in broadband coverage there will always be a core of users who do not want it even if it is available.

"We estimate that 15 to 20% say that they will never get it and frankly you can live without broadband, although it might make life more expensive and less convenient," said Mr Johnson.

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