Sunday, December 23, 2007

Peter Cochrane's Blog: Christmas wish list | 14.16 Thursday 20th December 2007

Every year of my life seems to have been challenging for one reason or another. But I have always been able to stay ahead of the game and keep on top of technology and business.

In the early days the hardware and software involved was well beyond the pocket of private individuals. Only giant corporations could afford the 100T computers that consumed kilowatts of power and acres of floor space.

These mighty machines have long been eclipsed by PCs and other devices that fit the bag, pocket or hand, consume a few watts and provide each of us with massive computing capabilities at vanishingly low prices. Adequate PCs and laptops are now hitting the $400 break point and all the associated peripherals come at inconsequential cost.

For decades my Christmas wish list has presented a viable spending opportunity - but not this year. To continue making progress and keep ahead of the game, I need things that are just not available.

Number one on my list is bandwidth, and throughout the Western world it just isn't there. I have to go east to find a world of satisfying connectivity and associated creativity. Number two is my need for a machine intelligence that helps me understand system and business complexities and guides me to better decision making.


OFCOM | NGN Responses

OFCOM | Responses to consultation: Next Generation Networks - Future arrangements for access and interconnection

(...) Having an Open Access Infrastructure (OAI (a dark fibre network open to be
used by any service provider)) could be important to areas where there is
limited competition at a wholesale level. BT at present has SMP in the UK
when considering leased lines and Internet access backhaul services. OAI
networks can open up the wholesale competitive market, drive down the price
customers have to pay and open up the market in general to many new and
innovative services based on a number of technologies used to light the fibre

See also:

  • 26/09/07 - Intellect response to Ofcom Consultation on 'Future Broadband - Policy Approach To Next Generation Access' (pdf 33KB)

Question 5: Do you consider there to be a role of direct regulatory or public policy intervention to create artificial incentives for earlier investment in next generation access?
It seems to be very doubtful that the market alone will result in the deployment of NGAs that give full UK coverage. Also, market forces will result in deployment to the most attractive areas in advance of those offering lower returns. Also the sheer scale of the engineering project to deploy NGA technology across the UK will inevitably mean that the services are delivered to some areas later than others. So with or without some form of intervention, there will be some people who get access to NGA later, possibly very much later, than others and without intervention there will be those who never get access to NGA. The issue then is one of inclusion and the extent to which a digital divide, temporary or long term, is acceptable. This is really a policy rather than regulatory matter. However it seems reasonable to conclude that, if a digital divide is not accepted, then intervention will be needed at some point.

Ofcom | Press Release | 26|09|07 | Ofcom considers fast broadband outlook and pledges clarity for investors

Ofcom today published a consultation paper analysing the outlook for future broadband “Next Generation Access” (NGA) networks with proposals for future regulation of this new communications infrastructure.

Regulation has contributed to an effective broadband market in the UK.

Broadband access regulation is based currently on creating and supporting a competitive market capable of delivering a range of services from a variety of providers, spanning many price points and available throughout the UK.

Broadband has become a mass-market service, with providers other than BT offering services over 3 million unbundled broadband lines and Virgin Media offering a service to 50% of the country over cable. Consumers have enjoyed falling prices, rising speeds and increasingly innovative product bundles.

In general the picture for broadband take-up in the UK is good:

* over ninety-nine per cent of the UK is connected to a broadband enabled exchange;
* over half of UK households have taken up broadband;
* almost three quarters have a choice of at least two broadband (ADSL and/or cable) network providers;
* the average headline speed has doubled in a year to reach 4.6mb/s and
* broadband prices have fallen by 9% in the last twelve months.


Regulatory clarity needed to support investment in NGA

As the market evolves, a clear regulatory regime supporting its growth will be key. Its aim will be to ensure that consumers continue to enjoy all the benefits of a competitive and dynamic market and that potential investors have clarity on how their investment will be regulated.

Ofcom proposes to play its part in facilitating timely and efficient investment in very high speed broadband networks with a regulatory policy based on the same principles it established for current generation broadband. Of particular relevance are the principles to:-

* promote competition at the deepest possible point in the broadband value chain, to optimise the opportunities for innovation and sustainable competition
* optimise the scope for innovation to maximise consumer and business benefits from these new services; and
* require equivalence where operators with market power must make their network infrastructure available to their competitors on the same basis.

In addition Ofcom proposes two new principles specific to next generation access networks:-

* regulation must reflect the significant commercial investment risk associated with deployment of these networks in order to ensure incentives for investment are retained; and
* investment in these networks requires regulatory clarity. It is important that the regulatory regime remains in place for a sufficient time to allow investors the long-term clarity they need to invest with confidence.

Ofcom CEO Ed Richards said: “Next Generation Access offers tremendous new opportunities for UK business and consumers, and its potential impact on the economy is very significant.

He added: “Investment in Next Generation Access will represent a substantial commercial risk and the market should decide where and when it will be made. We want to ensure there are no barriers to investment and provide a clear regulatory environment which will help encourage investment.

“But we also want to ensure that the benefits of competition which consumers have enjoyed with current generation broadband can also be achieved as we move to higher speed next generation access.”

The consultation closes on 5 December 2007.

The full consultation is available online at

Government mulls broadband help | Last Updated: Wednesday, 19 September 2007, 07:27 GMT 08:27 UK

The UK government is considering intervening in the way broadband is rolled out, in an effort to speed up the deployment of super-fast services.

Stephen Timms, Minister for Competitiveness, ordered a summit to look at the role of government in providing next-generation broadband.

While other countries are investing in new ways to deliver higher bandwidth, the UK is seen as lagging behind.

Mr Timms said broadband infrastructure was one of his "personal priorities".

"Today we face a new challenge. Other countries are starting to invest in new, fibre-based infrastructure, delivering considerably higher bandwidth than is available in the UK today," Mr Timms told the Broadband Stakeholder Group and others attending a meeting on Tuesday evening.

"I have decided to chair a high level summit later this year to consider the circumstances that might trigger public sector intervention and the form that intervention might take," he said.

Huge costs

The event was organised by the Broadband Stakeholder Group to outline its own plans to improve the way next-generation broadband is rolled out in the UK.

According to Richard Allan, a member of the Broadband Stakeholder Group and director of government affairs at Cisco, the UK needs to act now in order to keep its place in the top 25% of broadband nations.

"That should be one of the targets that the government sets if it wants to stay economically competitive," he said.

Mr Allan believes that the UK should have 40% of its citizens connected to fibre that can deliver broadband speeds of up to 100Mbps (megabits per second) by 2012.

"The current copper-based system is limited by ADSL which means 24 megabits under very good conditions," he said.

It is estimated that upgrading the whole of the UK to a fibre-based network could cost £10-15bn.

While other countries, including France, Germany and Italy are already looking at ways of improving the so-called access or last-mile network which connects to people's homes, there is so far little investment in the UK.

UK sewers may not be suitable for fibre

According to Mr Allan, the reasons for this are part-historical.

"There is evidence that the cost of civil engineering work in the UK is particularly high," he said.

He believes government intervention in lowering these costs as well as help with planning laws and providing the necessary ducting for fibre would be a step in the right direction.

In some countries ducts for fibre have been made available via municipal sewers although Mr Allan is not sure this is the solution in the UK.

"Traditionally UK sewers are deeper and they are not municipally owned but there are other ways to keep the disruption of digging up roads to a minimum, for example with micro ducts which sees fibre blown through long runs," he said.

The BSG is also calling on Ofcom to provide a regulatory framework to support investment in next-generation networks.

Ofcom looks to future of fast net

Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 September 2007, 14:22 GMT 15:22 UK

Regulator Ofcom has added its voice to the growing debate about how the UK should roll out super-fast broadband.

It has launched a consultation, running until December, to probe ways to keep UK net services up to speed with those of other nations.

Current broadband speeds have a natural limit which are unlikely to satisfy growing consumer demand for bandwidth.

In other countries, networks delivering speeds of up to 100Mbps (megabits per second) are already being rolled out.

Some experts are concerned that the UK is falling behind its competitors. Last week Stephen Timms, Minister for Competitiveness, ordered a summit on the issue and did not rule out the possibility of public sector intervention.

The debate centres on the question of whether the UK should put in place a nationwide fibre network and, in its consultation, Ofcom lays out some of the options for the UK as well as suggesting ways in which such a network should be regulated.

So-called fibre to the kerb would offer speeds of up to 50Mbps and cost up to £10bn to roll out nationwide, experts predict.

Fibre to the home is more expensive - with an estimated £15bn price tag - but offers speeds of up to 100Mbps.

Ofcom points out that no one technology will answer the needs for more bandwidth. Cable networks will also play an important role in offering high-speed net access and Virgin Media is already trialling speeds of up to 50Mbps.


BT openreach van
Would BT monopolise next-generation access?

As new applications such as net TV become popular so demand for bandwidth increases.

Some countries, including France, Germany, the Netherlands, Japan and Korea are already investing in fibre networks which deliver speeds of up to 100Mbps (megabits per second).

According to Ofcom, current broadband speeds in the UK reach an average of 4.6Mbps. These speeds will be increased to around 24Mbps when next-generation ADSL - named ADSL2+ - begins rolling out next year.

Ofcom's chief executive Ed Richards said that super-fast next generation access was an obvious next step, offering "a fundamental change to the country's infrastructure" and one that would affect how competitive the broadband market was "for years to come".

In its consultation, Ofcom is keen to stress any new network will be regulated in the same way as the existing copper-based access network. This would mean that it would have to be open to all operators, just as BT is forced to make its current network accessible to rivals.

BT, which is already investing heavily in upgrading its core network, said that it would look at fibre "where it makes commercial sense".

"BT welcomes the chance to discuss this issue with Ofcom, the government and the wider industry. We are totally committed to providing our customers with the services they want both now and in the future.

According to BT, more than 120,000 businesses already use fibre services.

Ofcom has not ruled out the possibility that rivals to BT such as CarPhoneWarehouse might consider building a fibre infrastruture for the UK.

But such a big project is fraught with controversy, pointed out Ian Fogg, an analyst with research firm Jupiter.

"At the heart of it, whoever invests in a new network will want to have a return on their investment but, because the sums are so large, the return on investment period will be many years," he said.

There are also concerns that a new fibre-based network would cannibalise the existing investments that companies such as Tiscali and CarPhoneWarehouse have made in ADSL.

In Japan, ADSL is in decline as people migrate to fibre in large numbers.

"In the UK over the last three years, there has been a significant investment in local loop unbundling (a system whereby rivals can get their hands on BT's equipment to offer alternative broadband services). The question that many will ask is whether investment in a new network would undermine the LLU investment," said Mr Fogg.

New divide

A field
There is likely to be big speed differences between town and country

There are also concerns that a fibre network would only be economically viable in dense population areas such as towns and cities, creating a new and even greater digital divide.

"The UK will have to accept a difference in speed. While those on fibre-based networks could be enjoying speeds of up to 100Mbps, those on copper telephone lines will be lucky to get 24Mbps," said Mr Fogg.

Critics are concerned that the UK is falling behind other nations but Ofcom pointed out that market and infrastructure conditions in Britain are very different to those countries where investment in fibre has already been strong. This is due in part to the already-established pay TV market in the UK.

"We are not complacent and we absolutely should be concerned about it but we might have to accept that deployment will be later in the UK," said an Ofcom spokesman.

The Broadband Stakeholder Group described Ofcom's consultation as a "key milestone" in the debate about the future of the communications infrastructure in the UK but warned that the regulator may need to take a more interventionist approach if there were long delays in rolling out next generation networks.

Minister pushes broadband agenda | Last Updated: Tuesday, 27 November 2007, 11:42 GMT

The government is to draw up a battle plan on the best way to roll out next-generation broadband networks.

It will share best practice from high-speed pilots around the UK as well as lay out the business case for future investment in high-speed networks.

The agreement came out of a broadband summit chaired by Competitiveness Minister Stephen Timms.

Mr Timms said ultra-fast broadband would be a key technology for Britain.

He welcomed Virgin Media's announcement that it will be launching a 50Mbps (megabits per second) broadband service in the UK in 2008.

"This is an important stride towards full next-generation access in the UK which I'm sure others will want to match," he said.

Broadband industry leaders met ministers on Monday to discuss how to stop the UK dropping into the internet "slow lane".

More than half of all UK homes now have a broadband connection, at an average speed of 4Mbps.

But the broadband summit heard how other countries are moving more quickly to build ultra-fast networks that can deliver speeds of as much as 100 Mbps.

BT unconvinced

See top 20 countries for broadband speed

Mr Timms acknowledged that the UK can't afford to fall behind.

"If we delay in putting this new network into place, it could be a barrier to the future success of our economy," he said.

Ofcom promised a "robust regulatory framework" to persuade companies to take up what could be a very risky investment.

It is estimated that for BT to roll out a fibre network across the UK could cost £15bn, a cost which the telco is not yet convinced is justified.

Virgin trial

Send us your comments

Speaking at a Westminster eForum event organised by MPs last week to look at the issue of next-generation broadband, Alan Lazarus, head of regulatory policy and strategy at BT, said he was not yet convinced people needed more bandwidth.

"What is the demand? What are the services that people want that take them beyond current capacity?" he asked.

He also pointed out that some of the bottle-necks of current access were in the core network, which BT is already spending £10bn to upgrade.

Also speaking at the eForum, Virgin Media's chief technology officer Howard Watson said its trial of 50Mbps had proved a user demand for such bandwidth.

It will deliver the high speed broadband - more than twice the maximum it currently offers - by the end of next year.

Virgin's 50 Mbps service will be available to more than 70% of the 12.5m homes its cable network covers by the end of 2008, the firm said.

Government cracks broadband whip | Last Updated: Wednesday, 19 December 2007, 01:42 GMT

Broadband firms could face formal action if they fail to give consumers accurate information about the speed they will get when they sign up.

The warning comes from Ofcom as it moves to ensure that net firms do not oversell broadband in advertising.

Customers should get specific data about the speed on their line or be able to back out of the deal.

The regulator said new guidelines on the selling of broadband should come into force early in 2008.

Clear information

The warning came in a letter sent by Ofcom boss Ed Richards to the Ofcom Consumer Panel in response to its work with broadband suppliers on the advertising and selling of high-speed services.


In his response Ofcom boss Ed Richards backed the consumer panel work and said it was talking to the broadband industry about how best to implement the recommendations.

The result of these discussions should be made public early in 2008, he said.

"We are keen that any measures are implemented in the shortest time frame possible," said Mr Richards. "At this stage, we have not ruled out the possibility of using formal powers if we consider it would be more effective in delivering our objectives."

A spokeswoman for Ofcom said that currently the regulator had no powers to enforce the new arrangements on the selling of broadband but would seek them by beefing up the guidelines net firms must abide by.

"This is a considerable consumer issue we are concerned by," said the spokeswoman. "We think consumers should get what they pay for. It's an important decision for them."

Queen launches YouTube channel | Last Updated: Sunday, 23 December 2007, 00:09 GMT

The Queen has launched her own channel on the video-sharing website YouTube.

The Royal Channel will feature her Christmas Day message as well as recent and historical footage of the monarch and other members of the Royal Family.

The launch marks the 50th anniversary of the Queen's first televised festive address in 1957.

The palace said it hoped the site would make the 81-year-old monarch's annual speech "more accessible to younger people and those in other countries".

Changing times

The opening page of the channel, which went live just after midnight, bears the title "The Royal Channel - The Official Channel of the British Monarchy" and features a photograph of Buckingham Palace and the Queen's Guards.

This year's festive address will appear on the site at about 1500 GMT on Christmas Day.

Back in 1957, when the Queen delivered her first television message, she acknowledged the need to adapt to changing times.

"I very much hope that this new medium will make my Christmas message more personal and direct," she said from her Sandringham estate in Norfolk.

"That it is possible for some of you to see me today is just another example of the speed at which things are changing all around us."

(...) Announcing the launch of the channel, a spokeswoman for Buckingham Palace said the Queen "always keeps abreast with new ways of communicating with people".

"She has always been aware of reaching more people and adapting the communication to suit," she said.

"This will make the Christmas message more accessible to younger people and those in other countries."

The Royal Channel can be viewed at and the Queen's Christmas message can also be downloaded as a podcast from