Sunday, December 23, 2007

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

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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

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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.

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