Friday 5th November 2010
Last week the coalition government announced plans to improve Internet connections in the most remote areas of the UK. Although broadband is now commonplace in the cities and home counties, many parts of the UK only have access to slow Internet connections which cannot meet the data requirements of today’s Internet.
Currently the government is undertaking a project to implement a new superfast Internet highway that utilises the Next Generation Access (NGA) broadband technology. Pilot schemes are planned for the Scottish Highlands and Islands, Cumbria, North Yorkshire and Herefordshire. Each of these areas will be receiving government funding in the region of £10m to help to install the new technology.
However, it is expected that the pilot studies will take up to 18 months to complete before the real ground work will commence, which means that rural broadband could still be well over 2 years away for many areas in the British Isles. These projects, which are part of a £530 million strategy by the government to improve rural broadband, may simply be too little too late.
Commercial Interests to Direct Expansion of Rural Broadband
Further bad news for rural broadband is the announcement from BT that it is letting consumer demand determine the direction of growth in superfast broadband, which means that once again more resources will be given to the cities with highest demand, and not rural areas. BT is currently planning to invest a further £2.5 billion in a new optical fibre network to reach 17 million homes and business by 2015. BT has made it clear that without government intervention in the form of public subsidies, it will not be pushing superfast broadband into rural areas.
So while broadband continues to spread at a snails pace across the UK, newer, faster Internet technologies are taking to the air. Or to be more precise, space.
The Rise of Satellite Broadband
Satellite broadband is set to become a major competitor for the traditional wired connections. Already in the UK satellite broadband serivres, such as tooway satellite internet have a wide coverage and offers speeds much greater than ground based infrastructure can hope to meet. Satellite broadband services are literally set to rocket over the next 2 years.
Anthony Walker, Managing director of Europe's leading satellite internet provider, Bentley Walker commented that as one of the early founders of this technology had seen his Business grow in 10 years to a Global Provider. “Broadband by Satellite is a credible solution to the needs of communities not served by fibre and with the introduction of new Powerful Ka Band Satellites delivering 300 times more capacity the World is set for a Space age roll out of Broadband Internet.”
This week America Internet satellite company Globalstar announced that it had started rolling out its new network of Internet Satellites. Globalstar is planning to upgrade all of its Internet satellites over the next 18 months at a cost of $1 billion, which should see a new satellite broadband service online before the UK ground based broadband pilot schemes are completed.
With each new satellite in place the whole satellite network is improved almost instantly which means that satellite Internet can boost signal strength and range across huge areas of land at a much faster rate than fibre optic cables can be laid. Once the current phase of expansion is complete Satellite Internet will cover all land areas from 70 degrees north to 70 degrees south, which covers the whole of the UK.
Satellite Broadband in the UK
There are several competing satellite broadband providers in the UK which is helping to drive forward the technology, increase coverage and reduce prices. Hughes HX, iDirect and Linkstar services are the main 3 providers and between them they cover all of Britain, including the Scottish Isles.
Satellite broadband has some other advantages over fibre optic broadband too. Whereas with cables Internet speeds vary depending on your distance from the telephone exchange, satellite speeds are almost uniform across the UK.
While fibre optics providers such as BT require public subsidies to provide a service to remote communities, satellite broadband is being driven by commercial demand from large multinationals, and this is providing a positive knock on to individual consumers.
Satellite broadband was initially set to fill the gap left by the failing fibre optic networks, but new investments in the satellite network could lead to satellite broadband competing directly with BT's superfast services. Satellite services are still not as fast as urban broadband, but coverage is further reaching and more reliable, and consumers may start to take more notice of the services on offer as prices continue to fall.