Next generation – the evolution of broadband

The internet has changed a lot in just a short space of time. Not so long ago people were reliant on dial-up services that made strange crackling noises as they attempted to connect and meant the phone and the internet couldn’t be used at the same time. Then came broadband, which provided faster, more reliable connections and no funny noises whatsoever.

We are now experiencing the next step on the internet’s evolutionary ladder, as next-generation broadband becomes a reality in the UK. Officially called next-generation access, this form of broadband technology is more commonly known as ‘super-fast’ and is generally classed as services that provide a download speed in excess of 20 Mbps.

The benefits of this technology are many and are expected to have a significant impact on both businesses and the general public. For example, a survey by the Institution of Engineering and Technology revealed 43 per cent of people think better broadband is key to securing UK economic growth, which is more than any other infrastructural development including high-speed rail, new airports and nuclear power.

Next generation broadband relies on the use of fibre optic cables to deliver internet connections into homes and businesses, replacing the copper cabling that was previously used for this purpose. This allows faster speeds to be transmitted and fibre optic cables are less susceptible to interference than their copper counterparts.

What’s being done?

In a bid to bring next generation broadband to the UK the government has established the Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) project, which aims to ensure the country “has the best super-fast broadband in Europe by the end of this Parliament (2015)”.

The BDUK scheme works by allowing internet service providers to bid for state funding to rollout next generation broadband in a particular region alongside that area’s local authority. Projects are now underway across the country and the majority are aiming to bring super-fast connections to 90 per cent of premises in their region.

While the government has set a target of 2015 for these schemes to be completed, many are expected to take longer and run into 2016 or 2017.

Alternative options

The BDUK project is focused on bringing next generation broadband to most of the UK, but it will not provide complete coverage. In the majority of initiatives the final ten per cent of premises will only be guaranteed minimum speeds of two Mbps – a long way short of being next generation.

The final ten per cent tends to be the most rural, remote parts of the country, as the infrastructural work that would be required to bring super-fast broadband to such places is not deemed commercially viable.

However, people in these areas do not have to miss out on better internet connections as there is an ideal alternative in the shape of satellite broadband. This technology has also been evolving and can now provide speeds of up to 20 Mbps. The issue of location is irrelevant as this form of broadband works through signals sent by a satellite in space, meaning it can deliver the exact same service to a remote mountainside or inner city.

Indeed, the government has recently recognised satellite internet as an ideal means of bringing better broadband to hard-to-reach areas and providers of the technology will be able to bid for a share of a £10 million funding pot to do so.