back to article Ofcom boss warns of low interest in 'superfast' broadband

Ofcom chief Ed Richards has warned that cash-strapped UK consumers lack enough incentive from ISPs in the country to upgrade to "superfast" broadband packages. Richards said that the virtual form of Local Loop Unbundling, dubbed VULA, needed to meet a variety of "key requirements" in order to "open up as much of the network, …

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Maybe the consumer has wised-up?

Maybe, finally, the average consumer has realised (probably not though) that the headline speed of 'eleventy-hundred megabits per second' and 'unlimited broadnand' doesn't actually that, and they won't be able to physically download any more than they used to because the ISP is throttling/traffic-shaping them so much that they might as well have a 1200baud modem.

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Think they've got it wrong

Facebook, Bebo et al don't require much bandwidth. In fact a 3G connection provides enough bandwidth for that. iPlayer and Bittorrent are the sorts of things you need superfast broadband for.

But I do agree on the competition aspect. I got a letter from BT a couple of days ago saying BT Infinity is now available in my street. I won't be signing up because it is BT that is providing it. If my existing ADSL provider were to offer the service, I might be tempted.

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Meh

You don't really need superfast bandwidth for iPlayer. Right now it's 3.5Mb/s for the high quality stream. Okay so perhaps the BBC will eventually offer a proper HD stream but based on their current encoders they can probably do that in 5Mb/s. Even a proper OTA broadcast stream seems quite acceptable for most people at 10Mb/s.

What that means is that even Infinity as it stands can probably service a typical househould. With the announced doubling of headline speed it should accomplish that with ease. I have friends on Infinity and although neither of them are your stereotypical spotty filesharing geek they do download quite a lot and neither has any complaints. People like to bash BT on general principals because they are a national institution. The truth is that they do a perfectly adequate job for most of their customers.

Now personally I too would rather stay with my current ISP - Be - but the main reason I won't move to BT when Infinity arrives in March is because I want a static IP address. If they'd offer me that option I'd happily move.

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You don't really need superfast bandwidth for iPlayer.

You do if you have more than one user in the household, or you take into account the contention of multiple households in one street.

I have a nominal 8Mb/s BT connection, on which I usually see between 5 - 6 Mb/s real world speeds, but if I and my kids are watching iPlayer we are sometimes lucky to get more than about 1.2Mb/s between us. Ok so this is probably down to contention and throttling, but if a 6Mb connection is getting throttled that much, then we need the headline speeds of fibre as a starting point to offer sensible real world bandwidth.

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Boffin

The problem of contention for xDSL at least is almost always down to your ISP and its data centre and has nothing to do with your local connection. There's occasionally issues in the exchange backhaul but they are pretty rare these days.

FTTC has some increased risk of contention in the fibre from the cab to the exchange but BT have supposedly said this unlikely to be an issue in practice and in any case they can always light another fibre I assume.

Cable has more risk of contention in the local loop because entire streets (maybe even neighbourhoods) are sharing a single coax cable. Even there though I think for the moment that's unlikely to be a real issue. The uplink can be problematic supposedly.

But no - the issue of contention will not be solved by increased end-user bandwidth. In fact it's more likely to be made worse. An ISP that struggles to support an average connection speed of 5Mb/s across its user base is going to have kittens if that average jumps to 30Mb/s as seems likely.

As ever roads are a good analogy. Uplifting end-user connection speeds is the equivalent of widening motorway on ramps. If no-one widens the motorway then it won't help congestion.

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Plenty of killer applications

Streaming video, torrents, online gaming, these are all killer applications. As soon as you and and your neighbours try using them at the same time, or if you use your unlimited connection too much, your broadband is effectively killed!

Perhaps the best incentive ISPs could offer is the product they advertise?

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Meanwhile in other news, VM will crow about being able to provide speeds of 200Mb/s to their existing customer base. I'm sure the two people who actually want that will be pleased but I can't help thinking they'd have a bigger impact if they put some real effort into increasing their footprint.

I think Richards should have found a way to bang heads together and get VM and BT to cooperate to extend the reach. That would have put the consumer's interests first. Sadly BT and VM seem to have other interests.

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The thing about killer apps

Is that you can only have one if the infrastructure is already there, so they are difficult to predict in advance.

I think that once the superfast broadband is in place, then killer apps will turn up to use it. Not the other way round.

The problem with the whole superfast thing (ignoring the killer app) is the cost to install vs. what you can charge. People are strapped for cash, as the article says, so don't want to pay a lot more for a faster service. They still WANT a faster service, they just don't want to pay much more than they do now.

I'd like a faster service. Better iPlayer, multiple iPlayer around the house, better upload speed to the 'cloud'. Lots of little things that add up to needing a faster connection.

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Anonymous Coward

"superfast broadband"?!

Who thought it was a good idea to refer to it as "superfast broadband"? It's a terrible name, may as well be Broadband 2.0™.

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WTF?

17GB of data each month

If I pulled down 17GB per month I'd assume something had gone badly wrong. And I suspect the majority of broadband connections are owned by boring, middle-aged farts who just surf a bit and check email, so the distribution is (surely?) skewed towards much lighter usage (in the region of a GB or three).

It would be interesting to see the full distribution. I think there must be a "hard-core" population regularly pulling down over 100GB. (I expect most of them are El Reg readers.)

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17GB is about 14 hours of HQ iPlayer per month. If you watch all your television on demand, as I do, you can go through that pretty quickly. I'm guessing that if you buy films from the iTunes store, the bandwidth requirements are pretty similar to that. I don't think iPlayer or iTunes are hard core geek things. iTunes in particular is not, as the hard core geeks probably know about other cheaper places to get their movies.

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"I don't think iPlayer or iTunes are hard core geek things."

You may be surprised. I expect that most people still watch telly on a telly. On demand, certainly, but using that nice PVR they've bought. And as for videos, I I doubt that more than a tiny fraction of the population buy an average of 14 hours of new movies each month. That's 8-10 DVDs worth, and I suspect that "DVD" is the correct unit here as well, since downloading a movie from iTunes sounds a bit geeky for the grey-haired set.

You sound young and/or unmarried. That's fine, but lots of people aren't, and won't *ever* come close to 17GB in a single month, let alone as an average.

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Anonymous Coward

17 gig?

A little Steam sale can soon eat that up, two or three large-ish games for a few quid each...

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Yeah 17GB does sound rather a lot for an average but perhaps iPlayer is /that/ successful. Hard to think of anything else that might be popular enough to account for that.

Ironically I've found that the faster my connection gets the less use I have for it. I currently have 12Mb/s of throughput but prolly fit into your 'middle-aged farts' bracket as I mostly just surf. Pretty sure I rarely break the 2GB. Sad really since I'm with an ISP - Be - that couldn't give a stuff how heavily I use the connection.

Come March I might have access to FTTC at >30Mb/s but frankly I'm struggling to see why I'd need it. Won't stop me getting it mind - I'm enough of a geek at heart stil to want the latest and best tech :)

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Anonymous Coward

I used to have broadband, until National Grid laid a new gas man and Virgin Media's cable acquired an 18" air-gap. After six months they still hadn't fixed it, so I've been using a broadband dongle for two years now. I've been working from home this year, and I thought I would need to get BB sorted again, but it seems 3GB a month is more than enough, and by and large the speed is good enough. So I am coming to the conclusion that I (boring, middle-aged fart) don't need even fast'broadband.

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(Written by Reg staff)

Re:

National Grid laid a gas man?

Not my cup of tea, but I know a lot of guys who'd pay a lot to see that video.

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FAIL

Stop the download cap

With a superfast broadband, and a cap of 10G per month, I can blow my limit with the first upgrade to an App or OS in minutes.

Whats the use of Superfast Broadband if you can;t use it? Hello, BT Infinity, are you listening?

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Blow a 10GB allowance on an app or OS upgrade? Really, what app is 10GB for an update, or what OS has updates that size?

Not all superfast is capped at 10GB, and not all of it has to be bought from BT Retail either. It also has a retail product that is uncapped, yes P2P is managed, but was not aware that Apple/MS used P2P to patches/iOS updates?

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Well, Mac OS X Lion clocked in just under 5GB (IIRC), and quite a few Linux distros come as DVD ISO images, so pulling down one or more of these could eat up one's monthly allowance pretty sharpish.

Mind you, I'd imagine that users likely to be d/l'ing ISO images on a regular basis, might well budget for the kind of broadband package with a higher bandwidth limit... or is that a sweeping generalisation?

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Mushroom

PSN

The newly free DC Universe Online is 14GB. I want it, but it'll take a while to download.

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The top Infinity package has no limits. Just a part-time P2P throttle. Why aren't you on that package?

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Finish Line...

If I'm told I can only download 20Gb a month regardless of line speed, I'd rather trundle along with my 4mb/s line rather than race straight up to my limit in a couple of days on 40mb/s!...

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Killer apps are _so_ last century

This guy is talking about a commodity / utility (internet access), yet he is trying to fit its use in non-utility terms. Ones more suited to buying small electronic devices: iPods/Pads or the like.

Nobody talks about electricity supply in terms of a "killer app" (maybe we should all install aluminum smelters in our gardens) to drive consumption, or that food requires a "killer app" to make us eat more/less/healthily - though I suppose cooking or fire could be classed in those terms, but that makes it all sound a bit stone-age.

What is more likely is that increased bandwidth is an enabling technology. Once people have the means to stream 100MBit/s into their house, then we'll start to see software or hardware that either can use, or needs, streams of this size - or not. If those appliances turn out to be popular, they'll create demand outside the early-adopter group. However increased bandwidth on its own, like increased car ownership, is not necessarily a good thing. It's the benefits that this increase brings (and possibly the costs and problems it causes) which will define how far it goes.

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This is the title of my post.

Currently I'm on VM 10Mb. I download happily at 1.3MB/s regularly. So I get the speed advertised. Until they throttle.

Soooo, I could upgrade to the 50Mb package. 50Mb line, no limits. But it costs a HECK of a lot more, when all I really want is 10Mb with no limits. 1.3MB/s is plenty for everything I do. Ok, downloading a 20GB game off steam takes a while, but going 5x faster is not really going to help me. Its still likely to be a "leave it on overnight" job.

as for these 100 and 200Mb packages they are offering, I honestly don't know what I'd do with them. Downloading steam games is the worst I do and I am never in a rush for that to happen.

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How much does the 20GB game cost off steam? Versus say buying it from Amazon and getting it delivered that way?

Is the time you can get the game faster over broadband not worth paying a little more. Virgin does have a 30Meg service you can go to.

To some extent the Virgin 10Meg is their Tesco Value equivalent product, does the job, but not in the same way that the Waitrose version would. Your choice, but moans about the cheapest not being as good as the best achieves zilch

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re:CowardlyAndrew

Re-read the post you were replying to and I think you'll realise that he's not moaning that his cheap service isn't as good. He's actually saying he's perfectly happy with it and doesn't see the point in paying any more for a difference in service that he would rarely ever notice. I suspect that is a very common viewpoint, and there's no such thing as a killer app for broadband (over and above the bandwidth needed for iPlayer) that I'm aware of.

If you can't rely on having very high bandwidth all the time (especially during peak-periods which coincide with the time when the majority of people are going to want it) you wont want to rely on any service(killer app?) that depends on it. This is a situation that won't change for a very long time I suspect.

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Wouldn't bother with 50Mb anyway

I was on it for a few months and despite engineer visits and obligatory non-returned calls, they never managed to deliver that speed. The best I was getting from speedtest.net was just over 20Mb. Have just downgraded to 30Mb (apparently 20Mb doesn't exist anymore??).

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Anonymous Coward

re: "How much does the 20GB game cost off steam?"

The last few games I bought from steam, all multiple gigs and from major publishers, were all under a tenner each. Steam has frequent sales, where stuff is a lot cheaper than physical retailers. Plus, the light touch hands-off DRM is the least obnoxious out there, and unified patching and updating is a bobsend.

I now only occasionally buy the odd console game from Amazon- and then it has to be a rare console exclusive must play (which don't come along too often, maybe once a year at best). The price of console games.. oy vey!

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It's been said, but it's the download limits that are the problem.

There's little point in having, say, gigabit broadband if you can only run it for five minutes before hitting a download cap.

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Childcatcher

Unlimited packages are available from several ISPs. They just cost more. Funny that.

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Ru
Unhappy

If you build it, will they come?

Availability of 'superfast' broadband is exceedingly low. I wonder exactly what criteria were used to decided where it would be installed... perhaps where it would be most cheap and convenient to upgrade current infrastructure, rather than where there is already high demand for fast internet access?

I waited a couple of years for ADSL2, and grabbed it as soon as it became available. I fully expect to wait at least another year for anything faster. Measuring consumer interest when a large proportion of your potential customer base won't have the chance to see your product for at least 12 months seems a bit daft.

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Anonymous Coward

Boring old fart

Another OFCOM waffle non-story.

Cant ISPs just deliver whats advertised and charge reasonably?

Another case of drip feeding ripoff UK society. Just makes headline news, thats all.

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Anonymous Coward

Quite

Any time Richards issues one of his pronouncements, I can't help being reminded of some pontificating bloke from a 1940's public information film, complete with pipe and slippers, delivering a wearisome patriarchal edict to the sweaty and rather impressionable masses on what's best for them.

Believing Ofcom is something other than the ISP industry's poodle (and BT's bitch in particular) is a bit like believing that when Tony Blair called for a national debate on XYZ topic we actually got one. Ofcom's credibility might have been enhanced had the "Ofcom consumer panel" actually had any consumers on it, or the revolving door revolved a bit less often to plump executive salaries with just the people they've supposedly just been regulating.

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Unhappy

Hmph

Well, our household would be VERY interested in signing up for BT Infinity... especially as our local exchange (a mile or so up the road) has been "Infinity-enabled" for the past year or two.

All well and good, but this means the square-root of squat to us, as judging by the speed we get, the actual link to our (less-than-a-decade old) home may as well have been made out of overcooked noodles. We are fortunate if we can squeeze 2Mb/sec out of it on a good day - yes, it beats dial-up, but does rather put the brakes on if we ever want to try the likes of iPlayer HD, or these online video-rental services we're often told will put our local Blockbuster out of business.

BT can crow about their exchanges being fibred-up, but until they (or whomever owns the lines) can finish the link to the houses, it's window-dressing. Still, at least BT doesn't have to throttle the speed of our connection...

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Anonymous Coward

Distance from Exchange?

With Infinity your speed isn't determined by your distance from the exchange but by your distance from the cabinet.

I don't think BT offer Infinity to a premises unless they can deliver reasonable performance from the cabinet. So if you can order it you ought to get decent performance.

Infinity also gives your upstream a good boost. I'm getting 40 down/10 up. Very handy for torrent and for HD videoconferencing :)

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Sadly, it's not the distance in our case :-(

The problem for us, isn't our distance from the exchange (or at least, I'm pretty sure it isn't - we're less than a mile away), but that as I understand it, our relatively new house (on the outskirts of a large, supposedly high-tech town in southern England) doesn't have the necessary BT fibre connection for us to link to BT Infinity.

In short, we are in the absurd situation where if I check on the BT Web site, it will confirm that yes, our exchange is Infinity-ready, but no, we can't receive the service. I confirmed this with a BT customer service rep - basically, the lines to the houses in our road aren't up to it (copper?), and they had no idea when this might change.

Bit of a bummer, really - we'd be up for an improvement in our Skype call quality...

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Anonymous Coward

Lack of content

I've just moved house, and fortunately enough it's only about a mile from the local BT exchange.

I contemplated BT Infinity for about £40-something a month or Virgin for similar, but I can get a 16 Mbps ASDL2 link from O2 for £20 a month (including line rental) so what would I really stand to gain from speeds two or three times that?

Killer apps for high-speed broadband would be quality, HD video streaming on demand, of currrent release films and current decent (i.e. particularly US) TV drama, which I'd gladly pay a reasonable but not excessive amount for access to. As it is there doesn't seem to be a service that actually offers this content. If one was willing to disregard copyright law, one might find such content available for download (not streaming) via BitTorrent, but 1. such things are probably not legal so clearly ISPs can't encourage them and 2. it's not instant streaming so is less sensitive to actual connection speeds.

I guess it's a chicken and egg problem - once more people have fast reliable connections the content providers might spring up. As it is though, legal online video is good for catchup BBC/Channel 4 TV and that's about it - th rest of the entertainment industry is still stuck with limiting release dates and territories even when there would be an international market for instant (i.e. same time as first TV/cinema release) paid-for VoD.

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"Killer apps for high-speed broadband would be quality, HD video streaming on demand, of currrent release films and current decent (i.e. particularly US) TV drama, which I'd gladly pay a reasonable but not excessive amount for access to. "

That'll be BT Vision then - OK at the moment HD movies are downloaded rather than streamed and the TV stuff is only streamed in SD at the moment but I can't help thinking that once BT have a decent take-up of the Infinity broadband service then HD streaming (for "premium" TV as well as movies) isn't going to be far behind.

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Play Down for Non-delivery

The pressure starts now for excuses to be made for non delivery of what is a major promise by May 2015. That is 90 percent of all people in each Local Authority would have access to superfast broadband. This Government have failed to grasp the delivery of this properly and dilute it by involving Local Authorities - who form there own mini quangos to deliver little at high cost. Something they have plenty of experience in.

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Unhappy

How difficult is it?

High cost + low download limits = fat profits. The consumer will never see any real benefit from higher speeds until limits are substantially increased at the same time. And if Ofcom doesn't grow some balls and force companies to do this, the UK will remain the poor relation of the broadband-enabled world.

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Boffin

Two speeds

I read a quote somewhere on the web that said that your internet was only usefully measured in two speeds; stuff you want now, and stuff you want later.

The stuff you want now has to be instant or near as you can make it - web, email, social networking. Pretty much all broadband connections can do that.

The stuff you want later can take anything from a couple of minutes to several hours to download and people usually don't mind too much which it is; for example no matter what broadband connection you have, downloading a film isn't something that is (or is expected to be) instant. If you do your downloading overnight what does it matter how long it takes?

I guess the difficulty comes when people are streaming everything to multiple machines, and better bandwidth therefore makes a difference, but I don't think we're quite there yet as a whole - as the report says, the people with teenage kids more than most of us perhaps.

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Anonymous Coward

Downloading Films...

who wants to download a film? I generally watch films in the late evening, and do so on impulse. The longest I'm willing to wait for a film to start playing is the time it takes me to make a cuppa and sit down. Having broadband fast enough to watch films off iTunes in HD is the killer app for me :)

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This is perfectly possible to do on a 50Mb connection. Just not "legally" yet.

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Anonymous Coward

Illegal?

what's illegal about watching HD films on iTunes as they download?

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Pint

It's legally possible on the XBOX 360, in fact it's been possible for a long while, even works on lower speeds such as 20Mbit cable, might even in fact work on slower connections too (I'm not sure what the minimum required speed for 1080p HD video is on the XBOX 360).

I find that on 50Mbit Virgin cable it takes at the lonest about 15 seconds of buffering and then it'll start playing, and I got the same results on 20Mbit cable too (can't remember about when I was on 7Mbit ADSL). Generally though if I watch any HD video on the XBOX (not very often, tends to just be episodes of The Guild) I will download them and watch them when they're finished downloading.

Now iPlayer on the other hand, that is a different story. I've found recently streaming standard definition video to my media PC running XBMC with the iPlayer 2 plugin it will buffer every minute. Not sure if it's due to the time of day or congestion in my area or what.

Rob

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Massive profits?

What massive profits are comms companies making from broadband? Is profit illegal these days too?

The profit is largely from the telephone and other product bundling, cheap broadband being the incentive.

Ofcom being BT's pet, more like Virgin Media who are allowed to keep their totally vertical market. BT aren't saints and will try to wiggle out of things, just like any other commercial operators, including the new latest friends to the market.

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I'd quite happily pay over the odds for a decent connection. This is where BT have failed with their fibre roll out plans.

They have picked on high-volume exchanges that already offered people exceptionally good speeds and have left the incredibly vast number of "BT Wholesale" only exchanges untouched. If they upgraded my area, I'd be able to jump from a 512kb/s connection to something much more reasonable and first-world-y. Sure, that would mean that I in the sticks could get a better (on paper) connection than someone in the city but having missed one technology roll out (LLU operators) I think those stuck on feeble exchanges deserve the upgrades. They offer a public service so cost and ROI should be irrelevant ... oh wait.

I was shocked to discover that way way up high in the Alps on a skiing trip, I could get a faster connection in a sports shop free-to-use workstation than I could at home.

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Anonymous Coward

Much as I dislike VM I am happy with their daily traffic-capping. It's bloody obvious what and when you can go mental and it obvious when you can't. I pulled a lot of stuff off my remote seedbox the other day. I got the full whack for the first 1GB, then after that it dropped by half for the rest of night. Next morning back up to full speed again. VM a pain to deal with but which faceless corp isn't these days?

I stay on the 20MB line as I can wait for most things and even when I hammer my line once in a while I still come way under most of those nutters on their 30, 50 and 100MB lines.

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Anonymous Coward

two words: sky broadband! They're awesome! I live in a shared house and uTorrent informs me that our total uploaded is 49.7GB and downloaded is 52.7GB for the past 31 days (if we may put ethicalities aside for a minute, as that's a different conversation) ! Now I imagine this is the extreme right hand side of the bell curve, and yet not once can I honestly say I've suspected them of throttling. We're a good distance from the exchange getting only 6Mb/s so it's pretty easy to max, and we can max it even at peak time.

This is only torrent traffic too, I watch a lot of iplayer & skyplayer. I also download patches and service packs galore to service my test lab of virtual machines, not to mention the technet iso's i seem to be constantly downloading from MS everytime they change a version number. We've got a spotify subscription too and that seems to be on a lot. I wouldn't be suprised if we've hit 150GB download in a month. I'd definately pay for a superfast connection if it we're available, but I won't buy it from BT because of their nefairious ways (Phorm anyone), also their traffic shaping/throttling without clear guidelines or SLA, and the way they are becoming the music industry's bitch, slowly censoring the internet at the whims of big business. An ISP is a pipe, nothing more, and the less they stick their nose in the better.

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Meh

17GB a month

I upgraded our Virgin package earlier this year, after Sky tried to persuade the missus that they were a better deal.

Virgin told me and provided the data to back it up, that we use between 80 to 100GB a month on average, and I was surprised at how much we use.

We don't do any real downloading of torrents etc. The biggest thing is the wife's online gaming/facebook thing, and me streaming Planet Rock for 2 or 3 hours most nights. The xmltv download from Radio Times also chews up a fair bit each night.

Rather than silly download speeds that VM and BT/Sky use as an arms race, I would much prefer a better upload speed than the cack I have now so I can stream my media properly to me when I am outside of the home.

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