The great fiber debate

Michael Philpot
28 Sep 2007

The FTTH debate has been doing the rounds in the UK for the past 15 to 20 years. It was always known that DSL technology would only get us so far, thanks to the ageing copper network. In April the Broadband Stakeholders Group released a report pushing for greater investment into the UK network. Recently the UK Government and Ofcom have published new announcements and consultations on the topic.

Last Wednesday, Ofcom's chief executive was quoted as saying, "Countries such as France, Germany, the US, Japan and South Korea have already started investing in networks which can deliver up to 100 megabits a second, enough for a dozen high-definition TV channels. If the UK failed to follow suit the economy could suffer."

At Ovum, we are not entirely convinced by these arguments. There is no doubt that broadband access in general brings numerous benefits to a nation and its people, both on the residential and enterprise side.

Ovum supports initiatives that make broadband more widely available to people or organisations that for some reason are unable to obtain basic access, whether that be private or publicly-funded. It can be argued that the "Ëœbetter' the access the greater the benefits. However, where Ovum is not as convinced is that speed alone is the answer and necessarily worth the heavy investment that would be required to deliver 10Mbps-plus to all.

For example, increasing speed would not have as big an impact on teleworking than a greater change in employer attitude and work culture. Increasing speed would not have as big an impact on education as greater IT capabilities within schools themselves. Governments should look to these types of measures, measures that would have a real impact on society, and perhaps concern themselves less as to whether their pipe is bigger than their neighbours.

Of course if it is then deemed that lack of bandwidth is really holding back developments in these critical areas, then that would be the time to act - but not before. So far we have seen little evidence from the Government or Ofcom that would suggest they have gathered any evidence that such investment would really benefit the country as a whole. Do we really want to spend billions of taxpayer's money so that people can watch "a dozen high-definition TV channels"‾ Would that really make our lives more fulfilled and drive the UK economy‾

Michael Philpott is a principal analyst specialising in broadband access strategy and technology

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