DETI (The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment) is having a public consultation on broadband for Northern Ireland. The thesis is the Provision of a 2 Megabit per second Broadband Service across Northern Ireland.
The UK Government’s has proposed that virtually all premises across Northern Ireland should be able to access a broadband service with a speed of at least 2 Megabits per second (Mbps) by 2015 and to provide superfast broadband to at least 90% of premises with speeds in excess of 24 Mbps.
DETI is considering those homes and businesses in Northern Ireland, particularly those in rural areas, where the choice of broadband provision is limited and/or the available speeds are less than 2 Mbps.
It is my contention that this thesis is flawed due to the definition of 2 Megabits per second being described as “broadband” is functionally incorrect. While this figure may have been sufficient in 20085, it was outdated in 2008 (at the time of the publication of the Northern Ireland Digital Content Strategy) and by 2012, this description is utterly unfit for purpose.
The following is a document I wrote in support of the Belfast City Council UltraFast Broadband SuperConnected City bid. I like to think that it, in addition to the other documents we supplied, assisted the council in achieving the £13.7M target they aimed for.
The Broadband Blueprint
Setting the scene:
Since 2003, with the launch of the iTunes Music Store, our bandwidth demands have increased more than 1000-fold. In 2003, we were content to download 3 MB music files. In 2012, we expect to be able to easily download 3 GB high definition movies and maintain multiple streamed internet video sources such as iPlayer, iTV Player, Netflix, Youtube, LoveFilm and 4OD. Broadband speeds have not increased to cope with this demand with most of the province still experiencing sub-1Mbps speeds and only very specific regions able to receive “SuperFast” broadband.
A family of four (2 adults, 2 children) may expect to be able to stream YouTube videos while watching time-shifted television on iPlayer while, at the same time, children are playing networked Internet games hosted on Disney and XBOX Live. A single high-definition (and highly compressed) video stream may demand around 4 Mbps. Each user on a broadband link will therefore need their own bandwidth and their overlapping demands create “contention” for the available bandwidth. When this is combined with ISP-mandated contention, broadband downstream speeds can fall significantly below advertised rates. A modern family therefore requires a minimum of “SuperFast” broadband just to be able to be an active consumer in the current digital content market.
What is SuperFast Broadband?
The definitions of broadband were provided as follows:
||Sub 24 Mbps downstream
||24-80 Mbps downstream
||80 Mbps+ downstream
This describes only one of four criteria we use for defining broadband.
- Downstream bandwidth
- Upstream bandwidth
It is important that we define what we mean when we refer to “high bandwidth” connections because that is only one of the four criteria and for digital businesses may not be the most important of the four.
Downstream bandwidth – the available bandwidth as advertised by an Internet Service Provider used for receiving files from the Internet. Actual performance will depend on other factors including the upstream bandwidth speed at the content location.
Upstream bandwidth – the bandwidth used for sending files and content requests to the Internet. Sending files will compete for bandwidth with content requests and delivery.
Latency – the time taken for content requests and administration signals to arrive at the desired location on the Internet. This is important for many online games and audio/video communication as well as time-critical operations (such as within bank trading systems). High latency connections can feel slow.
Contention – the number of times an Internet Service Provider has sold a unit of bandwidth across a pool of customers. Consumer broadband in Northern Ireland usually has a contention ratio of 50:1. High contention connections will feel slow as customers compete for bandwidth (upstream and downstream) and latency.
We would suggest a simpler metric for broadband.
In 2001, a connection was described as broadband if it was 512 Kbps downstream and 256 Kbps upstream. Over the last decade, the demands for broadband have increased over 1000-fold. In response we must meet the demand head on.
Northern Ireland describes broadband as any link above 2 Mbps downstream in rural areas and 10 Mbps in urban areas. The region is currently not delivering this access.
In 2012, a broadband connection should have a minimum of 1000 Mbps (1 Gbps) downstream and 1000 Mbps (1 Gbps) upstream. We must consider the demands of the next decade for content consumption and creation.
Continue reading “The Broadband Blueprint (re DETI Telecoms Consultation)”