The UK is way behind the rest of Europe in terms of widespread access to fast and reliable broadband, with London ranking 26th across all European capitals. That’s just above Minsk.
Over the next two decades, the UK Government promises to upgrade the broadband network so that the whole nation can have access to higher broadband speeds. While this is a welcome policy, there are other technologies surfacing that promise to deliver high speed internet to customers without the need for cables, such as 5G and Elon Musk’s Starlink program.
Broadband is unlikely to become obsolete quite so soon, but here is an overview of the steps being made to advance our internet connectivity across the country, and why it’s so needed.
Why do we need new investment in broadband?
Given that internet speed and reliability are significant factors in determining a country’s placement within the digital economy, demands for ultrafast broadband and other newer technologies have skyrocketed.
It’s not just personal streaming or office use that’s driving this shift. For example, the transport industry is developing sophisticated signalling and driverless systems to increase machine efficacy both for domestic and public use. For this, though, they need connection that allows for quick communication and almost no latency (the delay that happens in data communication).
At the same time, while there have been huge steps taken to improve internet connectivity in certain parts of the UK, many rural areas have been neglected and remain poorly connected. Furthermore, connectivity in major cities like London continues to be patchy.
What are the current broadband choices?
There are currently three main ways of connecting your home or business to a broadband line:
- ADSL (Asymmetrical Digital Subscriber Line): Copper cables are connected to a street-level cabinet and then onto a house or building from there.
- FTTC (Fibre to the Cabinet): A fast fibre optic cable runs down the street to the cabinet, but then copper cable runs into the house from there.
- FTTP (Fibre to the Premises): Fast fibre optic broadband cables run directly into the house, bypassing any need for slow copper wiring. Currently 0.003% homes in the UK have access to this type of connection.
Compare broadband deals in your area now to see how what type of connection you can get. You may find a faster broadband package than your current one!
What’s being done now to improve our internet connectivity?
Boris Johnson promised in 2020 that his government planned to radically overhaul the state of broadband connections across the country, focusing on those communities that have been historically left outside in the dark.
The coronavirus pandemic has, like in many other areas, pulled focus from this debate. In late 2019, however, the City of London put in motion an exciting, tangible plan of action.
The London Underground system will play host to new infrastructure for full fibre broadband, London Mayor Sadiq Khan recently announced. With only 11% of properties receiving a full fibre connection, this is a simple and elegant solution to a large-scale problem.
The cabling will follow the underground line to create a “fibre backbone”, from which additional connections can be made to the buildings that need it. This covers the potential installation costs of endless miles of cabling.
The project, which is set to cost £10 million, will focus its first roll-out on 118,000 premises in South London.
What about wireless internet connectivity?
It’s true that improvements in wireless connection technology provides us with many exciting ways to get internet to people’s homes and workplaces quickly and efficiently. It can also be invaluable in tragic situations such as natural disasters in which the infrastructure supporting our communications systems becomes damaged. However, the day-to-day benefits of these new technologies are often felt only in urban areas.
The 5G network, for example, operates on a number of different frequencies simultaneously, but the higher-level frequencies are less effective at penetrating buildings and trees than the low frequencies.
To combat this, you need to build more transmitters, which might not be as cost-effective for rural communities as it is in densely populated areas such as towns and cities. Other factors such as pollution and weather are also thought to adversely affect the 5G transmitters, causing latency issues.
The technology is young though, and many scientists are working hard on solutions. Riccardo Basoli at the University of Trento and Fabrizio Granelli at Consorzio Nazionale Interuniveritario per le Telecomunicazioni produced a paper which suggested using drones alongside Ultra Light aerial Vehicles (UVLs) could enable them to deploy 5G networks in just 90 minutes.
Can we improve our satellite communication?
Since the 1980s we have been using satellites to connect to the internet, and the technology has been growing all the time.
Entrepreneur Elon Musk’s latest space adventure has the expressed aim of beaming cheap, high-speed internet across the entire world. The Starlink Project will eventually comprise of 12,000 satellites circling 300-700 miles above the planet’s surface, changing the way the telecoms industry works for good.
Musk had 24 Starlink launches planned for 2020, each carrying with them 60 satellites each. Coronavirus might have other plans for this, but 715 have already been launched and, all going well, we could be seeing SpaceX-supported internet services in the USA by the end of the year, or early into 2021.
Will broadband be rendered obsolete by 2040?
If 2020 has taught us anything it’s that speculation on this scale is not possible, or useful.
What is positive is here is to see the number of ways in which our internet capacity is being expanded, from improving access to full fibre broadband to the ingenuity of tech developers seeking to share wireless internet access across the globe.