Reading in the Guardian today that Jeremy Hunt has pledged for the UK not just to have the best broadband, but the ‘fastest in Europe by 2015′ makes me sigh a bit – haven’t we been here before? And why the focus on headline download speed?
It’s funny how the lexicon of broadband clutches at superlatives to describe the next leap forward on speed. Apparently “superfast” is now defined as 24 Mbps or above (I remember writing press releases years ago describing 8 Mbps broadband as “superfast” – it’s all relative), while “ultrafast” (new one on me) is, by all accounts, 80-100 Mbps. I’m waiting for the next iteration: “sick broadband” anyone?
According to a well-timed survey by Freelancer.co.uk “57% say that the poor quality of their internet access adversely affects their ability to run their businesses effectively” (I’m surprised it’s that low) and 65% are worried about the rural divide, assuming the government concentrates on headline speeds rather than coverage.
Of course, we need both speed and coverage to be competitive. And let’s not forget that decent broadband speed isn’t just about download - for businesses upload speed is also important. But even then, it feels like Jeremy Hunt is missing the point: what we actually need to be competitive is “superfast” mobile broadband. The future is in mobile, both from a consumer and B2B perspective and 3G just isn’t fit for purpose.
I don’t especially blame the telecoms companies – they’re still reeling from the hangover of the £22 billion 3G spectrum auction. According to the FT, the 4G auction will take place by the end of the year, but let’s hope that the priority lies in creating a top-class mobile broadband network rather than using it as a tax raising exercise. The technology is available: for example, in Russia a company called Yota is rolling out a 4G flavour that offers 100 Mbps download and 50 Mbps upload for mobile devices. Surely this is what the UK should be aiming for, rather than concentrating on headline downloads speeds available through fibre optic cables.