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Speeding up speedier broadband

In a sudden change of heart and, many watchers think, as a direct result of growing pressure from rival suppliers, BT has announced that it is accelerating its fibre broadband roll-out across the UK. Initially earmarked for completion in 2015, BT’s so-called ‘Super-fast’ broadband is now set to become available to two-thirds of homes and businesses in the UK by the end of 2014, a year ahead of schedule.

BT has said that it will offer maximum download speeds that will be around 10 times faster than current speeds – upping the ante to between 70-100 Mbps. This is designed to help it compete against its biggest rival Virgin Media, who are offering 100 Mbps download speeds to its customers. BT has employed an additional 520 engineers and brought forward over £300m of investment to push the project to an early completion.

So has economics driven this push by BT, or is it really afraid to lose out to the Virgin juggernaut? Whatever the reasons for BT’s updated plans, it will mean that more people will benefit from higher download speeds much earlier than expected – and that will certainly be good for the UK economy. This leads watchers to suspect that the idea to push forward with the initiative wasn’t BT’s at all, but was rather a pragmatic decision by the government to pump some much-needed investment into the UK’s technological infrastructure.

BT says that currently around six million premises already have access to fibre optic broadband, and that by the end of next year they aim to increase that to a total of 10 million households and businesses – approximately 40% of the UK.

Upping the broadband ante

The decision will go some way to alleviating the UK’s poor standing in worldwide broadband rankings. Akamai’s State of the Internet Report put the UK in 25th position in the world in order of average broadband connection speeds. UK internet users are in the broadband slow-lane with their measly 5 Mbps to download, compared to the Netherlands’ 8.5 Mbps and South Korea’s 13.8 Mbps. All UK homes and businesses can of course get faster than average broadband by opting for a satellite based connection using Tooway which can offer up to 10.2 Mbps download speeds.

If the BT plan comes to fruition, it will mean that households will be able to stream multiple high-definition TV programs, films, games and music on several devices at the same time. Businesses will be able to take advantage of the latest on-line and cloud applications to streamline processes and become more efficient.

The consequences of faster broadband, whether delivered via fibre optics or other methods such as satellite connectivity, are huge. So are the consequences if the roll-out is a failure and take up is slow. However, BT do not foresee that as being a problem, and the potentially risky nature of such a massive investment is offset by the potential benefits both in the short and the long term.

The most important thing that such a roll-out will do is to future-proof the network against developing systems and speed up the introduction of things like 4G technology across the country. All of this bodes well not just for households that are hungry for instant access to entertainment, but for businesses that are hungry to play a bigger part on the global stage too.


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