Saturday, November 29, 2008

Mobile broadband 4G - the death of copper?

An article at Times Online today debates the future of copper broadband in the UK in the face of the potential speeds of both 3G and 4G mobile broadband. This is something we at have debated for some time.

It is the digital equivalent of a power blackout and the prospect is already worrying ministers and government planners - at some point in the next decade, the copper telephone network will run out of capacity.

Confronting the problem is expected to lie at the heart of Lord Carter of Barnes's Digital Britain review of communications policy, due early next year, with efforts to solve it focused on an unlikely source: mobile phones.

The Communications Minister is yet to reveal his plans, but he has been dropping heavy hints, writing in The Times this month that he wants to help to develop "mobile and wireless services that can do for broadband and video what they have done for the spoken word"e;.

His goal is to kick-start an auction of "fourth-generation" mobile technology, using a block of spectrum previously set aside for digital television. The 4G technology, known in the industry as LTE, or Long-Term Evolution, can deliver download speeds of ten megabits or more - five times quicker than a standard fixed broadband connection - in fact tests have achieved speeds of 160Mbps.

BT has promised to upgrade up to 40per cent of homes to fibre optic technology - where data is transmitted down filaments of glass at the speed of light - but the rest of the UK will be stuck on copper.

BT will use a new standard, ADSL2+, which promises speeds of "up to 24 megabits" - in theory ten times faster than the two-megabit standard of today. However, theory does not always match up to practice and other internet providers that use BT's network may not want to join it in investing to match its speed.

The 2.6 GHz spectrum can be used for fourth-generation LTE services, but the relatively high frequency means that it requires more base stations, raising the cost of deploying a national network to £2billion, and coverage indoors is poor.

This weakness makes the separate television spectrum much more interesting. A chunk between 790 and 862 megahertz - "the sweetspot in the sweetspot" available from 2012 - has been identified by Ofcom. It would cost far less to deploy, provide better coverage indoors and, it is believed, give fourth-generation phones ten megabit-plus speeds.

If the mobile broadband plan works, rapid internet development will continue into the next decade, fuelled by competing technologies. And, at last, it may be possible to watch Mamma Mia! on your mobile while sitting in a café.

Read the full article here.

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