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Can Mobile Broadband Solve the UK Digital Divide? 113

Posted by samzenpus
from the come-together dept.
MJackson writes "Lord Carter's interim Digital Britain report recently proposed a new Universal Service Obligation (USO), which would effectively make it mandatory for every household in the UK to have access to a broadband service capable of 2Mbps by 2012. Since then there has been much talk about Mobile Broadband (3G, 4G) services being used to bridge the UK Digital Divide, but is that realistic? The technology has all sorts of problems from slow speeds and high latency to blocking VoIP, MSN Instant Messaging and aggressive image compression ... not to mention connection stability."
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Can Mobile Broadband Solve the UK Digital Divide?

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  • overload (Score:4, Insightful)

    by the_denman (800425) <denner@@@gmail...com> on Thursday April 09, 2009 @12:59AM (#27514045) Homepage
    but how many people can it support on a tower at a time before it slows to a crawl?
    • by MROD (101561)

      Because it's a broadcast technology, just like the old 10Base2 and 10Base5 ethernet, the performance due to collisions will drop like a stone when there is more than 70% usage of the bandwidth. When this happens will very much depend upon the usage of those connected at the time. A couple of people downloading files at the same time will saturate the link (unless their connections are severely throttled).

      What is also not mentioned is that, from my personal experience, the speed drops off quickly with the si

      • >>>the speed drops off quickly with the signal strength.

        I don't know why everyone ignores DSL. The telephone lines are already buried underground, and leading to every home, so upgrading everyone to high-speed is extremely easy and cheap. People's speeds could increase from 50k to 2000k, 40 times faster, literally overnight.

        I have DSL here in the U.S. and it's fast enough to watch videos online, cheap at just $15/month (about 7 pounds/month), and didn't require anybody to dig-up my front yard sin

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by JohnBailey (1092697)

          I don't know why everyone ignores DSL. The telephone lines are already buried underground, and leading to every home, so upgrading everyone to high-speed is extremely easy and cheap. People's speeds could increase from 50k to 2000k, 40 times faster, literally overnight.

          I have DSL too. And it is good. Provided you are fairly close to the exchange. I'm about 5 minutes walk from mine, and I get just under 7 if the 8 Meg that the ISP claims. But the further you go from the exchange, the lower the speed. DSL is fine for city or town use, but once you start going out to the sticks, the speed drops off.

          • Well if you read the summary, it says the government only wants 2 megabit/s which is rather easy to do over DSL, and with a range of 10 miles.

        • by kdekorte (8768)

          Unless your teleco (QWest) won't put in the parts to enable DSL cause it won't make enough money. I live out of town in a subdivision of 25 houses. QWest says they won't put the part into the box (which I can see from my house) cause it needs 75 people to make it pay for itself. So I have to use wireless broadband to get any kind of decent internet.

          Aren't we paying some type of fee so that they must offer this service?

          • >>>Unless your teleco (QWest) won't put in the parts to enable DSL cause it won't make enough money.

            Well that's what the whole article is about - government mandating that Qwest and other telcos Must install broadband, even if it's not economical.

            >>>Aren't we paying some type of fee so that they must offer this service?

            I don't know about the UK, but in the U.S. we have a universal access fee where the people living in dense areas subsidize the cost of rural areas to ensure everyone who wan

        • DSL speed drops off the further you are from the exchange. A lot of the telephone cables are incredibly old and simply do not have the signal to noise ratio required for broadband. My mother, in rural England, has ADSL and just about gets 1Mb/s. This is as much as the line will carry for a lot of people in her area; none of the providers offer connections rated that slowly anymore, their connection is 8Mb/s or whatever the line will take, whichever is slower. Her connection is not fast enough, for examp

          • >>>just about gets 1Mb/s.

            You make it sound like that's bad. It's still 20 times faster than dialup

            >>>Her connection is not fast enough, for example, to watch video on the iPlayer without buffering.

            Poor programming. I can watch ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, CW, MyNetTV, scifi.com, Hulu, Youtube, and Youtube HD without any problem at just 0.7 Mbit/s (i.e. no buffering). Since your mother has a faster speed than I do, she too should have no problem if the website is working properly, which it soun

    • Re:overload (Score:4, Informative)

      by evilandi (2800) <andrew@aoakley.com> on Thursday April 09, 2009 @03:54AM (#27515059) Homepage

      3G as an alternative to domestic fixed broadband in remote areas doesn't have to support many people. You're forgetting that the UK is a densely populated area. I live in what is considered a rural area - the Cotswolds (postcards of thatched cottages etc) - and I can get 2.5Mbit/s ADSL.

      The areas we're talking about are really, really remote like the Scottish highlands and the deepest parts of English and Welsh moorland.

      You're talking about two or three households per tower, plus three hikers sending cameraphone pics, two businessmen on an expenses-paid grouse shoot checking their email and a bloke on a tractor arguing with his boss. It'll cope fine.

      My problem with the proposal is the conflation of 3G with broadband. 3G is not remotely equivalent to broadband, and I speak as someone who uses 3.5G regularly on my netbook in a high-signal urban area (Cheltenham). 3G has massively high ping times, it's unusable for anything other than browsing static web pages, FTP and SSH/Telnet sessions. Attempting to run video, gaming, VOIP or J2ME content over 3G is utter, utter pants.

      Never mind the bandwidth, feel the latency.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by radiac (398374)

        I agree that it's unsuitable for lots of tasks, but the government's really only thinking about web and e-mail when they talk about broadband; 3G/4G should suffice for the majority of users. Well, it would be better than nothing, and ultimately it's the price they have to pay for living in the middle of nowhere.

        The biggest problem with 3G is going to be coverage; as you say, Cheltenham's OK, but I find as soon as you drive around the Cotswolds, you quickly drop down to GPRS. And when you get the train down

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by petermgreen (876956)

          Another issue is insane overage rates.

          e.g. with 3 you can get broadband at £15 per moth for 15GB per month (which is more than most terrestrial broadband but tollerable IMO) but the overage rate is 10p per MB (which works out to £100 per GB which is IMO insanely expensive)

          This means that any user of a mobile broadband contract has to be EXTREMELY carefull to keep an eye on thier usage.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by KGIII (973947) *

            The term "available" is so wonderful to use in so many ways. Just because the service is technically available does not mean that it is affordable, effective, consistent, etc.... It should be interesting to see how this turns out. There's a bit of a movement to do something similar here in Maine but that's not going so very well and hasn't really been going anywhere in the few years since they started it as I recall.

          • by evilandi (2800)

            Not wishing to promote O2 (who have shite customer service and whose iPhone lock-in deal is dreadful), but I pay 8 quid a month for unlimited 3G data. My phone downloads several hundred megs of podcasts a day, and O2 have never complained.

            8 quid a month for, basically, as much web browsing as you can eat, is pretty fair.

            It'll all fall down when people want to consume video and download several gigs of games, but as I've already said in the parent post, 3G is full of latency-fail for those applications anywa

          • Three you have to love em, I am roaming in ireland but with 'like home' i get the "same" service I get in the UK.
            well yesterday i got an obscure message from my bank and decided to go online using my mobile. First problem was my netbook runs ubuntu and I had forgotten how to bind the comm port (since fixed now my netbook knows what device to use and the channel to bind). which left me the Virtualbox option.

            So I duly booted my Image of 2000 and passed the usb to the image, tried to connect and failed

            • To be fair, it sounds like the majority of your time was spent configuring your connection, and once connected it was pretty fast.

              • well the initial ppd call gprs didn't work because I didnt have /dev/rfcomm0 automatically configured (usually I'll find it in my bash history if I've been using it) which is why I switched to 2000. The VM was already configured to run the modem in fact the software is supplied with the phone and installs pretty much automatically. configuring consists of pressing the connect button waiting a while and it coming back error 600 and other obscure variants and once in a while registering computer and then con

        • >>>the government's really only thinking about web and e-mail when they talk about broadband;

          Then what are they pushing broadband for? I surf the web and read email using 50k dialup, and it's actually quite fast (compression technology). Even music can be streamed over an ordinary phoneline (10 kbit/s Radio Jackie, 12k ZAP FM) The government should know they don't need anything faster.

          If they want true broadband for everyone, that doesn't have latency and can handle video streaming, forget 3G a

        • by evilandi (2800)

          Ironically, the problem I've had with steady 3G (and indeed steady GPRS) on commuter trains passing through rural areas, is that the trains move so fast the towers can't handover quickly enough. At 125mph and a tower every miles or so, you need to hand over two or three times a minute.

          The obvious cheap solution is to slow down the trains.

          The obvious second-most-cheap solution is to put WiFi APs on the trains themselves, and feed wired broadband off the trains' electrified overhead power lines. Cut out the n

          • >>>feed wired broadband off the trains' electrified overhead power lines.

            And thereby create a huge powerline antenna that transmits garbage all over the countryside, and interferes with radio, television, and other wireless communications. Yeah brilliant idea. Not.

        • by cruachan (113813)

          Actually I live in the highlands. I have a 2700 ft mountain in my back yard, literally. And I have 14 munros (3000 ft hills) within a 30 minute drive.

          I get broadband at 6.4mps. Indeed the raw connection to the exchange is 7.4mbs.

          Trick is the Scottish Government, in conjunction with the EEC, upgraded all local exchanges to broadband a couple of years ago. Mine supports 120 odd people and I'm 3.1 miles from it - but the line has to run another 12 miles to the furthest connection so it's extremely good copp

      • Attempting to run video, gaming, VOIP or J2ME content over 3G is utter, utter pants.

        Hmmm I regularly play WOW over a 3G connection without any issues other than I get the odd bad connection (Lots of latency & disconnects)

        • The UK, fortunately or unfortunately, has that bandwidth disaster known as "Iplayer" from the BBC. They provide a lot of their primary, taxpayer funded television via streaming media, and because they were propriatary Windows supporting idiots in its original Bittorrent-like design, they got slapped by the courts and now have to provide everything in Flash. Their interface is also pure dancing monkey, spray you with advertising and scheduling nonsense. The results are predictably bad, and they're probably g
          • I actually quite like iPlayer. Would get a lot more work done if it didn't exist though.

          • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

            by Anonymous Coward

            The P2P iPlayer is regarded as an EPIC FAIL inside the BBC, and the developers as smelly no-mates losers no-one likes. The Flash iPlayer is a huge and popular success and is basically the app to drive total consumer bandwidth levels up.

            (anon for obvious reasons)

      • Video doesn't have problems with latency. Bandwidth is more important. The video gets buffered on the local machine so any latency will be absorbed by the buffer. It is only when there is not enough bandwidth that the buffer runs out and you get problems.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by digitig (1056110)

        3G as an alternative to domestic fixed broadband in remote areas doesn't have to support many people. You're forgetting that the UK is a densely populated area. I live in what is considered a rural area - the Cotswolds (postcards of thatched cottages etc) - and I can get 2.5Mbit/s ADSL.

        You in turn are forgetting that The Cotswolds are amongst Britain's most expensive and affluent areas (postcards of thatched cottages etc), and tend to get priority for such services due to the fact that the execs making the decisions live there. Try looking at a similarly rural area in a poorer part of the country, such as North Lincolnshire. My employer's head offices are on an industrial estate just outside Scunthorpe, and I've just checked the BT website for the location which says that not even 256k bp

        • If you're on an industrial estate near Scunthorpe, why haven't your cheapskate employers leased, y'know, a proper business connection to the internet instead of trying to squeeze bandwidth out of a consumer product?

          • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

            by Anonymous Coward

            Perhaps they're a small business who can't justify the higher costs and would be more than adequately served by a consumer product. Not all businesses in industrial parks are giants, in fact most of them aren't and paying through the nose for a service they don't need would be more than stupid.

          • by digitig (1056110)

            If you're on an industrial estate near Scunthorpe, why haven't your cheapskate employers leased, y'know, a proper business connection to the internet instead of trying to squeeze bandwidth out of a consumer product?

            They have, but the proper business connection only became available last year; before that BT said it wasn't cost-effective to make any broadband -- business or domestic -- available in the area.

    • by fractoid (1076465)
      This is the main problem I'd have with wireless technology; wireless broadband makes a lot of sense in Australia because even our cities are relatively low population density and uptake is fairly low.

      It might be able to fill in the gaps as long as overall load on the system is low. Unlike wired services, though, it doesn't work so well to just whack in more cell towers (unless you actually *lower* the power on them to create smaller cells) because the frequency bandwidth is still shared between them. Stil
      • Re:overload (Score:4, Informative)

        by rtfa-troll (1340807) on Thursday April 09, 2009 @04:21AM (#27515205)

        unless you actually *lower* the power on them to create smaller cells

        Dynamic power control; where the mobile and base station lower the transmission power to the minimum needed is a standard feature on all proper modern mobile networks and has been since the start of GSM. Putting in cells more densely automatically lowers the power requirement for almost all mobiles. For some CDMA based networks (IS-95) there is a problem with "cell breathing" in that heavy traffic may leave gaps in coverage, however modern CDMA networks (UMTS and on) support controlled inter-frequency handover and so having multiple network layers works well; one providing coverage and and another providing capacity and then keep only a few mobiles (fast moving or very unlucky location) in the coverage layer, moving all other ones to the capacity layer.

        • by fractoid (1076465)
          Wow, mobile phones are even cooler than I thought! O.o Now I have something else to read up on...
    • That depends on the standard you are using and your definition of "slows to a crawl", but if we take "supports fast web browsing for all the users and standard quality video streaming for some" the answer is generally "lots" especially with something like LTE. It would take considerable investment, but it can be done. Basically you start by adding more frequencies and more antennas to one location. Then, when that starts to get overloaded, you start adding more and smaller cells until you only have a sma

      • That depends on the standard you are using and your definition of "slows to a crawl"

        I can believe that. I have just returned to the UK from France, and I can tell you that the "free and unlimited internet" in McDonalds, France is about the same speed as 56k Dialup or 3G on O2. - ie rubbish. And I was the only customer with a laptop!

        • You were the only customer in the building. What would you care to bet that there were other "customers" nearby with Bittorrent running, maybe with a Pringles can antenna pointed at the McDonald's? I see a lot of that at Starbucks when I meet people shopping: people complaining about slow connections, and one idiot in the corner serving up his torrents with one latte he purchased 4 hours ago.

  • by BadAnalogyGuy (945258) <BadAnalogyGuy@gmail.com> on Thursday April 09, 2009 @01:01AM (#27514071)

    Yes, it may be a little socialist in some respects, it really forces a good thing onto the people with very little downside except short term funding issues.

    If you think that short term funding issues should take precedence over long term societal growth, then by all means reject this proposal. But it should be noted that that sort of short term thinking is what led to the collapse of the American auto industry and the subsequent begging for bailouts.

    It is forward looking policies that brought Korea and Japan to the forefront of broadband technology. With every new home wired for fiber and existing lines being replaced at a rate of 3 miles per hour, these Asian countries have already made investments that Western countries should have been making 10 years ago when the DotCom boom was in full effect and money was plentiful.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 09, 2009 @01:09AM (#27514135)

      people need to stop worrying about whether or not something is or is not "socialist", and weight things on their merits, not their labels.

      • It's not the word socialism. I'm more concerned about the word "force" in the grandparent's post:

        >>>it really forces a good thing onto the people

        Beware people bearing gifts and trying to "force" something onto you, because there's typically strings attached. The U.S. Banks are now discovering this - they accepted free money and now the government is forcing the banks to cut employees' pay. Many banks are returning the money they initially accepted to get rid of government intrusion. What does

    • by moosesocks (264553) on Thursday April 09, 2009 @01:16AM (#27514181) Homepage

      To be perfectly fair, even the UK doesn't have the population density necessary for this. Yes, the UK does tend to be more dense than the US, though British cities tend to be densely packed around a town center, rather than sprawling like US cities. There's often very little incentive to fill in the gaps between cities, given just how few people live in these areas.

      How about the remote/rural areas of Korea and Japan? Do they have good broadband access?

      (I honestly have no idea about the answer to this... perhaps somebody else could chime in who knows more. Contrary to popular belief, Asia is far from being one big city)

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Yes. All towns are wired and all new housing is mandated to be constructed with fiber optic cable within the walls. Naturally not all wires leading to the homes are fiber yet, but that process is constant and gradual with approximately 45% of Japan's inhabited areas wired with fiber and 100% wired for broadband (defined as minimum 30Mbps).

        Your population density assertion has never been true in the UK where populations are mostly centered in cities and towns. And it has only been marginally true in the US w

      • by xaxa (988988)

        By American standards, huge areas of the UK are "one big city". The distances between settlements are much smaller here, for a lot of the country a small village will be within 5 miles of a town of 10,000 or more.

        There are some maps of England and Wales here: http://www.defra.gov.uk/rural/strategy/annex_a.htm [defra.gov.uk]
        I don't quite understand the way it's worked out, but Figure 2 shows places the government considers rural (sparse) in blue. There aren't many. Imagine doing that to the USA.

        A few statistics:
        Population

        • by KGIII (973947) *

          Off topic but you made me look... We have about 17/km^2 here. It is no wonder that we're not doing so well at getting broadband to all the residents. Of course, well, I live in Maine but you get the idea.

          That being said, how is cell better than the wireless services offered in a FEW places around here? They just buy a tower (if needed) and a directional antenna and the service is pretty decent from what I've experienced. It is a very small area that's covered by this so far but it would seem that with a dis

        • by skyride (1436439)
          "Scotland is a lot less populated." Well I wouldn't contest that, but what I would say is that the majority of the population lives in the 5 largest cities. Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Dundee and Inverness. Much of those that live in the highlands are simply small farming villages who genuinely - shock, horror - have no need for the internet. That is what the government fails to realise. Its all fine and well to say we need to modernise the country the bottom line is that they will, like they have done
      • by Inda (580031)
        Someone posted a reply to this a few days ago. 54mbits on ADSL2 in rural areas.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by physicsphairy (720718)

      very little downside except short term funding issues.

      Which puts it among a vast, vast quantity of things for which the only downside is that... they must be paid for.

      If you think that short term funding issues should take precedence over long term societal growth, then by all means reject this proposal.

      Please qualify "societal growth." What aspect of society is growing? And are we going to need to hand out free computers as well to realize the benefits?

      If you can show me some major life-altering benefits, I may be convinced. But I must admit I am having some difficulty thinking what is so important about broadband that trumps $5 a month dialup which is available to anyone with a phone line.

      • by soren202 (1477905)

        Just because one person might not be able to fully appreciate the advantages of broadband does not mean that another person cannot. The advantages of a faster internet are blurry, and become difficult to discern once you stay in one speed range for too long.

        For instance, although almost anyone can probably adjust to a 56k connection, how many people with that connection speed will surf in the same way as I, or, really, most other people with a faster internet connection surfs? For instance, I probably would

        • >>>The advantages of a faster internet are blurry, and become difficult to discern once you stay in one speed range for too long.

          Well as a person who has both dialup and broadband, I can't really say the upgrade is worth a huge billion-dollar expenditure by the government. The only thing that I do on broadband that I don't do on dialup is watch TV, and is that really the "societal improvement" we are looking for? More fat British sitting in front of their tubes??? Pass.

      • by stonertom (831884)

        And are we going to need to hand out free computers as well to realize the benefits

        If you can show me some major life-altering benefits, I may be convinced. But I must admit I am having some difficulty thinking what is so important about broadband that trumps $5 a month dialup which is available to anyone with a phone line.

        First off, the costs. If you want people to have access to mobile broadband, (in the UK at least) all the networks will give you a laptop/netbook for getting a contract (15/mo for 18 months). That's cheaper than having a phone line.

    • by soren202 (1477905)

      So what you're saying, to put it in a nice, tidy little box, is that it's a slippery slope?

      That's pretty much the first logical fallacy we learned in English class. You can't make the jump from government mandated internet connections to a sudden decision that, hey, maybe Soviet Russia did have it right.

      It's one thing to think critically of something, and it's another entirely to be openly critical of what would be a genuinely beneficial policy for the people because of plainly faulty logic.

      • by soren202 (1477905)

        Sorry, browser got fucked up while replying. Responding to the post below:

        people need to stop worrying about whether or not something is or is not "socialist"

        I live in a small rural cul de sac. The road is about 40cm lower than my garage, so my driveway is runs downhill a ways before reaching the street. Most of the homes around here have the same sort of thing.

        In the winter time, when it gets very icy, I've seen many of neighbors lose control of their cars and run off into the grass or in the worst case hit a tree near the sidewalk. In every single case, the drivers felt like they could successfully guide their vehicle down the ramp, but it always ends up the same. The first few feet seem okay, but soon afterward gravity kicks in and the tires lose their grip.

        That we should disregard labels and accept some socialist ideas is exactly what I would expect a communist or a wet-behind-the-ears college kid to say. It reminds of my driveway in the winter. It's like an icy ramp. Once you start out on the path, there's no turning back until you lose all control and crash into your neighbor's fence and tear up his tulip bed.

      • The slippery slope may be a "logical fallacy", but as I look back over history I notice every new government-control program seemed small, but now we've reached the point where we have LESS freedom than we did under the old monarchy system. Europeans are taxed at a 60-65% rate... that's far worse than our ancestors experienced pre-1800.

        Perhaps it can be summarized better by former British citizen Thomas Jefferson:

        "Government big enough to supply everything you need is big enough to take everything you have

        • by Vanders (110092)

          Europeans are taxed at a 60-65% rate

          [Citation needed]

          I pay 20% Income Tax, 1% National Insurance (NHS) and 15% VAT (Sales Tax). My Council Tax payments are ~£110 a month.

          • Well I know that's not correct. It's a well-known fact that Europeans pay more than Americans, and Americans pay 35-40% rate. Note that this includes ALL taxes - income, sales, property, school, phone, cellphone, electricity, natural gas (or fuel oil), cable, social security, gasoline/petrol, and medicare/medicaid. Europeans pay about 20% more in taxes than Americans do.

            Anyway:

            ~39% for typical 2-income American family - http://www.taxfoundation.org/research/show/137.html [taxfoundation.org]

  • 2Mbps By 2012? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    As of right now Japan has, what, an average of 100 Mbps for less cost than a 1Mbps package in the UK, where available? They're falling so far behind it's just sad. And they're aspiring for an increase of 1Mb 3 years from now? It's almost like they're determined not to upgrade.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by BountyX (1227176)
      UK is falling behind rest of the world in internet speed due to centralized infrastructure requirements imposed by laws regulating privacy and censorship. This creates a bottleneck in the network and introduces overhead. Eventually, the UK will become so slow that traffic cannot reliably route through it anymore. At that point, commerce and trade will boom in free societies while censored states will diminish in influence.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Uhm, no - the UK is falling behind because Ofcom (the telecommunications regulator) regularly tells BT (the primary telecoms company in the UK) what it can and cannot do, because the other telecoms companies in the UK would not be able to compete.

        It did this in such ways as forcing BT to sell wholesale at lower cost than it would take to recoup investment.

        Thankfully, Ofcom have come to their senses with regard to BTs new Fibre to the Cabinet upgrade plan - BT will be able to set a wholesale rate which
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by iserlohn (49556)

      Be internet is doing a ADSL2+ 24mb/s for 17.50 GBP, which works out to 25 dollars a month... That's not too bad is it?

      Virgin Broadband is doing a 50mb/s cable service for 35 GBP which is a lot more and probably not worth it because it's cable.

      You can check availability at www.samknows.com for almost all ADSL LLU (and cable) providers in the UK. Almost all exchanges have ADSL equipment and most have ADSL2+.

      BTW, 3G HSDPA coverage is very good in the UK in and is 80-90% of all areas, while 2G/GPRS coverage is

      • by master811 (874700)

        The main issue is relatively few people will ever be able to get the full 22Mb/s for that price, especially outside of major cities. Most people will see 10-16 ish.

        The benefit of cable is you don't lose the speed with distance as you do with ADSL.

        Unfortunately the only cable is run by Virgin, which screw over their users in order to get to 50Mb but don't invest in the network to get better speeds for everyone else and this results in massive throttleing pretty much all the time

    • Does Japan have 100Mb/s for everyone? Lots of the UK has more than 2Mb/s already. In urban areas, speeds of 10-24Mb/s are common with 50Mb/s being rolled out at the moment. In urban areas, however, the exchanges have been upgraded to support ADSL, but the leakage on the lines means that they can only get around 1Mb/s[1]. This means that they have two choices:

      1. Deploy a lot of extra last-mile infrastructure, including replacing a lot of cables that were laid in the '40s or earlier and are not well mapped
  • Yes and No (Score:5, Interesting)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Thursday April 09, 2009 @01:24AM (#27514231) Journal
    No, in the sense that the technology is severely limited compared to a hardline.

    Yes, in the sense that, with a little strategic gaming, cell derived wireless technology is almost certainly the cheapest way to minimally satisfy whatever universal service obligations end up being imposed. Unlike landline buildout, where you'll actually need to spend real, verifiable money building real, verifiable connections to every lower-income hovel that you can't be bothered to bother with; a wireless "universal" system could simply involve tacking a horrifically crippled lowest tier option onto the infrastructure you are already building to sell to cost-insensitive business types.

    It is fairly likely that, unless astonishingly carefully drafted by public spirited experts, the USO will underspecifiy what is actually required to access the internet pleasantly. You'll be able to satisfy the requirements by demonstrating the availability of an X megabit connection from at least one top floor flat per postcode, while saving money and/or upselling hard, by blocking like crazy anything that isn't vanilla port 80, and not really bothering about latency, packet loss, and spotty connections among your less preferred customers.

    Don't get me wrong, the mobile stuff has its place, since you can't really trail a fiber line around behind you when you move about. As a means of "universal access", though, I strongly suspect that it is a good solution only in that it will be the cheapest way to offer something nominally resembling an internet connection, not by virtue of actually being any good.

    In particular, my concern would be the effect on the development of the internet. Available bandwidth spurs development of new uses for the internet, which spurs greater demand for bandwidth, which spurs improvement of bandwidth supply, and so forth. Reliance on extremely expensive or crippled internet access guts that. If the internet access is costly or lousy, interesting uses of it will stagnate or shrivel. If they do that, the stagnant status quo is under no pressure to upgrade, and there things stay.
    • by MROD (101561)

      You say:

      It is fairly likely that, unless astonishingly carefully drafted by public spirited experts, the USO will underspecifiy what is actually required to access the internet pleasantly. You'll be able to satisfy the requirements by demonstrating the availability of an X megabit connection from at least one top floor flat per postcode, while saving money and/or upselling hard, by blocking like crazy anything that isn't vanilla port 80, and not really bothering about latency, packet loss, and spotty connections among your less preferred customers.

      You have to be aware that "mobile broadband" already has quite a few restrictions and you're not getting a direct feed. For a start, all images are filtered and re-rendered at a far lower resolution, at least on O2 and T-Mobile in the UK.

  • And so ends another edition of "Easy Answers to Easy Questions".
  • by Zouden (232738) on Thursday April 09, 2009 @01:39AM (#27514325)

    We (Western nations) should just bite the bullet and install fibre. The theoretical limit of data transfer over fibre is far in excess of what we can reach now, so a good fibre network would serve the country for decades.

    Wireless is a cheap cop-out. It'll always be slower than fibre.

    • We (Western nations) should just bite the bullet and install fibre. The theoretical limit of data transfer over fibre is far in excess of what we can reach now, so a good fibre network would serve the country for decades.

      Correct. This is what the Australian federal government has recently announced [radioaustralia.net.au].

      Good on them, the damn socialists!

      • Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has announced that the Australian government will build a new $43 billion national broadband network [today.com], connecting 90% of homes to 100-megabit fibre internet. "We believe that fast broadband is absolutely essential for our nation's future", he said.

        "Telstra has raised issues with the amount of bandwidth usage this will produce, given we're still hooked to America by tin cans and string, but our Great Firewall of Australia Internet filtering project should keep usage down to reasona

    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Yep, for example I'm only getting 20Mb/sec on my wireless connection right now...

      I think you're exaggerating slightly. No-one is suggesting that existing cable should be ripped out of the ground because it is too slow. Wireless however is very useful for low population densities where it is cheaper to put up a mast for one or two isolated people than to dig up the entire countryside. Those masts will still be connected to the wired network. It would be easy to give 2MB/sec goal for everyone in these areas,

    • by welshie (796807)
      The issue here is using mobile broadband (3G data or Wimax etc) as fill-in coverage for where other fixed line services aren't going to work, or even be worthwhile deploying upgrades for. As an example, my parents currently live on a farm out in the sticks. They live too far from the exchange for ADSL to work, fibre is out of the question, PSTN modems barely work, but they have got a reasonably good 3G data connection (though I question the ability for a mass-market mobile phone operator to be able to prov
    • by Kumiorava (95318)

      To be honest We (Western nations) should just bite the bullet and install those 4G networks with low latency and high transfer rates.

      Wireless network is more economical because there wouldn't be any moving costs, no physical installations apart from 4G USB stick, and you can take the internet connection with you everywhere.

      Finland has several networks doing high speed internet, 1Mbit at 450MHz covering whole country and big parts of costal regions for 35EUR/month, or high speed wireless with 3.6Mbit for sim

  • Hand up everyone who is sick and tired of hearing about "digital divide". Anyone who would rather have a fifth of whiskey is not very likely to make much use of the free broadband. We are not talking about equatorial Africa, we are talking about western world. No one faces a choice of "starvation or Internet". There are so many other, more serious deprivations that people can face, that this obsession with providing free Internet access smacks of elitism.

  • Does it seem strange to anyone else that the UK should on one hand wish to make broadband internet ubiquitous, while on the other hand wish to monitor internet traffic so closely?
    • Not at all. Besides, growing the network isn't incompatible with surveillance. For example, you can bet it won't be long before they start asking the BBC and other channels to pony up the logs of which IP addresses watch which programmes on their streaming video offerings.

      Imagine if all culture was consumed through the network, instead of the majority which is currently broadcast with no means of determining which bits are being consumed? The profiling options would be very enticing to many governmental int

  • That would require substantial investment from network operators in 3G/4G base stations as the vast majority of rural mobile(cellular) base stations are still 2G with very limiting data rates. Network operators upgraded their urban network (with new 3G base stations) from 2G to 3G to cover the majority of the population (and maximise their revenue - roi) but they are very slow to upgrade their rural network as this brings less return on investment. And it's the rural areas which might not have access to fix
    • Citation needed? There aren't many places I can't get a UMTS signal (on the train along the south coast of Wales there are a few places where it drops out, but not many), but I can get as fast a connection via my phone when I visit my mother (North Devon) as I can through her ADSL line. UMTS seems to provide pretty good coverage, and most networks are slowly deploying HSPA. Of course they are going for urban areas first, just as they did with GPRS and UMTS, to pay for deployments elsewhere, but GPRS seem
  • by Craig Ringer (302899) on Thursday April 09, 2009 @05:56AM (#27515703) Homepage Journal


    Mobile Broadband (3G, 4G) services being used to bridge the UK Digital Divide, but is that realistic? The technology has all sorts of problems from slow speeds and high latency to blocking VoIP, MSN Instant Messaging and aggressive image compression ... not to mention connection stability."

    What?!?

    I use a 3G HSDPA service regularly with two different laptops that have built-in HSDPA modems from Sierra Wireless and Ericsson. I also use Nokia and LG phones over Bluetooth tethering (since I'm in Australia and have sensible carriers that don't lock that down).

    I get a public IP address. No NAT. No filtering, either. Full use of VoIP (SIP or *ick* Skype), etc. No dodgy proxy hacks with image compression or other nasties. It's just a regularly IP service.

    It's fast. Not ADSL2+-over-wifi fast, but quite fast enough for everything I need to do, including VNC/RDP remote control of machines at work, SSH, etc. Latency is occasionally a wee bit high, but nothing too bad.

    It's pretty stable - it only goes a bit flakey when going through (eg) a train tunnel where it completely loses reception. Even then, it often just transparently recovers without apps or the OS ever really noticing. Sitting in one place, it's rock solid.

    I use VoIP via my 3G service in my laptop regularly, via both SIP and (when forced, reluctantly) Skype. It's pretty darn solid; the only issues are VERY occasional quality drops due to latency spikes.

    With a 1GB per month data allowance (for a wallet-smashing $15 per month ... so, about the price of a decent lunch) I can get a lot done. My carrier, Three (Hutchison), is the best priced data carrier in Australia, but Vodafone and Optus aren't too much worse and they have much better coverage, so this is hardly unique.

    So ... if your 3G service sucks, it's because your carrier sucks, not because the technology does. Unfortunately, it looks like carriers DO suck in the US and the UK, though for different reasons.

    In the US, you get hardware you've bought and paid for but is locked down so hard you can barely breathe next to it. Want to install your own apps? Better pay to unlock that feature. Want to use bluetooth/wifi tethering? Better get the "Internet" plan to unlock that feature. Want to use another provider's SIM with *YOUR* hardware, even after your contract has expired? Tough luck.

    In the UK, it doesn't seem to be so much locked down as crap. Blocked and filtered up the wazoo, WAP-like transparent proxying and HTML/image reprocessing, private IPs handed out with all traffic through proxies or NAT, etc. Ick.

    This will have to change ... but it's a carrier problem not a technology one.

    • Oh, and none of my hardware is locked to a carrier or has features disabled. I own it outright and can do what I want with my hardware.

      Even my Telstra-branded N95-3 wasn't SIM-locked (though it did take a re-flash to get rid of the vendor branding).

      My Dell 5530 HSUPA and Dell 5520 HSDPA mobile broadband Mini-PCI-E cards (rebrands of the Ericsson F307G and some Sierra Wireless card, respectively) aren't SIM-locked and "just work". Under Ubuntu, even (thanks NM 0.7 devs!).

      If you've got the kind of issues desc

      • by Denny (2963)

        If you've got the kind of issues described in the article summary, your carriers stink.

        Yes, they do. Why do the carriers in .au not stink - is there legislation that stops them getting up to the same kind of crap that the UK ones do? Or is there more room on their backbone networks? Or are they just nicer? :)

        The UK has always had ridiculously high bandwidth prices and ridiculously low traffic caps, on all Internet services - I've hosted numerous UK-specific websites on US servers over the last ten yea

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Craig Ringer (302899)

          Competition, I think. In part, at least. We have two major parallel cellular networks (Optus and Telstra), plus one medium sized one (Vodafone) and a small-but-fast-and-high-tech one (Three) that roams to Telstra's network when out of coverage.

          3G broadband is getting big here. Hutchison is pushing it *hard* as a major alternative to ADSL/cable, and they're making progress. That means good quality, decent network capacity, and decent pricing.

          It used to be horrifying here. Like 1c/kb (yes, kb) for GPRS *or* U

          • by mi11house (978673)

            I've used GPRS and 3G mobile broadband in both Australia and the UK. The problems they have to solve are very different, which is why you get a very different experience.

            Australia is very large, and has low population density. The UK is small, with very high population density. This works against the "shared bandwidth" nature of wireless comms. I've even noticed it over the last year - my 3.5G connection in Central London was noticeably faster in January 2008 than it was in December 08, just because more p

        • I'm not convinced prices are still ridiculous. You can get a 15GB monthly cap quite cheaply now, and I know two people who use cellular broadband exclusively (no wired home Internet connection) here in Wales. The prices have gone down a lot in the last year.
    • I live in a rural area in the UK (a short distance north of Belfast, if you must know) where I cannot get ADSL - having tried, I now know that my telephone line is more than 10Km long! So I have been using a 3G/HSDPA modem on Three (Hutchison). I plug the modem into my (Draytek) router and regularly work from home with two laptops running VPNs into different companies and my wife often connects her laptop by WiFi also. The "Mobile Broadband" handles it with no problem and is a lot cheaper than the alternati
  • My girlfriend has mobile broadband through Vodafone because BT couldn't figure out how to install a line in her property (which didn't stop an engineer claiming he'd done it, and them billing her for most of a year before it all got sorted out - but I digress).

    I've been surprised at how good the speed and stability of her connection is, but the traffic cap is crippling. She's a fairly heavy 'net user (she's a freelance web designer, so has to upload new sites and drafts for her clients to see), but she's

    • The whole unable to get security updates because of imposed caps is something that worries me a great deal. I'm one of those people who checks for updates to Windows and my anti-crapware programs almost every day. I see this whole traffic caps thing as something that could really cripple the economy further then it already is. I do web design as well as a hobby come self taught thing and sort of rely on a good uncapped connection to help me stay sane after my junk is uploaded.

      Caps already exist in the form

    • At least one of the mobile broadband providers is now employing soft caps, where there is no fee for going over the monthly cap, but if you do it a few times they will call you and give you the choice between reducing your usage, paying more, or finding another provider. Hopefully the others will adopt the same policy soon...
  • > The technology has all sorts of problems...

    The number one problem being that in order to have some of the other problems described all traffic must be going through proxies, leaving users vulnerable to man-in-the-middle attacks.

    But I suppose the government might consider that a feature.

  • by Budenny (888916) on Thursday April 09, 2009 @08:50AM (#27516801)

    The chattering classes have been going on about this for at least 10 years. In fact however, people live where they want to live, taking into account of what services are available when they do so, and they spend their money on what they want to spend it on. Some are heavily computerized and networked, others are not. And they are fine with it. Just like some people spend their money on vacations on the Costa Brava, and others spend it on books or motor boats. There is not a boating divide, or a book divide or a holiday divide. There are just people with different priorities.

    This whole thing consists of people who are technologically illiterate proclaiming loudly that other people should get connected and computered, for reasons that feel like they make sense to them, but which make no sense to the objects of their attention. The same technical illiterates are demanding ever increasing use of computers in libraries and education, without having the slightest idea why this would improve either, and without ever having used a spreadsheet or IDE in anger or a computer as a learning tool. It is, to put it at its most absurd, people whose knowledge of computers is limited to writing memos in Word, telling the rest of us how important computer literacy is.

    And making up ridiculous expressions like 'digital divide' to cover the fact that they are talking about absolutely nothing.

  • Mandatory? WTF? I'm sure they are planning on following this up with 1.5 way vidscreens that you can't turn off, only turn down?

  • I was somewhat of a geek in high school back in the 1970's, and one part of George Orwell's 1984 struck me as extremely unlikely, verging on impossible -- that the television (some kind of flat screen bolted to the wall, as I recall) that every citizen was required to have would also double as a surveillance device, giving Big Brother (that term seems so quaint these days) the opportunity to keep tabs on the rank and file. I thought, even if you could mass-produce the hardware at some reasonable cost (bea

"A mind is a terrible thing to have leaking out your ears." -- The League of Sadistic Telepaths

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