Data consumption is growing at around 50 per cent or more per year. These are the main drivers:
• Faster broadband speeds
– lead to more demand for internet use. Between 2014 and 2015, the average broadband speed increased from 23 to 28Mbits/s and average monthly data usage rose from 58 to 82GB.
• More consumption of video
– Faster internet speeds have enabled the use of video on demand services, which are the highest consumers of data.
Internet today – connected TVs present a choice of standard definition or high definition. In the near future, there will be more widespread use of ultra-high definition. This matters because the higher the definition, the greater the bandwidth requirement and the slower the download time.
There are potentially several wildcards, however, which suggest that these forecasts may be a conservative underestimate. Immersive 360-degree virtual reality – headsets will be available for more devices this year – will require greater bandwidth than any flat screen.
At the other end of the scale, there is also massive potential for the many billions of new battery-powered wireless sensors making up the Internet of Things (IoT) which will be connected to the web – sending out new packets and volumes of data that did not exist before, and to where the internet and mobile network did not reach.
There are many competing and complementary broadband and connectivity technologies available or soon to be ready.
Fibre to the premises (FTTP).
This is for now the highest-performing internet connection. By bringing a fibre cable into the home or office, symmetrical upload and download speeds become available at 1Gbit/s, with low latency rates. However, by comparison with other European countries, the penetration of FTTP in the UK is very low – 0.003%.
Many Britons have been receiving data from satellites since the late 1980s. Satellite broadband runs on the same principle but with higher bandwidth and can serve remote, poorly connected locations at much lower cost, more quickly. All of today’s broadband satellites operate in geostationary orbit at a height of 22,000 miles, which creates longer latency – 250 microseconds or more. However, download speeds are improving. ViaSat3 from 2020 will offer 1Gbit/s and largely uncapped data. It is well established in the US, with 700,000 subscribers but only a few thousand in the UK.
Fibre to the cabinet (FTTC).
This brings fibre-optic cable between the cabinet (often a roadside box) and the exchange for a high-bit-rate digital subscriber line (VDSL). This is the superfast option being deployed across the UK by Openreach and can deliver speeds at up to 76Mbits/s depending on the distance to the cabinet.
Asymmetric digital subscriber lines and ADSL2+. In the UK, these are the standard broadband services and offer speeds from 0.5 to 24Mbits/s.
To avoid the costs of digging trenches in pavements and to the premises, in some cases it may be possible to deliver FTTP wound around existing telegraph poles and lines.
Line-of-sight or fixed-wireless access.
Line-of-sight broadband connections essentially place a transmitting tower on top of a hill and relay either satellite or mobile wireless connections to anywhere that is within range and has line of sight of the connection.
In the UK, Relish has led the way with this offering, using 3G and 4G signals only for data to deliver 50-60 and up to 700Mbits/s to a router in city centres or rural not-spots that are poorly served by broadband.
Mobile broadband – 3G, 4G, 5G.
The average download speed for mobile today is 6.1Mbits/s rising to 15.1 Mbits/s for 4G ; 5G promises to have a speed of at least 1Gbit/s and may be available from 2020.