The Digital Britain report is a good stake in the ground, according to networking giant Alcatel-Lucent, but a lot of challenges need to be overcome to make it a reality.
At a recent round table in London, Alcatel-Lucent's Andy King, director for UK and Ireland, and Houston Spencer, vice president for solutions and marketing in North Europe, discussed how the UK telecoms market can meet the goals laid out in the report.
The debate addressed network proliferation versus network consolidation, speed versus capacity, and the major issue of financing next-generation access (NGA) technologies.
The government is exploring wired and wireless methods to help deliver broadband to everyone, but the tax being introduced to help pay for these measures is being levied only on those with fixed lines.
Furthermore, it would appear that wireless is being largely ignored, beyond mobile data access, as a way of providing coverage for rural areas, and Alcatel-Lucent believes that the Digital Britain proposals could have considered an early release of 800MHz spectrum to help push the creation of wireless networks in these areas.
This flies in face of demands seen by Alcatel-Lucent, which said that it is regularly approached by communities and municipalities that want to set up their own NGA networks.
The growth in open access networks run by local groups rather than traditional network operators is resulting in a patchwork approach to NGA, and has led to the creation of groups such as the Independent Networks Co-operative Association, a standards authority for companies that are building a network in the UK but are not traditional service providers.
As the infrastructure is owned separately in community projects, this changes the business model for telcos, which are now faced with the question of whether to unbundle networks or aspire to roll out one big network.
On the one hand, it is hard for communities to formulate a business case and quantify the expected benefits of an open access network as compared to a telco calculating its return on investment. But there are huge community benefits, such as better access to health, education and public services, that make a compelling investment case.
Many have slammed the government's proposal of a minimum 2Mbit/s service for everyone as not being sufficiently ambitious, but Spencer believes this will act as a 'Rubicon' which, in order to cross, will "require an infrastructure change which will enable better speeds, services and capacity".
"Focusing on speed to the exclusion of back-haul capacity in terms of how broadband is going to evolve is frustrating," he added.
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