After a year that saw internet connectivity infect almost every part of the modern world, what can British consumers expect from 2012?
The UK’s broadband service will continue to be more and more broadly defined by ‘the haves’ and the ‘have nots’. The have’s (usually those based in urban areas) will have potential access to some incredibly fast fixed line broad band offerings. The have nots (usually those in rural areas), aren’t really going to get much of anything in 2012.
It isn’t a uniquely British problem, it simply makes no commercial sense for any broadband retailer to run start of the art fibre optic services to every single Briton, regardless of their location. Hence Ofcom is attempting to work supply provisions in its 4G auction to provide 98% wireless internet coverage in the UK.
As Andrew Ferguson of Thinkbroadband thinks that 2012 will be the year that the digital divide shrinks somewhat.
"Developments in broadband infrastructure predicted to take place in the coming year, combined with growing consumer demand for data-hungry products and services, such as smart-TV and internet-enabled connectivity between computing devices, are helping to make additional investment in superfast broadband and speed upgrades of existing solutions commercially viable," he said.
The Government’s Broadband Delivery UK has copped a lot of flak for its inaction on the digital divide issue. The department received £530m of funding, to deliver the Government’s broadband strategy, bringing superfast broadband to all parts of the UK, but has so far been reticient in 2011. Ferguson believes the nature of funding sources, including mixed public and private investment, means there was always going to be a long project timeline involved.
BT’s Openreach has spent £2.5bn on superfast broadband, and there will be further announcements made this year on which exchanges will get fibre to the cabinet (FTTC) or fibre to the premises (FTTP). BT Openreach plans to roll out superfast fibre to two-thirds of the UK by the end of 2014.
It is also expected to upgrade its maximum speed of its FTTC service from 40 Mbps to 80 Mbps early in 2012. Virgin Media announced last week it is doubling all its broadband services, and pushing its 100mbps plan to 120mbps.
BT Openreach is now claiming it will get a maximum speed upgrade from 100 Mbps to 300 Mbps sometime in 2012. Openreach will be onselling its wholesale product to retail customers, such as Sky and O2.
While mobile broadband became increasingly popular during 2011 due to the rise in smartphone ownership, 4G is not expected to roll out until early 2013 at the earliest.
Ferguson says that this delay means that any illusions the mobile operators had of competing head to head with fixed-line broadband in UK cities are quickly vanishing.
He also believes that the convergence of social media and TV will be boosted by the rise of smart TV ownership 2012. Feedback and opinions about TV shows will be shared during and immediately after they are aired, through both the TV itself and the generation of mini-tablet smart phones that people use during the advert breaks, making public opinion instantly accessible. Zeebox has unveiled a similar social app for tablets and smartphones in partnership with Sky TV.
"We hope that these exciting developments will enable the UK to finally compete with the likes of Sweden and the Netherlands in terms of internet connectivity. However, we will have to wait until the end of this year to see if the UK has been able to achieve Lord Carter’s ambitious target as set out in the Digital Britain report back in 2009: broadband for all in 2012," Ferguson concluded.