Anyone that has followed the development of the broadband market over the last two decades will be used to reading calls from politicians and business leaders for faster broadband to drive the UK economy in the digital era.
The statistics about the UK being behind the rest of the world in terms of higher speed connections are often cited as evidence of why we need to accelerate the roll-out of fibre-based ‘superfast’ and ‘ultrafast’ services.
In August last year, figures from the Cable.co.uk website, compiled from open source data, show that the United Kingdom comes 31st in a global ranking of nations by internet download speed. The average download speed recorded by the firms that conducted the research was just 16.51 Mbps, compared to the top speed of 55.13 Mbps in Singapore. Sweden was the fastest European country with a speed of 40.13 Mbps.
The politicians and analysts have a point then, when they say that the UK is lagging behind. To be fair to Openreach and the other companies who are investing in making faster services available, a lot of work has been done since August to accelerate the roll-out of faster broadband in the UK.
Openreach has been rolling out the hybrid G.fast fibre technology to one million UK premises as part of an initial pilot and on the back of that BT and others have launched ultrafast fibre broadband packages that offer download speeds of up to 152Mbps (G.fast) and 314Mbps (FTTP).
G.fast is expected to be available to 10 million premises by the end of 2020 and FTTP may be available to two million premises. Together, these services would in total cover around 40 percent of the UK. Openreach has also said that it will make FTTP available to three million premises by 2020 and to 10 million premises by around 2025, or at least, that’s the plan.
‘Superfast’ services, offering download speeds of up to 24 Mbps, are now in theory, available to 95% premises in the UK, but not all those connected to these services will get the full 24Mbps of course. And the Cable report looked at average speeds without discriminating between connection types.
The UK is making some progress in delivering higher broadband speeds, but the critics can argue that it is not getting there fast enough. They could also argue that the so-called ‘superfast’ option is not enough anymore and that the need to provide higher bandwidth options is becoming urgent and businesses need the ultrafast speeds already. The fast growth in sales of dedicated leased lines over the past two years gives some credence to this argument.
But why do businesses need ultrafast broadband Internet? The main reason is that businesses are transforming – moving away from their previous dependency on ways or working that were and underpinned by manual processes, to workflows that are entirely digital. This is increasing their dependency on web connections.
Many rely on cloud-based applications and services to offer and sell their products and services – and to seek and buy the products and services they need. Many businesses are run entirely online now. The Internet has lowered the barriers to entry and they are reaching further and farther into new markets.
They are also making use of the web to transform their back-office systems. Many are now turning to hosted VoIP and cloud-based computing, both of which require more bandwidth. Demand for IP-based voice services has sky-rocketed as more businesses realise the benefits. Market confidence has grown, and this has also encouraged many firms to look at other hosted options.
It is now quite common even for small businesses to place their data backups in the cloud and more are adopting ‘virtual’ servers, to run their business applications and for storage. These services make IT easier to manage and scale up or down as business requirements changes. Almost all software is now being offered on an ‘as-a-service’ basis and managed and updated constantly from the cloud.
More companies are also making use of remote working and collaboration solutions – and video conferencing is now just a part of this – to bring remote teams together and drive more invention, creativity and innovation.
All of this is increasing the bandwidth businesses need to run their everyday operations. It is making fast, efficient, reliable connectivity vital to their business. With all this online activity taking place, up to 24Mbps is already not enough for many businesses and as more of them digitally transform and adopt cloud infrastructure and services, the need for even higher speeds will unquestionably grow.
For many businesses, ultrafast broadband can’t come fast enough.