Preparations for the London 2012 Olympics includes plans for broadband infrastructure upgrades across the UK. Coverage of the sporting events will create a multitude of digital media content, but the ultimate legacy will be a platform for long-term socioeconomic development within the nation.
Point Topic predicts there will be over 10.5 million superfast broadband lines in Britain within the next five years. With another 4.6 million cable broadband connections this means that almost 60 percent of broadband customers -- and more than half of all homes and businesses -- will be using superfast speeds of 30 megabits or more by the end of 2016.
"It's still a risky and controversial forecast," says Tim Johnson, Chief Analyst at Point Topic. "It is always difficult to predict something which is expected to grow so fast. If the forecast is correct, the number of superfast lines will grow 50 times over between mid-2011 and the end of 2016."
But there's uncertainty about both the technology and the market. BT is a late starter in this area. Its superfast technology will be mainly Fiber To The Cabinet (FTTC), which means laying new optical FTTC, then providing short-range but high-speed digital technology over ordinary telephone lines for the last few hundred metres.
If They Build It, Will They Come?
"Even more fundamentally, the strength of demand is not there yet," Johnson points out. "Users are not exactly crawling over each other to get superfast broadband today. But we do believe that the demand for bandwidth will continue rising steadily just as it has done for the past 15 years."
By 2016, 30 megabits will be regarded as a good standard connection and 100 megabits by 2021 he predicts.
As far as the technology issues are concerned, BT is already running slightly ahead of Point Topic’s forecasts for this year.
Its announcement yesterday that it will bring forward its FTTC rollout by a full year is an encouraging vote of confidence. The company is already rolling out on a much bigger scale than most of its peers in other countries.
"BT is doing better than we expected a few months ago," says Johnson. "Speeding up the rollout shows they are getting on top of the problems."
BT’s revised plan aims to ensure that at least two-thirds of homes and businesses in the UK will have superfast broadband available by the end of 2014. Point Topic’s forecast projects that not only will superfast be widely available, it will also be taken up by users in commercially attractive numbers.
Meanwhile, the emerging technology start-ups in TechCity UK -- or anyone who cares about the future of the British economy -- will be hoping that this infrastructure will become a catalyst for new growth. Millions of demanding tech-savvy users will be depending on the delivery of a globally competitive superfast broadband network.