Rory Cellan-Jones

Fibre, copper and aluminium

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 6 Jun 08, 10:30 GMT

I've been travelling around Broadband Britain with a whole lot of clutter in my suitcase - three phones, two computers, an SLR camera, three USB mobile broadband dongles, a digital radio recorder and two microphones. But buried in my bag are two lengths of cable - one traditional twisted pair copper telephone wire and one fibre-optic cable,

Rory Cellan-Jones holding a fibre-optic cableI've brought them along as visual props for my television pieces. TV is a very literal business and with something like broadband there are few pictures to convey the transition from a network based on copper, which is nearing its speed limits, and one based on putting fibre right into the home.

Mind you, last night when we visited a home where they were trialling Virgin Media's "up to 50Mbps" broadband, I was surprised to find that souping up the cable network to more than twice its current speed did not involve putting fibre into the home. The last link is still a coaxial cable with copper at the core - it's a new standard called DOCSIS 3 - digital over cable apparently - which is making everything go a lot faster. So maybe copper isn't finished yet.

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What I didn't pack was any aluminium cable, which would have been useful in Milton Keynes yesterday. The city's telephone network, built in the seventies when the price of copper was sky-high, has an awful lot of aluminium in it, which makes it pretty useless in terms of delivering broadband.

So Milton Keynes, a new town, is trapped in the 20th Century when it comes to the high-speed internet - which is why the fixed Wimax network we were there to cover is an attractive option for some residents with no other way of getting broadband.

Rory Cellan-Jones using Wimax in Milton KeynesWe used the Wimax network to do a live broadcast - which we thought might be a world first until we discovered that my colleague Alistair Leithead had broadcast live from Afghanistan via a Wimax network set up in Kabul. For developing countries with shaky fixed-line telephone networks Wimax is quite a useful way of getting broadband. How amusing that this applies to Milton Keynes too. Perhaps the city would like to twin with Kabul?


  • Comment number 1.

    3 years ago now, I was at Ericsson's technical centre in Kista, Sweden - they demonstrated to me on a 1km length of twisted copper wires (like a phone line) VDSL2+ capable of 250Mbit/sec speed, delivering 4 channels of high definition TV simultaneously and still 50M left over for broadband.

    Outside the tech centre, in the real world (a street in Stockholm) they had a demonstrator proving that 50Mbit was possible over 40 year old telephone cable - the key is to keep the local loop short - move the broadband hardware from the exchange to the cabinet at the street end - so 400m of local loop rather than up to 10km.

    Broadband suppliers are ever keen to tell the unwary customer how fast they might connect to the service - never once have I seen the actual performance of the network quoted. No point in connecting at 100 megabits per second if the provider can only allow 2 megabits of traffic.

    Whatever happens with broaderband it must not be allowed to happen only in urban areas - the benefits of teleworking to the rural areas is considerably larger than that to the urban - I'm lucky enough to telework which means I can live in a community of my choice without commuting ridiculously.

  • Comment number 2.

    Well, here's how it might be all paid for. BT have just announced they'll be charging users an extra £3 a month to use BBC iPlayer. What's now to stop Broadband providers doing the same?

    Although this would pay for the additional bandwidth, it goes against the universality of paying for the licence fee in return for BBC services free at point of use.

    Now it will be £140 for basic telly and £? per month extra for additional services like iPlayer. Not fair really.

  • Comment number 3.

    Wimax is the new ADSL.

  • Comment number 4.

    Just to add I really support this project by the BBC, some exposure and transparency was really needed for UK broadband speeds. Interesting to find out what speeds other areas and other connections types are getting.

  • Comment number 5.

    The BT £3 a month is only an additional extra, they provide high quality content which is still available freely elsewhere, i.e. it's not a forced cost.

    Someone above mentions a simple and effective way of increasing the speeds/bandwidth exponentially, surely if your average joe knows about this kind of work around, you would think a multi billion pound corporation would have some clue about this.

    It's a shame we can't go back to the "non-profit" internet companies. I reckon we'd be on at least 500MBit connections by now.

    It makes you wonder how we can call ourselves a developed country when places like India have a faster and more extensive broadband network.

    I hear constant mention of "using sewer pipes", but when am I going to start hearing the, "BT have laid the first cable wire using a sewer system"?

    One of the richest countries in the world, yet so many aspects of our country fall well behind the standards of third and second world countries. Hmm, I wonder why.. maybe the MP's would like to explain to us just how this is. Let me guess, no comment right?

  • Comment number 6.

    Ladies and Gentlemen, its all about making money. Take these examples:

    High-Def TV - 1080p (TrueHD) was being used as the standard definition for films since the 1960's, and monitors were able to display this less than 10 years later. However there was still so much money to be made from selling the same old cheap TV's, only now, nearly 50 years after are 1080p televisions widely available.

    Petroleum - Cars are predominantely powered by fuels derived from oil, however electrical power cells have available since before 1900 (yep, 1900). The fact of the matter is, the companies found it easier to sell you the wrong choice because it made them more money. Whereas, if BP and Exxon and co had taken over the research into power cells in the 1970's then cars would be more efficient than modern diesel engines and would have cost them less in researching ways of making a dirty power source that tiny bit cleaner, however the prices we see from oil has benifited the multi-nationals.

    This is just two examples, I am keeping it short because is a blog reply.

    But the UK will not see a fast broadband service because all the Internet Service Providers know they can still empty your pockets on old, outdated technology while at the same time spending as little as possible on giving an acceptable service.

    To finish off I would like to present you with this... Yes, the Tax Payer should pay for fibre to every single home in the country. And if any company wishes to use it then half the profits go back to country as a "Usage Tax" on top of a monthly fee. We own it, they pay to use it... and we control how much they charge us for Broadband!

  • Comment number 7.

    Ok firstly, anyone within the networking industry of average intellect will know quoting "Wimax as the next broadband" is disastrously wrong! Under the laws of PHYSICS, even impossible? To compare Fibres capacity, and endless future possibilities against a privately owned spectrum with limited amount of power (When I say 'limited', I really mean 'limited' as there's only so much radiation the government will allow you to spit over the public!!!) Restrictions on Wimax are endless, don't even compare.

    It's simple, Fibre WILL be the infrastructure put in. And if it's not the 'infrastructure' all-together then most DEFINATELY the backbone and core network will be of fibre, which if you go to the main two excahnges in the UK (Manc/London) there already upgrading. It's how we 'branch' the backbone off into all the other areas without ridiculous costs. And the way they'll do it, is segmenting the network over smaller ares, creating multiple backbones of fibre networking and breaking it off over copper (Yes 250mbps TRUE throughput IS possible over copper!)

    And now everyone is squabbling over who will pay for it...We live in the UK, the tax payer will, the core infrastrucutre will be privately invested and maintained. Trust me, when Cisco and the large networknig vendors here the UK are ready for a £16bn upgrade of there networks, expect them to come screaming with discounts. I believe this figure to actually be over the top, but what do I know.

  • Comment number 8.

    goldmadangel - I'd really like you to tell me why "under the laws of physics" WiMAX cannot be considered a a broadband technology?

    I do this stuff for a living, hence the interest.

  • Comment number 9.

    I'm 100% with BT here, I watched a brief BBC clip with an interview with one of their staff members, where she stressed - we'll only build a network to support "super fast" broadband if the customers want it... but do we? I don't think so, I'm a Virgin customer with a base line 2MB D/L connection and there are VERY few occasions where I'm thinking "gosh if I only had an extra few MB/sec". For the average user I'm guessing BBC iPlayer, Facebook etc... are pretty much at the top of our requirements, so no super fast broadband required there. I think technologists have lost the plot about broadband, it's pivotal contribution was an "always on" apprach to internet access, not just higher speeds.

    The focus sound be on getting EVERYONE who wants broadband connected NOT getting faster speeds to the majority who already have it.

  • Comment number 10.

    SouthernBoltonian #9

    At last, someone speaking common sense. As you say, the average intenet user who surfs the web and downloads files from iTunes and the like does not need a super fast connection. Virgin are testing 50mbps, which is nice, but unnecessary. People here may have different individual experiences, but generally I would say 10-20mbps is more than sufficient for a long time to come.


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