- 10 Feb 09, 14:39 GMT
I'm writing this from the fastest domestic broadband connection I've yet experienced. It's at a new housing development in Wembley in north London which lured me here with the promise of 100Mbps.
From their show flat with a view of the roof of Wembley Stadium I've so far managed to do a live radio broadcast via fast broadband - though my PC crashed and needed rebooting minutes before I had to go live - and we're also trying to broadcast live TV over the net, though here we're being slightly hamstrung by the limitations of our broadcast software.
While this housing development has been wired with fibre from the start, and residents have access to phone, broadband and TV over the network, nobody is actually being offered a 100Mbps subscription.
Instead residents pay for an 8, 16 or 32Mbps service - but then can press a button marked "boost" to get their speed up to 100Mbps. That costs them £1 for 30 minutes. It seems the developers aren't convinced there is yet a real demand for 100Mps. They have "future-proofed" the homes, but if you want to spend a lot of time in the internet fast lane the bills will mount up.
What the developers Quintain tell me is that for plenty of residents 32Mbps at around £30 a month is more than enough. For some of the students who live here, that means they can also get by without a television, using the BBC iPlayer and other online services for all their viewing needs. I didn't inquire too closely whether they had got themselves a television licence.
We pressed the boost button - and revved up to "100Mbps". A quick speed test proved pretty impressive. I got 78Mps downstream and as much as 50Mbps upstream, meaning I could have sent my video files to the BBC in seconds rather than minutes. And nobody really expects to get right up to the advertised speed, do they?
But showing just what fast broadband could do proved tricky. There had been some rather over-excited claims that it meant you could download a movie in seconds, which was obviously untrue. But we tested it with Apple's iTunes, attempting to download a 1Gb movie. We got a message telling us that would take 20 minutes, so we stopped.
A helpful network engineer from the organisation running the service told me that even if you were getting out onto the internet at 100Mbps, you would find the brakes being slammed on once you hit Apple's servers. "iTunes has a limit on the speed at which you can download," he said. With very few people able to go that fast, it's apparently not worthwhile catering for them.
So we turned to the good old iPlayer and downloaded a programme. The latest edition of "Who Do You Think You Are?" is an hour long and is a 341Mb file. We had that downloaded and playing within a minute - pretty impressive. (By the way, you may notice that on the tape the man from Quintain ends up clicking on the stream rather than the download but I can assure you that the file was there - I had a go after him and downloaded an episode of Top Gear in under a minute too).
This kind of speed will only spread slowly across Britain - it's relatively cheap to lay fibre into new homes, but costs a fortune to dig up the streets and bring fast broadband to everyone.
But from what I've seen in Wembley, fast broadband will mean big changes to the way we view - and make - television.
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