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Can Mobile Broadband Solve the UK Digital Divide?

samzenpus posted more than 5 years ago | from the come-together dept.

The Internet 113

MJackson writes "Lord Carter's interim Digital Britain report recently proposed a new Universal Service Obligation (USO), which would effectively make it mandatory for every household in the UK to have access to a broadband service capable of 2Mbps by 2012. Since then there has been much talk about Mobile Broadband (3G, 4G) services being used to bridge the UK Digital Divide, but is that realistic? The technology has all sorts of problems from slow speeds and high latency to blocking VoIP, MSN Instant Messaging and aggressive image compression ... not to mention connection stability."

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overload (4, Insightful)

the_denman (800425) | more than 5 years ago | (#27514045)

but how many people can it support on a tower at a time before it slows to a crawl?

Re:overload (1)

MROD (101561) | more than 5 years ago | (#27514843)

Because it's a broadcast technology, just like the old 10Base2 and 10Base5 ethernet, the performance due to collisions will drop like a stone when there is more than 70% usage of the bandwidth. When this happens will very much depend upon the usage of those connected at the time. A couple of people downloading files at the same time will saturate the link (unless their connections are severely throttled).

What is also not mentioned is that, from my personal experience, the speed drops off quickly with the signal strength.

Re:overload (1)

commodore64_love (1445365) | more than 5 years ago | (#27516023)

>>>the speed drops off quickly with the signal strength.

I don't know why everyone ignores DSL. The telephone lines are already buried underground, and leading to every home, so upgrading everyone to high-speed is extremely easy and cheap. People's speeds could increase from 50k to 2000k, 40 times faster, literally overnight.

I have DSL here in the U.S. and it's fast enough to watch videos online, cheap at just $15/month (about 7 pounds/month), and didn't require anybody to dig-up my front yard since the lines were already there.

Re:overload (2, Informative)

JohnBailey (1092697) | more than 5 years ago | (#27516497)

I don't know why everyone ignores DSL. The telephone lines are already buried underground, and leading to every home, so upgrading everyone to high-speed is extremely easy and cheap. People's speeds could increase from 50k to 2000k, 40 times faster, literally overnight.

I have DSL too. And it is good. Provided you are fairly close to the exchange. I'm about 5 minutes walk from mine, and I get just under 7 if the 8 Meg that the ISP claims. But the further you go from the exchange, the lower the speed. DSL is fine for city or town use, but once you start going out to the sticks, the speed drops off.

Re:overload (1)

commodore64_love (1445365) | more than 5 years ago | (#27517131)

Well if you read the summary, it says the government only wants 2 megabit/s which is rather easy to do over DSL, and with a range of 10 miles.

Re:overload (1)

kdekorte (8768) | more than 5 years ago | (#27517435)

Unless your teleco (QWest) won't put in the parts to enable DSL cause it won't make enough money. I live out of town in a subdivision of 25 houses. QWest says they won't put the part into the box (which I can see from my house) cause it needs 75 people to make it pay for itself. So I have to use wireless broadband to get any kind of decent internet.

Aren't we paying some type of fee so that they must offer this service?

Re:overload (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 5 years ago | (#27520329)

DSL speed drops off the further you are from the exchange. A lot of the telephone cables are incredibly old and simply do not have the signal to noise ratio required for broadband. My mother, in rural England, has ADSL and just about gets 1Mb/s. This is as much as the line will carry for a lot of people in her area; none of the providers offer connections rated that slowly anymore, their connection is 8Mb/s or whatever the line will take, whichever is slower. Her connection is not fast enough, for example, to watch video on the iPlayer without buffering.

In contrast, last time I tried using my phone for broadband when I visited her, I could easily get 50KB/s with 200ms ping times. That was over a year ago, getting the same speed through the old UMTS system that she gets now through the telephone wires. I haven't tried to get an HSPA connection there, but two providers are planning on extending their networks out there soon. Installing a tower is a lot cheaper than laying new phone lines everywhere.

Re:overload (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27518167)

The 4G systems (WiMAX, LTE) are based on central scheduling at the base station, unlike CSMA/CD networks like 10BaseX Ethernet, WiFI. Collision is used, but in a limited way (initial access), and is not a limiting factor. So collision is not a problem in 4G like it can be in WiFi.

But what remains is that wireless is a shared medium, like cable too and unlike DSL. So all users have to share the available cell capacity. This can be mitigated by having lots of small cells to better reuse frequencies, but it has a cost for the operator.

You're right to point that the speed depends on the signal quality. OFDMA 4G systems have a fixed number of allocation units (slots in WiMAX, resource blocks in LTE) per unit of time. And the amount of bits they can contain depends heavily on the channel quality between the terminal and the base station. There is a factor of 20 between 2x2 spatial multiplexing (MIMO used to boost maximum bandwidth) with 64QAM-5/6 and no spatial multiplexing, QPSK-1/2 repetition 2 for example, which are close to the practical best and worst cases.

Re:overload (3, Informative)

evilandi (2800) | more than 5 years ago | (#27515059)

3G as an alternative to domestic fixed broadband in remote areas doesn't have to support many people. You're forgetting that the UK is a densely populated area. I live in what is considered a rural area - the Cotswolds (postcards of thatched cottages etc) - and I can get 2.5Mbit/s ADSL.

The areas we're talking about are really, really remote like the Scottish highlands and the deepest parts of English and Welsh moorland.

You're talking about two or three households per tower, plus three hikers sending cameraphone pics, two businessmen on an expenses-paid grouse shoot checking their email and a bloke on a tractor arguing with his boss. It'll cope fine.

My problem with the proposal is the conflation of 3G with broadband. 3G is not remotely equivalent to broadband, and I speak as someone who uses 3.5G regularly on my netbook in a high-signal urban area (Cheltenham). 3G has massively high ping times, it's unusable for anything other than browsing static web pages, FTP and SSH/Telnet sessions. Attempting to run video, gaming, VOIP or J2ME content over 3G is utter, utter pants.

Never mind the bandwidth, feel the latency.

Re:overload (2, Interesting)

radiac (398374) | more than 5 years ago | (#27515483)

I agree that it's unsuitable for lots of tasks, but the government's really only thinking about web and e-mail when they talk about broadband; 3G/4G should suffice for the majority of users. Well, it would be better than nothing, and ultimately it's the price they have to pay for living in the middle of nowhere.

The biggest problem with 3G is going to be coverage; as you say, Cheltenham's OK, but I find as soon as you drive around the Cotswolds, you quickly drop down to GPRS. And when you get the train down to London, there's no 3G signal all down the Stroud valley until you emerge at Swindon - that's half the journey. Hell, Kemble station can't even get enough signal to maintain a phone call. And as soon as you get 10 minutes outside Swindon, you lose 3G again.

If they can't sort it out in relatively high-populated rural areas or commuter train lines, I wouldn't hold out much hope if I lived in the highlands - the business case for putting up a tower for 10-20 people to use once in a blue moon is so weak it means they'll be the last to get it.

Re:overload (2, Informative)

petermgreen (876956) | more than 5 years ago | (#27515825)

Another issue is insane overage rates.

e.g. with 3 you can get broadband at £15 per moth for 15GB per month (which is more than most terrestrial broadband but tollerable IMO) but the overage rate is 10p per MB (which works out to £100 per GB which is IMO insanely expensive)

This means that any user of a mobile broadband contract has to be EXTREMELY carefull to keep an eye on thier usage.

Re:overload (2, Insightful)

KGIII (973947) | more than 5 years ago | (#27515885)

The term "available" is so wonderful to use in so many ways. Just because the service is technically available does not mean that it is affordable, effective, consistent, etc.... It should be interesting to see how this turns out. There's a bit of a movement to do something similar here in Maine but that's not going so very well and hasn't really been going anywhere in the few years since they started it as I recall.

Re:overload (1)

evilandi (2800) | more than 5 years ago | (#27516165)

Not wishing to promote O2 (who have shite customer service and whose iPhone lock-in deal is dreadful), but I pay 8 quid a month for unlimited 3G data. My phone downloads several hundred megs of podcasts a day, and O2 have never complained.

8 quid a month for, basically, as much web browsing as you can eat, is pretty fair.

It'll all fall down when people want to consume video and download several gigs of games, but as I've already said in the parent post, 3G is full of latency-fail for those applications anyway.

Re:overload (1)

blackest_k (761565) | more than 5 years ago | (#27519861)

Three you have to love em, I am roaming in ireland but with 'like home' i get the "same" service I get in the UK.
  well yesterday i got an obscure message from my bank and decided to go online using my mobile. First problem was my netbook runs ubuntu and I had forgotten how to bind the comm port (since fixed now my netbook knows what device to use and the channel to bind). which left me the Virtualbox option.

So I duly booted my Image of 2000 and passed the usb to the image, tried to connect and failed a few times rebooted the image and the phone. Then found that 3 had passed me over to vodaphone and its 3 a meg rates (rather than the 50p a day £2.50 a week or £5 a month rates). So then had to set the network manually, the 3 3g signal was about 2 bars compared to vodaphones 3bars.

Eventually I managed to connect and join 3's network. I immediately went to the Banks site logged in and eventually got to see my account balances and read one message. Data transfered about 1.8 Meg (5 approximately if I'd have been on Vodaphone and 50 cents on my one day all you can eat plan - if your determined enough. I guess my bank using flash isn't ideal for browsing using a mobile phone.

The speed was a quite reasonable 115k a sec but latency seemed high, I am old enough to have had a 14k400 modem so its better than that and twice the speed of a normal dialup modem with a good connection (actually close to 4 times faster 33k reckoned to be very good from my dialup days.
Time taken to retrieve 4 webpages including the messing about approximately 1 hour (more rather than less).

So yeah being in the middle of nowhere and being able to get online and cheaply at a pretty reasonable connection speed is useful, but the downside of being unable to get a network address and a multitude of other failures really means for me the mobile networks either don't want to have me connect on a regular basis or can't have me connect on a regular basis. With enough determination it's possible to get some use from it (I once got a 115meg download although it took about 3 hours to do so and it was a failure it was a 121meg file). I'd need to see a lot more reliability before I'd consider mobile broadband for my main connection for the internet. In fact dialup would probably be better having a slow but generally reliable connection.

I've yet to meet anybody who is entirely satisfied with mobile broadband, do they exist?

 

Re:overload (1)

commodore64_love (1445365) | more than 5 years ago | (#27516173)

>>>the government's really only thinking about web and e-mail when they talk about broadband;

Then what are they pushing broadband for? I surf the web and read email using 50k dialup, and it's actually quite fast (compression technology). Even music can be streamed over an ordinary phoneline (10 kbit/s Radio Jackie, 12k ZAP FM) The government should know they don't need anything faster.

If they want true broadband for everyone, that doesn't have latency and can handle video streaming, forget 3G and upgrade everyone's phone lines to DSL.

Re:overload (1)

evilandi (2800) | more than 5 years ago | (#27516209)

Ironically, the problem I've had with steady 3G (and indeed steady GPRS) on commuter trains passing through rural areas, is that the trains move so fast the towers can't handover quickly enough. At 125mph and a tower every miles or so, you need to hand over two or three times a minute.

The obvious cheap solution is to slow down the trains.

The obvious second-most-cheap solution is to put WiFi APs on the trains themselves, and feed wired broadband off the trains' electrified overhead power lines. Cut out the need for 3G entirely, it's the wrong technology for broadband-to-trains.

I can't remember whether the Evesham-Oxford and Cheltenham-Swindon lines are electrified, though. Since Evesham-Oxford is single track, I doubt it...

Re:overload (1)

commodore64_love (1445365) | more than 5 years ago | (#27516515)

>>>feed wired broadband off the trains' electrified overhead power lines.

And thereby create a huge powerline antenna that transmits garbage all over the countryside, and interferes with radio, television, and other wireless communications. Yeah brilliant idea. Not.

Re:overload (1)

Big Hairy Ian (1155547) | more than 5 years ago | (#27515485)

Attempting to run video, gaming, VOIP or J2ME content over 3G is utter, utter pants.

Hmmm I regularly play WOW over a 3G connection without any issues other than I get the odd bad connection (Lots of latency & disconnects)

Re:overload (1)

Antique Geekmeister (740220) | more than 5 years ago | (#27515579)

The UK, fortunately or unfortunately, has that bandwidth disaster known as "Iplayer" from the BBC. They provide a lot of their primary, taxpayer funded television via streaming media, and because they were propriatary Windows supporting idiots in its original Bittorrent-like design, they got slapped by the courts and now have to provide everything in Flash. Their interface is also pure dancing monkey, spray you with advertising and scheduling nonsense. The results are predictably bad, and they're probably going to get worse: massive bandwidth consumption with degrading performance.

Re:overload (1)

SausageOfDoom (930370) | more than 5 years ago | (#27515621)

I actually quite like iPlayer. Would get a lot more work done if it didn't exist though.

Re:overload (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27516761)

The P2P iPlayer is regarded as an EPIC FAIL inside the BBC, and the developers as smelly no-mates losers no-one likes. The Flash iPlayer is a huge and popular success and is basically the app to drive total consumer bandwidth levels up.

(anon for obvious reasons)

Re:overload (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27516775)

Which is why i think they should be helping to increase broadband range and bandwidth since they are a major user of it, along with Google and Youtube.

Re:overload (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27518445)

Every single large ISP in the UK (I.e anyone you're likely to have DSL or Cable with) has a peering & caching agreement with the BBC, so your sniffy little argument about the iPlayer being the Harbinger Of Internet Doom is utter crap. The BBC also never got "slapped by the courts", the BBC Trust or anyone else for that matter: a Flash based player was always on the roadmap and was delivered as promised. I'm also not sure where all this "Advertising & scheduling nonsense" is that you keep seeing? Hey, perhaps it's a conspiracy against you and you alone?! Doo doo doo do...

Re:overload (1)

Quantumstate (1295210) | more than 5 years ago | (#27515601)

Video doesn't have problems with latency. Bandwidth is more important. The video gets buffered on the local machine so any latency will be absorbed by the buffer. It is only when there is not enough bandwidth that the buffer runs out and you get problems.

Re:overload (2, Informative)

digitig (1056110) | more than 5 years ago | (#27515693)

3G as an alternative to domestic fixed broadband in remote areas doesn't have to support many people. You're forgetting that the UK is a densely populated area. I live in what is considered a rural area - the Cotswolds (postcards of thatched cottages etc) - and I can get 2.5Mbit/s ADSL.

You in turn are forgetting that The Cotswolds are amongst Britain's most expensive and affluent areas (postcards of thatched cottages etc), and tend to get priority for such services due to the fact that the execs making the decisions live there. Try looking at a similarly rural area in a poorer part of the country, such as North Lincolnshire. My employer's head offices are on an industrial estate just outside Scunthorpe, and I've just checked the BT website for the location which says that not even 256k bps is available there. I'll say that again: an industrial estate in the commuter belt of a decent-sized town. Rather more than "You're talking about two or three households per tower, plus three hikers sending cameraphone pics, two businessmen on an expenses-paid grouse shoot checking their email and a bloke on a tractor arguing with his boss". "Digital divide" is right; the "haves" are not aware of the true extent of the "have nots".

Re:overload (1)

OolimPhon (1120895) | more than 5 years ago | (#27516075)

If you're on an industrial estate near Scunthorpe, why haven't your cheapskate employers leased, y'know, a proper business connection to the internet instead of trying to squeeze bandwidth out of a consumer product?

Re:overload (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27516237)

Perhaps they're a small business who can't justify the higher costs and would be more than adequately served by a consumer product. Not all businesses in industrial parks are giants, in fact most of them aren't and paying through the nose for a service they don't need would be more than stupid.

Re:overload (1)

digitig (1056110) | more than 5 years ago | (#27516343)

If you're on an industrial estate near Scunthorpe, why haven't your cheapskate employers leased, y'know, a proper business connection to the internet instead of trying to squeeze bandwidth out of a consumer product?

They have, but the proper business connection only became available last year; before that BT said it wasn't cost-effective to make any broadband -- business or domestic -- available in the area.

Re:overload (1)

fractoid (1076465) | more than 5 years ago | (#27515109)

This is the main problem I'd have with wireless technology; wireless broadband makes a lot of sense in Australia because even our cities are relatively low population density and uptake is fairly low.

It might be able to fill in the gaps as long as overall load on the system is low. Unlike wired services, though, it doesn't work so well to just whack in more cell towers (unless you actually *lower* the power on them to create smaller cells) because the frequency bandwidth is still shared between them. Still, if a cheap enough "last mile" mobile unit was available that could just be stashed on a rooftop or telephone pole and cover an apartment block or a small section of suburban street (basically just a wireless modem/router on steroids), then that would certainly be more cost-effective than maintaining copper to every house.

Re:overload (3, Informative)

rtfa-troll (1340807) | more than 5 years ago | (#27515205)

unless you actually *lower* the power on them to create smaller cells

Dynamic power control; where the mobile and base station lower the transmission power to the minimum needed is a standard feature on all proper modern mobile networks and has been since the start of GSM. Putting in cells more densely automatically lowers the power requirement for almost all mobiles. For some CDMA based networks (IS-95) there is a problem with "cell breathing" in that heavy traffic may leave gaps in coverage, however modern CDMA networks (UMTS and on) support controlled inter-frequency handover and so having multiple network layers works well; one providing coverage and and another providing capacity and then keep only a few mobiles (fast moving or very unlucky location) in the coverage layer, moving all other ones to the capacity layer.

Re:overload (1)

fractoid (1076465) | more than 5 years ago | (#27515233)

Wow, mobile phones are even cooler than I thought! O.o Now I have something else to read up on...

Re:overload (1)

rtfa-troll (1340807) | more than 5 years ago | (#27515169)

That depends on the standard you are using and your definition of "slows to a crawl", but if we take "supports fast web browsing for all the users and standard quality video streaming for some" the answer is generally "lots" especially with something like LTE. It would take considerable investment, but it can be done. Basically you start by adding more frequencies and more antennas to one location. Then, when that starts to get overloaded, you start adding more and smaller cells until you only have a small number (ten?) of active users per cell. This does cost money, but the money is easy to justify since you have lots of traffic in the areas where you are investing. The maximum practical density (bits per second per square metre) for high frequency variants of LTE is pretty high.

By the time you get close to the maximum density, transmission to all the different base stations is your main problem. That's similar to fixed broad band but at least you should have a couple of orders of magnitude fewer wired end points.

Lets be clear, however, we are talking about slower maximum speeds than can be supported over fibre and a fundamental assumption that most of the customers are not actually sending packets most of the time. It's probably practical to compete with DSL. If everyone wants HDTV video streaming (as opposed to broadcast) on all the time, however, then there will be a problem.

The biggest problem with a mobile network is that many subscribers can move into one area. In a wired network, this is normally solved by simply providing a fixed number of network ports. When there are too many users, some have to wait. If your users start turning up with their own switches then you end up with problems. The same thing happens with mobile networks but the "lack of ports" isn't directly visible to the user. This means that QOS starts being implemented and if done badly that's a problem. Done well, though, mobile networks shouldn't end up any worse than a normal well run cable network with the same capacity.

Re:overload (1)

Anne Thwacks (531696) | more than 5 years ago | (#27515209)

That depends on the standard you are using and your definition of "slows to a crawl"

I can believe that. I have just returned to the UK from France, and I can tell you that the "free and unlimited internet" in McDonalds, France is about the same speed as 56k Dialup or 3G on O2. - ie rubbish. And I was the only customer with a laptop!

Re:overload (1)

Antique Geekmeister (740220) | more than 5 years ago | (#27515603)

You were the only customer in the building. What would you care to bet that there were other "customers" nearby with Bittorrent running, maybe with a Pringles can antenna pointed at the McDonald's? I see a lot of that at Starbucks when I meet people shopping: people complaining about slow connections, and one idiot in the corner serving up his torrents with one latte he purchased 4 hours ago.

USO sounds like a really great plan (5, Insightful)

BadAnalogyGuy (945258) | more than 5 years ago | (#27514071)

Yes, it may be a little socialist in some respects, it really forces a good thing onto the people with very little downside except short term funding issues.

If you think that short term funding issues should take precedence over long term societal growth, then by all means reject this proposal. But it should be noted that that sort of short term thinking is what led to the collapse of the American auto industry and the subsequent begging for bailouts.

It is forward looking policies that brought Korea and Japan to the forefront of broadband technology. With every new home wired for fiber and existing lines being replaced at a rate of 3 miles per hour, these Asian countries have already made investments that Western countries should have been making 10 years ago when the DotCom boom was in full effect and money was plentiful.

Re:USO sounds like a really great plan (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27514135)

people need to stop worrying about whether or not something is or is not "socialist", and weight things on their merits, not their labels.

Re:USO sounds like a really great plan (-1, Offtopic)

BadAnalogyGuy (945258) | more than 5 years ago | (#27514385)

people need to stop worrying about whether or not something is or is not "socialist"

I live in a small rural cul de sac. The road is about 40cm lower than my garage, so my driveway is runs downhill a ways before reaching the street. Most of the homes around here have the same sort of thing.

In the winter time, when it gets very icy, I've seen many of neighbors lose control of their cars and run off into the grass or in the worst case hit a tree near the sidewalk. In every single case, the drivers felt like they could successfully guide their vehicle down the ramp, but it always ends up the same. The first few feet seem okay, but soon afterward gravity kicks in and the tires lose their grip.

That we should disregard labels and accept some socialist ideas is exactly what I would expect a communist or a wet-behind-the-ears college kid to say. It reminds of my driveway in the winter. It's like an icy ramp. Once you start out on the path, there's no turning back until you lose all control and crash into your neighbor's fence and tear up his tulip bed.

Re:USO sounds like a really great plan (2, Insightful)

nicklott (533496) | more than 5 years ago | (#27514441)

In the UK "Socialists" would have come round and put rock salt on the road while you were asleep, thus saving you from making this Bad Analogy.

Re:USO sounds like a really great plan (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27514667)

lol Nope they would have done so for 2 weeks due to threats of frost. then run out of salt when it was really needed.

but this dose not distract from your comment.

Re:USO sounds like a really great plan (1)

commodore64_love (1445365) | more than 5 years ago | (#27516537)

And then the socialists would have charged you 5 times the actual cost (via taxation). A private solution from competitive companies which drive the price on saltrock as low as possible is better. It also offers the liberation of having multiple choices, instead of a monopoly.

Re:USO sounds like a really great plan (1)

nicklott (533496) | more than 5 years ago | (#27517319)

So, to continue this shocking analogy, you would prefer to have to ring round 5 gritting companies beforehand to get the best price, keeping an eye on the weather all the time just to make sure you don't forget? And there's a fair chance your neighbours will have used a different company, meaning several journeys by several trucks (which is clearly not more efficient) not forgetting that the companies will necessarily being buying in smaller quantities therefore getting a worse price. Not to mention the people who choose not to pay and get the benefit of other people paying for them, leading to a tragedy of the commons. No, sometimes competition is good, in some cases it is clearly ludicrous.

If you've learnt one thing from the events of the last 12 months in the economy it should be that there is no guiding hand; free markets are not by default the most efficient solution. Like natural selection the market goes to local maxima in the landscape rather than the best solution. Sometimes the local maxima IS the best solution, but oftimes it's not.

Re:USO sounds like a really great plan (4, Insightful)

Dhalka226 (559740) | more than 5 years ago | (#27514481)

That we should disregard what people actually said and slaughter kittens is exactly what I would expect a guy who's really bad at analogies to do.

Hrm. Yeah, fitting whatever words I want in your mouth is satisfying but ultimately stupid. He never said we should accept any particular idea. He simply said we should be less concerned with the label and more concerned with whether or not it's a good idea. I fail to see how that justifies your attitude, much less your tone of superiority. It's perfectly reasonable.

So far as "once you start out [. . .] there's no turning back," you'll have to do better than that. That's nothing but a worthless slippery slope argument (no pun intended). If supporting a particular initiative will inevitably lead to the end of our, uh, tulip beds, "trust me, it will" comes nowhere near the mark of evidence, nor of intelligent debate. But then again since you start out slinging insults at somebody for a perverted interpretation of what they said, I would expect little else.

Re:USO sounds like a really great plan (1)

YouDoNotWantToKnow (1516235) | more than 5 years ago | (#27514825)

you totally deserve the name dude

Re:USO sounds like a really great plan (1)

migla (1099771) | more than 5 years ago | (#27516555)

Heh. Socialism is a slippery slope? We should be so lucky...

If human kind (barring the filthy rich and their lackeys) want socialism, we will have to unite against the ones that control commerce (and through lobbying also control politics to an extent).

You'll notice when the workers of the world stand united. You really don't have to fear the world slipping into socialism surreptitiously. Relax.

Re:USO sounds like a really great plan (1)

commodore64_love (1445365) | more than 5 years ago | (#27516273)

It's not the word socialism. I'm more concerned about the word "force" in the grandparent's post:

>>>it really forces a good thing onto the people

Beware people bearing gifts and trying to "force" something onto you, because there's typically strings attached. The U.S. Banks are now discovering this - they accepted free money and now the government is forcing the banks to cut employees' pay. Many banks are returning the money they initially accepted to get rid of government intrusion. What does free broadband really mean? "Here you go - and oh yeah we have the right to install monitoring software on your hard drive."

I hate force.

I prefer the liberty that comes with choice.

Re:USO sounds like a really great plan (3, Interesting)

moosesocks (264553) | more than 5 years ago | (#27514181)

To be perfectly fair, even the UK doesn't have the population density necessary for this. Yes, the UK does tend to be more dense than the US, though British cities tend to be densely packed around a town center, rather than sprawling like US cities. There's often very little incentive to fill in the gaps between cities, given just how few people live in these areas.

How about the remote/rural areas of Korea and Japan? Do they have good broadband access?

(I honestly have no idea about the answer to this... perhaps somebody else could chime in who knows more. Contrary to popular belief, Asia is far from being one big city)

Re:USO sounds like a really great plan (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27514205)

Yes. All towns are wired and all new housing is mandated to be constructed with fiber optic cable within the walls. Naturally not all wires leading to the homes are fiber yet, but that process is constant and gradual with approximately 45% of Japan's inhabited areas wired with fiber and 100% wired for broadband (defined as minimum 30Mbps).

Your population density assertion has never been true in the UK where populations are mostly centered in cities and towns. And it has only been marginally true in the US where wiring to very remote areas for very few customers has been considered too cost inefficient.

Re:USO sounds like a really great plan (1)

xaxa (988988) | more than 5 years ago | (#27515839)

By American standards, huge areas of the UK are "one big city". The distances between settlements are much smaller here, for a lot of the country a small village will be within 5 miles of a town of 10,000 or more.

There are some maps of England and Wales here: http://www.defra.gov.uk/rural/strategy/annex_a.htm [defra.gov.uk]
I don't quite understand the way it's worked out, but Figure 2 shows places the government considers rural (sparse) in blue. There aren't many. Imagine doing that to the USA.

A few statistics:
Population density of England: 392/km^2
Population density of New York State: 158/km^2
Population density of Rhode Island: 390/km^2
Only New Jersey is more densely populated than England.

Scotland is a lot less populated.

Re:USO sounds like a really great plan (1)

KGIII (973947) | more than 5 years ago | (#27515957)

Off topic but you made me look... We have about 17/km^2 here. It is no wonder that we're not doing so well at getting broadband to all the residents. Of course, well, I live in Maine but you get the idea.

That being said, how is cell better than the wireless services offered in a FEW places around here? They just buy a tower (if needed) and a directional antenna and the service is pretty decent from what I've experienced. It is a very small area that's covered by this so far but it would seem that with a dispersed population that this has been the most effective that we've come up with, some say that power lines is the way to go but I've no experience with that.

Re:USO sounds like a really great plan (1)

commodore64_love (1445365) | more than 5 years ago | (#27516363)

Here's an image that uses lights to approximate population density: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/95/Megalopolis.png [wikimedia.org] - Full article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BosWash [wikipedia.org] - There's a lot of empty space in the United States that has not been wired-up. It's comparable to the European Union in scale:

Russian Federation 7 Mbit/s
European Union, United States 6
Canada, Australia 5
Brazil, China 2
Mexico 1 Mbit/s

And if you prefer to look on a state-by-state basis of the EU, US, and Canada then you get:
1 Sweden 11 Mbit/s
2 Delaware 10
3 Washington 9
4 Netherlands,RI,NJ,MA 8
5 VA,NY,CO,CT,AZ,Germany, British Columbia 7 Mbit/s

Re:USO sounds like a really great plan (1)

skyride (1436439) | more than 5 years ago | (#27516063)

"Scotland is a lot less populated." Well I wouldn't contest that, but what I would say is that the majority of the population lives in the 5 largest cities. Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Dundee and Inverness. Much of those that live in the highlands are simply small farming villages who genuinely - shock, horror - have no need for the internet. That is what the government fails to realise. Its all fine and well to say we need to modernise the country the bottom line is that they will, like they have done on countless other occasions, spend a vast amount of money on this project for a very small number of people who weren't even asking for it anyway.

Re:USO sounds like a really great plan (1)

Inda (580031) | more than 5 years ago | (#27515993)

Someone posted a reply to this a few days ago. 54mbits on ADSL2 in rural areas.

Re:USO sounds like a really great plan (2, Interesting)

physicsphairy (720718) | more than 5 years ago | (#27514365)

very little downside except short term funding issues.

Which puts it among a vast, vast quantity of things for which the only downside is that... they must be paid for.

If you think that short term funding issues should take precedence over long term societal growth, then by all means reject this proposal.

Please qualify "societal growth." What aspect of society is growing? And are we going to need to hand out free computers as well to realize the benefits?

If you can show me some major life-altering benefits, I may be convinced. But I must admit I am having some difficulty thinking what is so important about broadband that trumps $5 a month dialup which is available to anyone with a phone line. Surely streaming HD video and playing First Person Shooters isn't what counts for 'societal growth'? Connecting people to news and other information works plenty well at 56k.

We must also consider that the remaining places that lack high-bandwidth availability are also generally those that would gain the least by having it.

I do certainly agree that laying fiber all across America would be pretty cool, but I'm just not convinced that the benefits over what we have now are going to match the massive cost of doing so.

I should also point out that there is a certain boon for waiting to overhaul your infrastructure, in that, while you wait, technology advances. It gets both cheaper and more awesome. Yeah, Korea may be already mapped out with fiber, but how often are they planning to replace that entire infrastructure? If that's going to be their internet backbone for the next 30 years, well, it would suck if in the next 5 years there is some major advancement, and they have to spend the next 25 lagging behind everyone else. If we wait until such an overhaul is makes economic sense to us, we not only save over the short term, but we get all that extra technological advance thrown in for later.

Re:USO sounds like a really great plan (0, Troll)

BadAnalogyGuy (945258) | more than 5 years ago | (#27514407)

Isn't that the same reason America has no standard nuclear power plant design? Unlike France and Canada which have safe and plentiful nuclear power plants based on a standard design, America's nuke plants are always built using the "latest and greatest".

Which means, of course, that they are also very expensive to build and operate.

Re:USO sounds like a really great plan (1)

RabidTimmy (1415817) | more than 5 years ago | (#27514837)

Actually, the real reason that there are no standard plans is that, if I'm not mistaken, there have been no plants built in the past 30 years. And this is because of regulations. All you have to do hear is mention nuclear, and the masses think or Chernobyl and Three Mile Island and then fight you in court for the next decade until it is no longer economically worth it. It has nothing to do with the latest and greatest.

Re:USO sounds like a really great plan (1)

soren202 (1477905) | more than 5 years ago | (#27514535)

Just because one person might not be able to fully appreciate the advantages of broadband does not mean that another person cannot. The advantages of a faster internet are blurry, and become difficult to discern once you stay in one speed range for too long.

For instance, although almost anyone can probably adjust to a 56k connection, how many people with that connection speed will surf in the same way as I, or, really, most other people with a faster internet connection surfs? For instance, I probably would stay away from downloads, especially large ones, and any sort of non-text instant communications, as opposed to reality, where I've replaced TV with my computer, and I can feel disconnected if I don't have a picture to accompany the text on screen.

This isn't even considering the difficulties of switching between the internet and the phone operating on the same lines.

The advantage may not be immediately visible, but, although most people probably won't recognize it immediately, everyone will likely benefit from a faster Internet connection in the long term.

Re:USO sounds like a really great plan (1)

commodore64_love (1445365) | more than 5 years ago | (#27516409)

>>>The advantages of a faster internet are blurry, and become difficult to discern once you stay in one speed range for too long.

Well as a person who has both dialup and broadband, I can't really say the upgrade is worth a huge billion-dollar expenditure by the government. The only thing that I do on broadband that I don't do on dialup is watch TV, and is that really the "societal improvement" we are looking for? More fat British sitting in front of their tubes??? Pass.

Re:USO sounds like a really great plan (1)

stonertom (831884) | more than 5 years ago | (#27515165)

And are we going to need to hand out free computers as well to realize the benefits

If you can show me some major life-altering benefits, I may be convinced. But I must admit I am having some difficulty thinking what is so important about broadband that trumps $5 a month dialup which is available to anyone with a phone line.

First off, the costs. If you want people to have access to mobile broadband, (in the UK at least) all the networks will give you a laptop/netbook for getting a contract (15/mo for 18 months). That's cheaper than having a phone line.

Re:USO sounds like a really great plan (1)

soren202 (1477905) | more than 5 years ago | (#27514463)

So what you're saying, to put it in a nice, tidy little box, is that it's a slippery slope?

That's pretty much the first logical fallacy we learned in English class. You can't make the jump from government mandated internet connections to a sudden decision that, hey, maybe Soviet Russia did have it right.

It's one thing to think critically of something, and it's another entirely to be openly critical of what would be a genuinely beneficial policy for the people because of plainly faulty logic.

Re:USO sounds like a really great plan (1)

soren202 (1477905) | more than 5 years ago | (#27514471)

Sorry, browser got fucked up while replying. Responding to the post below:

people need to stop worrying about whether or not something is or is not "socialist"

I live in a small rural cul de sac. The road is about 40cm lower than my garage, so my driveway is runs downhill a ways before reaching the street. Most of the homes around here have the same sort of thing.

In the winter time, when it gets very icy, I've seen many of neighbors lose control of their cars and run off into the grass or in the worst case hit a tree near the sidewalk. In every single case, the drivers felt like they could successfully guide their vehicle down the ramp, but it always ends up the same. The first few feet seem okay, but soon afterward gravity kicks in and the tires lose their grip.

That we should disregard labels and accept some socialist ideas is exactly what I would expect a communist or a wet-behind-the-ears college kid to say. It reminds of my driveway in the winter. It's like an icy ramp. Once you start out on the path, there's no turning back until you lose all control and crash into your neighbor's fence and tear up his tulip bed.

Re:USO sounds like a really great plan (1)

commodore64_love (1445365) | more than 5 years ago | (#27516465)

The slippery slope may be a "logical fallacy", but as I look back over history I notice every new government-control program seemed small, but now we've reached the point where we have LESS freedom than we did under the old monarchy system. Europeans are taxed at a 60-65% rate... that's far worse than our ancestors experienced pre-1800.

Perhaps it can be summarized better by former British citizen Thomas Jefferson:

"Government big enough to supply everything you need is big enough to take everything you have... The course of history shows that as a government grows, liberty decreases."

Re:USO sounds like a really great plan (1)

Vanders (110092) | more than 5 years ago | (#27518613)

Europeans are taxed at a 60-65% rate

[Citation needed]

I pay 20% Income Tax, 1% National Insurance (NHS) and 15% VAT (Sales Tax). My Council Tax payments are ~£110 a month.

2Mbps By 2012? (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27514169)

As of right now Japan has, what, an average of 100 Mbps for less cost than a 1Mbps package in the UK, where available? They're falling so far behind it's just sad. And they're aspiring for an increase of 1Mb 3 years from now? It's almost like they're determined not to upgrade.

Re:2Mbps By 2012? (2, Interesting)

BountyX (1227176) | more than 5 years ago | (#27514343)

UK is falling behind rest of the world in internet speed due to centralized infrastructure requirements imposed by laws regulating privacy and censorship. This creates a bottleneck in the network and introduces overhead. Eventually, the UK will become so slow that traffic cannot reliably route through it anymore. At that point, commerce and trade will boom in free societies while censored states will diminish in influence.

Re:2Mbps By 2012? (2, Insightful)

Richard_at_work (517087) | more than 5 years ago | (#27515595)

Uhm, no - the UK is falling behind because Ofcom (the telecommunications regulator) regularly tells BT (the primary telecoms company in the UK) what it can and cannot do, because the other telecoms companies in the UK would not be able to compete.

It did this in such ways as forcing BT to sell wholesale at lower cost than it would take to recoup investment.

Thankfully, Ofcom have come to their senses with regard to BTs new Fibre to the Cabinet upgrade plan - BT will be able to set a wholesale rate which would recoup costs within 3 to 4 years, rather than the 15 years Ofcom usually limited them to.

Re:2Mbps By 2012? (2, Informative)

iserlohn (49556) | more than 5 years ago | (#27515253)

Be internet is doing a ADSL2+ 24mb/s for 17.50 GBP, which works out to 25 dollars a month... That's not too bad is it?

Virgin Broadband is doing a 50mb/s cable service for 35 GBP which is a lot more and probably not worth it because it's cable.

You can check availability at www.samknows.com for almost all ADSL LLU (and cable) providers in the UK. Almost all exchanges have ADSL equipment and most have ADSL2+.

BTW, 3G HSDPA coverage is very good in the UK in and is 80-90% of all areas, while 2G/GPRS coverage is near 100%.

Getting a HSDPA USB dongle is really cheap as well, some plans are as low as 5 GBP a month (1GB limit).

Re:2Mbps By 2012? (1)

master811 (874700) | more than 5 years ago | (#27516459)

The main issue is relatively few people will ever be able to get the full 22Mb/s for that price, especially outside of major cities. Most people will see 10-16 ish.

The benefit of cable is you don't lose the speed with distance as you do with ADSL.
 
Unfortunately the only cable is run by Virgin, which screw over their users in order to get to 50Mb but don't invest in the network to get better speeds for everyone else and this results in massive throttleing pretty much all the time

Re:2Mbps By 2012? (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 5 years ago | (#27520565)

Does Japan have 100Mb/s for everyone? Lots of the UK has more than 2Mb/s already. In urban areas, speeds of 10-24Mb/s are common with 50Mb/s being rolled out at the moment. In urban areas, however, the exchanges have been upgraded to support ADSL, but the leakage on the lines means that they can only get around 1Mb/s[1]. This means that they have two choices:

  1. Deploy a lot of extra last-mile infrastructure, including replacing a lot of cables that were laid in the '40s or earlier and are not well mapped or easily accessible.
  2. Deploy a lot of radio masts and use HSPA/WiMAX/LTE to cover the last mile.

It's not surprising that they would favour option 2; it's going to be orders of magnitude cheaper. 2Mb/s isn't the ideal - the majority of the UK population can already get a lot more - it's the absolute minimum. Someone living in the middle of Dartmoore or in the Scottish highlands should be able to get at least that much.

[1] Not sure where you are getting the figures for the price of a 1Mb/s package, by the way. I don't think any of the current providers officially offer anything that slow. My mother's connection is nominally 8Mb/s because that's the slowest her ISP offers. It runs at 1Mb/s because that's all that the line supports.

Yes and No (4, Interesting)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 5 years ago | (#27514231)

No, in the sense that the technology is severely limited compared to a hardline.

Yes, in the sense that, with a little strategic gaming, cell derived wireless technology is almost certainly the cheapest way to minimally satisfy whatever universal service obligations end up being imposed. Unlike landline buildout, where you'll actually need to spend real, verifiable money building real, verifiable connections to every lower-income hovel that you can't be bothered to bother with; a wireless "universal" system could simply involve tacking a horrifically crippled lowest tier option onto the infrastructure you are already building to sell to cost-insensitive business types.

It is fairly likely that, unless astonishingly carefully drafted by public spirited experts, the USO will underspecifiy what is actually required to access the internet pleasantly. You'll be able to satisfy the requirements by demonstrating the availability of an X megabit connection from at least one top floor flat per postcode, while saving money and/or upselling hard, by blocking like crazy anything that isn't vanilla port 80, and not really bothering about latency, packet loss, and spotty connections among your less preferred customers.

Don't get me wrong, the mobile stuff has its place, since you can't really trail a fiber line around behind you when you move about. As a means of "universal access", though, I strongly suspect that it is a good solution only in that it will be the cheapest way to offer something nominally resembling an internet connection, not by virtue of actually being any good.

In particular, my concern would be the effect on the development of the internet. Available bandwidth spurs development of new uses for the internet, which spurs greater demand for bandwidth, which spurs improvement of bandwidth supply, and so forth. Reliance on extremely expensive or crippled internet access guts that. If the internet access is costly or lousy, interesting uses of it will stagnate or shrivel. If they do that, the stagnant status quo is under no pressure to upgrade, and there things stay.

Re:Yes and No (1)

MROD (101561) | more than 5 years ago | (#27514861)

You say:

It is fairly likely that, unless astonishingly carefully drafted by public spirited experts, the USO will underspecifiy what is actually required to access the internet pleasantly. You'll be able to satisfy the requirements by demonstrating the availability of an X megabit connection from at least one top floor flat per postcode, while saving money and/or upselling hard, by blocking like crazy anything that isn't vanilla port 80, and not really bothering about latency, packet loss, and spotty connections among your less preferred customers.

You have to be aware that "mobile broadband" already has quite a few restrictions and you're not getting a direct feed. For a start, all images are filtered and re-rendered at a far lower resolution, at least on O2 and T-Mobile in the UK.

Re:Yes and No (2, Informative)

teh kurisu (701097) | more than 5 years ago | (#27515399)

I can't speak for T-Mobile, but on O2 if you replace the 'mobileweb' APN username with 'bypass', you can download images without the compression that's otherwise applied.

Re:Yes and No (3, Informative)

R_Dorothy (1096635) | more than 5 years ago | (#27515789)

The T-Mobile connection manager allows you to disable image compression, it's two clicks away from the tray icon.

No (1)

SlappyBastard (961143) | more than 5 years ago | (#27514263)

And so ends another edition of "Easy Answers to Easy Questions".

Yet another chilly urination (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27514271)

where is everyone?
Brought to you by Physics Phil, deep in the 1060 dungeon.

now on topic.
Dumb idea

Wireless is a short-term solution (2, Insightful)

Zouden (232738) | more than 5 years ago | (#27514325)

We (Western nations) should just bite the bullet and install fibre. The theoretical limit of data transfer over fibre is far in excess of what we can reach now, so a good fibre network would serve the country for decades.

Wireless is a cheap cop-out. It'll always be slower than fibre.

Re:Wireless is a short-term solution (1)

Paua Fritter (448250) | more than 5 years ago | (#27514747)

We (Western nations) should just bite the bullet and install fibre. The theoretical limit of data transfer over fibre is far in excess of what we can reach now, so a good fibre network would serve the country for decades.

Correct. This is what the Australian federal government has recently announced [radioaustralia.net.au] .

Good on them, the damn socialists!

Re:Wireless is a short-term solution (1)

David Gerard (12369) | more than 5 years ago | (#27516835)

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has announced that the Australian government will build a new $43 billion national broadband network [today.com] , connecting 90% of homes to 100-megabit fibre internet. "We believe that fast broadband is absolutely essential for our nation's future", he said.

"Telstra has raised issues with the amount of bandwidth usage this will produce, given we're still hooked to America by tin cans and string, but our Great Firewall of Australia Internet filtering project should keep usage down to reasonable levels at near-dialup speeds. We promise you won't go over your download cap."

The Great Firewall will reliably block all illegal material, child pornography, terrorism and unAustralian thoughts.

"Not only are the contents of the list illegal," said Senator Stephen Conroy, " but revealing the list is also illegal, and so is linking to someone linking to someone claiming to reveal the list. So we're blocking Google Search. Having to use Anzwers should keep usage right down."

Calling it, the "single largest infrastructure decision in Australia's history," Mr Rudd said the project would employ up to 37,000 people a year monitoring citizens' net access, reading their email and correcting spelling errors in their football forum posts.

A consultative process will determine the regulatory framework for the network. "We're considering getting Senator Fielding to do it personally," said Senator Conroy, "since he's the dickhead who demanded the censorship in return for his votes. Hopefully it'll melt his brain. Bloody balance of power. At least Xenophon's bloody sane."

Re:Wireless is a short-term solution (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27515173)

Yep, for example I'm only getting 20Mb/sec on my wireless connection right now...

I think you're exaggerating slightly. No-one is suggesting that existing cable should be ripped out of the ground because it is too slow. Wireless however is very useful for low population densities where it is cheaper to put up a mast for one or two isolated people than to dig up the entire countryside. Those masts will still be connected to the wired network. It would be easy to give 2MB/sec goal for everyone in these areas, even if they all use their bandwidth simultaneously (although rational economics would dictate that you should oversell because the probability of *everyone* using their full quota simultaneously is vanishingly close to zero).

If these isolated people want faster than that, nothing is stopping them getting together and paying for laying the cables themselves. I simply can't see it being worth it though.

Re:Wireless is a short-term solution (1)

welshie (796807) | more than 5 years ago | (#27515573)

The issue here is using mobile broadband (3G data or Wimax etc) as fill-in coverage for where other fixed line services aren't going to work, or even be worthwhile deploying upgrades for. As an example, my parents currently live on a farm out in the sticks. They live too far from the exchange for ADSL to work, fibre is out of the question, PSTN modems barely work, but they have got a reasonably good 3G data connection (though I question the ability for a mass-market mobile phone operator to be able to provide an ISP service - they don't appear to do DNS properly, and their outgoing SMTP smarthost regularly dies). There's also small outfit that is offering Wimax that covers the area.

Re:Wireless is a short-term solution (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27516607)

Yes, but it would cost a fortune, especially if the issue is serving the people that ADSL can't reach.

Let them eat cake (1)

hwyhobo (1420503) | more than 5 years ago | (#27514641)

Hand up everyone who is sick and tired of hearing about "digital divide". Anyone who would rather have a fifth of whiskey is not very likely to make much use of the free broadband. We are not talking about equatorial Africa, we are talking about western world. No one faces a choice of "starvation or Internet". There are so many other, more serious deprivations that people can face, that this obsession with providing free Internet access smacks of elitism.

Odd (1)

johndmartiniii (1213700) | more than 5 years ago | (#27514945)

Does it seem strange to anyone else that the UK should on one hand wish to make broadband internet ubiquitous, while on the other hand wish to monitor internet traffic so closely?

Re:Odd (1)

Dr_Barnowl (709838) | more than 5 years ago | (#27515439)

Not at all. Besides, growing the network isn't incompatible with surveillance. For example, you can bet it won't be long before they start asking the BBC and other channels to pony up the logs of which IP addresses watch which programmes on their streaming video offerings.

Imagine if all culture was consumed through the network, instead of the majority which is currently broadcast with no means of determining which bits are being consumed? The profiling options would be very enticing to many governmental intelligence people.

Ubiquitous broadband will in no way hamper surveillance. Ubiquitous encryption, on the other hand...

Most rural mobile(cellular) network still on 2G! (1)

vangpk (1204268) | more than 5 years ago | (#27515493)

That would require substantial investment from network operators in 3G/4G base stations as the vast majority of rural mobile(cellular) base stations are still 2G with very limiting data rates. Network operators upgraded their urban network (with new 3G base stations) from 2G to 3G to cover the majority of the population (and maximise their revenue - roi) but they are very slow to upgrade their rural network as this brings less return on investment. And it's the rural areas which might not have access to fixed-line broadband. So, both fixed-line adn mobile network operators need to pay for network expansion and provision. Who will motivate/force them to do so? Ofcom? (the UK telecomms regulator)

Re:Most rural mobile(cellular) network still on 2G (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 5 years ago | (#27520751)

Citation needed? There aren't many places I can't get a UMTS signal (on the train along the south coast of Wales there are a few places where it drops out, but not many), but I can get as fast a connection via my phone when I visit my mother (North Devon) as I can through her ADSL line. UMTS seems to provide pretty good coverage, and most networks are slowly deploying HSPA. Of course they are going for urban areas first, just as they did with GPRS and UMTS, to pay for deployments elsewhere, but GPRS seems to be ubiquitous and UMTS pretty close behind now...

VoIP not blocked (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27515695)

I'm on the 3 Mobile Broadband service in the UK. Skype, Gizmo and other VoIP services are NOT blocked.

It's the carriers, not the technology (3, Insightful)

Craig Ringer (302899) | more than 5 years ago | (#27515703)


Mobile Broadband (3G, 4G) services being used to bridge the UK Digital Divide, but is that realistic? The technology has all sorts of problems from slow speeds and high latency to blocking VoIP, MSN Instant Messaging and aggressive image compression ... not to mention connection stability."

What?!?

I use a 3G HSDPA service regularly with two different laptops that have built-in HSDPA modems from Sierra Wireless and Ericsson. I also use Nokia and LG phones over Bluetooth tethering (since I'm in Australia and have sensible carriers that don't lock that down).

I get a public IP address. No NAT. No filtering, either. Full use of VoIP (SIP or *ick* Skype), etc. No dodgy proxy hacks with image compression or other nasties. It's just a regularly IP service.

It's fast. Not ADSL2+-over-wifi fast, but quite fast enough for everything I need to do, including VNC/RDP remote control of machines at work, SSH, etc. Latency is occasionally a wee bit high, but nothing too bad.

It's pretty stable - it only goes a bit flakey when going through (eg) a train tunnel where it completely loses reception. Even then, it often just transparently recovers without apps or the OS ever really noticing. Sitting in one place, it's rock solid.

I use VoIP via my 3G service in my laptop regularly, via both SIP and (when forced, reluctantly) Skype. It's pretty darn solid; the only issues are VERY occasional quality drops due to latency spikes.

With a 1GB per month data allowance (for a wallet-smashing $15 per month ... so, about the price of a decent lunch) I can get a lot done. My carrier, Three (Hutchison), is the best priced data carrier in Australia, but Vodafone and Optus aren't too much worse and they have much better coverage, so this is hardly unique.

So ... if your 3G service sucks, it's because your carrier sucks, not because the technology does. Unfortunately, it looks like carriers DO suck in the US and the UK, though for different reasons.

In the US, you get hardware you've bought and paid for but is locked down so hard you can barely breathe next to it. Want to install your own apps? Better pay to unlock that feature. Want to use bluetooth/wifi tethering? Better get the "Internet" plan to unlock that feature. Want to use another provider's SIM with *YOUR* hardware, even after your contract has expired? Tough luck.

In the UK, it doesn't seem to be so much locked down as crap. Blocked and filtered up the wazoo, WAP-like transparent proxying and HTML/image reprocessing, private IPs handed out with all traffic through proxies or NAT, etc. Ick.

This will have to change ... but it's a carrier problem not a technology one.

Re:It's the carriers, not the technology (1)

Craig Ringer (302899) | more than 5 years ago | (#27515729)

Oh, and none of my hardware is locked to a carrier or has features disabled. I own it outright and can do what I want with my hardware.

Even my Telstra-branded N95-3 wasn't SIM-locked (though it did take a re-flash to get rid of the vendor branding).

My Dell 5530 HSUPA and Dell 5520 HSDPA mobile broadband Mini-PCI-E cards (rebrands of the Ericsson F307G and some Sierra Wireless card, respectively) aren't SIM-locked and "just work". Under Ubuntu, even (thanks NM 0.7 devs!).

If you've got the kind of issues described in the article summary, your carriers stink.

Re:It's the carriers, not the technology (1)

Denny (2963) | more than 5 years ago | (#27515821)

If you've got the kind of issues described in the article summary, your carriers stink.

Yes, they do. Why do the carriers in .au not stink - is there legislation that stops them getting up to the same kind of crap that the UK ones do? Or is there more room on their backbone networks? Or are they just nicer? :)

The UK has always had ridiculously high bandwidth prices and ridiculously low traffic caps, on all Internet services - I've hosted numerous UK-specific websites on US servers over the last ten years, purely for cost reasons.

Re:It's the carriers, not the technology (2, Informative)

Craig Ringer (302899) | more than 5 years ago | (#27515893)

Competition, I think. In part, at least. We have two major parallel cellular networks (Optus and Telstra), plus one medium sized one (Vodafone) and a small-but-fast-and-high-tech one (Three) that roams to Telstra's network when out of coverage.

3G broadband is getting big here. Hutchison is pushing it *hard* as a major alternative to ADSL/cable, and they're making progress. That means good quality, decent network capacity, and decent pricing.

It used to be horrifying here. Like 1c/kb (yes, kb) for GPRS *or* UMTS service. My mobile plan a mere year and a half ago would've cost $32,000/hour at maximum advertised HSDPA download rate. We've never had the other crap - filtering, blocking, image compression, etc - though, and the prices are plummeting as the carriers fight to pick up users.

Vodafone and Optus push it as a major faclity for smartphones, and also offer 3G modem+plan bundles. Three make mobile internet use a major selling point of their phones, including preinstalling Skype and selling "skype minutes" as part of their mobile plans. Not that you can't just use it or another VoIP service via your normal data allowance anyway. Even Telstra don't block or filter VoIP etc on their network.

The only issue we do really have here is SIM-locking. Most cellular modems and phones are sold SIM-locked to a particular carrier, and tend to carry an unlocking fee if you want it unlocked before your contract runs out. To me, that seems a bit dodgy ... just make the minimum spend / contract escape costs high enough so you do OK even if the user has an unused SIM sitting on their desk. Since the carriers *will* generally unlock the phones for a pretty reasonable fee within contract, and usually do it for free post-contract, it's just not that big an issue though.

Re:It's the carriers, not the technology (1)

mi11house (978673) | more than 5 years ago | (#27516175)

I've used GPRS and 3G mobile broadband in both Australia and the UK. The problems they have to solve are very different, which is why you get a very different experience.

Australia is very large, and has low population density. The UK is small, with very high population density. This works against the "shared bandwidth" nature of wireless comms. I've even noticed it over the last year - my 3.5G connection in Central London was noticeably faster in January 2008 than it was in December 08, just because more people got on the mobile broadband bandwagon.

The providers in the UK are just desperately trying to maintain the "it's really really fast!!!111" illusion for as long as they can, by doing image compression, proxying et al, all the while knowing that every new customer is actually slowing the whole thing down for everybody else.

Re:It's the carriers, not the technology (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 5 years ago | (#27520791)

I'm not convinced prices are still ridiculous. You can get a 15GB monthly cap quite cheaply now, and I know two people who use cellular broadband exclusively (no wired home Internet connection) here in Wales. The prices have gone down a lot in the last year.

Traffic caps are a problem... (1)

Denny (2963) | more than 5 years ago | (#27515757)

My girlfriend has mobile broadband through Vodafone because BT couldn't figure out how to install a line in her property (which didn't stop an engineer claiming he'd done it, and them billing her for most of a year before it all got sorted out - but I digress).

I've been surprised at how good the speed and stability of her connection is, but the traffic cap is crippling. She's a fairly heavy 'net user (she's a freelance web designer, so has to upload new sites and drafts for her clients to see), but she's not a filesharer, and she runs up against her 5GB cap most months. Going over it gets very expensive very quickly.

The worst thing about the cap is that it discourages her from downloading updates for her OS and software... meaning that she's probably more open to virus/worm infections.

Re:Traffic caps are a problem... (1)

FreakUnique (927847) | more than 5 years ago | (#27516267)

The whole unable to get security updates because of imposed caps is something that worries me a great deal. I'm one of those people who checks for updates to Windows and my anti-crapware programs almost every day. I see this whole traffic caps thing as something that could really cripple the economy further then it already is. I do web design as well as a hobby come self taught thing and sort of rely on a good uncapped connection to help me stay sane after my junk is uploaded.

Caps already exist in the form of a "fair use" policy. What's "fair use"? Someone who relies on the internet to work from home or to do business will use far more then the bloke down the road who only logs on to check their emails once a day. Also the emigrating couple who wish to show the grandparents by streaming good quality (I.E. you can actually see the baby's face) video conference will use a lot of stream/bandwidth.

Re:Traffic caps are a problem... (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 5 years ago | (#27520831)

At least one of the mobile broadband providers is now employing soft caps, where there is no fee for going over the monthly cap, but if you do it a few times they will call you and give you the choice between reducing your usage, paying more, or finding another provider. Hopefully the others will adopt the same policy soon...

No security (1)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 5 years ago | (#27516707)

> The technology has all sorts of problems...

The number one problem being that in order to have some of the other problems described all traffic must be going through proxies, leaving users vulnerable to man-in-the-middle attacks.

But I suppose the government might consider that a feature.

There is no digital divide in the UK (2, Interesting)

Budenny (888916) | more than 5 years ago | (#27516801)

The chattering classes have been going on about this for at least 10 years. In fact however, people live where they want to live, taking into account of what services are available when they do so, and they spend their money on what they want to spend it on. Some are heavily computerized and networked, others are not. And they are fine with it. Just like some people spend their money on vacations on the Costa Brava, and others spend it on books or motor boats. There is not a boating divide, or a book divide or a holiday divide. There are just people with different priorities.

This whole thing consists of people who are technologically illiterate proclaiming loudly that other people should get connected and computered, for reasons that feel like they make sense to them, but which make no sense to the objects of their attention. The same technical illiterates are demanding ever increasing use of computers in libraries and education, without having the slightest idea why this would improve either, and without ever having used a spreadsheet or IDE in anger or a computer as a learning tool. It is, to put it at its most absurd, people whose knowledge of computers is limited to writing memos in Word, telling the rest of us how important computer literacy is.

And making up ridiculous expressions like 'digital divide' to cover the fact that they are talking about absolutely nothing.

Mandatory (1)

Jaysyn (203771) | more than 5 years ago | (#27518513)

Mandatory? WTF? I'm sure they are planning on following this up with 1.5 way vidscreens that you can't turn off, only turn down?

What are their motivations? (0, Troll)

roc97007 (608802) | more than 5 years ago | (#27521055)

I was somewhat of a geek in high school back in the 1970's, and one part of George Orwell's 1984 struck me as extremely unlikely, verging on impossible -- that the television (some kind of flat screen bolted to the wall, as I recall) that every citizen was required to have would also double as a surveillance device, giving Big Brother (that term seems so quaint these days) the opportunity to keep tabs on the rank and file. I thought, even if you could mass-produce the hardware at some reasonable cost (bear in mind this was 1972), there's just not enough bandwidth in the world to accomplish this.

Well, now there is. And the first step of such a system would be to insure that the infrastructure was in place.

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