Keep calm and carry on downloading

Keep_Calm_and_Carry_On_downloadingThere was a significant announcement in the UK market this week regarding broadband. UK incumbent BT announced that it was going to be removing the download caps on all but its entry-level packages. This meant that users will no longer have to worry about how much they can download each month and can just get on with the job of streaming video, and downloading large games like nobody’s business.

In a statement, BT’s managing director of BT’s Consumer division John Petter said that “customers told us that they wanted to be able to enjoy catch-up TV, streamed films and other bandwidth-eating applications without having to worry about going over their limit or being slowed down by their ISP.” As amazing revelations go that’s going to struggle to get in the top 10 or indeed, chart at all. As it’s not an amazing revelation – its common sense.

Another wonderful benefit of this is that, happily, it means that BT’s Total Broadband and Infinity packages are now figuratively accurate rather than completely erroneous, which is a huge relief to someone like me, who gets all het up about such things.

Capped or not capped is certainly one of the issues raging across the industry right now. Now BT has taken the shackles of its network the pressure is going to be on local rivals such as Virgin Media, Sky  and TalkTalk to do the same on their networks.

And no doubt other European operators will be looking on to see what they should do in their regions.

ISP’s have to be careful though. Recently, another UK ISP Sky Broadband got itself into trouble when it got too popular and had to admit that its broadband network had slowed down dramatically, forcing it to apologise to its customers. (They had noticed and were starting to get quite irate).

It also has to be clear exactly how unlimited is unlimited. Another British ISP, Be Broadband, this week chucked a user off its ‘unlimited service’ – for downloading too much. The user had apparently downloaded over 1TB (one terabyte) of data in one month, maxing out his ADSL2+ connection and seriously impacting the service of everyone in his locale – like a sort of data black hole.

Despite advertising itself as unlimited BE Broadband does have a FUP, which states that users should not make, “excessive use of, or placing unusual burdens on, the network. It also states that “In extreme circumstances, should the levels of activity not immediately decrease after the warning, Be may terminate that member’s services”.

Overall though, the implication for the market is that caps for fixed lines are not the way forward. This article on a gaming site reveals that while next-generation gaming consoles will still feature Blu-ray drive local storage they will rely more and more heavily on users downloading games. Companies are now looking globally for their products to succeed, and not just at the busiest urban areas in the Western world, so there have clearly been some calculations that the broadband networks will be able to handle this in the relatively near future. Customers that want a console at launch will most likely have fast broadband, and with the lifetime of consoles now in excess of five years, the chances are that the networks will be built out in time to cater for them.

In wireless of course the strategy is different. In the US, Sprint is well-known for making its unlimited data one of its selling points, much as Hutchison’s ‘3’ does in the UK. Significantly, both have said that they will be continuing that policy for LTE. In the UK the latter has thrown down the gauntlet to EE, which has taken advantage of its first-mover status in the UK by making LTE a premium option, and the company has been coy about uptake figures so far.

Of course ever geography has its own particular issues with infrastructure and other market forces. At the Broadband MEA conference, taking place in Dubai in March there are many tracks which will be discussing various issues such as how packages are priced, strategies over backhaul and how to best implement smart traffic management techniques. Let’s hope that the consensus though is that bandwidth caps are not the way forward, and that they’re consigned to the history books. We’ll have to wait and see.

The Broadband MEA conference is taking place on the 19th-20th March 2013 at the JW Marriott Marquis Hotel, Dubai, UAE. Click here to find out more about the event


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