Quality, not speed counts in broadband, says BSG

Politicians' plans to spend billions to provide superfast broadband are misplaced, says industry association the Broadband Stakeholder Group (BSG).

Politicians' plans to spend billions to provide superfast broadband are misplaced, says industry association the Broadband Stakeholder Group (BSG).

A survey of service providers found that consumers want quality of service more than fast connection speed.

The BSG found few who said that the most important limit of their customers' experience was last-mile broadband speed. They were more concerned with "pinch points" that included browser capabilities, in-home wiring, peering capacity, connections to hosting facilities as well as contention in the broadband network.

"In fact, the biggest surprise was how few actually had a clear understanding, end to end, of what was affecting the final experience their customers received," the BSG said.

The study was based on interviews with a "small but representative" sample of players operating in this area, namely BBC, BSkyB, Cisco, Directgov, Facebook, Hewlett-Packard, Huddle, ITV, LoveFilm, MyDeco, MySpace, NHS Direct, Skype, Sony, The National Archives and Vodafone.

Service providers found customers were starting to demand, and service providers wanted to offer, a guaranteed customer experience, it said.

"Frustrating delays and poorly designed sites that take too long to load lose customer attention. While traditionally the internet has delivered services on a 'best efforts' basis, that is no longer good enough," said the BSG.

Two trends were emerging, it said. First, interviewees believed "inexorable" growth in traffic would lead to a "competition for bandwidth" at various points in the delivery infrastructure. Secondly, consumers wanted a guaranteed quality of service.

"We heard two consistent messages," said Dan Kirk, partner at Value Partners, which conducted the research. "First, everyone was convinced that these networks would be exploited and fully utilised. There was a broad consensus that consumer demand will grow and service providers will develop their offers to exploit available speeds.

"Secondly, no-one was developing plans now to exploit these faster capabilities. It is only when these networks are widely deployed that service providers anticipate they will make the investments to develop the next generation of applications and services to utilise them fully."

The likely applications include richer high-definition video; enhanced collaboration tools and user-generated content that exploits faster uplinks; and wider use of video for meetings, medical diagnosis and personal communication, he said.

"While we see continued refinements in infrastructure performance and further investment in network infrastructure as inevitable, and welcome, we do not believe that on their own they will be enough to meet consumers' demands," said Kirk.

Web-based services now require guaranteed end-to-end performance across the delivery infrastructure, he said. "Consumers will expect this and assume they have paid for this when they buy a service. Service providers must respond by offering this, and infrastructure providers and their partners must start to support this."

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