Access to broadband is essential to ensure both social and financial inclusion.
Unequal availability hampers progress, increases skills gaps, and has a detrimental effect on a nation as a whole. Unfortunately, a considerable disparity persists between urban and rural areas in the UK. Numerous individuals – both in this country and worldwide – face restricted access to satisfactory broadband speeds, with some regions experiencing slower connectivity than may soon be found on the moon.
The issue of different levels of broadband access across the nation was magnified during the COVID pandemic as stay-at-home orders were implemented, and individuals relied on technology for work, education and entertainment. 2021 Ofcom research conducted after 12 months of lockdown revealed that inadequate internet access had left 20% of children without access to a device for online learning while schools were closed. While many people capitalised on the newfound benefits of remote or hybrid working, schooling, and leisure activities, a substantial portion of the population faced numerous obstacles in the way of even getting online.
Additionally, the rising cost of living has had a knock-on effect on broadband access. Despite seeing itself as a tech and innovation hub, the UK is apparently 76th in the world for cheapest broadband. In a post-COVID era in which livelihoods and education continue to rely heavily on broadband, it is imperative that it is accessible and affordable. Otherwise, uneven access will widen the gap between different social groups, worsening inequality and contributing to the skills disparity. In today’s interconnected world, where most daily activities take place online, broadband should be considered a fundamental right rather than a privilege.
A question for telecommunications companies necessarily arises at this point. How can they do their part in assisting in bridging the digital divide and delivering reliable connectivity to all areas at an affordable cost?
A problem for all postcodes
Recognising the issue of inadequate broadband access faced by both urban and rural communities is the first step. Then it becomes important to understand that different groups of people encounter distinct challenges. In rural areas, the primary barrier to achieving broadband connectivity lies in the access to infrastructure due to fibre-optic cables not extending far enough. These cables need to be extended to ensure all households are reached.
But while fibre and cable networks have already been installed in most cities, not all urban households have access to high-speed broadband either.
What prevents city households from accessing reliable broadband? For a significant number of them, the primary hurdle is affordability rather than availability. Since the necessary cables are already in place, the most effective solution to address the affordability and accessibility issues of broadband would be for telecommunication companies to consider reducing the expenses associated with providing and maintaining their services.
Shockingly, all together, over 500,00 UK properties currently have broadband speeds ten times worse than the moon is due to get in 2024, with Scottish and Welsh households disproportionally affected to the rest of the UK. Meanwhile, the average price of broadband in Europe stands at $50.87, which surpasses the budget of many urban households, particularly given the current economic climate.
Network disaggregation. A viable solution?
How can telecommunications companies discover ways to reduce the expense of delivering and operating services, helping them to provide reliable connectivity to all areas? Better yet, how can they explore avenues to provide even faster speeds at lower costs?
There are innovative technologies telcos are starting to adopt to help achieve these aims. For example, network disaggregation. Network disaggregation is a modern approach to building networks involving the separation of hardware and software components.
This allows telcos to build networks in a similar fashion to the way the giant cloud providers build and run their data centres. It costs less, is more power efficient and gives them far greater flexibility when selecting or changing vendors to incorporate into their supply chains. Additionally, this approach yields long-term cost benefits. By decoupling hardware and software, updating software becomes easier without the need to replace the entire hardware infrastructure.
Furthermore, the elimination of supplier monopolies, where a single entity controls both software and hardware, through disaggregation, paves the way for future price reductions.
The implementation of disaggregated networks would enhance the scalability of urban neighbourhoods while reducing costs and make building networks out to remote areas a more attractive business prospect. By incorporating affordable open swicthes into the network and activating new software licenses as needed, providers can effortlessly expand their network. This feature proves especially advantageous for urban neighbourhoods experiencing rapid population growth.
It’s not out of this world.
Addressing the issue of inadequate broadband access requires a multi-faceted approach that encompasses infrastructure expansion, affordability, and embracing innovative technologies like network disaggregation. Only by ensuring reliable and affordable connectivity for all can we bridge the broadband gap and create a more inclusive and equitable society.
About the Author
Richard Brandon is VP of Strategy at RtBrick. We build network solutions for the emerging Next Generation Central Office (NGCO) market. We have re-applied design patterns from the hyper-scale world to Service Provider and cloud networks in order to faster implement new features into operational networks. Our parallel modular architecture allows customers programmability, performance and scale to alter CAPEX and OPEX.
Featured image: SevenStorm