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UK Broadband – Is the gap between superfast and superslow getting bigger?

UK Broadband – Is the gap between superfast and superslow getting bigger?

Unless you’ve been living on another planet for the last 30 odd years, you’ll know that a common topic of discussion is the widening gap between the richest people on the planet and the poorest. The top end of the scale seem to increase their wealth at a rapid pace, while those at the bottom have little or no growth or prospects.

Did you know this concept can also be applied to the UK broadband marketplace?

BDUK Cumbria Broadband Instal

The BT ‘Green Cabinet’ being put in place. Photo courtesy of btphotosbduk(CC Attribution)

The concept applies for homes and businesses, but we’ll mainly be focusing on the business side of things here.

At the top end of the ‘broadband rich list’ we’ve got those lucky small businesses who can access high speed ‘cheap’ broadband. By this, we mean services such as FTTC (BT Infinity) or Virgin Media’s cable broadband. Typically, for those businesses who can get it, FTTC broadband will deliver somewhere in the range of 20 – 80Mbps download speed and an improved upload speed over standard broadband. It’s also cheap, with business grade services costing in the region of £30 – £40 per month.

The way that FTTC services are delivered is by a fibre optic cable that runs from the telephone exchange down to a green cabinet in the street near your premises. Once this cabinet has fibre enabled, any home or business with their phone line connected to that cabinet can apply for FTTC broadband. Great, right?

Well, yes and no… What we’ve found typical in our area (Thames Valley) is that any business park large enough to have more than around 15/20 units on it tends to be served by it’s own green cabinet. These cabinets are often not being enabled for FTTC.BT state this is due to the cabinets being too expensive to enable, based on their return on investment. Understandable, but not helpful  – especially when successive governments continue to talk up the benefits of faster broadband for business.

For many of these businesses who are unable to get FTTC, the options are pretty limited. A leased line is pretty much always available, but depending on your distance from the phone exchange you could be looking at monthly costs in excess of £600 per month for a 10Mbps service – simply not viable for a lot of firms.

EFM, which is a service delivered over copper pairs, is an option. It’s not ‘cheap’, with pricing starting around £150 per month, but can offer something better than a standard broadband service without the higher monthly cost of a leased line.

Both leased lines and EFM services are synchronous, meaning you get the same upload and download speed, though for many businesses this isn’t as critical as having a solid connection and a reasonable download speed.

Stuck at the bottom of the list!

So, if you’re one of the many rural or business park based firms who are at the bottom of the “rich list” – unable to get anything better than a standard ADSL broadband service, what can you do?

Well, one option we’ve discovered and tested for a number of clients is a service called Sharedband.

Essentially, what this does is group together a number of broadband internet connections into one faster single connection (a concept known as bonding).

Bonded ADSL services used to be clunky, with expensive hardware to rent and expensive monthly costs. Sharedband is different. The service is bonded using modified TP-Link routers, which cost around £50 each. As the broadband lines are bonded together ‘in the cloud’, you don’t need to have a special broadband service from your provider. In fact you can use broadband lines from all different providers and join them together, providing a high availability service if one or more of your providers have a service issue.

Cost wise, it works out cheaper than EFM and much cheaper than a leased line. Performance wise, you get the total bandwidth of all of your lines (upload and download speed) less around 10% for overheads.

The monthly cost of Sharedband is £10 per line, per month. It can be installed and configured by anyone who is technical enough to configure a router from an internet provider, so if you’ve managed to set-up your own broadband connection then you’ll be able to configure Sharedband.

To get an idea of total monthly costs and speeds, here is an example below of bonding 3 ADSL lines:

3 x Sharedband rental – £30 p/m3 x ADSL broadband (incl. line rental) – £75 p/m

Total monthly cost – £105 p/m

Speed wise:

3 x ADSL lines with 6Mbps download, 1Mbps upload

Total ‘Sharedband’ speed – 16.5Mbps download, 2.5Mbps upload

The Sharedband service can be used for businesses or homes, and can be used to bond together ADSL lines, FTTC lines or cable broadband lines. The example above illustrates a typical rural ADSL speed, but if you have a faster service (20Mbps, for example) you could bond 2 of these for a 35Mbps service.

The maximum total bonding speed you can achieve (using higher grade routers than the TP-Link specified in the example above) is 120Mbps.