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Tuesday, December 4, 2007

News: Net users 'want film downloads'

Students using internet
What are people doing online?
Net users in the UK have rated the ability to download DVD-quality films quickly as the service they most want from next-generation broadband.

In a survey conducted by, users put it ahead of video calls, High Definition video downloads and home surveillance.

Some 18% said they downloaded films although it was the online activity they devoted the least time to. The most popular activities are still sufing and checking e-mail.

Some 61% rated "downloading DVD quality films in five minutes" as the most interesting application for future broadband services.

The survey was intended to get a feel from what consumers may want from next-generation broadband in the light of recent questions about how and when the UK should move to super-fast services.

Labour party on YouTube
Downloading DVD quality film in five minutes - 61%
Downloading high definition TV programmes on demand - 48%
Video calling to friends/family over the internet - 46%
CCTV home surveillance via broadband - 42%
High defnition gaming services - 19%

However, there was uncertainty over how whether people would be prepared to pay extra for such services, with 60% responding either no or don't know.

The services people rated the most exciting drivers of next-generation broadband were the ones they spent the least time on currently.

"From our results it does appear a little contradictory that respondents rated 'watching TV' or downloading films as being the least amount of time spent on the internet in a week and yet when asked which future service would be of most interest rated them as the most popular," said Michael Phillips, product director at

"It could be that current services are not at a high enough standard to warrant utilising video services. If speeds were improved, consumers are more likely to use broadband to watch TV and/or download films," said Mr Phillips.


Regulator Ofcom is in the middle of a consultation on the issue future net services while MPs hosted a Westminster eForum on the issue two weeks ago, which was followed up by a broadband summit, hosted by minister for competitiveness Stephen Timms.

The issue hinges on whether the UK is falling behind the rest of the world, where fibre networks capable of delivering speeds of up to 100Mbps are starting to become commonplace.

In South Korea, one of the world's most advanced nations when it comes to super-fast broadband, some 90% percent of homes can get connections between 50 and 100Mbps.

The biggest driver there is gaming where some 43% percent have a presence in the online gaming world.

In the UK, it is hoped that video, and particularly high-definition video, will drive services.

Current issues

Scene from Spiderman movie
100% check email
98% surf/shop/bank
56% watch video clips
49% play online games
46% download music and films
37% listen to the radio
28% watch TV programmes

Virgin Media has pledged to upgrade its cable network - which reaches more than 50% of the population - by the end of next year while BT is considering the option of rolling out a limited fibre network.

BT and Ofcom have stated in recent weeks that there is no clear demand for more bandwidth from consumers.

"With consumer demand for upgrading the UK's broadband infrastructure being unclear there may even be some advantage in the UK holding back on broadband development in the short term and instead keep track on broadband progress in other countries to help us learn from their experiences," said Mr Phillips.

There are many who think the most important job is to sort out current broadband speeds, where there is a huge disparity between advertised speeds and the speeds people are actually getting.

A report from consumer group Which earlier in the year found that some customers on so-called 8Mbps packages actually get less than 1Mbps.

Ofcom's own speeds tests found that the average customer got 39% of their promised speed.

Factors that affect the speed users get include the distance they are from the exchange and the quality of wiring within their home.

"We need transparency from providers on the kind of speeds customers can actually expect to get, rather than flashy advertising and ever increasing top speeds and this needs to be carried forward with the future of broadband," said Mr Phillips.

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News: Push for faster net 'premature'

Fibre optic cable
Fibre will cost up to £15bn to roll out across the UK
The push for next-generation broadband could be premature, according to some senior industry figures.

Both regulator Ofcom and BT have expressed doubts about whether the time is ripe for rolling out what would be expensive fibre optic networks.

"We need significant evidence that such a network is required and I don't think it exists yet," said Peter Philips, Ofcom's head of strategy.

Network firms have also questioned if a faster net would make economic sense.

"The question is how to make money and I'm not sure the answer is good," said Justin Paul, a development manager at telecoms equipment firm Alcatel-Lucent.

World map graphic

There is also uncertainty over whether people would be willing to pay more for faster broadband.

Super-fast broadband capable of delivering speeds of up to 100Mbps (megabits per second) has worked their way up the political agenda in recent months.

Competitiveness minister Stephen Timms recently hosted a summit on the issue, while MPs recently held an eForum to debate the need for next-generation networks and regulator Ofcom has launched its own consultation.

Fibre networks capable of speeds of up to 100Mbps are already commonplace in Japan and South Korea and are starting to be rolled out in countries such as the US, France and Germany.

We are not facing large numbers of people today who are constrained by their bandwidth,
Peter McCarthy-Ward, BT

The Broadband Stakeholder Group (BSG) kick-started the debate in the spring of this year with a major report looking at how and why Britain would need next-generation broadband network.

BSG chief executive Antony Walker said it was not yet time to panic.

"There is lots of competition and innovation in the broadband market and [it is not clear that] current bandwidth is a problem. We don't need to make any rash moves but the time is ripe for some collective thinking," he said.

You can shoot someone so much quicker at 50 megabits
Howard Watson, Virgin

Regulator Ofcom is also heavily involved in the debate and is aware that for any company to commit to a multi-billion pound investment in a new network it would require some assurances from the government that it would be able to recoup its money.

While acknowledging that a fibre network "could be one of the most fundamental changes to our communications infrastructure in decades," Peter Philips, head of strategy and market development at Ofcom, is not entirely convinced that it is ready to come out of the starting blocks just yet.

"We need significant evidence that such a network is required and I don't think it exists yet," he said.

"We have to ask ourselves what would be the disadvantage if your investment comes later than others. We would be able to learn from the experiences in other countries," he added.

Commercial incentive

Most industry watchers are aware that the obvious candidate for any network upgrade is the custodian of the current ADSL broadband network, BT.

House graphic

BT is planning to up the speeds of ADSL, with a new technology offering speeds of up to 24Mbps and The roll-out of so-called ADSL2+ will begin early next year and by 2011 all of BT telephone exchanges will have been upgraded.

It is also considering the business case of rolling out VDSL - a technology that offer fibre as far as the street cabinets. This would offer speeds of up to 50Mbps.

As far as fibre to the home goes - the real gold standard in the network world - BT has only committed to offering this technology (which offers speeds of up to 100Mbps) on new housing estates, such as Ebsfleet in Kent which will eventually serve thousands of homes.

"No-one would be more delighted if a commercial incentive emerged that enabled us to fibre the nation," said Peter McCarthy-Ward, BT's director of equivalence.

But he is not yet sure the demand is there.

"We are not facing large numbers of people today who are constrained by their bandwidth," he said.

Will gaming be one of key drivers for increased bandwidth?

Any commitment to a fibre network would need to be backed by reassurances from Ofcom that it would be able to recoup its investment, he said.

It may sometimes seem like Britain's best kept secret, but there is already a next-generation network serving just over half the population.

Virgin has pledged to upgrade its cable network - which reaches 52% of the population - to 50Mbps speeds by the end of 2008.

Speaking at a recent broadband conference, Virgin Media's chief technology officer Howard Watson admitted that an upgrade of cable would not "be on the same scale as what BT would have to do, but neither is it a trivial amount of money",

But, he said, the investment was crucial to Virgin's strategy going forward.

"We are shifting our position to one driven by broadband and increasing speed," he said.

Triallists at the pilot sites in Ashford, Dover and Folkestone are very happy with the service especially the ability it gives them to do fast downloads and access high-definition TV content, said Mr Watson.

"And gamers love it. You can shoot someone so much quicker at 50 megabits," he said.

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News: Games content 'concerns parents'

Video games
Many games are designed for children
More than 75% of parents are concerned about the content of video games played by their children, a survey suggests.

Almost half of the 4,000 parents surveyed in the UK, France, Italy and Germany said that one hour of gaming each day should be the limit.

Some 43% of the surveyed parents said they were not aware of ratings systems for games to determine suitability.

The survey comes as Dr Tanya Byron conducts a separate review of games and their impact on UK children.

Dr Byron, who is conducting the review on behalf of the UK government, will publish her findings in March 2008 and recently closed her submissions for evidence. One of her areas of focus will be the ratings systems in the UK - which currently involves a pan-European system and a UK-only rating from the British Board of Film Classification.


The games industry has gone to great lengths to stress the educational and social aspects of gaming, while emphasising that games are regulated and appeal to all ages, with mature titles for mature gamers.

A spokesperson for Elspa, the Entertainment and Leisure Software Publishers' Association, said videogame playing was "part of a balanced mix of leisure activities for all ages".

Elspa added: "We welcome the opportunity to highlight the range of devises such as age content suitability ratings and parental controls that support parents in exercising their responsibilities."

The association said it was committed to educating parents "around sensible and appropriate game play". It has established a website - - to help parents become better informed about games.


The survey was carried on behalf of Microsoft.

Games writer and consultant Margaret Robertson said the findings around ratings were not a surprise.

"This is a well-known issue in the UK that while the ratings system is quite good, both parental awareness and understanding of it is quite poor.

"The industry has tried a number of initiatives and game specific retailers tend to be fairly responsible about trying to enforce these things."

The survey found that more than half of children played games on consoles, 32% on PCs, 9% played games online and 4% played on a mobile phone.

It also revealed that for the majority of children, playing games was a solitary activity.


Sixty four percent of children played games alone, less than 1 in 10 children play video games with family members and 12% played with friends, the survey found.

The online space is a growing sector of the games industry but the survey found only 5% played mainly online.

Parents saw themselves as the key decision makers for which games should be played by their children, rather than regulators or the video games industry, according to the survey.

"There should be parental concern about some games," said Margaret Robertson.

"The survey shows that there is parental curiosity about content and a desire for the ability to have more control and insight into what their children are doing.

"There are games that not suitable, games which are sinister, dark and thought-provoking; parents instincts to be concerned are right.

"There are games that should be out of the hands of the children. The industry needs to be telling people that and giving them the information they need."

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