10 Tweet for better broadband
This was the year when broadband providers and customers really woke up to the power of Twitter as a customer service tool. Not least for the chance it offers to resolve service problems faster and more efficiently than ever before.
So dramatically did the nation’s broadband users take to the micro-blogging service that Virgin Media, Plusnet and BT, were all posting upwards of 100 Tweets a day each in response to customer queries. Beat that, Steven Fry.
But perhaps special mention should go to Be Broadband. In July, a customer Tweeted about being unable to access certain file sharing sites. Be’s team were on the case in minutes, notifying said complainee that it was investigating. Once the issue was found to be a technical problem affecting some IP ranges of some networks based in Scandinavia, resolution of the problem was almost instantaneous. Now that's customer service.
9 Wireless mobile broadband
3 and Vodafone’s MiFi units enable multiple users to share a wireless mobile broadband connection within a range of around 30ft and brought a new dimension to surfing on the go. MiFis aren’t yet a mainstream broadband product. But you can bet your last Mb of usage that this will change very, very soon.
8 Mega mergers
BT’s status as the UK’s largest broadband provider seemed set in stone. Or rather it did until TalkTalk tabled a successful bid for Tiscali. The deal instantly created a broadband behemoth with 4.25 million customers – equating to around 25 per cent of UK households.
But it wasn’t just in the fixed line sphere of the broadband sector where the mega merger was alive and kicking. In September, Orange and T-Mobile agreed a merger that we calculate will create a 3G network some 14,000 masts-strong - setting the scene for a service that's got the potential to negate criticism of mobile broadband coverage problems at a stroke.
7 England vs The Ukraine online-only broadcast
Nothing unites the nation like England matches. But people’s experience of watching the Three Lions take on The Ukraine was far from universally excellent. Rather it exposed some of the poor broadband coverage and speeds that still blight some parts of the UK, with thousands complaining of interrupted coverage and intermittent sound and picture problems.
In the week before the game, Top 10 Broadband noted a huge upturn in demand for fast broadband products, as fans rushed to ensure they were able to enjoy it.
Just as Premier League football was instrumental in driving the UK market for satellite TV, what price it also proving essential in fuelling take-up for super-fast broadband, too?
6 Community WiFi schemes came of age
Villagers banding together to bear the costs of a community broadband network is nothing new. But it’s fair to say that we’ve never seen a scheme with the scope and ambition of the project spearheaded by residents of Alston Moor.
With Blitz spirit that would have done our wartime forefathers proud, inhabitants of ‘England’s last wilderness’ braved the cold and get out and dug trenches for fibre optic broadband themselves. The upshot is that in no time they’ll have a 20Mb, cutting-edge cable broadband service. And one offering up to 100Mb in future.
Meanwhile, we also saw Swindon unveil plans to become the UK’s first town to offer free internet access to all its citizens via a Wi-Fi mesh. That was soon followed by even more ambitious plans for county-wide free broadband access in Lancashire – suggesting we can expect these to crop up with increasingly regularity next year.
5 Ofcom’s BT triple play ruling
Prior to this landmark decision, BT had been forbidden to offer triple play broadband packages at discounted rates on the grounds that it occupied too dominant a position in the UK market. That’s not the case anymore, after this critical regulator ruling. Expect ever more competitive deals from BT in months to come as it looks to turn up the heat on rivals Virgin Media, TalkTalk and Sky.
4 Spread of fibre optic broadband
Virgin Media’s fibre optic network now covers 12.6 million homes across the UK. This, coupled with a price cut for its flagship 50Mb service to £28 per month, means that a truly next-generation communications service is now well within the reach of the mass market. The future starts here.
3 BT upgrade
In October, BT announced it was upgrading its network with ADSL2+ technology to provide super-fast speeds of up to 20Mb. Currently the faster connection speed is available through 549 exchanges serving 40 per cent of the UK’s homes and businesses. But BT plans to extend this to 55 per cent at some stage in 2010.
2 Need for speed
At the close of 2008, the UK’s fastest broadband product arrived in the form of Virgin Media’s 50Mb XL offering. This year the UK’s ISPs responded with super-fast broadband deals and network speed upgrades of their own.
TalkTalk, Orange, Plusnet, Zen, O2 – all unveiled 20+Mb products pretty much within weeks of one another. While it’s premature to say that 20Mb is now standard, it’s not far off the mark.
1 Digital Britain report
This series of mooted measures was always going to be controversial. But no one can have expected quite how much it would upset the apple cart. Among the most rabid criticism was how far a benchmark of 2Mb universal access would really prepare the UK for the demands of a modern economy and the perception that a £6 per year on landlines was unduly onerous and would be insufficient for the cost of rolling out faster broadband across the country.
But that was far from the most controversial aspect of the study. What really got people’s dander up was the proposed anti-piracy measures. While most were in favour of the original report’s endorsement of a program of education for file-sharers and written warnings followed by the legal action for persistent offenders, the same can’t be said for the proposals that were subsequently endorsed by Peter Mandelson.
Mandy’s recommendation – which somewhat suspiciously he came up with a meeting with super powerful media mogul David Geffen - was that disconnection was a viable option for pirates. This was to say the least a bit confusing to the UK’s broadband providers. Not least because it seems somewhat at odds with the central plank of the report that broadband access is a fundamental human right.
In the meantime, we await the arrival of new business models from the creative industries with baited breath, in hope rather than expecation that they'll be the silver bullet we're all waiting for. Let’s pray that 2010 is the year that they finally materialise. And that the notion of making ISPs responsible for policing content goes the way of dial-up…