Friday, June 13, 2008

The slowest fiber service in Europe

British phone/internet provider BT is rolling out fiber-optic service to homes in Ebbsfleet, Kent. BT says the speeds are "Higher in fact that anyone currently needs." Critics say it's "The slowest fiber service in Europe". Both statements are factual, but neither seems very helpful.

On the one hand, how much bandwidth does one need? The answer could range from zero, given that thousands of generations of humans survived before the internet, to "enough to saturate the senses of everyone in the house simultaneously" (not currently available anywhere I know of).

The BT offering is somewhere in between. Sustained bandwitdh is 2.5Mb/s, shy of full DVD, but it can also handle "bursts" of up to 100Mb/s. That's a fairly broad range, and it's not clear how long a burst can be. If it's say, 10 seconds, then in that time you could buffer up about four minutes of DVD video, and if you could do it again every few minutes you should be able to keep the buffers full. Of course, if you "need" HD, you'll need to buffer more at the outset. If you "need" to watch two or more different live HD offerings at once, you're probably out of luck.

On the other hand, if your bandwidth is adequate to your needs, what does it matter how big a pipe they have on the Continent, or in Asia or wherever? But maybe that's just sour grapes from a (relatively) bandwidth-constrained Yank.

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