Maybe it’s because it’s the 20th anniversary of the publishing of the first Harry Potter book, but whatever the reason there seems to be a lot of magic in the air at the moment. Both the Tories and Labour have their own magic money trees and Ed Vaizey seems to have been hit with a Broadbandius Confundus curse whereby he believes the simple act of choosing “superfast broadband” will magically deliver superfast speeds.
As Hermione Granger will tell you without dashing off to the library to look it up, the effects of the Broadbandius Confundus curse is to forget all about the laws of physics we mere muggles have to contend with, and that 10Mbps download speed and 2Mbps upload speed is sufficient to squeeze our daily digital lives through.
Hogwarts students who study the effects of curses and spells on the non-wizarding world should study the effects of this common curse by watching this video:
Fortunately, there is a counter-spell which makes you almost impervious to the effects of the Broadbandius Confundus curse. It comprises reading and understanding twenty simple points, so simple that even Crabb and Goyle are reputed to have fully understood them:
- “Superfast broadband” is a made-up term by BT’s marketing team. It doesn’t really exist.
- What it comprises is a bunch of technologies, running signaling systems (variants of the DSL family) over copper wire
- Copper wire is a good conductor of electrical signals, but it also has intrinsic resistivity to these electrical signals
- These signals are alternating current, so the type of resistivity involved is called impedance
- It is impedance that causes most of the loss of signal strength with distance - the longer the copper wire, the weaker the signal gets and the slower your broadband. The number of people signing up for the service is nothing to do with it
- So Ed Vaizey is correct in that anyone can sign-up to the service, however this does not mean they’ll get “superfast’ speeds. In fact there is nothing super or fast about superfast broadband
- Indeed if, like my Dad, you’re at the end of a long piece of copper wire, you will not get “superfast broadband” - the most he gets is about 6Mbps download and 2Mbps upload. Yet he’s CHOSEN, as Ed puts it, to sign up for superfast broadband - it’s those pesky laws of muggle physics getting in the way
- Dad lives in Surrey. 15 miles way from Diagon Alley, central London, in case you’re wondering
- Where they don’t have their own network, VirginMedia resells BT’s services - as do a lot of broadband suppliers - so often it’s the same stuff, with a different brand...
- Virgin’s own network uses a different signaling system (DOCSIS) over a different type of copper wire - in this case it’s “COAX cable”, the type of cable you use to connect an aerial to a TV. Unlike with BT, no one else gets to sell this service, they don’t have what the industry calls a “wholesale” option
- The mix of DOCSIS and copper coax cable is slightly better at handling high electrical frequencies, so it provides faster broadband than BT’s set up, and Virgin have been doing some smart things in their network to further boost their broadband speeds (port bonding). But even Virgin are tying themselves up in knots as on their posters they talk about fibre optic broadband and show a picture of a copper coax cable
- Neither of these systems (BT’s copper wire + xDSL and Virgin’s copper coax cable + DOCSIS) is FIBRE OPTIC broadband because they both use copper wires to connect to our houses
- This make a huge difference as laser light through fibres obey different laws of muggle physics from electrical signals over copper wire - even a few feet of copper makes a massive difference
- Laser light through fibre is to all intents and purposes impervious to distance - at least as far as the distance to connect houses to a telecoms network is concerned - it is after all used for trans-ocean undersea cables
- Because of this, a real fibre optic network (or pure fibre or full fibre) is a much fairer network - and this is the really important thing – as if by magic everyone receives pretty much the same speed irrespective of where they live - up a mountain or in the middle of London
- A side effect, and a very welcome side effect, is that the right kind of fibre optic network can deliver 1000Mbps symmetrical (upload and download) or MORE (10Gbps for example). If it were a broomstick, it would be a Nimbus 2001, as compared to Ed’s Cleansweep 1.
- Why is this important - because it’s a higher quality service - try downloading a Mac or Windows system upgrade (4GB or more) on a feeble 10Mbps service and see how you get on, or when working from home taking part in a multi-party Skype call on a 1Mbps uplink
- It’s for these reasons that copper-based broadband services should not be promoted as “fibre optic”, as it’s a) incorrect and b) misleading
- But not all fibre optic networks are the same. In the UK, Gigaclear, Hyperoptic, B4RN are among the very few that can deliver 1000Mbps (1Gbps) symmetrical services today. Where BT do provide real fibre optic services, which is as rare as a unicorn, they provide up to 300Mbps down and 30Mbps up
- We have to have a Brexit angle on this - the FTTH (Fibre To The Home) Council of Europe publish stats of each member state’s fibre optic broadband penetration - remember this is where the optical fibres terminate at the house and there’s no copper used - guess which country isn’t even on the charts? Now that we’re leaving the EU, and our soon-to-be-former-partners are zooming away with REAL fibre optic broadband, we’ll be left in the uncompetitive copper slow lane… unless you live within reach of the service providers I mentioned earlier
So there you have it. The counter-spell to Broadbandius Confundus curse which disillusions those affected so that they see copper broadband for what it is:
A damp squib.