Networking

Peter Cochrane's Blog: Become a bandwidth scavenger

Here's how

Never has a subject been so studied, debated and reported with such little understanding and positive action as broadband in the UK. For me this came to a real head recently with the publication of the Carter Report, compounded by my appearance at a broadband conference - the last one I shall ever attend.

The Carter Report is a travesty of misunderstanding, misconception and missed opportunities. On one day our Prime Minister announces that every home in the UK will have 2Mbps broadband in 2011, and the next a Korean minister announces that everyone in his country will have 1,000Mbps in 2012.

We should also remember that the 1,000Mbps in Korea is yours and yours alone - it is not contended, or shared, like broadband pipes in the UK. In the UK it might say 2Mbps on the tin but that isn't what you are going to get!

At that recent broadband conference there were a number of 'take your breath away' statements from network and broadband suppliers. My favourites were:

  • If you can figure out what anyone would use 100Mbps to the home or office for - let us know.
  • There is no proven market for anything above 8Mbps.
  • In the UK there is no demand for high-speed connections.

This was then compounded by comparing the UK's broadband with the rest of Europe. Ouch! What about the rest of the world? Talk about selecting the data set to make yourself look good. As far as I can tell the UK goes from the top three in the EU to around number 20 in the world league tables. All I could think was that these people don't get out much and need to take a trip or two into the real broadband world.

So what are we to do? The present economic recession will most likely preclude any effective government initiatives, while also curtailing the investments by carriers and ISPs. In my view we are definitely on our own - and will have to scavenge for what we can get.

I'm going to use my own situation as an example as it happens to be extreme in some sense as I live out in the sticks of Suffolk, well away from any big town - but I have two phone lines, both with broadband. One gives me 6.5Mbps and the other comes in at 3Mbps. In addition, I can, with the aid of a one-metre parabolic dish get at least two 3G broadband suppliers giving around 5Mbps each. (For more details on my set-up, see a blog from last year.)

I have therefore selected a broadband aggregation service to realise 6.5 + 3 = 9.5Mbps. In the next phase, adding two 3G suppliers will give a further 10Mbps and extend my bandwidth to 19.5Mbps.

Below you can see a diagram of my combined ADSL and 3G aggregated broadband system.

In order to increase the reliability and resilience of my connection, while at the same time avoiding correlated contention, I have selected different suppliers for each service. And I do mean supplier and not reseller. A lot of the potential advantages on offer here would be lost if the service was in fact terminated on the same server.

Now before anyone jumps to the obvious objection about the cost of such a set-up, there is now a solution that achieves a very similar objective at a much lower price. You just need good neighbours! Aggregating the broadband of several collocated households or offices is easy and gains a good deal of the advantages of my situation.

Below I've drawn a diagram of how you could combine the ADSL bandwidth of several collocated homes or small offices.

There are now a couple of things to note. An aggregation provider may opt to put the software onto an existing DSL router, or they may choose to include it all into an additional box. Also, the choice of a hard-wired local LAN may be replaced by a wi-fi variant.

So my two diagrams are purely illustrative to explain the basic configuration and operation. There are many more options, including the extension to more than four aggregated lines, the inclusion of wi-fi, WiMax, and of course 3G.

In my home, we reduced the potential for contention at the server end by using multiple different suppliers, while in the multi-home example we introduced the potential for a new form of contention at the user end. But this turns out to be a minor loss compared to the overall gain. In short, everyone benefits enormously but it means achieving a given level of public spiritedness, or bandwidth desperation, to get home owners signed up.

My personal extravagance involving two ADSL lines and two 3G services is of course down to bandwidth desperation for my business. But even so, two ADSL lines is well within the grasp of many, as is a 3G addition, especially if they are mobile workers who already own a dongle.

Depending on where you live - village, town or city - it is also worth looking for public or open wi-fi services you can tap into. Every little helps!

I make it a general rule to never advertise specific services and technologies but if anyone has a problem tracking down a suitable aggregation service, I will be pleased to link you directly to mine, which is active in the UK and USA. Just email me direct. Best of luck!

About Peter Cochrane

Peter Cochrane is an engineer, scientist, entrepreneur, futurist and consultant. He is the former CTO and head of research at BT, with a career in telecoms and IT spanning more than 40 years.

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