Internet Technology

The Future Internet research agenda, published by the European Commission (EC) identifies several short, medium and long terms research challenges, that relate to rural communities.

Optical fibre will likely be the predominant wireline access technology in urban areas for providing the capacity needed for future broadband Internet. The Future Internet research agenda recommends a focus on optical networks on the provision of a high-speed fiber optic connection to the home, the street cabinet or very local access point.

Fibre to the home (FTTH) broadband homes in Europe drive three times more traffic than ADSL. These higher rates are stimulating new high data-rate services such as TV programmes or video on demand. Advances in optical transmission are expected to deepen the divide between rural and densely populated urban users. This agenda is primarily oriented at dense markets where fibre can be installed/upgraded to serve multiple users. FTTH, fibre to the curb (FTTC) and Gigabit Passive Optical Network (GPON) will provide capacity at 100Mbps to a large number of users directly to their homes.

However many people across the UK are not likely to be served by any form of Fibre technology in the near-future. Although some of these people are in or ay the edge of Urban areas, a large proportion are in rural communities.

The plight of underserved rural communities was highlighted in the Digital Britain report, with a recommendation for 2 Mbps uncontended UK Universal Service Commitment by 2012. Although availability is the initial driver, a range of capacity will be needed if the rural divide is not to grow deeper: the characteristics of Internet usage continue to evolve as urban users experience higher capacity, e..g the support for increasing levels of video rich content (multimedia, IPTV, micro-broadcast, etc). New rural-focussed applications are expected to emerge, as unserved communities start to realise the benefit of access to a digital infrastructure.

Satellite operators have recognised that to deliver broadband to the last 10% of underserved communities UK users will require methods beyond existing wired/wire-less access - companies such as Avanti, Eutelsat and Astra2Connect have all offered broadband access. However, present services have limited capacity (particularly for business) or are too expensive (for consumer). A massive increase in UK satellite capacity is required to remove this limitation, which is the focus of this project. The research will focus on new satellite techniques to offer high speed rural broadband access, e.g. enhanced web access, Quality of Service (QoS) for video/voice scenarios and other tools required for effective multiservice delivery.

In recent years it has been recognised, that user-behaviour and the resulting traffic patterns have a profound impact on the service quality offered by an ISP, and the technologies to be selected. There is as yet little understanding of the way in which rural users will use new digital technology. While current systems have been separately sold into business and consumer markets, next generation systems need to support both uses. It is important therefore to understand the needs of communities to be served using rural broadband - these needs are expected to change with availability of increased capacity and with the demands of new applications that become feasible with higher speed connectivity. The project will therefore seek to understand the drivers behind broadband and the way in which these are expected to evolve as the digital economy develops.

The research described here is supported by the award made by the RCUK Digital Economy programme to the dot.rural Digital Economy Hub; award reference: EP/G066051/1.