Skip to content
Science, Maths & Technology

The cost of 'free' broadband

Updated Wednesday 2nd August 2006

The recent launch of a number of ‘free’ broadband services may prompt questions like “is this really free?” and “what’s the catch?”. Closer examination will yield a set of more thought-provoking questions, “what’s broadband?”, “is this broad enough?”, as well as “what’s next?”.

Geoff Peters Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Geoff Peters
Geoff Peters
 

By mid 2006 a number of providers such as Sky and TalkTalk were promising domestic customers high speed internet access, packaged along with something else, such as tethered phones for national and international telephone calls (TalkTalk), or digital television (Sky). The broadband element of the package is said to be free, but the ’free’ broadband is conditional on you buying the other services too.

 

In essence these companies are offering a package which cable companies like ntl:Telewest have been able to offer cable TV subscribers for many years. Their package features the so-called triple play of broadband, TV and telephone.

What’s the catch?

These offers are undoubtedly better value for people who do not have access to cable and have been paying separately for a telephone line, landline telephone calls, and broadband internet access. They will also look attractive to those considering broadband internet who’ve previously been paying for much slower dial up internet access.

However, there is a lot of small print to consider. First, none of these packages are available to everyone. Only about five million homes have cable TV at present and the technology of the other packages relies on you living close to a telephone exchange to which your supplier has access.

You can learn more about broadband in what is broadband? But there are two further complications you need to consider:

  • your broadband provider will be sharing your data stream with up to 50 other users
  • the connection is asynchronous: inbound and outgoing data rates provided by the service are different – with much higher speeds available for receiving than for sending data

If you often post your holiday snaps on Flickr, or you provide a web server for your local community group and especially if you run an online business from home, the uploading speeds may seem slow. And should you and the others that share your data stream all start uploading files at the same time, you’ll probably feel nostalgic for the speeds that you used to get out of your old-fashioned modem.

What’s next?

There are ways of reaching households that aren’t near a telephone exchange and of avoiding the limitations of the copper wires of the telephone system. For example, wireless technology which avoids the expense of digging up the road to provide the optical fibre that is used for the network backbone.

The technologies of video and interactivity (broadcast and broadband) are converging quickly. Indeed it is worth remembering that the 16m+ households with digital TV through cable, satellite and Freeview are already receiving very high bandwidth content.

Meanwhile, BT, which now receives only a small proportion of its revenue from telephone calls, is set to become a provider of TV content. It launches internet protocol based IPTV in 2006 and along with Korean company Samsung plans trials later this year of high quality video broadcasts to mobile TV-phones.

For many the future can be seen in Korea where 80% of households have very high speed connections, primarily by optical fibre. In Korea a combination of competition and government loans have lead to new and thriving technical and entertainment industries.

Those who advocate the undoubtedly greater expense of providing new infrastructure (in Korea’s case optical fibre) point to new forms of entertainment and hence revenue streams. These, alongside the industrial strength that results from being close to the leading edge, have served Korea well.

Further reading

 

For further information, take a look at our frequently asked questions which may give you the support you need.

Have a question?

Other content you may like

How to sustain a start-up Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: BBC video icon

Money & Business 

How to sustain a start-up

Suranga Chandratillake, founder of video search engine Blinkx, discusses the strategic challenges to sustainable growth for a technology start-up.

Video
5 mins
A Windows Vista experience Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Dreamstime article icon

Science, Maths & Technology 

A Windows Vista experience

Upgrading to Windows Vista may take longer than the one hour that Microsoft claim.

Article
Simple Coding - Selection Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: © Nikolaev | Dreamstime.com activity icon

Science, Maths & Technology 

Simple Coding - Selection

Further investigate the Python programming language by learning about conditions. 

Activity
Games With a Purpose Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Google article icon

Science, Maths & Technology 

Games With a Purpose

Tony Hirst comes up with some ideas for new computer games using the Google Trends web service

Article
Five ways to... get creative online Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Jupiter Images article icon

Science, Maths & Technology 

Five ways to... get creative online

Did you know your computer can enhance your creative skills? The worldwide web is a great source of inspiration. Learn five ways to get creative online

Article
Introduction to Cyber Security: More free resources from The Open University Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: © Oksipix | Dreamstime.com - Cyber Security Photo article icon

Science, Maths & Technology 

Introduction to Cyber Security: More free resources from The Open University

Help to protect your digital life by gaining essential cyber security knowledge and skills.

Article
Integrated safety, health and environmental management: An introduction Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Used with permission free course icon Level 3 icon

Science, Maths & Technology 

Integrated safety, health and environmental management: An introduction

Life is full of risk. In this free course, Integrated safety, health and environmental management: An introduction, 'risk' describes the probability and consequences of harm or, at worst, disaster. Risk management involves many stakeholders and integrated management systems help to ensure that safety, quality, environmental and business risks are all managed correctly. The course also looks at emergency preparedness, that is, the management of emergencies and disasters.

Free course
15 hrs
Cybercrime: The cybercrime family tree Creative commons image Icon The Open University under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0 license video icon

Science, Maths & Technology 

Cybercrime: The cybercrime family tree

How does an online criminal enterprise works? This video explains all from the hackers to the foot soldiers at the bottom of the operation. 

Video
The world according to Google Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: BBC article icon

Science, Maths & Technology 

The world according to Google

The information within many organisations is in a mess. Prof. Elizabeth Daniel explores the importance of information management and offers some tools for clearing up the confusion.

Article