Internet in the United Kingdom: Wikis


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The United Kingdom has been involved with the Internet since the latter's creation.

The Internet country code top-level domain (ccTLD) for the United Kingdom is .uk and is sponsored by Nominet.

Currently internet access is available to businesses and home users in various forms, including dial-up, cable, DSL, and wireless.



Dial-up internet access was first introduced in the UK by Pipex. This narrowband service has been almost entirely replaced by the new broadband technologies, and is generally only used as a backup.


Broadband Internet access in the UK was, initially, provided by a large number of regional Cable television and telephone companies which gradually merged into larger groups. The development of Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) technology has allowed Broadband to be delivered via traditional copper telephone cables. Also, Wireless Broadband is now available in some areas. These three technologies (Cable, DSL and Wireless) now compete with each other.[1]

More than half of UK homes had broadband in 2007, with an average connection speed of 4.6MBit/s. Bundled communications deals mixing broadband, digital TV, mobile phone and landline phone access were adopted by 40 per cent of UK households in the same year, up by a third over the previous year. This high level of service is considered the main driver for the recent growth in online advertising and retail.[2]

In 2006 the UK market was dominated by 6 companies, with the top two taking 51%, these being Virgin Media with a 28% share, and BT at 23%.[3]

The UK broadband market is overseen by the watchdog Ofcom. According to Ofcom's 2007 report the average UK citizen uses the Internet for 36 minutes every day.[4][5]



Cable Broadband uses Coaxial cables or fiber optic cables. The main cable service provider in the UK is Virgin Media, although Smallworld Media have a substantial market share in the areas in which they operate (the Isle Of Wight, Scotland and the north-west of England) the current maximum speed a cable customer can expect is 50.00M bit/s although Virgin Media & Arris are carrying out trials of 100.00Mbit/s.[6]

Digital Subscriber Line (DSL)

Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL) was introduced to the UK in trial stages in the late 1990s and a commercial product was launched in 2000. In the United Kingdom, most exchanges, local loops and backhauls are owned and managed by BT Wholesale, who then wholesale connectivity via Internet Service Providers, who generally provide the connectivity to the Internet, support, billing and value added services (such as web hosting and email).

BT currently operate 5591 exchanges[7] across the UK with the vast majority being enabled for ADSL. Only a relative handful have not been upgraded to support ADSL products - in fact it is under 100 of the smallest and most rural exchanges. Some exchanges, numbering under 1000, have been upgraded to support SDSL products. However, these exchanges are often the larger exchanges based in major towns and cities so they still cover a large proportion of the population. SDSL products are aimed more at business customers and are priced higher than ADSL services.

Unbundled local loop

Many companies are now operating their own services using unbundled local loops. Initially Bulldog Communications in the London area, and Easynet, through their consumer sister company UK Online, who have enabled exchanges all across the country, from London to Central Scotland.

This allows them to offer much faster services with typical speeds of up to 24 Mbit/s downstream in certain areas. They can offer products at sometimes considerably lower prices, because they don't have to conform to the same regulatory conditions as BT.

Another company, Be*, is offering speeds of up to 24 Mbit/s downstream, using ADSL2+ which is currently available in almost all towns and cities across the UK. Exchanges are continually being upgraded (depending on demand) to increasing speeds across the country. Be* were taken over by O2 in 2007.


Up until the launch of "Max" services, the only ADSL packages available via BT Wholesale were known as IPStream Home 250, Home 500, Home 1000 and Home 2000 (contention ratio of 50:1); and Office 500, Office 1000, and Office 2000 (contention ratio of 20:1). The number in the product name indicates the downstream data rate in kilobits per second. The upstream data rate is up to 250 kbit/s for all products.[8]

For BT Wholesale ADSL products, users initially had to live within 3.5 kilometres of the local telephone exchange to receive ADSL, but this limit was increased thanks to RADSL (Rate Adaptive Digital Subscriber Line), although users with RADSL may have a reduced upstream rate, depending on the quality of their line. There are still areas that cannot receive ADSL because of technical limitations, not least of which networks in housing areas built with aluminium cable rather than copper in the 1980s and 1990s, and areas served by optical fibre (TPON), though these are slowly being serviced with copper.

In September 2004, BT Wholesale removed the line length / loss limits for 500 kbit/s ADSL, instead employing a tactic of "suck it and see" — enabling the line, then seeing if ADSL would work on it. This sometimes includes the installation of a filtered faceplate on the customer's master socket, so as to eliminate poor quality telephone extension cables inside the customer's premises which can be a source of high frequency noise.

In the past, the majority of home users used packages with 500 kbit/s (downstream) and 250 kbit/s (upstream) with a 50:1 contention ratio. However, BT Wholesale introduced the option of a new charging structure to ISPs which means that the wholesale service cost was the same regardless of the ADSL data rate, with charges instead being based on the amount of data transferred. Nowadays, most home users use a package whose data rate is only limited by the technical limitations of their telephone line. Initially this was 2 Mbit/s downstream. Nowadays, most home products are ADSL Max based (up to 7.15 Mbit/s).

Max and Max Premium

Following successful trials, BT announced the availability of higher speed services known as BT ADSL Max and BT ADSL Max Premium in March 2006. BT made the "Max" product available to more than 5300 exchanges, serving around 99% of UK households and businesses.

Both Max services offer downstream data rates of up to 7.15 Mbit/s. Upstream data rates are up to 400 kbit/s for the standard product and up to 750 kbit/s for the premium product. (Whilst the maximum downstream data rate for IPStream Max is often touted as 8 Mbit/s, this is in fact misleading because, in a departure from previous practice, it actually refers to the gross ATM data rate. The maximum data rate available at the IP level is 7.15 Mbit/s; the maximum TCP payload rate — the rate you would actually see for file transfer — would be about 7.0 Mbit/s.)

The actual downstream data rate achieved on any given Max line is subject to the capabilities of the line. Depending on the stable ADSL synchonisation rate negotiated, BT's system applies a fixed rate limit from one of the following data rates: 160 kbit/s, 250 kbit/s, 500 kbit/s, then in 500 kbit/s steps up to 7.0 Mbit/s, then a final maxium rate of 7.15 Mbit/s.

Contention ratios are no longer officially stated either, except that the Office products will generally see a reduced level of contention to their Home counterparts. This is the product of amalgamating Home and Office users onto a single consolidated, but larger, virtual path.


On August 13, 2004 the ISP Wanadoo (formerly Freeserve and now Orange SA in the UK) were told by the Advertising Standards Authority to change the way that they advertised their 512 kbit/s broadband service in Britain, removing the words "full speed" which rival companies claimed was misleading people into thinking it was the fastest available service.

In a similar way, on April 9, 2003 the Advertising Standards Authority ruled against ISP NTL, saying that NTL's 128 kbit/s cable modem service must not be marketed as "broadband". Ofcom reported in June 2005 that there were more broadband than dial-up connections for the first time in history.[9].

In the third quarter of 2005 with the merger of NTL and Telewest, a new alliance was formed to create the largest market share of broadband users. This alliance brought about huge increases in bandwidth allocations for cable customers (minimum speed increasing from the industry norm of 512 kbit/s to 2 Mbit/s home lines with both companies planning to have all domestic customers upgraded to at least 4 Mbit/s downstream and ranging up to 10 Mbit/s and beyond by mid-2006.) along with the supply of integrated services such as Digital TV and Phone packages.

March 2006 saw the nationwide launch[10] of BT Wholesale's up to 8 Mbit/s ADSL services, known as Max ADSL. Max based packages are available to end users on any broadband enabled exchange in the UK.

Since 2003 BT has been introducing SDSL to exchanges in many of the major cities. Services are currently offered at upload/download speeds of 256 kbit/s, 512 kbit/s, 1 Mbit/s or 2 Mbit/s. Unlike ADSL, which is typically 256 kbit/s upload, SDSL upload speeds are the same as the download speed. BT usually provide a new copper pair for SDSL installs, which can be used only for the SDSL connection. At a few hundred pounds a quarter, SDSL is significantly more expensive than ADSL, but is significantly cheaper than a leased line. SDSL is marketed to businesses and offers low contention ratios, and in some cases, a Service Level Agreement. At present, the BT Wholesale SDSL enablement programme has stalled, most probably due to a lack of uptake.

Recent developments

In 2006, the UK market has been about convergence and takeovers. Talk Talk threw down the gauntlet by offering so-called ‘free’ broadband along with their telephone package. Rival, Orange responded by offering ‘free’ broadband for some mobile customers. Many other smaller ISPs have responded by offering similar bundled packages. O2 also entered the broadband market by taking over LLU provider Be*, while Sky (BSkyB) had already taken over LLU broadband provider Easynet. In July 2006, Sky entered the broadband arena by announcing 2 Mbit/s broadband to be available free to Sky customers and a higher speed connection at a lower price than most rivals.[11]

In 2007 BT announced service trials for ADSL2+. Entanet, BT Wholesale and BT Retail were chosen as the 3 service providers for the first service trial in the West Midlands[12]

Wireless Broadband

The term "Wireless Broadband" generally refers to the provision of a wireless router with a broadband connection.

Mobile Broadband

Mobile broadband is high-speed internet access provided by mobile phone operators using a device that requires a sim card to access the service (such as the Huawei E220).

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ Register editorial
  5. ^ the complete report
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^ 1 kbit = 1000 bit
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^ "Phone firm 'plans free broadband'" (in en). BBC.  
  12. ^ "BT select three ISP's for System Trial" (in en). Thinkbroadband. 14 September 2007.  

External links


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