The future's fast, the future's fibre

If you thought super-fast broadband was just about speed, you’d better think again. And fast...

SurferThere is a growing sense of excitement about 2012. And it’s not just about London hosting the Olympics in what promises to be another thrilling global sporting event. No, 2012 is set to be a memorable year for another reason as well.

By then, more than ten million homes and businesses in the UK will have access to super-fast broadband (SFBB), a new fibre-based service that will change the way we all interact with one another.

By using the latest fibre optic based technology super-fast broadband can offer download speeds of up to 40Mb a second – roughly twice the maximum speed of standard (ADSL) broadband. BT is investing £2.5bn to bring super-fast broadband to two thirds of the UK by 2015, with roll-out already well underway.

So what does a fibre home look like? Well, imagine the scene; mum could be catching up with her favourite TV show by streaming the programme via the BBC’s iPlayer service. Dad is watching a live football match in glorious HD while using his wi-fi-connected phone to carry out a face-to-face chat with his friends. At the same time, the kids are on-line playing the latest must-have game with their friends while downloading the newest movie from the net.

Of course, all these things are possible now. But to do all of them at the same time on a standard broadband connection would not make for a memorable experience.

SFBB, on the other hand, would handle this kind of full-on activity – and a whole lot more – with no problem at all. And that’s one of the things that makes it so exciting.

SFBB – bringing people together

“That’s one of the benefits of SFBB,” said Dr Doug Williams, project director at BT Innovate & Design. “But it certainly isn’t the only consideration.”

And he should know. Doug is the project director for TA2 (pronounced ‘tattoo’) - an EU collaborative research project led by BT – which is short for “Together Anywhere, Together Anytime”. The project is looking at how technology can help to nurture relationships between households. And SFBB is a vital element of that.

“TA2 is about being together when you’re apart,” said Doug. “It’s about enjoying a shared activity. And it’s about communicating. We want to find out how you can do all these things when you’re apart. You can only do this with fibre.”

So what whizzy new ideas and applications could develop thanks to fibre? Well, one idea being researched by BT and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is an enhanced TV remote control that combines its channel changing functions with a handheld communicator and mobile phone into a single intuitive Social TV interface.

The gadget would provide a whole new way for people to connect with friends while watching TV. Not only could you see what your friends are watching, you could chat using instant messaging or simply by clicking a button to speak to them.

The next logical step would be able to see your friends on a screen and chat to them in real time as they as they watch TV. And according to Doug, it’s something that’s already being developed.

“With microphones and cameras in your room, it would be possible to be together with someone even though you’re apart. That’s what SFBB can do.”

But there’s more.

“For instance, kids play online all the time,” says Doug. “But what they see on the screen is the game. When kids get together to play in person, what they see - what they focus on - is not the game, but each other. Fibre games would allow them to see who they’re playing with as well so that they have the experience of playing together even when they’re in different part of the country – or the world."

“Think about playing board games. When you sit down with family or friends to play it’s not just the game that’s important - it’s about being together. The same is true for watching TV – it’s much more enjoyable as a shared experience.

“Fibre means you can do this,” said Doug.

SFBB – imagine what’s possible

As you begin to think about what’s possible, it becomes clear that SFBB could have far-reaching implications. With screens on the wall coupled with cameras and microphones, there would be no need to interact with others using a handheld device. The interaction with others could be done in HD or 3D with SFBB allowing you to be immersed in the experience.

“This would be ideal for many educational purpose too, particularly synchronous activities such as performing arts,” said Doug.

“Imagine you wanted to learn to dance or play a musical instrument. You could do it from home by interacting with your tutor via the screen. They could even record what you do and play it back immediately so you can review what you’ve done in real-time.

“Or friends could just meet up this way as if they were in the same room. They could share guitar licks or dance moves just like they do in person. It might seem a bit futuristic but these are the types of experiences that super-fast broadband enables.” he said.