Campaign for Unmetered Telecommunications

  • Benefits of Unmetered Telecommunications
  • UK Education and the Internet
  • E-commerce and the UK Economy
  • What if the US Paid BT Local Call Rates?
  • New Technology Lowers Telecommunications Costs
  • Underlying Metering
  • Hull as Utopia
  • From the MD of COLT
  • Archive
  • New Technology Lowers Telecommunications Costs

    One of the arguments most often used against unmetered telecommunications is that the telephone network could not cope with the increase in line usage resulting from their introduction. This argument is often used by the public-facing departments of BT and other telecommunications operators. However, it flies in the face of what the technology can do, as presented here by Peter Cochrane, Head of Research at BT Laboratories.

    The following video clip comes from a 1996 Channel 4 documentary entitled 'Visions of Heaven and Hell'. It's in Real format, so you'll need RealPlayer to display the clip.

    A transcription:

    'In the last fifteen years we've seen quite a revolution in the role of technology. Let me show you.

    [Brandishes a thick copper cable]

    'The cable here, which is basically a 1930s design, is able to transport a thousand simultaneous telephone calls on copper-pair.'

    [picks up a more modern cable, with the same diameter, but contained within tubes of smaller cables]

    'From just thirty years ago, here is a cable that could transport ten times this number of talkers in one of these coaxial tubes. So not a thousand, but ten thousand in one of these tubes. And there are eighteen of them [in the cable of the same diameter]. So instead of a thousand telephone calls, it's ten thousand telephone calls times eighteen tubes, in about the same volume.'

    [picks up an optical fibre strand which is so thin to be barely visible]

    'Now what is really quite remarkable is this optical fibre. Now thousands of these [points to the modern copper cable package] will go on one of these optical fibres. That's as thick as a human hair. We have installed in the UK three million kilometres of optical fibre. It is made from only 90 tons of sand. There is enough communications capacity on there [points to the single fibre he is holding] for every man, woman and child on the planet to talk twice over at the same time.'

    Peter Cochrane, Head of Research, BT Laboratories, speaking on 'Visions of Heaven and Hell', Channel 4, 1996.


    Peter Cochrane's video clips illustrate what is probably the most vexing problem we face:

    Technological advances over the last few years have been staggering, yet the resultant benefits and cost savings are not being passed on to the user.
    Never mind sandbags and 'three million kilometres of fibre-optic cable', other operators are making investments in their networks: for example, Cable and Wireless Communications is spending £400 million over three years to increase capacity by a factor of twenty-four, and BT £6 billion over five years on similar technology.

    Crucially, this is not through the enormous disruption and expense of laying more cables; it's by taking advantage of new multiplexing and switching technologies to get more out of existing optical fibres.

    And never mind optical fibres, optical switches are in production. So an optical signal can pass from A to B without being converted to electricity, switched, then transferred back to light ... possibly many times, as existing electro- optical switches do; as a result there are almost no transmission losses.

    A few years back there was a hue and cry about 'fibre in the local loop' and how BT would have to replace huge chunks of their existing network. To greatly oversimplify the problem, BT telephone exchanges are now all digital and are connected by fibre-optic cables, yet there's an (analogue) copper wire, which may have been there for decades, from the exchange to your phone socket. So Peter Cochrane's 'entire world population able to talk twice over at once' was fine for most, but not all, of the trip; voice and data flew along fibre-optic cables but crawled along copper wire.

    Heads came together and xDSL emerged, which gives high-speed digital access over copper wires without the need to rip up millions of telegraph poles. xDSL is not a perfect solution - the speed, although very high compared to the telephone modem, doesn't approach that of emerging technologies such as satellite IP - but it will probably be sufficient for most peoples' needs.

    So hard problems are being cracked by ingenuity and expertise - yet consumers aren't seeing the fruits of these labours. Telephone calls are charged according to outdated charging models (never mind metering, what about the arbitrary distinctions between 'local', 'regional' and 'national' rates?); fast access technologies are glacially slow to appear; the cost of Internet access remains open-ended.

    Get RealPlayer!

    Text by Alastair Scott and Nick Mailer

    [ Home ] [ About ] [ Get Involved ] [ Issues ] [ Mythbusters ] [ Features ]
    [ Solutions ] [ News ] [ Press ] [ Diary ] [ Discussion ] [ Reference ]
    [ Members ] [ Contact ] [ Site Map ] [ Search ] [ Links ]

    Site design by Richard Sliwa
    based on an original concept by Runic Design.
    © CUT 2000. Last updated 7 May 2000.