The ability to bring fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) will play a vital role in levelling the playing field and enable UK businesses to compete with global competitors already reaping the benefits of super-fast Internet.

High-speed fibre optic cables are often used to provide the primary link to the network, and this “last mile” between the network and the customer’s premises also has a vital role to play. Why? Because bringing super-fast broadband to a particular home, office or any other building is largely dependent on this last mile connection.

By taking the fibre optic cable all the way to a company’s actual office – also know as bringing fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) – providers will be able to eliminate the interference and instability associated with copper cable.

In addition, by laying optical fibre from a central location (known as a switch) to a termination point (whether a home or a business), FTTP could potentially deliver broadband at speeds of up to 100Mbps and greater, which is nearly 20 times the average broadband speed in most European countries.

To illustrate what this boost in speed would mean, consider this: a 100Mbps connection would make it possible to download an entire album in five seconds, a television show in 30 seconds, and a high-definition movie in just seven minutes. Although it’s still early days, a small percentage of Internet users in Europe have already proven that this kind of speed is indeed possible.

FTTP has enormous potential for businesses in key areas like SIP, Unified Communication (UC) – voice, data, and video, Web 2.0 and Cloud based/Hosted solutions – areas that businesses are relying on more and more to promote products and services online to a global customer base.

FTTP for small-to-medium businesses (SMEs)

The world is moving towards higher bandwidth applications all the time. According to figures released earlier this year, global IP traffic has already increased eightfold over the past five years, and will increase fourfold over the next five years.

For SMEs in particular, FTTP will provide more robust Voice Over IP (VoIP) services (and associated features), as well as massive bandwidth for a wide variety of data and video applications. It will also help to pave the way for new broadband products and services that are simply not possible with today’s communications infrastructure.

As ‘cloud-based’ applications continue to expand and develop even further, SMEs are going to require much greater bandwidth than what is available right now. At the moment, fibre is the only transmission medium that will be able to satisfy these future demands.

FTTP for web-based video or Video over IP

Clearly, web-based video is set to grow exponentially with companies all over the world adopting tools for web conferencing for regular meetings with their remote workforce, since applications like these can combine the power of video conferencing with the convenience of the web.

By using FTTP to deliver super-fast video over IP, companies like these can use detailed visuals, delivered over the web, to get everyone up to speed very quickly. This approach can also be very useful for brainstorming, since a company’s most creative employees may also be based in different locations.

The UK needs to act to stay competitive with EMEA

According to some surveys, the UK is now ranked 33rd in the world when it comes to broadband speed, with an average that is nearly five times slower than South Korea. At the moment, the country with the largest number of FTTP connections is Lithuania, with 18% penetration. Sweden, Norway and Slovenia are above 10%.

However, despite all of the UK government’s doom-and-gloom spending cuts, broadband Internet actually looks set to receive some investment after Jeremy Hunt, the Culture Secretary, outlined the government’s plans for greater access to super-fast broadband by 2015. The government has already earmarked £530m for the scheme, with some of this money coming from funds given to the BBC to pay for the switch to digital TV.

The EU’s digital agenda commissioner has long stressed the importance of the role that Europe’s telecommunications groups will play in rolling out a superfast broadband network across the continent, especially as the Internet economy is expected to grow to EUR800 billion, or 5.8% of Europe’s gross domestic product by 2014, according to the EU Commission. As such, the EU Commission wants broadband connections of 30 megabits a second to be available to all 500 million EU residents by 2020.

The Future

Despite these exciting developments across EMEA, there is still a way to go for the UK. A recent study by the regulator Ofcom revealed that less than 1% of UK homes currently have a super-fast broadband connection, (i.e. at least 24Mbps).

Likewise, although the government’s plans will extend fibre connections to 66% of the UK, only a quarter of this would be FTTP, according to a report published by the BBC. The rest would follow the slower Fibre-To-The-Cabinet (FTTC) model, similar to the government’s “digital hub” plans, which does not guarantee a super-fast fibre connection all the way to a person’s home or business.

Even so, the government seems genuinely committed to improving the UK’s record in this area, and the future looks bright. After all, it’s important to remember that web sites like YouTube didn’t even exist six or seven years ago, and many businesses were still using dial-up Internet at that time.

Today nearly every business uses YouTube, either as a tool for posting videos online to promote products and services or simply to view content. Since then, the need for greater and greater bandwidth has continued to expand beyond all expectations – and so why should the next 10 years be any different?

For all of these reasons, the message is simple. Businesses that want to stay one step ahead of the competition need to start asking questions and preparing for FTTP now, as it won’t be long before these all-fibre networks will be an essential requirement for accessing the next generation of business-critical applications.