A new report from the UK’s biggest ISP, Qwest, suggests we may have to rethink how we use the internet.

    The firm is offering customers a “one-time payment” of £10 per month for access to its broadband services, and it says its customers will also be able to use its internet service at no cost.

    But that doesn’t mean we’re going to see a huge leap in internet access speeds.

    The firm said its customers were already using broadband at speeds of up to 2Gbps (4K) and the average internet speed is only 2.5Mbps.

    The report comes amid growing competition from fibre optic networks, which offer speeds of 10 to 20Mbps, which can be shared between different networks in a much cheaper way than copper cables.

    Qwest, which is owned by the UK Government, says it will invest in fibre-to-the-node (FTTN) technology, which would allow internet speeds of 30 to 40Mbps, but it has yet to reveal what this might entail.

    Qwest says that its broadband plans are “not intended to replace existing internet services”, and that it has no plans to offer “a new tier of broadband service”.

    It does, however, say it is “continuing to invest in the development of new technologies and services that will increase our broadband speed and provide more services to our customers”.

    “We look forward to further discussion with our customers on this important matter,” it added. 

    What’s the problem with fibre?

    The FTTN networks are not cheap and the cost of delivering them has risen sharply in recent years.

    According to the Broadband Council, a consumer advocacy group, fibre optic is only about 30 per cent as fast as copper and can only be used if the premises are “in an area with very limited or no access to existing network infrastructure”.FTTN is also expensive to upgrade and can be prohibitively expensive for premises that are in urban areas.

    “It’s not just the cost but also the reliability,” said John Cavanagh, director of consumer policy at Broadband UK.

    “Fibre is a technology that is not designed to be rolled out across large parts of the country.

    That’s something that’s going to require a massive investment, and that’s a problem for the future.”

    Qwest is offering a “free-of-charge service” for customers who choose to subscribe to its fibre broadband services.

    It says that if you pay £10 a month, you’ll get access to the service for “three years” and then, “you will have to pay an additional £10 each time you upgrade your home network”.

    Qwest’s announcement comes just months after Virgin Media said it would also offer fibre broadband, and BT and Optus also said they would be launching similar plans.

    “The fibre internet service offered by Qwest is a great service for consumers looking for fast and affordable broadband, but as it’s an ongoing project we’re working with Qwest to deliver a better service for customers in 2019,” said BT chief executive Mike Sievert.

    “Qwest has already announced plans for fibre to the node, so we’re excited to see what the new plans will deliver for customers looking to upgrade their broadband service in 2019.”

    “Qwee also have the potential to deliver an even faster, more reliable service, so you’ll be getting faster and faster speeds with us,” added Optus chief executive David White. 

    Is this going to work?

    Qwest said that it is still “working through the process” of announcing a fibre-based broadband service, and its broadband rollout is being overseen by the Government.

    “We have made every effort to ensure the service delivered by Qwee is reliable and cost effective,” it said.

    “The delivery of this service will be subject to all of the conditions that apply to all ISPs.”

    However, Qweed also acknowledged that “some of the services available today do not meet the highest standards of service delivery”.

    “As we enter 2019, we need to ensure that our network delivers the quality, speed and reliability that customers expect,” it continued. 

    Will this mean I have to switch to fibre?

    Not necessarily.

    According to the UK Telecommunications Industry Association, fibre internet is not a replacement for copper broadband. 

    However, the organisation’s chief executive, Mike Wiles, says that the move to fibre could be beneficial to the country’s “high-speed internet delivery”.

    He said: “The UK is in the middle of a transition towards the use of FTTP and it is vital that the transition is smooth, that customers get the service they want and that they get the speeds they want.”

    I’m not sure the Government will be happy to see us move from copper to fibre in 2019.

    But I do believe it’s important to have the best broadband possible and I think we can help people in this transition.

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