In today’s ‘information age’ it’s easy to assume that pretty much any information you need is readily available.
But you’d be wrong. Quantity is not quality.
Until 1982, the main civil telecommunications system in the UK was a state monopoly known (since reorganisation in 1969) as Post Office Telecommunications. Broadcasting of radio and television was a duopoly of the BBC and Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA): these two organisations controlled all broadcast services, and directly owned and operated the broadcast transmitter sites. Mobile phone and Internet services did not then exist. The civil telecoms monopoly ended when Mercury Communications arrived in 1983.
Domestic trunk infrastructure
All communications trunks are now digital. Most are carried via national optical fibre networks. There are several companies with national fibre networks, including BT, Level 3 Communications, Virgin Media,Cable & Wireless, Easynet and Thus. Microwave links are used up to the 155 Mbit/s level, but are seldom cost-effective at higher bit rates.
The UK is a focal point for many of the world’s submarine communications cables, which are now mostly digital optical fibre cables. There are many satellite links too, but these now provide a relatively small part of the international bandwidth.
Most broadcasting organisations, BBC and commercial, lease transmission facilities from one or more of the transmission companies. The main exception is the smaller local radio stations, some of which find it more cost-effective to provide their own.
Fixed phone lines
BT is still the main provider of fixed telephones lines, both POTS and ISDN, and it has a universal service obligation, although companies can now contract Openreach to install a phoneline on their behalf, rather than telling the customer to get BT to install it, then transfer over.
Virgin Media is the second biggest player in the residential telephone line market. Other companies provide fixed telephone lines too, but mainly to large companies in the major cities.
There are many other providers who sell fixed telephone services carried over BT lines. They have no network infrastructure of their own.
Mobile phone network
First generation networks
Cellnet was originally jointly owned by British Telecom and Securicor. BT eventually bought out Securicor’s stake. The network became BT Cellnet and was then demerged to become O2.
Both companies ran ETACS analogue mobile phone networks.
First and second generation networks
• O2 – runs a GSM-900 network, owned by Telefónica.
• Vodafone – runs a GSM-900 network.
• EE – runs a GSM-1800 network. Formerly this was two separate
companies: Orange and T-Mobile, which was originally called One-2-One.
Third generation networks
The four 2G companies all won 3G licences in a competitive auction, as did new entrant known as Hutchison 3G, which branded its network as 3. They have now rolled out their networks. Hutchinson 3G does not operate a 2G network, but has an agreement with Orange whereby customers who lose a 3G signal roam with Orange. They previously had an
agreement with O2 to provide the same service.
The third generation stems from technological improvements and is in essence an improvement of the available bandwidth, enabling new services to be provided to customers. Such services include streaming of live radio or video, video calls and live TV.
Fourth generation networks
Long-term evolution (LTE) services are currently being rolled out. EE launched their 4G network in October 2012, using part of their existing 1800 MHz spectrum. O2 and Vodafone will use the 800 MHz and 2600 MHz bands for their services. O2 intends to launch its 4G network on 29 August 2013, initially in London, Leeds and Bradford with a further 13 cities added by the end of 2013. Vodafone announced that its 4G service will also commence on 29 August 2013, initially in London with 12 more cities to be added by the end of 2013. 3 expects to commence LTE services in the final quarter of 2013. As a condition of acquiring part of EE’s 1800 MHz spectrum for 4G use, 3 cannot start using it until October 2013..