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The United Kingdom has been involved with the Internet since the latter's creation.
Currently Internet access is available to businesses and home users in various forms, including dial-up, cable, DSL, and wireless.
Dial-up Internet access was first introduced in the UK by Pipex in March 1992, having been established during 1991 as the UK's first commercial Internet provider, and by November 1993 provided Internet service to some 150 customer sites.
This narrowband service has been almost entirely replaced by the new broadband technologies, and is generally only used as a backup.
Broadband Internet access in the UK was, initially, provided by a large number of regional cable television and telephone companies which gradually merged into larger groups. The development of digital subscriber line (DSL) technology has allowed broadband to be delivered via traditional copper telephone cables. Also, Wireless Broadband is now available in some areas. These three technologies (cable, DSL and wireless) now compete with each other.
More than half of UK homes had broadband in 2007, with an average connection speed of 4.6 Mbit/s. Bundled communications deals mixing broadband, digital TV, mobile phone and landline phone access were adopted by forty per cent of UK households in the same year, up by a third over the previous year. This high level of service is considered the main driver for the recent growth in online advertising and retail.
As of July 2011 BT's share had grown by six per cent and the company became the broadband market leader.
Cable broadband uses coaxial cables or optical fibre cables. The main cable service provider in the UK is Virgin Media, although Smallworld Cable have a substantial market share in the areas in which they operate (the Isle of Wight, Scotland and the north-west of England) the current maximum speed a cable customer can expect is 152Mbit/s
Asymmetric digital subscriber line (ADSL) was introduced to the UK in trial stages in 1998 and a commercial product was launched in 2000. In the United Kingdom, most exchanges, local loops and backhauls are owned and managed by BT Wholesale, who then wholesale connectivity via Internet service providers, who generally provide the connectivity to the Internet, support, billing and value added services (such as web hosting and email).
As of October 2012, BT operate 5630 exchanges across the UK with the vast majority being enabled for ADSL. Only a relative handful have not been upgraded to support ADSL products - in fact it is under 100 of the smallest and most rural exchanges. Some exchanges, numbering under 1000, have been upgraded to support SDSL products. However, these exchanges are often the larger exchanges based in major towns and cities so they still cover a large proportion of the population. SDSL products are aimed more at business customers and are priced higher than ADSL services.
Many companies are now operating their own services using local loop unbundling. Initially Bulldog Communications in the London area and Easynet (through their sister consumer provider UK Online) enabled exchanges across the country from London to Central Scotland.
In November 2010, having purchased Easynet in the preceding months, Sky closed the business-centric UK Online with little more than a month's notice. Although Easynet continued to offer business-grade broadband connectivity products, UKO customers could not migrate to an equivalent Easynet service, only being offered either a MAC to migrate provider or the option of becoming a customer of the residential-only Sky Broadband ISP with an introductory discounted period. Also, some previously available service features like fastpath (useful for time-critical protocols like SIP) were not made available on Sky Broadband, leaving business users with a difficult choice particularly where UK Online were the only LLU provider. Since then, Sky Broadband has become a significant player in the quad play telecoms market, offering below-cost DSL, discounted full LLU line rental and call packages to customers (who receive additional discount if they are also Sky television subscribers).
Whilst Virgin Media is the nearest direct competitor, their quad play product is available to fewer homes given the fixed nature of their cable infrastructure. TalkTalk is the next DSL-based ISP with a mature quad play product portfolio (EE's being the merger of the Orange and T-Mobile service providers, and focusing their promotion on forthcoming fibre broadband and 4G LTE products).
Market consolidation and expansion has permitted service providers to offer faster and less expensives services with typical speeds of up to 24 Mbit/s downstream (subject to ISP and line length). They can offer products at sometimes considerably lower prices, due to not necessarily having to conform to the same regulatory requirements as BT Wholesale: for example, 8 unbundled LLU pairs can deliver 10 Mbit/s over 3775 meters for half the price of a similar Fibre connection.
Since 2005, another company, Be, has offered speeds of up to 24 Mbit/s downstream and 2.5 Mbit/sec upstream using ADSL2+ with Annex M and is currently available in over 1,250 UK exchanges. Exchanges continue to be upgraded, subject to demand, across the country, although at a somewhat slower pace since BT's commencement of FTTC rollout plans and near-saturation in key geographical areas. BE were taken over by O2's parent company Telefónica in 2007; they have continued to expand the customer base and additionally make wholesale network access available to third party ISPs through the BE Wholesale brand. On the 1st of March 2013 O2 Telefónica sold BE to Sky who promise to maintain the unlimited services offered on the BE network.
Up until the launch of "Max" services, the only ADSL packages available via BT Wholesale were known as IPStream Home 250, Home 500, Home 1000 and Home 2000 (contention ratio of 50:1); and Office 500, Office 1000, and Office 2000 (contention ratio of 20:1). The number in the product name indicates the downstream data rate in kilobits per second. The upstream data rate is up to 250 kbit/s for all products.
For BT Wholesale ADSL products, users initially had to live within 3.5 kilometres of the local telephone exchange to receive ADSL, but this limit was increased thanks to rate-adaptive digital subscriber line (RADSL), although users with RADSL may have a reduced upstream rate, depending on the quality of their line. There are still areas that cannot receive ADSL because of technical limitations, not least of which networks in housing areas built with aluminium cable rather than copper in the 1980s and 1990s, and areas served by optical fibre (TPON), though these are slowly being serviced with copper.
In September 2004, BT Wholesale removed the line-length/loss limits for 500 kbit/s ADSL, instead employing a tactic of "suck it and see" — enabling the line, then seeing if ADSL would work on it. This sometimes includes the installation of a filtered faceplate on the customer's master socket, so as to eliminate poor quality telephone extension cables inside the customer's premises which can be a source of high frequency noise.
In the past, the majority of home users used packages with 500 kbit/s (downstream) and 250 kbit/s (upstream) with a 50:1 contention ratio. However, BT Wholesale introduced the option of a new charging structure to ISPs which means that the wholesale service cost was the same regardless of the ADSL data rate, with charges instead being based on the amount of data transferred. Nowadays, most home users use a package whose data rate is only limited by the technical limitations of their telephone line. Initially this was 2 Mbit/s downstream. Nowadays, most home products are ADSL Max based (up to 7.15 Mbit/s).
Following successful trials, BT announced the availability of higher speed services known as BT ADSL Max and BT ADSL Max Premium in March 2006. BT made the "Max" product available to more than 5300 exchanges, serving around 99% of UK households and businesses.
Both Max services offer downstream data rates of up to 7.15 Mbit/s. Upstream data rates are up to 400 kbit/s for the standard product and up to 750 kbit/s for the premium product. (Whilst the maximum downstream data rate for IPStream Max is often touted as 8 Mbit/s, this is in fact misleading because, in a departure from previous practice, it actually refers to the gross ATM data rate. The maximum data rate available at the IP level is 7.15 Mbit/s; the maximum TCP payload rate – the rate one would actually see for file transfer – would be about 7.0 Mbit/s.)
The actual downstream data rate achieved on any given Max line is subject to the capabilities of the line. Depending on the stable ADSL synchronisation rate negotiated, BT's system applies a fixed rate limit from one of the following data rates: 160 kbit/s, 250 kbit/s, 500 kbit/s, then in 500 kbit/s steps up to 7.0 Mbit/s, then a final maximum rate of 7.15 Mbit/s.
Contention ratios are no longer officially stated either, except that the Office products will generally see a reduced level of contention to their Home counterparts. This is the product of amalgamating Home and Office users onto a single consolidated, but larger, virtual path.
On August 13, 2004 the ISP Wanadoo (formerly Freeserve and now EE in the UK) were told by the Advertising Standards Authority to change the way that they advertised their 512 kbit/s broadband service in Britain, removing the words "full speed" which rival companies claimed was misleading people into thinking it was the fastest available service.
In a similar way, on April 9, 2003 the Advertising Standards Authority ruled against ISP NTL, saying that NTL's 128 kbit/s cable modem service must not be marketed as "broadband". Ofcom reported in June 2005 that there were more broadband than dial-up connections for the first time in history.
In the third quarter of 2005 with the merger of NTL and Telewest, a new alliance was formed to create the largest market share of broadband users. This alliance brought about huge increases in bandwidth allocations for cable customers (minimum speed increasing from the industry norm of 512 kbit/s to 2 Mbit/s home lines with both companies planning to have all domestic customers upgraded to at least 4 Mbit/s downstream and ranging up to 10 Mbit/s and beyond by mid-2006.) along with the supply of integrated services such as Digital TV and Phone packages.
March 2006 saw the nationwide launch of BT Wholesale's up to 8 Mbit/s ADSL services, known as Max ADSL. Max based packages are available to end users on any broadband enabled exchange in the UK.
Since 2003 BT has been introducing SDSL to exchanges in many of the major cities. Services are currently offered at upload/download speeds of 256 kbit/s, 512 kbit/s, 1 Mbit/s or 2 Mbit/s. Unlike ADSL, which is typically 256 kbit/s upload, SDSL upload speeds are the same as the download speed. BT usually provide a new copper pair for SDSL installs, which can be used only for the SDSL connection. At a few hundred pounds a quarter, SDSL is significantly more expensive than ADSL, but is significantly cheaper than a leased line. SDSL is marketed to businesses and offers low contention ratios, and in some cases, a Service Level Agreement. At present, the BT Wholesale SDSL enablement programme has stalled, most probably due to a lack of uptake.
Since 2006, the UK market has changed significantly; companies that previously provided telephone and television subscriptions also began to offer broadband.
TalkTalk offered customers ‘free’ broadband if they had a telephone package. Orange responded by offering ‘free’ broadband for some mobile customers. Many smaller ISPs now offer similar packages. O2 also entered the broadband market by taking over LLU provider Be, while Sky (BSkyB) had already taken over LLU broadband provider Easynet. In July 2006, Sky announced 2 Mbit/s broadband to be available free to Sky TV customers and a higher speed connection at a lower price than most rivals.
Virgin Media stated that 13 million UK homes are covered by their optical fibre broadband network, and that by the end of 2012 would be able to offer 100Mb broadband. There are currently over 100 towns in the UK that have access to this service.
In October 2011, British operator Hyperoptic launched a 1Gbit/sec FTTH service in London.
In October 2012, British operator Gigler UK launched a 1Gbit/sec down and 500Mbit/sec up FTTH service in Bournemouth using the CityFibre network.
In contrast to development in cities, in rural areas people even in 2014 still suffer connection speeds below 256 kbit/s during daytimes and only can achieve speeds of more than 1 Mbit/s during nighttimes.
The term "wireless broadband" generally refers to the provision of a wireless router with a broadband connection.
A new mobile broadband technology emerging in the United Kingdom is 4G which hopes to replace the old 3G technology currently in use and could see download speeds increased to 300Mbit/s. The company EE have been the first company to start developing a full scale 4G network throughout the United Kingdom. This was later followed by other telecommunications companies in the UK such as O2 (Telefónica) and Vodafone.
The survey gathered answers from 2,000 British parents of children ages 10 and under. The survey was used as a marketing tool to coincide with the release of Westcoastcloud's new iPad Internet content filtering product.
The first use of the World Wide Web in the UK was during a collaborative project called the Oracle Tools Alliance Program involving Oracle Corporation (based in Redwood Shores CA USA) and, amongst others, BT (British Telecommunications plc). This program began in May 1991.
File sharing was a required part of the Program. Initially, mailed floppy disks were used. Then in July 1991 access to the Internet was implemented by the BT network engineer Clive Salmon using the BT Packet Switching Network. A link was established from Ipswich to London for access to the Internet backbone.
Access to the Internet for the project leader, Richard Moulding of BT, was established in July 1991 and the first file transfers made via a NeXT-based WWW interface were completed in October 1991.