What does the future hold for BBC iPlayer?

With iPlayer set to appear on the Wii and ISPs moaning more than ever, we thought we'd have a ponder about what the future holds for the BBC's on-demand offering

It's been all go for the BBC's iPlayer service this week. First ISPs once again got their knickers in a bandwidth-related twist over the service swallowing all of their network capacity, then Nintendo announced that the streaming service will be available through the Wii. This is a fantastically exciting piece of news, and is sure to severely upset some of the UK's more highly strung Internet providers.

With support for the Wii being added, it can surely only be a matter of time before the Xbox 360 and PS3 can access the content too. And it's about time, because we could really do with some free content on Xbox Live to keep us satisfied when our thumbs are throbbing from a Call of Duty 4 session that's gone on too long.

iPlayer is also due to be introduced to Virgin's cable service soon, which means at the press of a button you could be watching all of the iPlayer content on your TV. Now that's really helpful, especially for people who haven't hooked their PC up to their TVs.

When Crave attended the iPlayer launch , we asked Ashley Highfield what he thought the chances of delivering HD content via the system were. The answer he gave us was very much "we'd love to". So instead of Freeview HD , we could all simply download our HD content instead, a handy way around the limitations of the radio spectrum. But of course, that's not going to please the ISPs, who are already close to tears about people downloading things.

It's not clear what offends the ISPs most -- we know that streaming has many, many more users than the download service. That said, the amount of data you'll download via the streaming version is much less than if you were to download all the shows you watch.

So what needs to be done about Internet access to make ISPs and the BBC happy? Well, to make one thing clear from the outset, this problem doesn't exist in the same way for LLU (local loop unbundled) ISPs, who have totally different methods of transferring data between the Internet and their customers. We asked Be Unlimited about how they could handle iPlayer, and they told us that their network was designed with high-bandwidth uses in mind, and that they monitored it constantly.

For the rest of the ISPs who use the BT network, the solution is much harder. They pay for the capacity between the exchange and the Internet in blocks of 155Mbps at a time. In order to make a profit, they need to keep the number of these pipes to a minimum because they cost a lot of money. In 2007, it cost £50,000 to connect a 155Mbps pipe and £271,800 per year in rental -- and you can't fit that many customers on a single 155Mbps link, especially if they're watching streaming video.

Of course, most ISPs have a cap on their broadband service, and frankly we don't see what business it is of theirs how you use your allowance. Ultimately, it's BT's charges that are causing the problem here, and Internet downloading is only going to become more of an issue in the future. If the government is really serious about broadband Britain, then perhaps it should be coughing up some cash to make sure it happens. -Ian Morris

 

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