Scotland's broadband - is it superfast enough for film and media production?

Are slow internet speeds holding back Scotland's film industry?

In February 2015, Audit Scotland reported good progress towards plans to roll out so-called superfast broadband to 90% of Scottish premises by March 2016.

How will this impact on the film and media production industry? Will the higher speed connections make it easier for production teams to transfer large video files? Is "superfast" actually fast enough, or should we be demanding more?

What will the “superfast” initiative deliver?

According to the Audit Scotland report, broadband speeds of 40-80Mb/s will be available to 85-90% of premises across Scotland by 2015 and universally available by 2020. What will this actually mean? Most of the delivery will be through Fibre To The Cabinet (FTTC). This means high capacity optical fibre connections to street cabinets, but lower capacity copper cables to your house or office.

Upload speeds are expected to be significantly lower than the headline download speeds.
  • Download: up to 80Mbps
  • Upload: up to 20Mbps

What does this mean for film, TV and media production?

Scotland's film, TV and media production industry is made up of a diverse range of companies spread across the country. As well as the well known broadcasters, there are hundreds of smaller operators, often specialising in particular aspects of production or post-production. Exchanging video files is a real problem if connection speeds are poor. Many smaller businesses rely on basic broadband connections, with upload speeds still hovering around the 1Mbps mark.

Case study:

A small, independent producer wants to send a 1-hour video clip to a colleague. How long will it take her to send?

* Assuming H.264 compression, high quality preset.

At current upload speeds of 1Mbps, sending large video files is prohibitively slow. Practical solutions are to use smaller formats and lower quality encoding, but this is far from ideal for professional video production. Working in the new Ultra HD format is next to impossible.

"Superfast" 20Mbps upload speeds are a definite improvement, making it possible to send an hour of high quality full HD video in 30 minutes. So there's no question that the superfast initiative will make life easier for the video production industry.

Should we demand more?

Perhaps we should question the speeds offered and the use of the word "superfast". Sweden's Stokab fibre network is owned by the city of Stockholm. Consumers and businesses benefit from Fibre To The Premise / Home (FTTP / FTTH) with download and upload speeds of 1Gbps. The cost? A very affordable £15 per month.

At these bitrates, our producer can upload her 1-hour Full HD file in just 35 seconds, or an Ultra HD version in less than 3 minutes. These speeds could totally change the way production teams work, opening up new opportunities for real time collaboration, regardless of location.

The Aberdeen Core initiative is promising to deliver gigabit connection speeds to businesses in and around the city of Aberdeen, offering some hope that we may catch up with our Swedish neighbours in the near future.

Senior figures have been expressing their concerns that the Scottish film industry is lagging behind its European rivals due to lack of investment and infrastructure. Digital infrastructure is a vital component of a thriving film industry that should not be neglected.

About the author

Iain Richardson is a founder of Beamshare. Based in Aberdeen, Beamshare's fast, easy online review and approval system speeds up video production.