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Next phase of Warwickshire broadband improvements announced

Tuesday 30 September 2014 13:50:46 by Andrew Ferguson

The CSW Broadband Partnership has announced the next batch of communities and as part of the expectation management the project publishes a list of the exchange areas and which cabinets will be getting an upgrade.

Bidford-on-Avon cabinets 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8 and 13
Brailes cabinets 1, 2, and 4
Ettington cabinets 2 and 3
Harvington cabinets 2 and 6
Ilmington cabinets 2 and 3
Lapworth cabinets 1, 2, 5, 6, 9, 10 and 11
Moreton Morrell cabinet 4
Wolston cabinets 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 12 and 13

Eight communities getting fibre based for the first time

The partnership has so far made fibre based broadband available to some 15,000 homes and businesses, with the latest announcement adding another 8,000 properties. Extra coverage is going to be added to Alderminster, Atherstone, Chapel End, Exhall, Harbury, Henley-in-Arden, Shipston-on-Stour and Toll Bar, plus some infill work in Keresley, Knowle and Solihull where cabinets were not deemed commercially viable.

Snitterfield that was the first rural cabinet in this project and has already seen demand require the addition of extra line cards. This costs of this expansion and maybe even a second fibre cabinet are covered by Openreach, since the demand has then been shown and if take-up goes over 20% on a cabinet projects can clawback some of the money paid to BT, to either re-invest in extended a projects reach or to pay back the council.

Free BT Infinity 1 offer and £50 Sainsbury's voucher

Tuesday 30 September 2014 10:36:26 by Andrew Ferguson

The competition for your broadband custom is increasing and with Sky having lead the free broadband charge, BT itself has jumped on-board and is offering the first six months of service on its BT Infinity 1 service for free.

The offer replaces the previous £5 per month for 6 months deal, so is an extra £30 saving, and the standard £50 Sainsbury's gift card is still available. An important point with the service is that it has a 20GB usage cap, which if you are enjoying your superfast service for video streaming may prove somewhat limiting.

After the free period the monthly price is £15 per month, and if you remain after the 18 month contract the price will rise to £18 per month, though signing another minimum term may reduce the price again. Voice line rental currently at £15.99 per month applies and this rises to £16.99 on 1st December 2014.

Black Country signs on dotted line with BT for improved broadband

Tuesday 30 September 2014 10:25:37 by Andrew Ferguson

Some £12 million of investment is to be made improving broadband speeds across the Black Country and fingers crossed by being the last of the projects to sign the lessons on how to communicate plans and strategy will have been learnt.

The collaboration between the City of Wolverhampton and the district councils of Dudley, Sandwell and Walsall has seen the councils put £2.9m towards the project, matching £2.9m from Westminster and another £6.4m from BT. Interestingly back in June 2014, the LEP was talking of a 95% superfast target, but if the quotes are correct the project has signed with a more impressive 98% with superfast speeds target.

"Today marks the beginning of an incredible transformation of broadband in the Black Country.

Government fully appreciates that access to fast and reliable broadband is no longer a luxury, it is a necessity, which is precisely why we are funding projects like this one all over the UK.

As a result of this £12m investment, 98 per cent of the Black Country will be able to access superfast speeds by 2017 and this will provide a terrific boost to the local economy."

Culture Secretary Sajid Javid

The councils did not sign up to the original BDUK projects because of the already high superfast coverage in the area, but the 2017 target shifted targets such that the councils have gone ahead. Delivery should start late in 2015 and is planned to be complete by 2017. Our speed test gives us an insight as to the median speeds across the four councils.

Local Authority Median Download Q1 2013 Median Download Q2 2014
City of Wolverhampton 17.1 Mbps 30 Mbps
Dudley District 13 Mbps 15.6 Mbps
Sandwell District 14.7 Mbps 23.5 Mbps
Walsall District 14.7 Mbps 20.6 Mbps

We will keep an eye out and verify the coverage target, to ensure that it really is 98% with superfast speeds, rather than a 98% on fibre based service with 95% at superfast speeds. The official announcement does not appear to have made it onto the LEP website yet.

Update 7:30pm The full press release is now online at the BT site. We have also had a response on the coverage levels and the 98% refers to availability of a fibre based service, i.e. includes no speed qualification. No exact figure is available (yet) on the contracted superfast coverage, but we would expect 95% to be the goal. A little embarrassing to have the Culture Secretary saying its 98% with superfast when it is not, but then long time followers of the BDUK story will know the problems with people misinterpreting figures and what superfast, high-speed, fibre based means, a classic was a minister once announcing a Universal Service Obligation with advisers having to quickly correct this to a USC.

It's good to talk, but better to act

Monday 29 September 2014 19:12:59 by Andrew Ferguson

Talk is cheap in politics and in the last week we have seen one group of people in the Labour Party suggest that the UK should aim for 1 Gbps to everyone with work starting as soon as possible in the next Parliament. Today has seen Sajid Javid talking at the Conservative Party Conference and he pushes the previous ambition from when Jeremy Hunt was Culture Secretary to be best of the major countries in Europe much further wanting the UK to compete with Japan and South Korea in the global digital economy.

"Since 2010, access to Superfast Broadband has doubled and we already have the best broadband coverage of any large European nation. But beating France and Germany is never enough. We need to compete with the likes of Japan and South Korea. So yes, we’re making progress, but there’s still more to do."

Sajid Javid: Speech to Conservative Party Conference 2014

While many are presuming that this means a fibre to the home or Gigabit future for everyone, it is worth highlighting that the Culture Minister did not actually say that. Competition is not just about who can wave around the fastest speed test result, but also about whether every last corner can get sufficient speed to trade in a digital economy and many other factors. Pushing 100 Mbps downloads to 100% of UK homes and businesses in the term of the next Parliament might be enough, to win the speed crown once you look at average speeds.

The Labour Party comments about broadband were more specific about the 1 Gbps, but the largest caveat is that the paper has not been adopted as party policy and even today's is not formal party policy for the Conservatives. All too often people remember what they want to hear, rather than what was said at the time.

Going head to head in a Gigabit race with South Korea would be interesting to witness given the head start that country has, and it might involve destroying the nascent FTTH/FTTB industry in the UK, since mandated access could simply be creating regional monopolies that mean any chance of value for money from existing superfast spending is wasted. The alternate view is that the BT Group may see this as a chance to sell G.FAST and/or FTTH (depending on the economics of each distribution point), and that would be an unpopular choice for many campaigners. If a policy does arrive after the 2015 General Election meaning the broadband arms race is ramped up, then firms like CityFibre, Hyperoptic, Gigaclear, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media who are all in the FTTH game to varying extents will be sure to have a lot to say.

At the end of the day ambitions and dreams are great, but forgive us for not getting too excited about the potential for a big leap in speeds just yet.

Lack of information causes anger in South Gloucestershire

Monday 29 September 2014 10:47:55 by Andrew Ferguson

The realities of the BDUK process is starting to be obvious for those areas that had that not previously grasped the decimation that a national 90% superfast target would result in. The other reality is that with the constant pressure from committees and campaigners to delivery value for money on every pound of public money spent, the biggest bang per buck is often the result, rather than the most deserving needy being helped.

The anger surfaced at a meeting in the Horton village hall in South Gloucestershire which was attended by the local MP and it appears the BT representatives were told to be more open. What is interesting is observing the vastly differing approaches across the UK, with some areas tweeting photos of the new cabinets and names of the roads as cabinets go live and a sliding scale down to the councils who are keeping the plans locked in a dusty basement.

Suffice to say that the South Gloucestershire and Wiltshire project is delivering cabinets, and some 19,755 premises were declared passed back in August 2014 by the DCMS.

Looking at our speed test results there has been significant changes in the median speeds across the two unitary authorities involved, with South Gloucestershire going from 9.7 Mbps in Q1/2013 to 26 Mbps in Q2/2014 and Wiltshire showing an improvement but not to the same scale, 6.2 Mbps rising to 9.9 Mbps.

In terms of superfast coverage across the areas we estimate the following based on live services that are available.

Unitary Authority Superfast cable & FTTC (30 Mbps and faster) Superfast FTTC Only Cable coverage
South Gloucestershire 81% 75% 71%
Wiltshire 45% 43% 21%
NOTE: 86% of households in South Gloucestershire are in a fibre based area. 53% of South Wiltshire households are in a fibre based area.

The table above shows that it is Wiltshire where the majority of the work to reach the projects own goal of 91% with access to a superfast broadband service is needed. Even if this goal is reached this would still leave some 27,000 without a superfast service, and while half of those may still be fibre based with a speed below the superfast threshold, there will still be 1,000's that see no improvement.

Suffice to say the reality of funding and ambition that never set out to reach a 100% coverage target, other than the 2 Mbps USC which in theory the EU has said is already met with satellite provision across Europe.

Go faster stripes from G.FAST delivering ultra-fast for BT

Thursday 25 September 2014 13:18:52 by Andrew Ferguson

A common complaint about the Openreach fibre based services roll-out is that it is uses too little fibre and will not be able to cope with our Internet needs in a few years. The response from the BT Group is a stepped approach and FTTdp (Fibre to the drop point) is the next evolution in the various steps to take fibre direct into every home across the UK.

BT is almost ready to open its G.FAST lab at AdAstral Park in Suffolk and has released some information on what sort of speeds they are seeing from early G.FAST hardware. At 66 metres 700 Mbps down and 200 Mbps up have been achieved. On shorter copper runs of just 19m the downstream speed climbs to 800 Mbps. The split between download and upload speeds is not written in stone and can be tailored to suit deployments and product options.

FTTdp will involve delivering a fibre connection to the last telephone pole or pavement chamber before a fairly small group of properties and attaching the G.FAST hardware to the pole or in the underground chamber. The estimates are such that the speed test at 66m represents the picture for 80% of UK households.

G.FAST is yet to be ratified as a standard, but this is expected from the ITU with the designation G.9701 in December 2014.

It may seem stupid and short-sighted to stop the fibre when only 66m away from a property, but this avoids the extra layers of complexity involved in wayleaves on getting FTTH into a rented property, be it a flat or a house. Some past estimates from BT are that in the areas they have deployed FTTP, the final connection takes around 7 hours of work. Another factor is those areas served by overhead wires become more problematic.

Openreach has intimated that there is another option of deploying VDSL2 in a FTTdp configuration, though usually called Fibre to the Remote Node, which will shorten the run of copper needed, but only deliver the maximum VDSL2 speed of 80 Mbps. The remote node approach is something that is ready for market hardware wise and just needs the will to deploy to be given a little shove.

In a perfect world we would love Openreach to say that it was abandoning copper totally, but with over 27,000,000 households in the UK and little stomach to accept the short term costs of roll-out by major shareholders we are stuck with the stepped approach. Of course if the FTTH/FTTP roll-outs by CityFibre do hit the mark and show it is possible as quickly and cheaply as predicted then the money behind BT may change its mind. An interesting thought to end on is this, with BT taking a stepped approach the room for innovation and disruption is pretty large, though while the seeds do exist no-one has exploited this gap to serve millions of homes yet!

Poor mobile signal solution via Open Sure Signal from Vodafone

Wednesday 24 September 2014 11:33:36 by Andrew Ferguson

The Sure Signal boxes from Vodafone have been a boon to people who have flaky mobile reception on the Vodafone mobile network in their home or business, but it has always been held back by the need to register the mobile number. The launch of a community wide Open Sure Signal by Vodafone is changing all this.

The new Open Sure Signal is small external device generally mounted near the roof line of a building and has a much greater range of up to 500 metres compared to the indoor devices. Crucially any Vodafone connected device will be able to use the service and thus make use of phone calls or 3G data services in areas where 3G or even 2G services are not available.

The older Sure Signal boxes are a simple purchase which you can plug in and use, but Vodafone is looking for 'village champions' and locations to host the new units which require a stable 4 Mbps broadband connection to operate.

Looking at the impact of the existing Sure Signal on a broadband connection indicates that each call uses around 70 Kbps of data in each direction, and 3G data connections appear to top out at around 3 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload even when the underlying broadband connection is several times faster. The varying data use means that ideally the Open Sure Signal is best running on a fairly lightly used broadband connection, or if a local shop provides Wi-Fi adding the Sure Signal is another way of attracting people to the vicinity.

One of the problems many rural campaigners will quickly raise is that fixed line broadband speeds are often worst in areas without 3G reception, so the Sure Signal may not have enough speed to operate and no doubt there will be villages where this is the case, but the situation has improved greatly in the last 18 months. Working to the ONS definitions of what is a rural postcode we have analysed our speed tester results and can reveal that rural areas have seen median speeds climb from 6.5 Mbps download (0.7 Mbps upload - March 2013) to 11.6 Mbps download (1 Mbps upload - August 2014). This is still behind the major urban areas of the UK which currently manage a median download of 20.5 Mbps (2.7 Mbps upload).

The bottleneck for the Open Sure Signal with respect to phone calls is the upload side of things, though as more villages get FTTC we can expect to see the median upload speed climbing and this being less of an issue.

Free TV activation with BT and other offers updated

Wednesday 24 September 2014 10:55:03 by Andrew Ferguson

The latest offers from BT have been added to our broadband packages page for BT Consumer, the highlights of which are:

  • Free activation on TV service has been waived until 18th October, saving of up to £35 when you order a broadband and YouView package.
  • Entry level broadband with 10GB usage limit, is £2.50 per month for six months, then £8 per month for the rest of the 18 month contract. £25 Sainsbury's gift card offer running.
  • Unlimited ADSL2+ service at £5 per month for six months, then £14 per month on an 18 month contract. £25 Sainsbury's gift card offer running.

An interesting point is that while Ofcom has banned automatically renewing long contracts, if at the end of the 18 month contract you remain on the rolling 1 month notice contract the price becomes £16 per month, with BT generally if you choose to agree to another minimum term you will get a lower price.

Amazon unleashes kindle unlimited book service

Wednesday 24 September 2014 09:44:13 by Andrew Ferguson

While news about TV streaming services raises questions about how providers will cope with peak time usage, newly launched services like Kindle Unlimited are very unlikely to have an impact since e-books are very compact downloads.

The £7.99 per month Kindle Unlimited service gives subscribers access to some 650,000 titles on Amazon Kindle devices or anything that supports the Kindle Reading App and tempts people in with the 30 day free trial.

How disruptive this will be depends a lot on how big a reader you are, someone who reads just on their annual holiday may subscribe for just one month a year, and the most avid readers may still prefer the feel of real paper. The CD and DVD collection is becoming a thing of the past, how long before bookcases also seem to be an artefact from a bygone era.

Fujitsu appointed partner to build York FTTP network

Wednesday 24 September 2014 09:31:33 by Andrew Ferguson

The joint venture between CityFibre, Sky and TalkTalk is moving forward and a name familiar to long time followers of the Digital Britain story will recognise Fujitsu who at one time were the big name competitor to BT in the BDUK scheme.

The venture that plans to take FTTH to some 20,000 homes in York in its first phase has appointed Fujitsu as the firm to build the FTTP network offering up to 1000 Mbps to homes and probably options to take services like Sky TV without the need for a Sky dish.

Fujitsu are not strangers to York having constructed some 103km of fibre network across the city that CityFibre is using to sell services to the council and businesses in the area. The partnership means that Fujitsu will carry out the network planning, network construction and testing for the network.

If CityFibre and Fujitsu had managed to pull off a few projects to the scale of what is planned in York four years ago, then it is likely that the BDUK contracts would have turned out different, as a massive advantage the BT Group had was the ability to show the scale of the network build they have been undertaking since 2009.

The question now is which bits of York will be the first to see the roll-out, and how cheap will the service have to be to tempt people away from Virgin Media and the various FTTC (and a little existing Openreach FTTP) in the city. As things stood last week we calculated that 84% of York households have access to a fibre based service (70,000 out of 84,000 homes) and 62,800 (89.7%) can get a superfast service over the Openreach FTTC/FTTP networks.

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