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The Lancashire BDUK project is continuing to deliver its VDSL2 based services. The local press has been spotted by ISPreview listing a number of areas for the Spring 2014 campaign, and after a quick check it does not look like the Battle of BT and B4rn in Dolphinholme has commenced yet.
The areas covered by the Spring rollout include some areas previously mentioned and are: Burnley, Belmont, Barnoldswick, Salterforth, Whitworth, Shawforth, Mellor, Mellor Brook, Ribchester, Bolton-by-Bowland and West Bradford. Clearly Burnley is not a rural location, but the footprint of the over 100 cabinets on the exchange includes some rural areas to the south e.g. Walk Mill, Cliviger and Clow Bridge which are also well outside the Virgin Media cable footprint.
The Lancashire Telegraph includes some coverage figures, i.e. as of now there are 300 fibre cabinets in the county which mean some 370,000 have the option to order the service. Given the number of households in Lancashire is around 620,000 we presume that these figures include the commercial roll-out too. It is the blurring of figures like this that confuse and lead to the verbal sparring.
Lancashire is also the home of B4rn who back in November 2013 had hit the 350 homes connected figure an extra 336 since their first connections in 2012. While B4rn supporters and BT often appear to not get along, generally the two projects are aiming at very different areas, B4rn is concentrated in the final 3% of Lancashire, while the BT project is looking to fill in the middle with gap funding, the question really is how will the two schemes fare if they do eventually overlap in a place like Dolphinholme.
The UK leads Germany in a number of broadband metrics and it shares a common pattern that VDSL and vectoring have been backed by the commercial operators so it is something of a surprise to see the German chancellor make a joke of their nationwide broadband plan for 2018 being vastly superior to the UK plans that are actively being built.
The joke may actually have been less about the coverage targets, as finding a definitive percentage target for the German 2018 project is difficult as nationwide keeps being mentioned, and anyone following UK broadband knows that nationwide can mean anything from 48% to 100%. What is new in the last week or two is announcements about the amount of money available for the German 2018 broadband plans, which will be all the money raised by the sales of radio spectrum to mobile phone companies. The current estimate to hit the 50 Mbps speed across the country is €20billion to €34 billion.
The size of the spend suggests that a full FTTH roll-out might be in order, but given that the 60% of high speed broadband coverage includes VDSL already, it is not a total certainty, as rolling out FTTH in areas with privately funded VDSL would break numerous EU State Aid rules.
If the UK Prime Minister had been quick on his feet he should have asked the German chancellor how they intended to overcome the physics of signal attenuation in copper with VDSL to guarantee everyone 50 Mbps. In theory with enough cabinets you can do a FTTC roll-out with a minimum speed guarantee, but this is edging more towards fibre to the drop point (FttDP) in terms of the number of nodes required.
If Germany is to use the billions to fund a nationwide FTTH network, then it will be with great interest to see how EU State Aid rules are met in the areas that already have VDSL deployed.
What we do know is that if the German project is going to rely on sales from planned spectrum sales, they had better hurry up, or perhaps the reason the roll-out is costing more than in the UK is that it will be done on a shorter time scale and with a greater level of subsidy to make planning decisions less of an issue.
The Connecting Cumbria scheme with its map that was published earlier this week caused a bit of a stir amongst the Internet world as many are unable to spot the difference between this and previous maps other counties have published in terms of the level of detail published. What made this map different was that it claimed to follow the approach approved by the DCMS and more importantly the Public Accounts Committee.
It seems that the published map may not have been approved by the Public Accounts Committee, but was more likely the projects interpretation of what the PAC and DCMS want the counties to publish. Certainly when asked by @RuralChris on twitter on what basis did PAC agree the level of detail in the map Margaret Hodge replied:
"@RuralChris We didn't - thanks for bringing to my attention"Margaret Hodge MP on twitter
So it is possible that rather than this map being the final coverage guide there may be further revisions if PAC and maybe the DCMS decide that more detail should be released. We have seen the problems of releasing more data i.e. people don't remember the caveats so get very upset when plans change and an area is delayed or missed out due to challenges that did not arise until final planning work was done and conversely there is the more obvious problem that people do not know what is coming to what area they will get angry and upset.
With UK local elections due to take place on 22nd May 2014, and a General Election in 2015, we can expect to see a lot political discussion around the gap funded projects. Of course we will not know whether another bidder would have provided much clearer information and rolled out exactly what people wanted, or whether given the fixed funding pot would have also tried to ensure the most premises covered as BT is doing rather than starting with the hardest to reach 5% and risking running out of money before the coverage targets were hit.
For those chasing the broadband offers around here is a round up of the offers that have been extended until 31st March at Primus.
East Sussex it would appear is ahead of schedule if the county council is to be believed. The first areas of East Sussex to benefit from the joint project with BT in the country have their work underway and the first areas should go live before Easter, which will hopefully be Burwash, Etchingham, Hadlow Down, Heathfield, Horam, Mayfield, Robertsbridge and Rotherfield
Other areas that should have their broadband improvements by the end of the year are Chelwood Gate, Danehill and Nutley. An update on the goesussex website also confirms the areas for phase 3 of the project namely Alfriston, Barcombe, East Dean, Glynde, Isfield, Plumpton, Ringmer, Ripe. There will also be some infill in exchange areas where cabinets failed the criteria under the commercial roll-out and are within the scope of the project.
As with all the roll-out announcements, while you may see your town or village mentioned it does not guarantee you will get an improved service, it is not uncommon for a couple of cabinets to be missed out from the initial roll-out, since to ensure the maximum number of premises are covered by the projects they are working through the easier areas first. While starting with the most rural premises might have made some different people happy, we are sure that those missed out in the middle ground would still be complaining, i.e. until the gap funded projects or commercial roll-outs guarantee 100% absolute coverage with a particular technology there will be winners and losers.
On one hand we have the Government telling us all is well and we are on track for 95% superfast broadband coverage by some point in 2017 but the balance is often very passionately stated, and in coverage of a NFU Mutual survey the head of policy has made an interesting statement about FTTC based services.
"Our own research suggests that rural households are less likely to use 3G and 4G but these networks are coming sooner than fixed line broadband and represent a good alternative.
If you live 600 metres or more away from the cabinet you might as well be on dial-up."Sarah Lee, head of policy at the Countryside Alliance talking to the BBC
Saying FTTC runs out to dial-up speeds at 600m is only likely if the 600m of cable is aluminium with a great number of aging joints, or the 600m is a straight line distance and to reach the property the line meanders for around 3km of distance. Our own estimates of FTTC speeds over varying distances show at 600m speeds of 35 Mbps or more should be possible, at even allowing for a reasonably level or wiggly cable at 1km you are expecting speeds of 24 Mbps (an actual copper line at 1.1km with no special assistance has been tested in the real world at 21 Mbps). The speed table takes into account a fairly pessimistic level of cross-talk with the line data coming from old Ofcom information shared as part of the original approval process for VDSL2.
We are waiting on seeing more on the NFU Mutual survey results, as commenting based on the limited information available may result in a misinterpretation of the survey. The suggestion from the survey is that one in five rural families have poor broadband links and its interpretation depends on whether those who cannot get broadband at all are included, plus some families may NOT want broadband at all. As things stand 1 in 5 rural links being poor actually sounds a pretty good figure, unless you are one of those of course.
The Countryside Alliance is not the only people making claims about FTTC speeds this week, a blog entitled the 'The Occasional Berk' has claimed FTTC has a speed limit of 350m ("the real world of old cables of mixed types is just 350 metres").
What is clear is that the UK broadband battle to improve broadband speeds is not a technical issue, but rather a battle of wills and personal experience. Of course once you remove the passion of personal experience you get the sort of statements from the BDUK about coverage targets and progress, at least the BDUK so far appears to have been only counting those postcodes which are likely to get superfast broadband speeds in its occasional coverage figures. Of course the debate then moves onto the one where the UK has backed the wrong horse in the form of BT and we are perpetuating a decades old monopoly. In an ideal world even if two or three firms had won the various BDUK projects, each firm would have effectively been gifted a monopoly superfast franchise for the final third of each local authority area, the same thing that happened in the 1980's when cable TV started.
So the closure of BBC3 as a broadcast channel looks to be confirmed, unless campaigns to save it succeed, but given the size of the saving at £60m it looks like only money will talk.
It would appear that one of the reasons BBC3 was chosen for closure was that with its 'youth' audience there is the perception that viewers are more than ready to watch the content online and BBC iPlayer statistics suggest many millions do exactly that for specific shows, but it is not clear if many people actually use iPlayer for a whole evenings viewing.
The problem with moving content to online only is that age old complaint of my broadband not being fast enough. The timing to move the channel online dove tails nicely into the original Universal Service Commitment for us all to have 2 Mbps, but the changes to increase the proportion of the UK with access to a superfast connection from 90% in 2015 to 95% by 2017 appears to have also pushed back the USC.
So what speeds do you need for BBC iPlayer? Well we used an Asus RT-N66U cable/fttc router which has Quality of Service (QoS) built into it, allowing us to slow down a fast connection and see how iPlayer performed. We verified that the QoS was working by using our own broadband speed checker and the following refers to the experience when using an Xbox 360.
We also gave the streaming a quick run on a NOW TV box, and found the same sort of experience as the Xbox 360. There are changes that the BBC could make to allow the BBC iPlayer to run on slower connections, e.g. NOW TV was able to stream a Sky Movie at 600 Kbps, though the quality was blocky with lots of compression artefacts.
Looking at the latest broadband map for Cumbria it is clear that those approving the latest map do not suffer from colour blindness, as the choice of green shades makes it difficult for those who do to discern the various areas.
ISPreview spotted the new Cumbria map but given its low resolution it is not worth reproducing in our news, so head over to Connecting Cumbria to take a look and hope you have good local knowledge to tell which areas are which.
- The level of detail provided on this map is as agreed with the Department of Culture Media and Sport and the Public Accounts Committee. No further detail will be provided.
- Planned coverage for all areas is subject to survey and may change.
- Coverage may change as new technology is introduced and with the project aim to extend coverage as far as possible. As this is a county wide deployment, it may be that coverage for individual postcodes increases or decreases as the deployment progresses.
- The map is not currently 100% compatible with mobiles and you may experience issues if viewing on a mobile device.Connecting Cumbria Final Coverage Guide Details
For all the bluster during the PAC sessions, one has to question the value of the taxi fares for those giving evidence if this is the end result, as to be frank we are having difficulty telling this map apart from any other map a BDUK project has released. We have tried overlaying our usual postcode layers but the low resolution of what has been published by Connecting Cumbria makes it useless beyond confirming that there are very few postcodes in areas like Buttermere, Borrowdale and Wasdale.
The warning about the map not being compatible with mobiles is very odd, but we have checked and it appears that the Cumbria website is a responsive design and no-one asked the developer to make the map responsive too.
Cumbria is stating it is on track to take fibre based broadband to 93% of properties (no figure published for their estimate on superfast coverage) but previously they have talked of "project’s ambition is to bring superfast broadband to around 93 per cent of Cumbrian homes and businesses". It is not clear then whether there has been a downgrade in expectations or just clumsy wording when people are not aware of the significance of the statement, i.e. superfast implies a connection faster than 24 Mbps or 30 Mbps (UK versus EU definition) and fibre based simply means a line connected to a VDSL2 enabled cabinet and speed is irrelevant.
We know how everyone loves an infographic, so it is time to tell you all about the Q1 2014 edition of our broadband factsheet that is now online, and the old versions are still available for those wanting to see how various metrics are tracking over time.
We have updated our analysis of the actual broadband speeds recorded across the twelve UK regions and also updated the ten fastest and ten slowest postcode regions. Alas none of the regions look close to hitting our projection of the UK speed for 2015, but with the BDUK projects ramping up we may start to see increased take-up impacting the overall results for regions.
The one projection we made for 2015 of their being 23 million fixed broadband lines in the UK is looking to be the one factor we got spot on, as at the start of 2014 there was 22.3 million lines based on the financial reports from operators. It will be interesting to see what effect the Virgin Media speed uplift programme has on average speeds the effect of upgrading over 4 million customers should be clearly visible. An additional advantage to our testing is that it encompasses well over one hundred broadband providers including alt-nets. If you are an alt-net whose service is not automatically detected by our tester, then get in touch to add your IP blocks to our database.
YouView view TalkTalk just got a little bit cheaper with the promotions that TalkTalk has running until 13th March 2014.
Both products require voice line rental, which is £15.40 per month, or if you pay annually in advance reduces to the equivalent of £10.50 per month. Shopping voucher is only available to those ordering online and who do not require a new telephone line or telephone number.