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£20/m for 12 months on Virgin Media Big Bang Package

Friday 30 January 2015 19:59:14 by Andrew Ferguson

We may have seen the end of the 6 months free Netflix subscription and bill credit offers across the Virgin Media triple play bundles, but a new offer has started on the Big Bang Bundle.

The previous offer was £25/month but until the end of February online orders for the Big Bang service will get the first 12 months of broadband and TV for £20/month, rising to £32/month for the remainder of the 18 month contract. Voice line rental at £16.99 per month applies throughout.

The Big Bang Bundle includes up to 100 Mbps broadband with unlimited downloads (up to 6 Mbps upload). Cable TV service offering over 130 channels, including 11 HD channels and 10 Sky channels and of course a 500 GB TiVo.

Openreach vectoring trial to expand to 100 cabinets

Friday 30 January 2015 15:09:31 by Andrew Ferguson

For those who have VDSL2 (FTTC) installed already and have seen the speeds drop off as more people upgrade in an area (this drop off is often the result of crosstalk) then news of the vectoring trials expanding will be welcome. We understand that Openreach is to start enabling vectoring on more DSLAMs as of February 2015 with the aim of having 100 cabinets running in vector mode by the end of March 2015.

The cabinets involved will be spread across the UK, and we presume would be picked to give a sample of the varying cable densities and lengths that different areas will have.

The trials will closely monitor the speeds that people receive, but it is possible that some people who have seen speeds drop from 74 Mbps to 62 Mbps might see that loss totally recovered, the effect of vectoring is generally thought to be less for longer lines, but for those just under the 24 Mbps mark at say 21 Mbps the improvements might just boost speeds enough to earn a superfast label. The 1 to 2% who have line lengths to their cabinet of over 1500m are likely to see minimal improvements, but predictions are much harder for these lines, hence trials to help Openreach understand real world performance.

Openreach G.fast roll-out to start in 2016/2017

Friday 30 January 2015 10:35:18 by Andrew Ferguson

We went at looked at some pre-release G.fast hardware at the BT test labs in 2014 and now three months later Openreach is announcing an ultrafast future with deployment starting in 2016/2017 some eight years after FTTC started to be rolled out.

G.fast is being described as delivering up to 500 Mbps and the BT ambition is to have this rolled out to most of the UK within a decade, so we presume 2025, in the shorter term the talk is of availability to millions by 2020. Of course this is subject to nothing untoward turning up in some public trials, and 4,000 homes and businesses in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire and Gosforth, Newcastle will be able to take part in two pilot roll-outs in Summer 2015. This will build on the core work at Adastral park and help to train staff and verify that the expected speeds can be delivered.

Not everyone reading this will know what G.fast means, but basically it means a small box being attached to the pole that feeds your home, or dropped into a hole in the pavement and rather than your fibre broadband being delivered by a cabinet the fibre is ran to this small box and then your existing copper phone line delivers the G.fast signal. Higher frequencies are used which combined with the shorter distance means higher speeds are possible.

While we know that there will be those that complain that this is just Openreach exploiting its copper monopoly, the deployment of G.fast would not have been possible without the pushing of fibre out from the 5,500 exchanges to what is some 61,000+ street locations currently and pushing it again to a point within 100m or so of a cluster of premises means that just maybe in 2025 we may actually see the final decision to roll-out FTTP/H to millions by Openreach. Of course competitors like Hyperoptic, CityFibre and Gigaclear should have millions of FTTH connections by then too if their plans come to fruition.

What is clear is that the EU 2020 Digital Agenda target of 50% of the EU actually subscribing to a 100 Mbps or faster connection is likely to be a reality and the UK will be above the average across the EU. The lower standard of everyone with a 30 Mbps connection will depend on how the Governments final 5% pilots work out, though some areas are pushing ahead to 100% targets already.

The roll-out timing is interesting as it overlaps with the phase 2 BDUK dates and we would be shocked if G.fast did not feature in the superfast roll-outs in those local authorities aiming for 95% to 100% coverage at superfast speeds. The cost of powering a G.fast node may be the deciding factor between a small hamlet getting G.fast or FTTH/P.

Update 12:10pm In response to a few questions we have learnt that some G.fast nodes may be deployed from the fibre cabinets, the advantage being that DC power is available. Another alternative being DC power from the exchange. The need for mini-cabs and footway deployment is recognised and this announcement is about intention to deploy rather than a precise plan for the future. In terms of the future roll-out Openreach acknowledges that local demand hotspots will be one of the many factors and the trials will be looking closely at peoples desire to upgrade from superfast to ultrafast, i.e. how willing are people to pay for even more speed than they can sensibly use at once or put another way how valuable is waiting 1 minute for a large download versus 5 minutes.

A small note, there will also be a Gigabit trial, that we believe will look at delivering Gigabit speeds over the existing GPON GEA-FTTP network. Technically there is no problems, but understanding willingness of people to upgrade and pay for higher speeds and usage patterns are probably more a factor in that trial.

Openreach connects 375,000 fibre connections in last quarter

Friday 30 January 2015 09:56:04 by Andrew Ferguson

The BT Group Q3/2014 results are in and along with the other news today about G.fast fibre features heavily.

Openreach in the last quarter spent £300m net of £94m of BDUK funding on capital expenditure and managed to pass some 630,000 premises as part of the BDUK roll-out. The FTTC/P footprint is sitting at a declared figure of 22 million premises (~3/4 of UK). What is interesting is that even though demand for FTTC/P resulted in a record number of new connections 375,000 in the quarter operating profit only increased by 1%, suggesting as yet there is no goldmine to be had from the fibre roll-outs. With 3.7 million fibre based broadband connections via Openreach take-up is running at 17%.

The last quarter has seen fibre services at the retail level finally start to feature heavily in the various special offers and this seems to be paying dividends for the non BT Group providers as they have grabbed a 44% share of the net additions in the last quarter.

For those who despise copper local loops, the news that the Openreach physical line base grew by 111,000 will upset the gossip that people are giving up their landlines to use mobile as copper is so bad. In fact the 111,000 in the quarter is another record, especially when you consider that the 12 months including the quarter only added 144,000 lines.

BT Consumer is of course the face most people know the BT Group by and even though there has been heavy promotion and use of gift cards operating profits are up in the last quarter compared to the same quarter 12 months ago by 68%. 35% of new customers to BT Consumer are buying a fibre based broadband package, and take-up of Infinity was such that there was 209,000 retail additions, to give BT Consumer some 2.7m fibre customers. The total broadband customer base standing at 7.56 million, two million ahead of the closest rival Sky.

The TV element of the BT Consumer services in itself is not controversial, but the BT Sport and rights costs tend to be, but with some 30% of all UK pubs now subscribing out of a total of 25,000 commercial premises it is not the big giveaway that many view it as. BT TV added another 45,000 customers in the quarter.

£45m of funding for Connecting Devon and Somerset

Thursday 29 January 2015 16:39:55 by Andrew Ferguson

A flurry of growth announcements from the Government and regions are emerging and in many cases it is hard to tell the amounts of investment in broadband apart from other projects that Westminster hopes the growth fund via the Local Enterprise Partnerships will foster. Connecting Devon and Somerset has made it clear, an extra £7 million of funding has been agreed at a visit by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg who visited Lupimedia in Yeovil.

Update Friday 30th January CDS on twitter has replied to questions over what the 100% represents and has stated 100% superfast. Which means that if you live in Devon and Somerset it is just a case of when now.

The extra £7 million secures the £45m of funding so that the phase 2 BDUK project in Devon and Somerset can go ahead, the stated goal of which is to reach 95% availability of superfast broadband across the two counties. The phase 1 project with some £94m to spend (mixture of BT and public money) is aiming to hit a 90% superfast coverage target.

The press release on the CDS site is a little confusing as to what the goals are, since the Deputy Leader of Somerset County Council talks of "bring 100% broadband coverage to the area". In theory the work to deliver the 2 Mbps USC as part of phase 1 should resolve a basic service (cue roll-out of satellite vouchers), so it is wait and see time and to see what the tender process will actually deliver in terms of a contract.

The current fibre and superfast coverage situation as far as we can tell is:

thinkbroadband estimates of coverage in Devon and Somerset - January 2015
Authority % fibre based % superfast speeds (30 Mbps) % cable % Openreach FTTP
Overall 69.4% 57% 26.8% 0.4%
Bath and North East Somerset Unitary Authority 79% 76% 30% 0%
City of Plymouth Unitary Authority 98% 96.7% 90.1% 0%
Devon County 62.2% 53.3% 19% 1.1%
North Somerset Unitary Authority 70.7% 62.6% 20.4% 0%
Somerset County 58.6% 50.3% 4.4% 0%
Torbay Unitary Authority 88.7% 85.7% 45.9% 0%

Sky announces plans to go quad play with mobile products

Thursday 29 January 2015 12:22:27 by Andrew Ferguson

Sky is to join the ranks of UK mobile providers by virtue of a partnership deal with Telefónica UK (O2).

"We're pleased to welcome Sky to our roster of innovative, successful partnerships, through which we help partners grow their offer to customers. Sky understands the importance of a strong network and excellent customer experience and has made us a trusted partner to help deliver brilliant services. This will widen consumer choice still further and demonstrates the lively competitiveness of the UK market. We're looking forward to working with Sky."

Ronan Dunne, Chief Executive of Telefónica UK

This deal means that Sky will join EE, TalkTalk and Virgin Media who are all quad play now and if the BT and EE deal goes well then BT will be too. This deal follows hot on the heels of Three moving to pay £10 billion to buy O2 UK.

No news on specific products, those will come in good time, but given the aggressive free SIM and half price deals that TalkTalk customers enjoy we would expect a lot of competition. There has been worries that the mergers and buy-outs in the mobile market might lead to price rises, but it is possible that the retail level competition and bundling may drive prices down, though this might be at the expense of those who take services from a mixture of providers. In short, bundling of data, video and voice services is here to stay.

Rural Affairs Minister to launch 99% superfast project in Cornwall

Thursday 29 January 2015 10:20:31 by Andrew Ferguson

Cornwall was an early mover on intervention to improve ADSL coverage and now is launching its ambitious plan to take superfast broadband to 99% of premises in the Duchy. The scheme will run from 2016 to 2021, reflecting the amount of labour involved in getting fixed line broadband at superfast speeds to 99% in a very rural part of the UK.

This launch builds on the existing 2017 target of 99% being able to get a fibre based solution and is part of a larger growth package for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. We believe the current live coverage levels to be 89-90% fibre based broadband and due to the wider geographic spread on many cabinets the superfast coverage at 30 Mbps and faster is low at 72%.

Cornwall is already home to a lot of FTTP coverage (~23% of premises), and as the basic FTTC roll-out completes it is likely that more FTTP will be rolled out, as well as other options like FTTrN (Fibre to the remote Node) with the technology choice based largely around which offers the most value for money.

Read, digest NAO BDUK report and then watch PAC take on BT and BDUK

Wednesday 28 January 2015 10:41:05 by Andrew Ferguson

The latest National Audit Report entitled 'The Superfast (Rural) Broadband Programme: update' has been published and with all 44 projects underway it is able to give much better view on the progress on the projects.

The Public Accounts Committee is meeting on Wednesday 28th January, where the NAO report and other BDUK related matters will be discussed, you can watch it live and see what new questions are asked of BT.

The latest report could be seen as a blow for those who are campaigning against the involvement of BT in the BDUK process, since the NAO appears to identify savings made in the projects brought about by the synergies of the BDUK and counties having to manage just one supplier, and additionally BT appears to have over estimated its costs.

Phase 1 actual cost data

3.6 The contracts between BT and local bodies require BT to bear the risk of overspends, so these contracts effectively set BT’s maximum claim amount for each project. It therefore made good financial sense for BT to include some contingency in its bids. BT told the Committee in July 2013 that it typically included 5% to 8% contingency in project bids.

3.7 BDUK’s analysis of the cost information it has received suggests that so far actual phase 1 costs are significantly lower than BT’s financial model. As at September 2014, BT’s total reported capital spend on phase 1 of the Programme was £142 million (38%) under the estimated price, including work in progress not yet invoiced. BDUK estimates that this £142 million variance reported so far is likely to be reduced by between £30 and £50 million. This is partly because of timing issues, as BT’s financial model profiled average unit costs, rather than profiling projected specific unit costs. There are also some possible further costs not yet charged by BT. But even if all of these costs materialise, BT would still have spent approximately £92 million (25%) less than its contracted forecast cost.

Extract from NAO January 2015 report

The price of each fibre cabinet has been adjusted the calculation in July 2013 suggested an average price of £28,900, which by September 2014 had dropped to £21,000. Though with no indications of which cabinet size has been analysed and how many are semi-urban or deep rural, the NAO cautions that costs may rise as projects push away from the easier areas. Deployment of FTTP as part of the projects has been acknowledged for the first time we believe, but reports that FTTC is being used more than FTTP than some of the original plans with the note that in terms of value for money this may be a good thing.

At the end of the day, when producing models which an awful lot of the previous BDUK/BT arguments have revolved around it is difficult to get them right when a broadband project on this scale has not been done in the UK before. Most telling is that an Atkins report on a small sample of the roll-out in Suffolk suggested that 'BT had charged Suffolk nearly 20% less than would hypothetically be charged by another efficient supplier'.

Compared to previous reports generally much more positive, but there is little analysis of the speeds delivered something which the BT critics like to highlight. In defence of the NAO their report is reporting on the numbers who can get 24 Mbps or faster, so should be applying a speed filter to the coverage data they have access to for premises covered. Our own analysis shows that of those able to get a fibre based solution, 4.5% are getting speeds below 30 Mbps, so when the UK hits the 90% superfast target around 94.5% will be on a fibre based solution with a good number of those still getting better speeds than they got from existing ADSL/ADSL2+ services.

£35 cashback on Plusnet up to 38 Mbps fibre based broadband

Wednesday 28 January 2015 09:47:44 by Andrew Ferguson

Want to upgrade to fibre based broadband, then the £35 cashback incentive from PlusNet on top of the existing price offer on its up to 38 Mbps (up to 19 Mbps uploads) may prove attractive and is available until 10th February 2015

  • Unlimited fibre based broadband
  • £3.75 per month for 6 months, then £14.99 per month
  • Includes free evening and weekend calls to UK landlines
  • If not in a Plusnet low cost area after six months you will pay £22.49 a month
  • Voice line rental required at £15.95 per month
  • Line rental saver at equivalent of £12.99 per month available

Gigabit fibre for rural Northamptonshire villages almost live

Tuesday 27 January 2015 18:10:11 by Andrew Ferguson

Gigaclear is pushing on with its roll-out and the latest batch of villages to go live are West Haddon, Ravensthorpe, Guilsborough and Coton in Northamptonshire. For a picture of a frosty fibre cabinet take a look at the Gigaclear twitter account.

These villages are the start of a wider roll-out in Northamptonshire that should eventually cover some 4,000 premises and for the villages that have just gone live it should mean speeds jumping from around an average download of 5.5 Mbps (0.4 Mbps upload) to 147 Mbps down and 170 Mbps upload. The averages are lower than a Gigabit as people have a choice of 50, 100, 200 or 1000 Mbps products.

Update 6:20pm Looks like a busy day as another cabinet serving FTTP to premises in King's Cliffe and Apethorpe are also live.

Update 28th January While cabinets are in and network build well underway, Gigaclear has said that individual customers final fibre link into the network will start to be installed and tested in March.

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