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Latest Blog Article: A peek at the future world of Openreach FTTP

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Latest BT SIM only deals and a new Family SIM option

Thursday 20 October 2016 14:28:41 by Andrew Ferguson

BT Mobile offers run through various cycles and the 15GB 4G SIM is currently running with a £4 per month discount on the standard £20 for BT Broadband customers (£25 if not a BT Broadband customer) and a £80 iTunes or Amazon gift card to claim for those ordering before the offer ends on 28th October 2016. 2GB SIM is a £40 gift card, and 500MB a lowly £20 gift and no price discounts running on these two.

The change for this cycle of offers is the introduction of the Family SIM plan, i.e. a family can have multiple SIMs each with their own allowances and the price for each additional SIM is less (though additional SIMs don't qualify for the special offers. The pricing means that if paying £10/m for 2 GB SIM as the primary account, the second SIM will cost £8/m, third £7/m, fourth £6/m and fifth £5/m. The additional SIMs are all billed to a single account and the additional SIMs are on a flexible 30 day term.

Social tariffs should not be overlooked says LGA

Thursday 20 October 2016 12:38:10 by Andrew Ferguson

Under the existing telephone Universal Service Obligation only BT of the national providers is duty bound to offer a social tariff (we assume KCom has something similar in Hull), this is a basic line rental (BT Basic) and 10GB allowance ADSL2+ service for £9.95/m (£5.10/m line rental plus £4.85/m for the broadband service).

The Local Government Association has highlighted that with the USO under review and the possibility that the USO may be served by different providers in different areas that social tariffs should be an inclusive component of the USO.

BT Basic line rental is available on its own, but finding broadband at a similar low price without the requirement for that providers own line rental product can be difficult, and while some promotional offers once you include cashback and voucher offers can almost match the price, once the 12 or 18 month contract is over prices will jump significantly.

"BT already provides a basic subsidised BT telephony and broadband package to its qualifying customers. The LGA believes that a similar offer should be provided by any supplier/s that would deliver the USO. This would mean that people who qualify for a basic reduced service would be able to request a connection of at least 10Mbps at an affordable cost should their current package not be up to speed. The call forms part of the LGA's submission to the Government ahead of the Autumn Statement on 23 November."

LGA calls for broadband USO to include social tariff for most in need

Even without the forthcoming USO, there is a wider question that Ofcom may need to consider and that is for those where superfast solutions have been deployed which may for the first time be bringing broadband to an area at speeds beyond dial-up and ISDN. We know Gigaclear in its BDUK project areas usually has an additional lower priced tariff, and some developers of social housing do include a basic free product, but relying on the corporate responsibility of operators is not going to be enough in the long term.

The USO and social tariffs need not be fixed line based either, e.g. if the aim is to ensure access to digital government services and other services (such as banking) that are now harder to do offline than online and we accept usage limits then mobile (4G) services may suffice.

Matt Hancock praises Hull for 42% superfast coverage

Wednesday 19 October 2016 13:37:08 by Andrew Ferguson

Matt Hancock MP who recently replaced Ed Vaizey MP as the Minister of State for Digital and Culture delivered a keynote address at the Broadband World Forum conference today and while up beat about the 91% superfast coverage the UK has was very much putting both feet in the pure fibre is the future camp.

A pure fibre future (i.e. FTTH and FTTP) is something that almost no-one denies, the difference is the journey in how you get there, a new operator with no existing legacy network will always opt for a pure fibre roll-out, some smaller existing operators such as KCom have opted for a FTTH heavy roll-out too, but the BT Group opted for a mixed-fibre approach mainly because of the rapid pace of roll-out this could achieve and it is worth noting that even this roll-out is not fast enough based on the complaints about lack of coverage that outnumber the number of complaints about how VSDL2 performs. Even in BT a pure fibre future is seen as the eventual goal, but pace of roll-outs and costs mean that a path has been adopted that is getting there in incremental stages.

"And the future is fibre.

Interim technologies, yes. Part fibre, great. Satellites, sure, where necessary.

But around the world the evidence increasingly points to fibre roll out as the underpinning of a digital nation.

To those who say it’s been tried and failed, I say go to Hull.

It’s the one part of the country not covered by BT, and full fibre is now available to over half its businesses and homes. I’d like to give praise to Hull’s KCOM, who just last week announced that 25,000 more homes and businesses are to be connected to their full fibre service within the next six months. Between May this year and the end of the next they will have doubled the number of premises that can get full fibre. All this without Government subsidy.

But there is a clear role for Government, and we intend to play it:

In setting the structure. And I am clear that we want a market structure that delivers fibre as widely as possible.

In experimentation and testing.

In reducing the costs.

And above all in leadership, in setting the ambition. In some cases even in stating the obvious.

And believe you me: we will ensure Britain gets connected.

Extract of Matt Hancock MP speech to Broadband World Forum

Picking Hull is interesting as while as a local authority it has the highest proportion of FTTH in the UK (41.9% based on our tracking of KCom roll-out), the constituencies comprising the Hull and East Riding area are stuck at the bottom of the league table for superfast coverage alongside areas such as the remote Western Isles. It raises the question where BT would have had a smooth ride with Government and the regulator if it had gone for a pure FTTP roll-out starting in 2009, at #BBWF their speakers suggested that coverage would be about half and costs at least double what has been spent so far.

The existing commercial and BDUK led roll-out of partial fibre solutions is almost communist in its approach, since if the USO and further roll-outs do deliver it will be a case of having given almost everyone something superfast i.e. an equality will exist.

Openreach is planning 10 million connections and 2 million FTTP by 2020, with more hopefully beyond then, and it will be interesting to see what the public make of and the demand level for upgrading from VDSL2.

For the minister on the problem he had with his Wi-Fi at the weekend, we hate to point out that if this was a Wi-Fi issue, i.e. a computer connected by Ethernet was still working then the problem would be identical no matter what actual connection delivery method was used. Also locating Wi-Fi hardware under a desk is not ideal due to clutter, best to be higher up and above the height of the humans inhabiting a dwelling.

So yes no denying the UK has around 2% of pure fibre (1.86% we believe) but with ultrafast connectivity at 100 Mbps and faster available to 50.96% of premises and superfast over 24 Mbps to 91.7% (superfast 30 Mbps and faster 91.08%) then things are a long way from a disaster. For those with no superfast option it is still a disaster, but perhaps the question should be are those with no improvements planned yet ready to wait a few years longer for a pure fibre solution?, or will any technology suffice so long as HD video streaming and online gaming work and no usage limits so long as it can be delivered before 2020.

So by all means sweat the copper if it gets something adequate to lots of people very quickly, but in doing so do not do anything that will stop a pure fibre future from being possible.

Pricing saving by LLU operators causing Ofcom to reassess repair standards

Wednesday 19 October 2016 12:58:22 by Andrew Ferguson

In a move that will save some LLU operators a massive £2.36 per line per year, many fully unbundled lines have been switched from a next day repair level (SML2) to a two day repair level (SML1) and its a change that the public is probably not aware of either. There is a side effect and Ofcom is consulting on changes to the targets it imposes on Openreach to ensure that these changes are monitored and the purchased levels of service are met.

The previous escalating repair and install standards set by Ofcom where only applicable to a limited set of products, and the two day repair option on MPF was not included in these previously, so without changes there was the risk that Openreach could claim it was hitting its targets while ignoring millions of lines.

The Ofcom consultation is interesting in that it notes the downturn in Openreach performance started in 2009, which we think is perhaps understandable as the provider embarked on its commercial roll-out of the GEA-FTTC and GEA-FTTP products at the same time.

At a time when there is lots of money being spent on lobbying over the future of Openreach, it seems a little odd for millions of lines to be quietly downgraded in terms of repair performance while at the same time complaining about the poor performance of Openreach , but such is the pressure on retail pricing and costs for operators that without higher retail prices this was the only option.

Moving forward if Ofcom was to pursue the most frequently called for option of full legal separation and standards were set to ensure much faster install times and fault repair speed there may have to be a big reassessment of what all of us pay per month for our broadband. The other option is that a major switch to FTTP (where operators abroad are claiming things like 50% less faults) could mean less faults, but in a UK where copper cannot be easily retired due to the success of copper based full LLU this looks to be a long complex road even if you ignore the cost of rebuilding the national network.

Broadband World Forum underway at London Excel

Tuesday 18 October 2016 13:52:27 by Andrew Ferguson

The Broadband World Forum is an opportunity for many of those working in the UK broadband landscape to get together but also an opportunity to find out about what other countries are getting up to.

A major part UK wise is the 'Building Gigabit Britain' conference run by INCA at London Excel and the first day had a small teaser meeting exploring some of the issues around a more fibre rich UK environment and the noises emanating from Ofcom that may suggest a change in direction is underway.

Since the Ofcom market review started 18 months ago there has been a never ending stream of studies (usually sponsored by a body with a self-interest) putting forward differing views and in this situation Sharon White as the head of Ofcom has a difficult task ahead, get it wrong and the UK economy could be destroyed as other countries race ahead in the digital arms race.

On the one hand there is BT saying FTTP is hard to do, in the sense of the time and costs involved (the technology itself is simple and mature) and others saying that they want large amounts of FTTP coverage rolled out ASAP and at a wholesale cost not unlike or maybe even less than current VDSL2 pricing.

The balancing act is how can Ofcom get Openreach (either as a full legally separate company or a half-way house) to invest the sums of money to take the UK from its lowly 2% FTTP coverage to more respectable figures and maybe not be far behind Spain and Portugal that have aims of 95% FTTP coverage by 2020 apparently. While at the very same time encouraging others to invest in their own roll-outs to ensure that Ofcom ambitions of 40% of the UK having three or more infrastructure competitors and a large amount of the remainder with two or more options. This is why the duct and pole access debate features heavily as the competitors are going to need to make extensive use of pre-existing duct - apart from maybe in the suburban areas that match the York UFO/CityFibre trial (which oddly is probably 40% of UK premises).

The big unknown is how that final 5% of the UK will feature in this plan, and in the past the default answer has been get BT to deal with it, but maybe that is what needs to change, i.e. rather than BT by default the UK needs to do more to stop that being the norm. The problem there is that millions are used to dealing with household names like Sky and TalkTalk and will they will be willing to work with regional providers that may only address a market of 100,000 potential customers, or are they firmly pinning their hopes to the full legal separation and forcing the hand of Openreach to deploy FTTP where they would prefer it deployed - which is probably almost an exact mirror of where Virgin Media operate.

Rounding up a few snippets, Openreach talked quickly about a trial over a live fibre, where the existing GPON (2.4 Gbps shared between 32 users) was joined by a 10 Gbps XGS-PON and 40 Gbps NG-PON2 service, and unlike standard GPON the later two are designed to be symmetric.

Looking at the FTTH picture, one key differentiator in the UK is our love of the semi, which means just 12% of the UK lives in apartments (MDUs) whereas half of the people in Spain, Germany and Italy do.

The Brexit vote divided the UK and the results of the Ofcom digital market review may have a similar effect on the UK telco market which could result in years more talking, debating and uncertainty. What the UK digital economy needs is a clear decision, where those making the decision will work hard to ensure that no parties can derail the changes and that the extra investment needed to deliver what everyone dreams of will be available rather than vanish like many political promises have in the past.

Ullapool and surrounding area to benefit from superfast wireless broadband

Wednesday 12 October 2016 18:49:47 by Andrew Ferguson

Ullapool, Lochbroom, Little Lochbroom, Coigach, Gruinard Bay, and Elphin are set to benefit from a new community led initiative that will see wireless broadband bringing an up to 50 Mbps service to the 1,434 premises in the area with building work starting today and due to go live in January and complete by the end of 2017.

Highland Community Broadband is the body behind the service and some 209 founder subscribers who will be the first to be connected and get 14 months service for the price of 12 have raised £85,000 to get the scheme up and running. Total cost is estimated at £164,500 with the aim of connecting 650 homes by July and a further 850 by the end of 2017.

"Besides the attraction of reliable superfast Broadband, I became a Founder Subscriber because I support the idea of community funded infrastructure projects which benefit the whole community. Even if some people cannot offer the lump sum to become a Founder Subscriber they can join the scheme when it is up and running.

It will also encourage the retention and relocation of young people and families, which will mean that existing services and local small businesses continue to be used and will help develop new businesses and enable existing ones to flourish"

Sandy Mackenzie, from Lochside

Residential services will start from £20/month and £50/month for businesses, and of course no need for telephone line rental, self install including router will be £25 or people can opt for a standard install at £100.

The service already has competition in the form of cabinets 1,2,3 & 4 on the Ullapool exchange that offer VDSL2 in the heart of Ullapool but community level projects have the great advantage of being run by local faces and thus may appeal more to those who want to eschew the anonymous large companies. We will add the planned postcodes for the wireless network ahead of the network going live, and once it is live and confirmed superfast speeds are seen add it to the coverage system.

Will next BT advert have Ryan Reynolds sat on the naughty step?

Wednesday 12 October 2016 18:25:46 by Andrew Ferguson

A problem in the UK is that while advertising guidelines exist and a body such as Clearcast exists to perform ad clearance there is still the ASA that will react to complaints, and as with any guideline there is always people who will have different interpretations ensuring a steady flow of complaints.

Virgin Media objected to three adverts for the BT Infinity 1 service when it re-launched as an up to 52 Mbps service instead of its old up to 38 Mbps product (upload speeds stayed the same), and Virgin Media said the adverts were misleading because they 'implied that BT’s up to 52 Mb service was the fastest maximum speed for a lowest-priced tier available in the UK.

The complaint was upheld by the ASA, but the ASA did not appear to say that this was because Virgin Media and its entry level service was cheaper, but rather that the BT adverts had been vague in how it defined who it was comparing itself with and thus people may have understood the adverts to be referring to the whole UK market.

Essentially because BT did not make it clear they meant the top 4 or 5 major providers the adverts have been banned and BT must 'ensure that future ads made clear the basis of the comparison “fastest fibre speeds as standard”'.

The speed battle between Infinity 1 and the 50 Mbps Virgin Media service is pretty tight one, BT Infinity has a maximum connection speed of 55 Mbps, thus max speed in real world is around 52 Mbps, and Virgin Media goes one step further by generally over provisioning the connection speed of its products, so that while its sold as up to 50 Mbps if a local network segment is performing well speeds in excess of 50 Mbps are possible. Virgin Media is usually very careful in its adverts to include the 'fastest widely available' tag line when talking about speed, because of the fact that 1.8% of UK premises that can match or exceed the fastest VIVID service currently and Virgin also link to their SamKnows testing (which tests a small number of connections lots to determine variations in speed over time) to show what these show for services (e.g. up to 50 Mbps has an average 46.89 Mbps at peak times compared to a 24 hour average of 52.28 Mbps).

Overbuild complaints arise with BDUK wireless pilot in West Witton

Tuesday 11 October 2016 11:46:19 by Andrew Ferguson

A common complaint about the gap funded roll-outs is that public money is being used to help BT Openreach build more VDSL2 cabinets in areas where a competitor already exists, most commonly this is a Virgin Media area, but this scenario should be handled by the invoice system where BT invoices only for the gap funding on those premises that will benefit from the cabinet. Less common but expressed more vocally is complaints with overbuilding of alt-net operators and the latest one is about one of the BDUK pilot projects that was meant to explore wireless services in North Yorkshire.

Based on local reports the base for a new VDSL2 cabinet has been installed just to the east of West Witton North Yorkshire and this this appears to be a gap funded solution and based on the location should provide 40 to 76 Mbps speeds for the core of West Witton i.e. Main Street between Flats Lane and Chantry Bank.

"West Witton in Wenlseydale North Yorkshire suffered from poor to very poor (0.75Mb/s) broadband speeds being too far from its fibre cabinet to gain any advantage of FTTC. At the end of 2015 a BDUK funded trial of microwave to the premises opened giving up to 30Mb/s availability to the whole village. Residents were offered service at full commercial rates and less than a year later around 33% of premises in the village are connected at 10, 20 or 30Mb.s as they require with many leaving BT altogether using VoIP.

But construction by BT the edge of the village reveals that the BDUK money spent on the excellent microwave may be thrown away as BDUK is now funding a rival system fior the village by subsidising BT to rearrange its network. meanwhile in the Parish we have a hamlet that still has slow speeds and will gain zero benefit from this expense as they are connected to a different exchange.

BDUK seems keen on spending money even if it subsidises BT to be a competitor to an entrenched small operator. Why can't they spend money on places that need 30Mb/s rather than those that actually have it?

Local West Witton resident - John Loader

The BDUK pilot was a £1.5 million scheme with Airwave to provide wireless connectivity and explore options like TV White Space and small LTE cells, with a coverage target of 270 premises. The West Witton area is thought to have accounted for around £700,000 to cover the 130 premises. The pilots were never funded to operate for years, and contacts allowed operators to back out if after the pilot period they did not want to continue providing service on a commercial basis. Obviously backing out would upset locals who may have paid the usual installation and monthly costs.

So why is BT now deploying VDSL2 to a village that is enjoying wireless now via Boundless (sample speed tests 10 Mbps down, 1.5 Mbps up, 11 Mbps down, 3.6 Mbps up and 22 Mbps down, 4.3 Mbps up? 30 Mbps is an option but appears to be a rare purchase decision.

It appears that the Open Market Review did not exclude the area and thus the village was up for grabs, and ignoring the pilot the location of the cabinet fits in with the current sort of rural places that are getting VDSL2 cabinets deployed in North Yorkshire. One issue apparently has been that while the BT contracts give a certainty of service over a period of a decade there was no guarantee that AirWave/Boundless would keep the service in place and if the Superfast North Yorkshire project had finished the village could roll-back to ADSL only services.

Issues like this are not going to go away and as the BDUK projects reach deeper into the rural areas they will have BT bumping into competitors more and more. Once the superfast projects morph into dealing with ultrafast broadband issues, or maybe a new fully independent national operator (PLC or nationalised) this issue is going to be massive. In short the race to deliver better coverage in as short as timeframe as possible means lengthy on-going constant reviews are not really done, and period reviews will always miss the changing situation on the ground.

Update 5:20pm 12th October We've had something approaching an official reply on the overbuild concerns, we did chase BT last week but as with many enquiries immediate answers don't always appear. It would appear that this cabinet in West Witton is one of a batch that will eventually serve 4,620 premises across North Yorkshire which were receiving under 2 Mbps from existing services in December 2015 (known as phase 2a). These 4,620 premises are described by North Yorkshire council as at no cost to the public, but given the sums involved in earlier phases and the issue of the Universal Service Commitment that is open to debate. The cabinet in West Witton will also provide an improved service to 18 premises that received no service from the Airwave project.

On the subject of worries that the Airwave service would not continue after the pilot, it seems that Airwave did not respond to the Open Market Review and confirmed it would not be in January 2016 as at that time there was no intention to continue service post pilot. Of course since then things have changed and Boundless are offering service and in the position to acquire the assets in the area and run them as an on-going commercial service.

So a much more complex and nuanced situation where officials are confident that nothing untoward is going on, and the interests or rural residents are at the forefront of their decisions. Of course the public will simply see a market test pilot that seemed to have a high cost per premises served and subsequently a BT service arriving. It will be interesting to see what people in the area decide to do with regards to which service they use, particularly for those where VDSL2 may offer a faster service than the wireless services. Since if the majority are happy and stay on the up to 10,20 and 30 Mbps products it raises a real question over whether delivering anything beyond 30 Mbps to consumers is worthwhile in 2016.

CityFibre makes three more cities Gigabit enabled

Tuesday 11 October 2016 10:27:46 by Andrew Ferguson

The poor state of broadband available for business use, or perhaps more correctly while Gigabit and faster is available to business it is at a price most don't want to pay is an increasingly reported problem. Step forward CityFibre who have added another three cities to its list fourteen Gigabit cities.

Sheffield, Rotherham and Doncaster are the latest additions via a 110km network that is in partnership with Exa Networks and means businesses will shortly have access to cheaper Gigabit pure fibre services in those areas.

The mantle of a Gigabit City is based on the model CityFibre operate by, where often local government and public sector contracts underpin a network in an area, followed by business use then the incremental revenue from servicing mobile networks and the one that everyone wants to know about FTTH.

Alas the FTTH stage 4 has only had a limited trial in York and no evidence of it expanding beyond the original trial site, but that may not matter as it provides enough ammunition for BT Group competitors to use it in their case for a full split. The problem being that the existence and growing presence of CityFibre goes against any need for a split since it appears the commercial model is solving problems in at least some areas, the key being how to get to the point where the vast majority of the UK will have two or decent fixed line options or do we accept that a large chunk of the UK will always be a monopoly in this respect.

New EU study on Gigabit deployment costs highlights labour variations

Monday 10 October 2016 12:00:53 by Andrew Ferguson

The big headline figure of €249 billion to deploy Gigabit FTTH or DOCSIS 3.1 across Europe is from one of the latest publications by the European Commission (research carried out by Analysys Mason) can be downloaded for free from the EU Bookshop.

Scenario E is the residential coverage with 1000 Mbps download speeds, the other scenarios explore different deployments, for example scenario A is the cost of deploying Gigabit connection to universities, schools, business parks and SMEs of at least 50 employees, SOHO and smaller SME would be connected via either wireless or fixed line solutions.

The report does consider the impact of existing commercial roll-outs, and thus the sum that the EU would need to find if commercial plans across the EU 28 don't change substantially would be €172 billion.

The standalone figure for the UK seems to be around €29-30 billion and thus has not changed much compared to the original 2009 figures that many still quote, though it is not clear how much of this would need be spending what the commercial operators achieve. The report does highlight that DOCSIS 3.1 (the next standard for existing cable broadband networks) is 10 Gbps capable and with UK commercial coverage for DOCSIS 3.0 sitting at just under 50% and increasing. Unfortunately this usually means the cheaper urban areas are almost totally covered already and the hockey stick of rising costs as you become more rural come into play, with urban areas managing to cost around €800 per premise, suburban €1000 and rural €2250.

The report while not giving a breakdown on the cost of labour in different countries and the time needed to install various components of a FTTH network does integrate these into a cost to deploy a metre of ducting in various countries. Romania is the cheapest at €13/metre, Poland €23/metre, Spain €59/metre, UK €62/metre, Belgium €108/m. These costs highlight the need to re-use existing ducting where at all possible and or alternatively opt for an aerial deployment that brings the EU wide total down from €249 billion to €116 billion.

The exceptional work of B4RN and its volunteer army demonstrate what can be achieved and how volunteer labour that is not worrying about profit and loss but rather serving a community can keep costs extremely low. The question for policy makers is whether there is some way to reproduce this on a scale that can deploy millions of premises of FTTH in a timescale that keeps people happy.

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