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Sky adds 50,000 broadband customers in last quarter

Friday 25 July 2014 12:55:47 by Andrew Ferguson

BSkyB has issued its results for the 12 months ending June 2014 and while the operator grew massively in 2013 via the acquisition of O2/Be they are still attracting new customers at a reasonable rate, and the increasing use of connected TV services by existing customers is helping to insulate them from potential disruption to traditional TV revenue by faster broadband services.

The last quarter saw Sky add 50,000 broadband customers to give them 5.247 million customers, where 83% of those on the LLU network are using full LLU (both phone and broadband on Sky hardware at the exchange). An interesting snippet is that the number of off-net customers (using BT Wholesale network) grew by 9,000 to 214,000. The LLU side is now available at some 2,367 exchanges across the UK.

NOW TV which lets people with any broadband provider subscribe on a monthly basis to Sky content still has no figures for the number of customers mentioned, but we do learn that 1 in 5 take both the Entertainment (£4.99) and Movies (£8.99) monthly pass. Watching TV over broadband is clearly becoming a lot more common as with 50% of TV customers with their set-top box connected to broadband Sky has seen a threefold increase in usage in the last year.

No mention of the fibre figures for Openreach FTTC services, or the Basingstoke FTTP trial, or the York FTTP mash-up with TalkTalk and CityFibre. The Basingstoke trial does have people with live connections running though.

Provider claims low demand for fibre broadband

Thursday 24 July 2014 11:22:09 by Andrew Ferguson

One broadband provider is going against the grain and claims that for fibre broadband there is 'low demand seen throughout the industry' and has actually withdrawn its fibre based broadband products from sale for a few months.

This goes against the avalanche of news coverage that now has ITV journalists filming on beaches in the Isles of Scilly as fibre backhaul is brought ashore and almost daily appearances by one or other MP at a cabinet unveiling.

The provider in question is Primus Saver who claim they are removing the products for a period of three months and may reappear with revised pricing if and when new wholesale pricing appears.

Primus Saver operate at the low end of the market and the extra £8 to £10 per month that fibre services from Openreach command, plus wholesalers mark-up to account for the generally higher usage levels for fibre based services make bargain basement fibre services hard to market while still making a profit.

The UK has a real problem since if wholesale prices of fibre services are reduced it may drive demand, but if driven too low it will increase the ROI periods to the extent that Openreach may ask for more gap funding in rural areas to continue the roll-out, or introduce two-tier pricing. Also for alt-nets trying to compete where volume is difficult people may be reluctant to sign up to anything significantly more expensive than the TV advertised services that usually include unlimited usage too.

Recycled undersea fibre link bringing superfast fibre to Isles of Scilly

Thursday 24 July 2014 10:02:38 by Andrew Ferguson

While some parts of the UK are embracing fixed wireless services, the Isles of Scilly has moved onto the next stage by diverting a section of undersea fibre optic cable to improve the backhaul capability for the 2,200 residents (around 900 premises). The reason for the improved backhaul is that FTTC is due to be rolled out across the islands with the service going live towards the end of 2014. The fibre cable was one that has not been used since 2006 and was previously part of a 938km link between Porthcurno and Santander, Spain.

The islands are served by seven telephone cabinets with up to 8 Mbps ADSL available from the single telephone exchange on St Mary's, which is where 4 of the 7 telephone cabinets are. The other three cabinets are located on Tresco, St Agnes and St Martins. We could produce a projection of what speeds are available, but the islands are so remote that there is no Google Streetview to confirm the location of the cabinets.

"Superfast Broadband will create exciting opportunities for new and existing businesses. Its installation will also help our islands become more economically viable and provide benefits for future generations."

Amanda Martin, chairman of the Council of the Isles of Scilly

The roll-out is part of the larger Cornish project, which has fibre based broadband available to around 90% of premises and this should grow to 95% by the end of 2014, and also has the highest proportion of FTTP of any county in the UK.

Boost to 50 Mbps for Family+ users over at Wessex Internet

Wednesday 23 July 2014 17:02:18 by Andrew Ferguson

It is not often a provider increases speeds and reduces pricing, but Wessex Internet are doing that as of 1st August. Their Family+ wireless service is set to see the maximum speed increase from 30 Mbps to 50 Mbps and the package will reduce from £57/month to £49 month (6 month contract, 10 Mbps upload and 200GB usage allowance).

Wessex Internet has over packages available starting at £25/month for a 20GB allowance. Installation is higher than lots of people are used to at £199, but reduces to £99 if you add a vonage based VoIP service for £5 per month.

Wessex Internet covers parts of rural Dorset and Wiltshire including Cranbourne West towards Melbury Bubb and from Fonthill Bishop in the North to Melcombe Bingham in the South. They also have a smaller footprint of FTTP availability where £50/month gets you 100 Mbps download, 50 Mbps upload with 100GB allowance.

Up to £100 credit offer on Virgin Media bundles

Wednesday 23 July 2014 13:50:25 by Andrew Ferguson

For those considering a cable broadband bundle, Virgin Media is sweetening the deal with its latest batch of offers.

Broadband and phone dual play packages qualify for a £50 credit for new customers placing an order online. For the triple play packages that bundle TV/broadband/telephone the Big Easy gets £50, Big Bang £75 and the heavyweight Big Kahuna and Big Daddy bundles qualify for an extra £100 off via the credit offer.

The offer is running for a limited time and expires on the 30th July 2014, with the credit adding to the various special price offers already in place.

11,000 premises in the next phase of Hampshire superfast roll-outs

Wednesday 23 July 2014 12:03:23 by Andrew Ferguson

The next phase of the Superfast Hampshire roll-out has been announced, with the 11,000 homes and businesses in the latest phase leading towards the contracted goal of getting a superfast broadband service to 90% of premises in the county. Given that the commercial roll-outs cover some 620,000 premises across the county the 11,000 of this phase of the BDUK roll-out looks small, but will be a very important change for those who benefit.

"Lockerley, Lymington, Milford-on-Sea, Brockenhurst, Sway, Liphook, Headley Down, Alton, Tisted, Selbourne and Herriard"

Areas for third phase of Hampshire superfast broadband roll-out

As with other areas inclusion of an area does not mean 100% coverage will be reached in the area, and some places may already be partly covered by the commercial roll-out or a cabinet via an earlier phase. Also the phases can be fluid, e.g. it is feasible that a cabinet that part of the first phase may be delivered later than one in the third phase if there are delays that occur, e.g. delays while waiting for permission to dig up a road to put in a power feed or clear a blocked duct.

Looking at Sway in particular we believe that of the eight cabinets on the exchange, cabinets 1, 2, 4, 5 and 7 are in the plans to get a FTTC service. Of course it is possible that the other cabinets and the small amount of Exchange Only lines may get addressed at a later date.

"The roll out of superfast broadband is right on track and I expect at least 95 per cent of homes and businesses in Hampshire will be able to access these services by 2017. Coupled with the recent announcement that Hampshire secured £1.2m to explore innovative solutions to take superfast broadband to some of the more remote and hardest to reach places in the county, we hope to see these services being available to even more of Hampshire’s residents. The social and economic benefits of having access to superfast broadband is huge with businesses being able to manage their accounts online, the less mobile being able to order food shopping to their doors and school children being able to research homework, to name just a few. This not only tackles social isolation but has potential to grow our economy in the South, providing more jobs and opportunities."

Leader of Hampshire County Council, Councillor Roy Perry

The 95% target in the above quote is the new target that will make use of the £9.2m the local council has earmarked for the Superfast Extension Scheme and the Government is offering £9.2m of extra funding for Hampshire, Portsmouth and Southampton. Hampshire County Council actually completed an Open Market Review in January 2014 for the period 2015 - 2017 so appears to be ahead of the curve for moving from the 90% to 95% target.

Update 24th July Hampshire County Council has been in touch with some updates, namely that the Government is putting in £9.2m towards the extension project rather than the £8.74m originally announced. Also that the area of the Hampshire BDUK project is a total of 594,000 premises, where approximately 469,000 are covered commercially. The 90% project currently underway is set to bring superfast services to 59,000 premises. This figure is lower than that of the BT press release because we believe the council is referring to the footprint of the project, which excludes the cities of Portsmouth and Southampton. The nice bonus bit of information is a weekly updated list of cabinets that are live is available. While we originally suspected that the 'current signups' layer on the Hampshire map was referring to orders, we have learn it refers actually to the expressions of interest for more information for when fibre based services arrive in an area.

Maps of the council projects are often criticised and the Hampshire website appears to have a better than most map, which while not showing exactly which cabinets are in each phase it does make viewing the areas much easier and also plots the registered levels of interest in each area.

thinkbroadband.com estimate of superfast coverage in Hampshire, based on the assumption every green street cabinet offers FTTC and/or cable broadband.
Authority % at 30 Mbps or faster % at 24 Mbps or faster % cable present % Exchange Only lines % needing extra USC help
Combined Authorites 90.2% 92.3% 53.8% 3.3% 1.9%
City of Portsmouth 99.2% 99.3% 94.6% 1% <0.1%
City of Southampton 94.2% 95.7% 35.3% 2.8% 1.7%
Hampshire County 88.1% 90.6% 50.5% 3.8% 2.2%

Our estimates based on a pure FTTC and ignoring Exchange Only lines suggest that for Hampshire County Council to hit the 95% with access to a superfast service in 2017 some extra work beyond simply enabling every green street cabinet for a VDSL2 service will be needed. This is why various projects are using some FTTP roll-out tactically, i.e. small numbers so that the cost is managed and given the political pressure this is expedient. I am sure all those who follow the broadband campaigning trail would love a lot more FTTP in these roll-outs, but given budget and time constraints this seems unlikely.

Given the list of 56 cabinets that are live and delivering a FTTC service via the project in this Hampshire, we estimate that 80% can get superfast speeds (30 Mbps and faster) and another 5 to 9% can get 24 Mbps to 30 Mbps speeds.

TalkTalk on track to connect homes in York in 2015

Wednesday 23 July 2014 10:32:05 by Andrew Ferguson

While the total number of broadband customers at TalkTalk may have only grown 10,000 in the last quarter, the increase in TV and fibre based customers is the main sign of success at the telephone, broadband, mobile and TV operator.

The number of broadband customers for the quarter ending in June 2014 was 4,206,000 with just 132,000 using off-net (i.e. BT Wholesale based), the full LLU network (3,032 exchanges) actually added 45,000 customers in the quarter, offset by the loss of 22,000 on shared LLU and 13,000 on the BT Wholesale platform. The appeal of fibre based services at TalkTalk shows steady growth adding 34,000 in the last quarter to give a total of 241,000.

To emphasis the fact that business users do not always need to use BT as the first port of call for Ethernet/leased lines the financial report highlights that 1,800 new EFM/Ethernet lines were added in the last quarter to give TalkTalk a total of 19,000.

Looking to the future for the bottom line the hope that a Margin Squeeze Test from Ofcom on the Openreach GEA-FTTC products will see the wholesale price reduced is mentioned. TalkTalk already sells some of the cheapest fibre based services, though having seen the reaction from some the low upload speed of 2 Mbps on their cheapest service may be putting some people off of upgrading.

The FTTP project in York gets a four line mention, with indications that recruitment of engineers is underway for a trial on the actual streets of York using micro-trenching, building on previous micro-trenching trial work. The hope being that the first homes and businesses will go live in 2015.

The FTTP news is welcome, but seems a little odd to see no mention of CityFibre and talk of recruiting engineers for micro-trenching has us wondering how big a role CityFibre has in the project, i.e. are they just providing core backhaul to major nodes rather than actual FTTP in residential streets. If it is just core network, does this mean Sky will have their own micro-trenching teams and we may see one street with Sky FTTP and another with TalkTalk FTTP rather than a product fully built by CityFibre and wholesaled to Sky and TalkTalk?

The Openreach GEA-FTTP footprint is around 150,000 premises (a large number in Cornwall) and with the interest in FTTP by TalkTalk there are now questions as to why they are not selling that service where available. Poor product from Openreach?

Spectrum Internet bring Gigabit fibre to Welsh business park

Tuesday 22 July 2014 15:33:39 by Andrew Ferguson

Hopefully there are other business parks in Wales with access to superfast broadband speeds already, but Spectrum Internet is proud of its achievement to bring high quality services to Cardiff Gate International Business Park as part of the SuperConnected Cities scheme, making it the first business park in Wales to benefit from the scheme.

"We are delighted to be providing businesses on Cardiff Gate International Business Park with a superfast service. Many business parks across Wales suffer with a poor broadband service and both the parks and their tenants are at risk of losing business because of this. For business parks in participating Super Connected cities this is a great opportunity to be more appealing to tenants who are attracted by fast broadband speeds."

Giles Phelps, Managing Director of Spectrum Internet

The business park looks to be connected to cabinet 9 on the Llanedeyrn exchange for existing Openreach based services and has estimated speeds of 3 to 7 Mbps and currently no visible sign of plans to bring FTTC to the area via the larger Superfast Cymru project. These slow speeds mean that competitively priced higher speed services starting at £50 per month will be in demand and Spectrum Internet can deliver varying levels of service from 100 Mbps to Gigabit leased lines.

Spectrum Internet has been very popular in Cardiff acquiring 78% of the vouchers delivered by the SuperConnected Cities scheme in Cardiff, with businesses using the voucher to pay for the initial connection to the network. The vouchers vary in value from £200 to £3,000 and can only be used for the connection costs, not on-going monthly fees and VAT is payable at 20% on the value of the voucher. Spectrum Internet has more detail on what they are offering via the scheme on a dedicated website and is also offering services via the scheme in Newport and Bristol.

In theory leased lines and Ethernet based services are available across most of the UK, but installation costs and on-going fees are generally too high for small businesses. So by Spectrum Internet adding their infrastructure in the hope of acquiring business we are seeing a scheme that is increasing levels of competition with significantly smaller levels of investment by the public purse than schemes like FibreSpeed that is now seeing overbuild by the Superfast Cymru project.

Only 5% of new BT customers use Cameron's smut filter

Tuesday 22 July 2014 12:35:17 by Andrew Ferguson

The timing of the push for Parental Controls on broadband connections at the same time as the various snooping and interception revelations is poorly timed, but so long as people are given a fair choice making controls more easily available for parents has to be welcomed. Ofcom has issued the second of three reports on Internet Safety Measures at the behest of the Government and while Ofcom draws very few conclusions the report is useful reading for those worried about what is happening.

Provider Take up of filters for new customers
BT 5% rises to 9% if you count device level filtering software too
Sky 8%
TalkTalk 36%
Virgin Media 4.3% 13% choose filtering, but this drops to 4.3% when you count just parental controls

The difference in take-up is pretty large with TalkTalk taking the clear lead, largely in part due to the length of time their filters have been operational and the publicity TalkTalk has received along with continued promotion of the HomeSafe system during the sales process, i.e. they use it as a sales tactic to attract a family demographic.

Virgin Media was the last of the major operators to the network level filtering party and has the least granular system at present whereas the other three operators provide more levels of control. Virgin Media also has not implemented an email based notification system so that the account holder is notified when the controls are changed, and the Ofcom paper reveals that in many cases Virgin Media engineers have bypassed the question at install time and this is being resolved apparently so that more customers get presented with the choice.

The approaches for how the filtering works also varies and this can have positive and negative consequences.

  • BT and Virgin Media network level controls use a DNS system to filter requests with 'suspect' domains and associated URL being passed via a proxy to make the final filter decision.
  • Sky use a totally DNS based system.
  • TalkTalk is believed to check every URL against the classified list of URLs.

It may be coincidence but DNS look-ups have been behind several issues at a number of these providers and it may be that the extra work load of the filtering systems might be partially responsible. Certainly a system that relies on a proxy could have issues if a very commonly accessed domain was being sent via it. The advantage though of a proxy system is that just parts of a site can be blocked, though the pure DNS approach does have the advantage of making it easier to block app based smut.

The biggest problem for many parents will be identifying why something is not working and while for a full site block the re-directs to the blocked pages are more than sufficient, the fact that services like Xbox Live and twitter just time-out when blocked by parental controls can create confusion. Work needs to take place on how apps and other services can be warned about a block and timely messages passed to the actual user.

It will be interesting to see if the final of three reports by Ofcom looks at the issue where sites are not classified and thus bypass the parental controls and how families manage parental controls when there are children of varying ages, i.e. blocking social networking maybe appropriate for a six year old but for a fifteen year old would have them feeling like a social outcast.

Hopefully Ofcom will continue to track the filtering systems, particularly as over time they are likely to evolve to reflect the political and moral outlook of those operating them which may not always be apparent to subscribers. To some extent this is already the case when you look at the range of categories offered by each system.

More superfast broadband on the way for the East Riding of Yorkshire

Monday 21 July 2014 16:09:29 by Andrew Ferguson

The drip feed of information from the various BDUK projects continues with the names of the next areas set to benefit from the East Riding of Yorkshire project have been released.

"Aldbrough, Beeford, Bishop Wilton, Bridlington, Burton Agnes, Burton Pidsea, Dalton Holme, Elvington, Flamborough, Holme-on-Spalding-Moor, Hornsea, Keyingham, Kilham, Langtoft, Leconfield, Leven, Market Weighton, Melbourne, Middleton on the Wolds, North Cave, Patrington, Pocklington, Stamford Bridge, Skipsea, Skirlaugh, Spurn Point, Tibthorpe, Watton, Wilberfoss and Withernsea"

Communities forming the next 20,000 to benefit from fibre based broadband

The list is useful, but no precise information is available on what cabinets or technology will be used, picking Wilberfoss at random we have been able to spot that cabinet 1 went live at the end of 2013 via the North Yorkshire project, and believe that cabinets P2 and PE2 are set to get FTTC via the East Riding project, plus for some of the Exchange Only lines in Wilberfoss there may be FTTP rolled out.

The East Riding project site does provide some vague maps showing roll-out areas and tempers expectations by talking of the projects goal of bringing 24 Mbps or faster to 42,000 premises, with 2 Mbps or better for the rest. Compared to the headline advertising the public is normally exposed to this a more realistic way of expressing things.

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