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BT Group has published it latest set of quarterly figures and they indicate that BT Consumer division (BT Retail) is still winning the majority of the FTTC business within the UK. The good news is that the fibre based broadband network from Openreach is now available to some 20 million homes and growing at a rate of around 70,000 extra premises per week as new cabinets go live.
"We have passed more than 20m premises with our fibre broadband rollout. We achieved 341,000 net fibre connections, an increase of 29%. That brings the number of homes and businesses connected to more than 3m, 15% of those passed. Overall DSL and fibre broadband market net additions were 163,000, 14% down on last year.
Capital expenditure decreased 8%. While our commercial fibre build is nearing completion, we have increased the overall intensity of our fibre rollout through the BDUK programme. We received grant funding of £73m (Q1 2013/14: £12m) relating to the BDUK programme with the increase from last year broadly offsetting the overall increase in our fibre capital expenditure. Operating cash flow increased 11%."Extract from Openreach section of results for 1st quarter to 30th June 2014
Openreach with 3 million customers via various retail providers signed up on its FTTC and FTTP networks is showing a reasonable level of take-up at 15% and as demand for faster broadband increases driven largely by video-on-demand services the take-up level is likely to increase. For the BDUK projects once 20% is hit within an intervention area clawback mechanisms kick-in so that the County Council partner gets some of their investment back and can either return this to their coffers, or re-invest in pushing fibre based services deeper into rural areas.
The BT Consumer division is out pacing the growth of the other large broadband providers, adding 104,000 new broadband customers in the last quarter and now has over 7.4 million customers on a broadband service. The idea that all fibre based broadband is called Infinity is something that other providers are fighting but with 226,000 out of the 341,000 fibre connections in the last quarter it looks like an up hill struggle to convince the public that fibre based connections are available from a wide number of broadband providers at the retail level.
Hopefully as the commercial roll-out phase for fibre based broadband slows down, those areas where they can see FTTP infrastructure partially built will see the final bits of work completed over the next few months and the online checkers will finally allow them to place an order for a 40 Mbps, 80 Mbps or faster service. Some 150,000 premises can order FTTP on the Openreach network at this time, but more should have it available, the problem is one of limited resources and with pressure to hit deadlines for the BDUK projects there is a risk that people may have to wait even longer.
For those living and working in Wales the roll-out of fibre based broadband while controversial will for the vast majority be an improvement on the current ADSL and ADSL2+ based services, so the release of a list of the next sixty six communities that will benefit from the Superfast Cymru project is a step in the right direction.
Ammanford, Bancyfelin, Bettisfield, Betws-Y-Coed, Broadhaven, Bucknell, Burry Port, Camrose, Carew, Cemmaes Road, Clawdd Newydd, Clynderwen, Colwyn Bay, Croes Goch, Cross Ash, Cynwyl Elfed, Dale, Dolwyddelan, Ferryside, Fishguard, Glandyfi, Glasbury, Gobion, Kidwelly, Lamphey, Laugharne, Letterston, Little Mill, Llansilan, Llanboidy, Llanddarog, Llandeilo, Llandovery, Llandybie, Llangadfan, Llangadog, Llangeitho, Llangennech, Llangrannog, Llanpumsaint, Llanrwst, Llansannan, Llanstephan, Llantilio, Llyswen, Manorbier, Meifod, Nantgaredig, Narberth, Old Colwyn, Pendine, Penmaenmawr, Pontarddulais, Pontyates, Pontyberem, Raglan, Rhos-on-Sea, Rhydlewis, St Clears, St Davids, Talley, Tonyrefail, Treffgarne, Trimsaran, Tynygroes, Whitland66 new communities that will benefit from fibre based roll-out by June 2015
The press release reports that the average speed in areas already covered by Superfast Broadband in Wales is 61 Mbps, but it is not clear whether this is an estimate or from actual speed test measurements in areas with cable and/or FTTC coverage. The average we recorded for Wales in June/July 2014 was 8.6 Mbps download and 0.9 Mbps upload, which is some way behind Northern Ireland at 18.6 Mbps and 2.2 Mbps (England 17 Mbps and 1.9 Mbps, Scotland 13.9 Mbps and 1.1 Mbps).
Clearly there is a long way to go in Wales and a diminishing time frame to hit the target date in 2016 when 96% will have the option of some form of fibre based broadband service, but it does take time to deploy 3,000 cabinets and the estimated 17,500 kilometres of fibre optic cable needed. While there will be lots of complaints about the use of FTTC for the majority of connections, we believe that some native FTTP is to be deployed where it makes economic sense to either enable Exchange Only lines or for clusters of properties too far from a cabinet to receive a reasonable boost in speed from VDSL2.
If there was one area that the central BDUK operation could have standardised it is the area of mapping resources for the 44 BDUK projects. Connecting Devon and Somerset has just revamped the Where and When section of their website to improve the map used and has created one of the better County level maps.
The new map is the usual colour rich image but when you search for a specific postcode the postcode data that the project has released for some months is used to provide a look up, e.g. EX5 5JD reveals it is on the Stoke Canon exchange and cabinet 1 with a likely live date of October 2014. There is a long list of caveats as with all the data from the BDUK projects, the short summary is that plans can change so no information should be taken as written in stone.
We have not slacked on our own map system here at thinkbroadband, since we added two new speed layers to our maps earlier in the week. There is now a layer showing FTTC speed estimates for postcodes in England, Scotland and Wales and this reveals the bad news for EX5 5JD that if and when cabinet 1 gets it fibre twin this postcode is not going to get any boost in speed. The other layer is our own set of ADSL2+ speed estimates.
While in central London the blame game is underway over who is at fault for poor coverage in some areas, areas like Colchester in Essex appear to be getting on with actually providing solutions for businesses.
County Broadband who have provided a fixed wireless service in parts of Essex and Suffolk for some eleven years has won £200,000 of support from Colchester Borough Council via the Local Growth Fund with the aim of providing fast fixed wireless infrastructure across the business parks in the Borough at superfast broadband speeds.
This funding does not replace the existing superfast broadband project that is running at the County level and is delivering to some business parks in Colchester already but appears to be an attempt to ensure blanket coverage, though the nature of fixed wireless means there will be overlaps between the two projects.
TalkTalk has for the next ten days (ending 7th August) returned with its voucher promotions, this time with an £85 voucher on its ADSL2+ products, and a smaller £50 voucher on its fibre based services.
For the unlimited Simply Broadband service that is £3.50 per month (plus voice line rental £15.95 if paid monthly, a line rental saver option is available) the £85 voucher is the equivalent of two years free broadband. The current reduced price deals on Essentials TV and Plus TV also qualify for the respective vouchers.
The Love2Shop vouchers are redeemable on the high street and are only available to new customers who do not require a new telephone line or new number.
City AM which is read by lots of commuters travelling into London and particularly those who work in the City Of London at the 14,385 small and large companies in this small but very important corner of London will have learnt about the problems with the lack of superfast broadband in the City.
The Greater London area and all its Boroughs missed out on the gap funding for superfast broadband largely due to the levels of cable broadband coverage which already meet the Governments targets but for SME size operations there is the up to £3000 voucher to subsidise the cost of connection to a superfast connection or more business like leased line, be that fibre, copper, fixed wireless or other technology.
City AM is wrong to describe the Government target of 95% having being pushed back two years, since this target has always been a 2017 deadline, but a lot of people and publications are confused over the 90% and 95% targets, particularly as each project has its own set of deadlines and timelines. One can partly understand why BT is the sole focus for the complaint as their corporate headquarters are slap in the middle of this business district, but there is also the issue of why are not more of the 4,500 homes wired up for cable broadband via Virgin Media? Also why with all the swanky new office blocks are not the owners of new buildings now ensuring suitable connectivity is installed along with the various eco measures.
The BT telephone infrastructure uses a lot of Exchange Only (EO) lines, but relatively short lines meaning good ADSL2+ speeds should be possible for over half the premises (around half at 16 to 20 Mbps). The use of EO means there is no cabinet to use to inject the VDSL2 signals and adding the extra cabinet increases the cost and thus as with the rest of the country has meant that EO lines were not dealt with under the commercial roll-outs, increasing numbers are being dealt with via the County led projects though, and some areas even getting or planned to get FTTP.
Looking at speed tests, the average speed in the City of London is 14.7 Mbps download and 2.7 Mbps upload, with some 22.8% tests at superfast speeds and 17% getting under 2 Mbps. These results are from June/July 2014 and include Relish who have just rolled out a wireless service in parts of London that does away for the need for a copper phone line and is ideal for home or very small business use.
The presence of Relish almost proves the free market philosophy that businesses will always emerge to fill the niches left behind by the large corporates, though if the rumours of what BT do elsewhere in the UK are true.
For those living and working in the Square Mile there is a short survey you can fill in to let the Corporation know about what is good and bad with your broadband. For those filling out the survey and using mobile there is of course of mobile speed tester and for those with flash there is our other tester where on both of these if you provide your postcode it contributes to our maps of the UK.
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.
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.
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.
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.