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Latest Blog Article: UK hits 90% superfast coverage, but what about rural UK?

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ASA to undertake research into broadband speeds in advertising

Friday 27 May 2016 16:13:18 by Andrew Ferguson

The ASA is set to rock the UK broadband boat again, as it has announced it is to undertake research into whether consumers are being misled on broadband speeds. Previous guidance resulted in the 10% threshold i.e. any headline speed in an advert had to be attainable to ten per cent of customers and for advertisers to be able to demonstrate this, additionally speed claims should be preceded by 'up to' and ADSL2+ services to warn about distance being a factor.

"As an evidence-based regulator, we want to make sure our approach is underpinned by the experience of real people. While complaints to the ASA about broadband speed claims have reduced considerably over recent years, we’re taking action to respond to the concerns by testing our approach through consumer research."

ASA Chief Executive Guy Parker

The previous changes apparently reduced speed complaints by 60%, but after years of lobbying by some consumer bodies and recently Ed Vaizey MP calling for adverts to feature the speed that 75% of people can attain the ASA has decided to undertake research to try and learn how much of an issue speeds are and thus determine whether the existing guidelines need to change.

We have been tracking broadband speeds for many years now via our speed test and this allows us to provide a lot of insight into what people are actually experiencing. The following two tables are the April 2016 results and following on from the February 2016 data we published in March.

Large Provider Fibre Based Connection Download Speed Tests April 2016
Provider 10th Percentile Lower Quartile
(this is the 75% figure Ed Vaizey MP suggests is used)
Median Download Upper Quartile 90th Percentile
FTTC Overall (excludes Virgin Media) 12.3 Mbps 19.9 Mbps 29 Mbps 37.1 Mbps 49.1 Mbps
BT 13.4 Mbps 21.7 Mbps 31.5 Mbps 37.7 Mbps 54.2 Mbps
EE 11.6 Mbps 18.7 Mbps 27.7 Mbps 35.3 Mbps 37.6 Mbps
Plusnet 11.6 Mbps 20.1 Mbps 31.2 Mbps 38 Mbps 57.4 Mbps
Sky 10.5 Mbps 17.3 Mbps 25.4 Mbps 30.7 Mbps 37.3 Mbps
TalkTalk 13.2 Mbps 20.1 Mbps 27.4 Mbps 35.9 Mbps 40.8 Mbps
Virgin Media 8.3 Mbps 21.6 Mbps 40.6 Mbps 61.8 Mbps 100.5 Mbps
Vodafone 15.1 Mbps 20.9 Mbps 31.7 Mbps 41.1 Mbps 57.2 Mbps

The top 10% figures will not line up precisely with current ASA figures, because these range figures are combinations of the up to 76 Mbps and up to 38 Mbps products and similarly for the Virgin Media products. The launch of the BT Infinity up to 52 Mbps is also going to confuse things as people are migrated to the service over a period of time. Asking people which product tier they are on is something we have tried in the past, but the quality of the responses is often mixed and would need further interaction with people to determine what their actual product is e.g. some people will be on a legacy service no longer advertised.

ADSL/ADSL2+ Connection Speed Tests April 2016
Provider 10th Percentile Lower Quartile
(this is the 75% figure Ed Vaizey MP suggests is used)
Median Download Upper Quartile 90th Percentile
All Providers 1.1 Mbps 2.5 Mbps 5.3 Mbps 9.9 Mbps 14.8 Mbps
BT 0.9 Mbps 2 Mbps 4.8 Mbps 9.2 Mbps 15.1 Mbps
EE 1 Mbps 2.3 Mbps 5.1 Mbps 8.6 Mbps 14 Mbps
Plusnet 1 Mbps 2.3 Mbps 5.3 Mbps 9.5 Mbps 14.6 Mbps
Sky 1.2 Mbps 2.5 Mbps 5.3 Mbps 10 Mbps 14.7 Mbps
TalkTalk 1.3 Mbps 2.8 Mbps 5.4 Mbps 9.4 Mbps 14.4 Mbps
Rural ADSL 0.7 Mbps 1.7 Mbps 3.8 Mbps 6.7 Mbps 11.1 Mbps

Any changes to the advertising rules will be happening at a very important change in direction for the UK broadband scene, since the focus is shifting significantly to ultrafast connections and even where this is a pure fibre (FTTH/FTTP) connection there is usually no guarantee that the speeds presented to the consumer router will be hit all the time, simply because the Internet is a shared medium and it is this sharing of bandwidth at multiple points between a consumers connection and the website/service they are accessing that makes it impossible to stop broadband speed complaints totally.

TalkTalk broadband offer and standard price changes

Friday 27 May 2016 10:21:44 by Andrew Ferguson

The last round of £100 Love2Shop vouchers at TalkTalk may have now left and in their wake there is a rise in the outside contract price for Simply Broadband and Totally Unlimited Fibre with respective standard pricing of £9.50/month and £19.50/month. Pricing for UFO service and TV products appears unchanged.

The rises appear to only apply to new customers, but may reflect a change in strategy to increase broadband price rather than the last few years of increasing line rental. We are already listing combined pricing for TalkTalk products so it makes little difference which strategy is used and later in 2016 TalkTalk is expected to do the same ahead of new advertising rule changes.

The impact on the FTTC based service is softened by a better price offer that applies for the 18 month minimum term contract of £5/m for broadband plus the £17.70/m line rental (up to 38 Mbps download, up to 2 Mbps upload speeds) and if you remain after the 18 months the standard broadband price of £19.50/m kicks in.

For those only able to get the LLU ADSL2+ service or find that fast enough the existing free broadband for 18 months plus £17.70/m line rental offer applies.

A big thing that can hold people back from switching and chasing the offers at the end of the minimum term is the set-up or activation fees, TalkTalk have a fibre set-up fee of £50 (an offer appears to mean it is £25 currently), Sky is £39 (just gone up) for new customers and existing customers pay £50 and BT Infinity 1 carries a £49 activation fee. The savvy shopper trick is to use the various vouchers to offset the one off costs.

Update Saturday 28th May There are questions over what the real pricing for the TalkTalk services is, and we have looked at most of the other listing sites and they agree with our deduction from communications about price changes and graphics and text on TalkTalk website. The disparity arises when products are added to the shopping basket as and emails have been sent seeking clarification.

European Commision approves UK wide state aid plan

Thursday 26 May 2016 12:33:39 by Andrew Ferguson

While the vast majority of the Superfast Extension Projects that are the core of the Governments aim to reach 95% superfast broadband coverage had their contracts signed before the expiry of the previous EU State Aid rules some have been waiting since June 2015 for new a new scheme to be approved.

The Government has now announced that the National Broadband Scheme (NBS) which will operate as the umbrella scheme for contracts that are to be awarded between now and 2020 has had approval granted by the European Commission.

One of the most urgent areas to be dealt with is Devon and Somerset who rejected the original BT phase II contract and this meant delays in getting any procurement process completed and thus while it is one of the largest phase II projects we are still waiting to see what will happen. Current understanding is that CDS may actually award seven smaller contracts to cover the phase II roll-out, so there may be between one and seven different platforms spread across the two counties.

The new umbrella scheme may have taken longer than originally planned as there are changes to how the scheme operates, those bidding have to provide more information about elements of the infrastructure that can be shared, and other bidders with appropriate confidentially clauses can see this and thus use the knowledge gained to help improve their bids, ie. gain knowledge of ducting or existing masts in an area. While this is meant to help smaller operators expand by reducing the costs, it may actually dissuade some from entering as the full and open access requirements may be felt to be too onerous for operators used to operating in a vertically integrated environment. As has been the case in the past those providers (mainly BT Group) with years of expertise in dealing with complex legal matters and red tape will probably be least phased by the changes.

As with the previous EU State Aid Approval while going with the BDUK approved template will be the choice of many, some may choose to go their own route, certainly there is no absolute requirement to use the NBS but given the time scales of getting individual projects approved we expect any new contracts to be under the NBS.

If we see a new mixture of operators winning the remaining contracts and any new ones where counties choose not to extend existing contracts with BT it will be interesting to see what speed templates are used. While VDSL2 which has been the dominate BDUK technology deployed to date does not deliver 76 Mbps download speeds to all, it does deliver a lot more than some of the alternate options hawked around where the superfast definition is only just about hit, i.e. a product where maximum connection speed is 30 Mbps.

WiFi operator aspires to solve Rotherhithe broadband woes

Thursday 26 May 2016 09:59:35 by Andrew Ferguson

There is a chance that a new WiFi operator called BWiFi may bring some relief to residents and businesses in Rotherhithe who do not have a decent broadband connection available to them and 4G services are too expensive per Gigabyte for constant use.

The operator is new to the market and expected to launch a service in July limited to the first 500 customers. Details are a little sketchy, but for home use two packages are available with 50 Mbps download speeds for £18 per month and a £55 hardware fee or one with a 24 month contract and free hardware. The VoIP service that starts at £9 per month this may or may not be optional as the WiFi service is described as coming with a telephone number, and there are even hints of a TV service. A business service with 75 Mbps speeds is on the cards too.

Their website will hopefully improve quickly as too many links and pages are dead or clearly just initial holding text needing lots more detail e.g. what are the upload speeds and the unlimited downloads does this come with a fair use policy or not. Even the technology side is not clear for now, since there is clearly hardware in the basic package, but elsewhere it talks about buying a Home Router from the shop.

Of course all new firms have birthing issues so hopefully if these are ironed out residents and businesses in Rotherhithe still stuck with slow exchange only lines will have this new option and competition always tends to breed more competition.

When Open Market Reviews go bad...

Wednesday 25 May 2016 15:42:01 by Andrew Ferguson

The Open Market Review process that is part of the BDUK projects has been attacked in the past for ignoring smaller providers, but it seems for at least one part of Cumbria because the County Council listened to a fixed wireless provider (who also claims to provide FTTP) that some areas are missing out. Solway Communications claim to be able to provide service to 90% of premises in its coverage area which stretches from Southerness to Brampton with Carlisle close to the centre.

Hayton Parish Council has sent out a press release to various outlets highlighting a problem with cabinet 3 on the Hayton exchange, cabinets 1, 2 and 4 are live and were delivered as part of the first BDUK project and the Parish Council is now keen for cabinet 3 to be included as part of the phase 2 roll-out. The issue appears to be that Solway as part of one of the Open Market Reviews have said they are able to provide a superfast service to postcodes on cabinet 3 (no idea what the response was for other postcodes in the Hayton area, the Solway postcode checker claims that service is likely for a number we checked). It may be that Solway was originally looking to expand its FTTP which serves Kingmoor Business Park, Parkhouse Business Park, Crindledyke Farm Residential Estate with an up to 500 Mbps FTTP service or add extra masts and this has not happened.

There has been at least one meeting in Cumbria where the Managing Director of Solway Communications has said he is happy to rescind claim to be able to serve those postcodes given evidence and the Parish Council release claims to have presented evidence and want Solway Communications to inform Cumbria County Council of a change in their service footprint.

Solway Communications does have a 'superfast' package, which offers up to 30 Mbps downloads and 1 Mbps upload for £45/month and a £200 install fee. This is claimed to match the performance of FTTC services, but the upload speed clearly is a lot slower and a product cap of 30 Mbps means many would be getting faster from VDSL2. Other wireless services are available with better upload speed, but download seems to suffer e.g. Home Plus 5 Mbps download and 5 Mbps upload at £52.80/month.

As with most UK providers we are seeing speed tests and small sample for Solway Communications is 68 Mbps download, 31 Mbps upload (location and latency suggest this is the FTTP service) and 9.2 Mbps download and 2.6 Mbps upload fairly close to Hayton.

At the end of the day, it looks like cabinet 3 may be the exception to the often quoted myth that if you start to operate in an area BT will be very quick to decide an area is commercially viable and deliver a service ahead of the alternate operator.

Late or still on time? Superfast Cymru in the spotlight

Wednesday 25 May 2016 10:53:52 by Andrew Ferguson

The SuperfastCymru project along with many other projects has had a confused history, as all too often targets are mis-represented and while the dates for the coverage figures are open to debate as they have often been vaguely described the target for the Welsh broadband project is 96% with access to something fibre based, i.e. VDSL2 at any speed or FTTP as an option. This is different to the superfast coverage figures, which have never been released for Wales, but we are expecting that once the 96% fibre figure is hit, that superfast coverage will be 90%.

On the date side, there are some references to an original date of end of 2015, some newer references to end of 2016 and when the additional 42,000 premises where added in an extension a date of 2017 appeared. Our alarm clock is set to declare project failed if the 96% figure is not reached by 31st December 2016.

The Daily Post has referenced our figures for Wales and we compared these with the official output back in March and we have updated our summary to show the change since March. We generally expect our figures to undershoot compared to the official figures as we take a pessimistic view of the impact of cross-talk. It should be highlighted that there was an expectation that the SuperfastCymru project would deploy around 3-4% of premises with native FTTP, if the dates have been missed it may be the slower roll-out that FTTP usually has that is partly responsible for any slippage.

thinkbroadband calculation of Superfast, USC, USO and Fibre Broadband Coverage across the Wales
thinkbroadband (tbb) figures include gap funded and commercial
(figures in brackets are change since March 2016)
(*) areas where no commercial deployment existed before start of SuperfastCymru project
Area % fibre based % superfast
24 Mbps or faster
% superfast
30 Mbps or faster
% Openreach FTTP % Under 2 Mbps USC % Under proposed 10 Mbps USO
Combined Welsh Total 92% (+1.4) 87.7% 85% (+1.6) 0.56% (+0.16) 0.9% (=) 8.3% (-0.8)
Blaenau Gwent (*) 99.7% (+0.6) 96.6% 96.7% (+1.3) 0.82% 0.3% 0.9%
Bridgend 96.7% (+0.2) 93.7% 92.1% (+0.1) 0.1% 0.4% 2.3%
Caerphilly 97.5% (+0.3) 95.1% 93.3% (+0.5) 0.02% 0.4% 1.6%
Cardiff 97.6% (+0.3) 96.7% 96.3% (+0.9) 0% 0% 1.1%
Carmarthenshire 80.8% (+5.5) 73.2% 71.5% (+3.8) 0.01% 2.2% 18.3%
Ceredigion (*) 69.4% (+3.5) 55.9% 54.1% (+1.7) 0.82% 4.5% 34.3%
Conwy (*) 91.6% (+1.7) 86.1% 85% (+3.9) 0% 0.9% 8.9%
Denbighshire 83.1% (+0.4) 78.9% 77.9% (+1.5) 0.03% 0.6% 12.7%
Flintshire 93.1% (+0.2) 87.7% 85.9% (+0.3) 3.35% 0.5% 7.3%
Gwynedd (*) 85.5% (+0.7) 76.3% 74.1% (+0.5) 3.43% 2.1% 16.4%
Anglesey (*) 86% (+0.9) 78.3% 75% (+1.6) 4.97% 1.6% 15.7%
Merthyr Tydfil (*) 99.4% (=) 94.4% 93.6% (=) 2.25% 1.1% 2.5%
Monmouthshire 85.7% (+3.4) 76.2% 74.7% (+2.9) 1.65% 2.7% 14.2%
Neath Port Talbot 95.7% (+1.3) 92.4% 91.4% (+1.4) 0% 0.4% 3%
Pembrokeshire (*) 82.9% (+4.2) 74.8% 73.2% (+3.4) 0.4% 1.8% 17.3%
Powys (*) 70.2% (+5.7) 58.3% 56.9% (+4.4) 1.2% 3.5% 30.5%
Rhondda Cynon Taf 98.7% (+0.5) 96.3% 94.8% (+1.7) 0.07% 0.4% 1.5%
Swansea 95.5% (+0.8) 93.7% 93.3% (0.4) 0.39% 0.1% 2.2%
Torfaen 96.6% (+0.4) 95.2% 94.1% (+0.7) 0.35% 0.2% 1.8%
Vale of Glamorgan 94.7% (+0.9) 91.6% 89.4% (+1.5) 0.21% 1% 4.8%
Wrexham 92.5% (+0.4) 86.3% 84.4% (+0.1) 0.99% 0.7% 6.3%

So Wales is four percentage points short of the magic 96% figure, but the rate of change in two months and also over a longer period suggests that if the pace of delivery is maintained that 96% by 31st December 2016 is possible. Of course this is still no comfort to those totally missed out, and for those in VDSL2 areas who in the non-superfast and estimates suggest no improvement over ADSL/ADSL2+ the roll-out will be very frustrating.

On the figures the observant will notice that the superfast increase is larger than the fibre increase in some areas, this is because we continually are checking different parts of the UK to verify and where needed improve the model. People actually speed testing on the cabinets and in FTTP areas being a key factor in helping us to identify where the automated model needs some tweaking. We could hide these variances by only publishing the data once a year but believe much better to give the public as much information as possible as soon as possible.

Virgin Media announces ten communities set to get FTTP

Monday 23 May 2016 13:44:39 by Andrew Ferguson

As part of the Project Lightning expansion by Virgin Media a 'Supercharge Local Communities' initiative has been running and as a result of some 7,000 votes cast over a two month period 10 communities are set to benefit from the arrival of Virgin Media.

  • Kirknewton (West Lothian)
  • Houston, Crosslee, Craigends and Brookfield (Renfrewshire)
  • Bridge of Weir (Renfrewshire)
  • Ratby (Leicestershire)
  • Wilsden (West Yorkshire)
  • Kilmacolm (Inverclyde)
  • Stoke Poges (Buckinghamshire)
  • Lightwater (Surrey)
  • Hartley Wintney and Phoenix Green (Hampshire)
  • Oakley (Dorset)

The service choice will be the usual suite of Virgin Media broadband,phone and TV products which currently tops out at 200 Mbps download (upgrades starting to up 20 Mbps upload) with a home worker or business package also available in some areas with speeds of up to 300 Mbps. The difference for these ten areas is that the delivery will utilise FTTP, with narrow trenching allowing deployment of up to 100 metres a day.

By announcing the areas we may actually be able to mark the expansion as both Virgin Media and FTTP available at the same time, so we will be keeping a close eye on the roll-outs. We have just updated our coverage tracker to show the level of ultrafast connectivity over time in the various parts of the UK, since after a few years of relatively flat availability the coverage levels are starting to edge up and we hope that this might rise from 50.3% now, to around 65% in 2018 and fingers crossed rise further, the exact result is hard to predict as a lot depends on the unknown of how much all the commercial roll-outs will overlap.

Virgin Media is still tracking demand and is now looking actively at demand for areas in some 18 counties, so if interested visit cablemystreet to register interest.

Time to step up and nominate 2016 Internet Hero and Villain

Saturday 21 May 2016 10:06:52 by Andrew Ferguson

The ISPA Awards are due to be presented on 7th July 2016 and the judging panel is currently sifting through the reams of entries to reach their conclusions for the main award categories but the Internet Hero and Internet Villain Awards are run differently.

To nominate a person or body that you feel deserves recognition for helping the Internet industry or alternatively recognition for those who have hindered the industry the most in the last 12 months then you have until Friday 10th June 2016 to get your nominations directly to ISPA, either via email or by tweeting @ISPA with the hashtag #InternetHero or #InternetVillain.

"The Internet Hero and Villain awards are how we recognise, in a light-hearted manner, those who have, for better or worse, haveimpacted on the UK Internet industry. We want as wide range of suggestions as possible, so call on the public for their help in getting their ideas across to us."

ISPA Secretary General Nicholas Lansman

The nominations will be considered by the ISPA Council and awarded during the event at The Brewery, London.

BDUK releases March 2016 premises passed figures

Friday 20 May 2016 09:55:08 by Andrew Ferguson

We may have already reported the UK breaking the 90% barrier back in April and now the BDUK team has released its latest figures showing the cumulative number of premises passed by superfast broadband since the first deliveries in December 2012 until March 2016.

Cumulative to end of: Premises with superfast broadband service made available BDUK funding (£) Number of premises covered per £million of broadband delivery programme expenditure
December 2012 254 £434,735 584
March 2013 16,638 £6,767,185 2,459
June 2013 38,343 £6,767,185 5,666
September 2013 111,968 £10,347,568 10,821
December 2013 273,731 £14,182,547 19,301
March 2014 508,801 £58,586,408 8,685
June 2014 888,113 £72,437,233 12,260
September 2014 1,383,777 £99,766,011 13,870
December 2014 1,908,725 £252,084,918 7,572
March 2015 2,411,395 301,444,870 7,999
June 2015 2,905,764 £331,828,330 8,757
September 2015 3,311,843 £372,153,178 8,899
December 2015 3,625,369 £406,918,848 8,909
March 2016 3,840,643 £476,742,422 8,056

IMPORTANT The figures do NOT include premises that may now be on a VDSL2 cabinet but data shows speeds of under 24 Mbps are all that is achievable, also if a cabinet overlaps with commercial coverage (e.g. Virgin Media) then those premises are not included either.

In a period of 3 years and 3 months of delivery the overall scheme has delivered to a volume of premises double the number of households in New Zealand which is midway through its own ten year programme to deliver FTTH to 75% to 80% of premises and even with the pace of roll-out in the UK if the aim was to get to as many people as possible as soon as possible there is a chance the UK model might be working. Of course this does mean that further work will be required in the future once 100 Mbps and Gigabit become the minimum sized connection needed to file a tax return or do your online banking and enjoy some reasonable quality online video.

The level of funding to BT is higher than the figures in this article because individual projects (and in some cases EU money) should be added, a rough estimate is that total funding is edging close to £1 billion.

The levels of clawback which now they have started seem to run at around £20m to £30m per quarter almost suggest that if the Government had waited for a while it might not have needed to fund the roll-out from 90% to 95% as clawback could have achieved the same, the problem would be uncertainty and this would have probably taken longer to hit 95% which is looking achievable for summer 2017. If by 2019/2020 we see take-up rising to the 70 to 80% levels then there will be choices over whether to plough the money back into further roll-outs or put the money back in to the public purse - one wonders if any of the money top sliced from the BBC Licence Fee/Digital Switchover Fund will go back to the Corporation. What we do know is that the cost saving over moving BBC Three online would not have taken place if the BDUK projects had not taken place.

£75, £100 and £125 rewards available on various broadband services

Thursday 19 May 2016 14:06:17 by Andrew Ferguson

The latest offers are now live on our broadband offers page and BT has its BT Reward Cards running again until Wednesday 25th May with a value of £75 on the ADSL2+ range and £125 on any of the Infinity products.

TalkTalk also has its Love2Shop vouchers with a value of £100 running across its product range and is only available to those who migrate onto the TalkTalk service. The highlight is probably the 18 months of ADSL2+ broadband for £17.70 per month (price includes free broadband and £17.70/m line rental).

Our offers page now shows a single price in the offer summary, with the respective split between broadband cost and line rental broken out in the body of the offer. Where an offer ends part way through the minimum term we do indicate the monthly price after the initial offer has expired too. Our main provider listings for packages where line rental and broadband are bundled have included the combined price for some time and if we describe a package as broadband-only there is no requirement for a voice line rental component.

Update Friday 20th May A strong week for offers, as Virgin Media has a flash sale on its Big Kahuna and VIP packages with a free Pure Jongo T6X wireless speaker (RRP £199) and ten free album downloads. Plusnet has added £50 cashback to its 12 months free ADSL2+ broadband (£16.99/m line rental to pay) and finally Sky has added a £100 M&S e-Voucher to its Sky Fibre Unlimited package which is £10/m for 12 months plus the £17.40/m line rental (broadband rises to £20/m after the 12 month contract ends).

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