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Reasonable progress in Wales says Wales Audit Office

Thursday 28 May 2015 10:40:28 by Andrew Ferguson

While the Wales Audit Office has not given a simple A to F grade to the Superfast Cymru project and BT, but the headline of reasonable progress is hardly a resounding endorsement.

"The report also found that:

  • there were initial weaknesses in the programme and project management but the Welsh Government now has clear and appropriate arrangements in place;
  • some local authorities, businesses and residents have not been satisfied with the communication about the Superfast Cymru rollout;
  • take-up of next generation broadband is rising, but there are no take-up targets in place;
  • the Superfast Cymru contract has already achieved most of the expected direct benefits related to jobs, apprenticeships and work experience opportunities; and
  • although arrangements to support and measure the wider benefits from the public investment in digital infrastructure have been weak, the Welsh Government is now developing a national project for the exploitation of next generation broadband by businesses and a plan for public sector exploitation.

The report makes a number of recommendations, which include:

  • improving communication about the local rollout of Superfast Cymru;
  • ensuring that 40 per cent of premises in the intervention area are capable of receiving download speeds of 100 Mbps or more; and
  • monitoring and supporting the take-up of next generation broadband; and improving the delivery of the full benefits of the public investment."
Summary from WAO report

The reasonable progress is of course no comfort to those who are yet to see any progress towards better broadband being available, but there is still time for significant improvements, e.g. Conwy before Christmas was devoid of superfast broadband but now has 55% of premises with access to speeds of 30 Mbps and faster.

Overall Wales has 74.9% coverage at superfast speeds (30 Mbps or faster and based on thinkbroadband analysis as of 26th May 2015), and FTTP coverage has improved some way since the WAO report was written rising from 325 to what we believe is 1,300 premises now. Of course the changes of this increasing to 40% of the Welsh intervention area looks impossible, so the 100 Mbps available to 40% is either going to be down to vectoring or some early deployment of cabinet based G.fast in 2016 or a fudge due to poor wording in the contract allowing Fibre on Demand to qualify.

30 Mbps and faster broadband coverage in Wales
Click image for full size version.

The often talked about 96% target in Wales is the level of fibre based coverage without any speed qualifier, the contract calls for superfast to 90% of premises and the Wales Audit Office is using the lower 24 Mbps definition.

FTTP coverage in Wales May 2015
Click image for full size version.

The spread of native Openreach FTTP across Wales is limited so far, but much more is believed to be on the way, resources rather than will power are probably the limiting factor there. So while it is entirely possible Openreach may miss its end of 2016 deadline, with 18 months to go it does still look very possible. The problem is that even if Openreach/BT meet all the contract goals, there will still be the 4% with no access to anything fibre based and 10% getting speeds below 24 Mbps, so the complaints may be less in volume, but probably more vocal as those left out will feel even more abandoned.

When reviewing the problem of Wales only having one bidder, there was three other bidders at one time, but worries over the amount of funding they would have to put into the pot due to the £205 million cap on public money, concerns that Wales was looking for the lowest cost bid and too high risk levels due to size and complexity meant that BT remained the last human standing.

New Parliament, new snoopers charter?

Thursday 28 May 2015 09:56:19 by Andrew Ferguson

The Snoopers Charter as it is commonly known may well have resurfaced in the Queen's Speech when the new Investigatory Powers Bill was announced as part of the Speech.

With just a basic outline so far it is hard to pin down exactly what will be in the bill but the main thrust is about maintaining the ability for the police and security services to target the online activities of serious criminals with appropriate oversight. One possible sticky area may be if the SNP disagree with elements of the bill as their strong presence in Westminster since Scotland has no other say on National security and interception powers at this time.

"ISPA will work with members to scrutinise the new Bill and we urge Government to properly balance security, privacy, costs to industry, technical feasibility and the need to maintain the UK's reputation as a leading place to do business online."

ISPA Secretary General Nicholas Lansman

The concerns people are raising over data retention and access to encrypted data goes well beyond the worries over what local councils have been said to do in terms of 'spying' on people previously, since in a global economy businesses from overseas will worry about doing business with UK firms if its clear that any encrypted emails (which should be the norm for business) are readable, this covers both traditional bricks and mortar firms and the massive digital economy.

At the end of the day no-one wants the UK to become a haven for terrorists and while a ultra-safe PG-rated walled garden approach at the other end of the scale may appeal to some, the growth in global travel and communications means that any country adopting that approach will seriously harm its economy and future prospects.

29 months after first BDUK cabinet, North Yorkshire completes

Wednesday 27 May 2015 19:23:37 by Andrew Ferguson

North Yorkshire is a better place to live and work than it used to be before the BDUK roll-outs, the enabling of the 1000th cabinet via the Superfast North Yorkshire has been celebrated in Masham. The projects goal was to get fibre based broadband to 90% of North Yorkshire and our own figures show they have reached 88.7% as of 24th May 2015, there are a few more cabinets to process in the figures which will boost it closer to the 90%.

The more contentious area is how much superfast broadband is now available, our calculations suggest it is 73% currently, but this is for a minimum speed of 30 Mbps and the project is suggesting a figure of 86% at 24 Mbps and faster. The difference beyond there will mostly be down to pessimistic projections from ourselves, and maybe heady optimism from Superfast North Yorkshire (as a guide when we have manually checked our estimates against sample Openreach speeds and speed tests our estimates are towards the low end of the impacted estimate, i.e. often worst case scenario).

The question now is how well will SFNY move forward and how will the speeds of VDSL2 behave in practice, our speed test results for North Yorkshire plotted over the last six years show the progress that has been made and that people are upgrading to the faster products.

Increasing download speeds in North Yorkshire
Click image for full size version.

The average upload speeds show a corresponding rise in speeds over the last few years. The historical trends show just how much has changed in the last five years, it is easily forgotten that five years ago streaming HD video was much harder than today, both in terms of finding content and your connection supporting it.

Free broadband and £100 M&S voucher on Sky ADSL2+ broadband

Wednesday 27 May 2015 10:22:38 by Andrew Ferguson

Some say broadband is getting more expensive, but with 12 months free ADSL2+ broadband from Sky for those signing up and not taking a satellite TV service the broadband cannot get much cheaper. As an additional incentive until 11th June Sky has increased the size of the M&S e-voucher new customers get from £50 to £100 too.

Telephone line rental is still payable at £16.40 per month, and after the 12 months free broadband if you stay beyond the 12 month minimum contract the monthly price of the broadband will be £7.50 per month.

Existing Sky TV customers who are not already broadband customers get the broadband half price for 12 months and a smaller £50 M&S e-voucher as an incentive to become a triple play customer with Sky.

B4RN has 1,000 live ultra-fast premises

Wednesday 27 May 2015 10:02:28 by Andrew Ferguson

Congratulations to B4RN who have now connected 1,000 premises, up from the 800 premises declared as live in February 2015. An updated map of the speed test results from B4RN users is shown below, and while speeds are not always pinned at 940 Mbps or so because of things like Wi-Fi and slower PC when you compare it with speeds for traditional providers in the area you can see the vast difference.

Geographic spread of B4RN speed test results
Click image for full size version.

The project broke its first ground back in March 2012 and according to ISPreview costs are running at £750 to £800 per property, but we are not certain if this includes free labour and the community nature also means costly wayleaves are often obtained for free (someone from B4RN has been in touch to say B4RN never pays for wayleaves) and also without the expensive time of a lawyer or two. While B4RN supporters are often vocal about being ignored by Government and local authority, this may be a blessing as with public money comes many more obligations and red tape.

Ambitious plans appear afoot to continue the network expansion and maybe reach 10,000 premises eventually. As things stand now there are over 300,000 premises that can get a FTTH/FTTP connection in the UK, with providers like Openreach, Hyperoptic, KC, Gigaclear, IFNL leading the pack, none of the more commercial providers appear to be close to the take-up levels of 60 to 70% reported by B4RN, though Gigaclear may be close. The high take-up says a lot about time taken to get communities on board.

If the roll-out of FTTH/FTTP through the CityFibre/Sky/TalkTalk joint venture delivers as promised and we may see 2015 as the turning point for FTTH availability in the UK. Ten years ago LLU was seen as expensive and a premium service until TalkTalk rocked the boat, while B4RN is rocking the boat in the final 1% of the UK it will need the larger providers to create the big waves that really get things going. If FTTH takes off, will that mean the BDUK investment was wasted? On one hand yes it will, on the other it could be said the investment stimulated demand and encouraged much more private money to be invested, only time will tell.

£100 shopping vouchers are back at TalkTalk

Tuesday 26 May 2015 12:03:03 by Andrew Ferguson

For those watching out for the right time to order from TalkTalk it is not likely to get much better as the provider has its £100 Love2Shop vouchers available for those switching to the provider from BT, Sky or PlusNet who order online. The vouchers will be available until 4th June 2015.

The unlimited fibre service has also had its offer improved, with a shift from a reduced price for six months to twelve months (18 month contract applies to all the TalkTalk broadband products).

  • Up to 38 Mbps download fibre (up to 2 Mbps uploads) unlimited fibre broadband, £5 per month for 12 months then £15 per month.
  • Essentials TV with Fibre, £12.50 per month for 12 months then £20 per month. Includes basic pause and rewind YouView set-top box.
  • Plus TV with Fibre, £19.50 per month for 12 months then £30 per month. Includes 7 Sky TV channels, full recording PVR, anytime UK landline calls and a free mobile SIM with a monthly allowance of 100 minutes of calls, 250 texts and 200 MB of data.

For all the TalkTalk products voice line rental at £16.70 per month applies, a line rental saver option is available, and even if you pay by direct debit you can lower price further by paying the bill within 24 hours of it being created each month.

Free Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 tablet on Big Daddy and Kahuna bundles

Tuesday 26 May 2015 11:30:27 by Andrew Ferguson

On top of the existing price offers of £32.99 and £79.99 per month for 12 months on the Big Kahuna and Big Daddy triple play bundles Virgin Media is giving those who order one of these two bundles online a Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 7" tablet for free.

Both bundles include ultrafast 152 Mbps cable broadband and the price of voice line rental must be added at £16.99. Big Kahuna includes BT Sport, Fox HD and some other 230 channels, the Big Daddy adds Sky Movies and Sky Sports to the bundle to give you over 260 TV channels.

The free tablet offer is ends very soon on the 28th May, and the tablet is worth £139.99 though can be found on amazon.co.uk for around £106. Standard price of Big Kahuna bundle is £49/month and Big Daddy is £99 per month.

£75 cashback and 12 months free unlimited broadband from Plusnet

Saturday 23 May 2015 14:40:20 by Andrew Ferguson

The Bank Holiday weather may be the usual dull UK dull affair but PlusNet are attempting to brighten it up with a £75 cashback and 12 months free broadband on its unlimited ADSL2+ service and it is just a 12 month contract.

The offer expires at the end of 26th May 2015 and requires you to take voice line rental from PlusNet at £15.95 per month. For those outside the low cost network area, the free broadband and cashback is available, but after the 12 month contract rather than paying the standard £9.99 per month the price is £17.49 per month.

Update 27th May 2015 Now the Bank Holiday is well and truly over, PlusNet has started a new offer with £50 cashback and free broadband for 12 months, the contract term has increased from 12 months to 18 months now though.

Details of Nottinghamshire broadband extension project published

Saturday 23 May 2015 14:28:08 by Andrew Ferguson

Two weeks after the original announcement of the contract being awarded to BT and with the General Election out of the way we now have the detail of Superfast Extension Project in Nottinghamshire.

The £6.3 million project (mostly funded by Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK), the D2N2 Local Enterprise Partnership, with some extra funding from BT itself) is aiming to bring fibre based broadband to another 15,000 homes and businesses. A further 2,000 premises in the Bassetlaw and Newark and Sherwood Districts will benefit from a part two of the extension programme to increase availability in what are currently the least fibre enabled districts.

At the end of the project the goal is to have brought fibre based broadband to 97% of premises in the County as part of the national goal to make superfast broadband available to 95% of premises. The Nottinghamshire roll-out is anticipated to complete in Spring 2018, and our current fibre coverage estimate is 93.3% which is edging closer to the phase 1 target of 95% (target date March 2016), with superfast trailing closely at 89.9% (an increase of 0.2% compared to 10th May 2015).

"Better Broadband for Nottinghamshire is making tremendous progress and I'm delighted that another 17,000 homes and businesses in the area will now be getting access to superfast speeds. The Government's rollout of superfast broadband is on track to take coverage to 95% of the UK by 2017, and Nottinghamshire's own target of 97% will make it one of the best connected counties in Britain.

Digital Economy Minister, Ed Vaizey

Ed Vaizey MP has possibly confused the various targets, so we would like to emphasis that the 97% target in Nottinghamshire is for fibre based broadband, and if the gap between fibre based and superfast (30 Mbps or faster) is maintained, we expect that 93.6% will have access to a 30 Mbps or faster service. Targeted use of FTTP (or maybe even some G.Fast) depending on cost efficiency should mean the national goal of 95% is reached.

If the previously announced £3bn investment by Virgin Media to expand its network goes ahead, the expanding cable network might even push superfast coverage past 95%, as things stand now some 64% of premises in the county can opt for an ultrafast broadband service.

Hyperfast broadband for boats in London's South Dock marina

Thursday 21 May 2015 09:41:37 by Andrew Ferguson

Hyperoptic specialises in Gigabit broadband for flats and apartments, but for the residents of the London South Dock marina they have fortunately branched out and installed fibre to the communications hub at the marina and CAT5e cabling to the 200 or so berths.

The result is that some 150 berths in South Dock and 50 in Greenland Dock now have access to the range of packages Hyperoptic offer.

"Mobile signals are flaky on a steel hulled Dutch barge and teens quickly exhaust data plans. The dock is on the opposite side of the river for Canary Wharf but lacked its data infrastructure. Having a high-speed fibre solution to the pontoon means we have better broadband than a lot of people in the UK have in their houses.

Stephen Waddington, Resident, Greenland Dock

Given the problems with 3G and 4G and modern life making a decent Internet connection more and more critical it is not surprising to hear that already 50% of residents have ordered a service over the Hyperoptic infrastructure.

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