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Superfast broadband digital divide - will we or won't we?
Friday 11 November 2011 08:52:26 by Andrew Ferguson

Future gazing is always difficult, but if asking enough people who are involved in that future you can often get a pretty good idea. At the Westminster eForum, the consensus appeared to be that the UK is set for a digital divide in 2015, with the last 10% of homes and businesses stuck with a basic 2 Mbps broadband connection, while others enjoy a fast, reliable, content rich 25 Mbps or faster.

Most crucial at this meeting was an overall view that the UK will NOT meet the current Governments target of being 'best in Europe' with regards to broadband. Undoubtedly there will be countries with a better penetration of fibre to the home (FTTH), but the current commercial plans from Virgin Media and Openreach networks means around 66% of the UK is going to meet the EU 2020 speed target by 2014. The next ~24% is meant to get there with the current BDUK funding, and the last 10% will get an uplift from nothing or the very slow, to what is still fairly slow but at least functional 2 Mbps.

The news about the last 10% of the UK only getting 2 Mbps is not new, though in some coverage it is being portrayed as a surprise. There is hope for this 10% of the UK, where the level of BDUK funding is not enough to bring superfast broadband, and that rests on £300m currently earmarked for broadband spending between 2015 and 2017. There is also the €9.2 billion to help meet the EU targets, so hopefully the UK will get some to bring those final areas up to speed.

Perhaps one message is clear, if you are in the final 10% of the harder, more expensive to reach parts of the UK, superfast broadband is some six to ten years away, therefore private initiatives between local business and residents may be the way to move forward. In a worst case, the recent KA-band satellite services can offer a 10 Mbps downstream with 4 Mbps upstream. Once LTE reaches deployment stages, some may find this mobile-broadband technology can provide an option to rural areas if there is coverage. Interestingly one plan on the table for rural United States is to use satellites for the backhaul and a wireless network to distribute it around a community.

On the question of will we be the best in Europe? Based on the metrics the Government is going to measure this by, then yes it looks a pretty sure bet. Why? Because whilst many EU countries will win on the numbers with FTTH/B, they will score poorly because these connections are often limited to one retail ISP.

The BT Group Director of Strategy and Policy at BT considers the EU target of 30 Mbps to all citizens by 2020 as 'not achievable for any country'. We agree that for commercially sensible projects it will not be sustainable, the only way it is possible will be with heavy subsidies to push fibre or very fast wireless close to the user. The question when there is so much uncertainty economically perhaps should be, yes we accept that grand goals are worthy, but should we commit to spending ever increasing amounts to get superfast broadband to every citizen? Remember that they may have no need or desire for it, and the cost may impact delivery of other services to the wider community.

Some degree of political scoring has taken place over broadband, with the previous Labour Government pointing out that its 2 Meg universal service commitment was set to be implemented by the end of 2012. Given the state or lack of progress by May 2010 on this, meeting that target in just 30 months looked ambitious, though possible if one used a satellite broadband voucher scheme. The danger with that timescale is that councils to meet targets would have taken more technological cul-de-sacs, e.g. the use of Openreach BET (Broadband Enabling Technology) in large numbers, thus meaning any later speed targets would have been more costly to achieve.

Comments

Posted by herdwick over 5 years ago
I haven't seen anything published in the UK that says every single property will have access to 2M as "universal" was a weasel word with the terrestrial TV coverage used as an analogy.

We can say that satellite is as close to universal as any legislator is prepared to go, so that job is done surely ? Is it now an argument about price and cross subsidy of one group of users by another ?
Posted by cyberdoyle over 5 years ago
Satellites are not the future, many round here already have them and they are just too expensive to run, if the kids start using them their data transfer ramps up to £10-£15 per gig. The way forward is for communities to get together and jfdi. like b4rn. And that is where support should go to, not getting 'superfast' to those who already have a connection, market forces will do that anyway.
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 5 years ago
@Herdwick - there is the 2 Meg USC, not as set in stone as a USO of course.

Also it is not clear how solid the 2020 target has to be.

Personally, we should let the current plans pan-out, by 2014 we should know all the UK regions plans, and then can then look at what can be done for the 10% in terms of 2 Meg to 25 Meg+
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 5 years ago
@Cyberdoyle, did you read the Fujitsu comments? In that they've looked at areas and cannot make the sums work in some parts of the UK for their FTTH.
Posted by AndrueC over 5 years ago
@Andrew:Indeed. The Fujitsu comment made me laugh. Hollow laughter, mind. They came charging in on their white horse saying they'd save everyone and various people lauded them as proof that existing CPs were just being tight.

@CyberDoyle:It seems unlikely that economies of scale would be /better/ for JFDI than for a large corporation that actually makes half the kit itself.
Posted by AndrueC over 5 years ago
@Cyberdoyle:Sigh. 'Satellites are not the future, many round here already have them'. I doubt that. Satellites cost millions of pounds to build and launch. I think it very unlikely that many people around you have them :)
Posted by GMAN99 over 5 years ago
"like b4rn"

But they haven't done anything yet have they? There is no point referring to something that hasn't delivered anything yet?

There is nothing wrong with Satellites, just because the data transfer rates are high that isn't a technical issue that is how the packaged is priced, its a commercial issue not a technical one.
Posted by themanstan over 5 years ago
Financing the last 10% is always going to be the most difficult part... the "market" in the absence of seed funding that BDUK provides would struggle with the the other 20% of the final third.
B4RN is limited by finance (all operators are), until it hits the break even point of X number of registrations it will not finance itself as the core capital requirements are fixed and do not relate to the number of registrants.
The final 10% are the truely hard to reach and will far exceed the ~£1400 per connection that it costs B4RN.
Posted by themanstan over 5 years ago
You're looking at >5k per connection, which is ~12 years to just break even.
The basis for commercial viability, is it better than putting your money in a savings account or bonds. And with those figures, it doesn't, you need to understand this simple principle CD...
Posted by dpeilow over 5 years ago
Bringing fibre to the entire UK has been costed at £30bn. Launching a large satellite costs around £300m. That’s 1% of a fibre solution.

The US just launched satellite with 140Gbit/s throughput and ESA is developing a 1 Tbit/s satellite.

So if 10% of the 24m households in the UK need satellite, with 50% take-up, that's 1.2m. At 30Mbit/s each and 50:1 contention you would need 720Gbit/s throughput, which is well within the capability of the ESA mission.

Even if two, three or more satellites are required for redundancy, it’s still 2 or 3% of the cost of the alternative fibre system.
Posted by AndrueC over 5 years ago
@dpeilow:Yes but satellites have a finite bandwidth. A satellite with 10Gb/s of bandwidth sounds good but if it's being shared by 10,000 users it's not so hot. It's the same problem mobile broadband has only worse. A satellite covers a huge area so its bandwidth might be stretched real thin and users discouraged from hogging it.

That plus the inevitable latency makes it a less than ideal solution.
Posted by Northwind over 5 years ago
Satellite services are horribly rate-controlled; on Tooway's Ku-band services anyone using more than 120MB in an hour, or 1 GB a week, will face increasing levels of throttling.

I suppose that's four times faster than dial-up, but at several times the cost...
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 5 years ago
KA Band is the main broadband infill hope at present. Usage allowances are still an issue at present, not as acute as KU band.
Posted by AspieMum over 5 years ago
I can't even get 2MB and there is no fibre in this area of my village. My exchange is technically a rural one but as it is between a town one and a city one I suspect many providers forget it exists and it is actually in a fairly built up area (if our council has its way there will soon be not gap between us and the city and town anyway as we're down for 1 of 2 places to get the most new housing in this area). I'd like to be able to get 5MB without it being very expensive. Right now that speed is impossible- there isn't even an expensive option that will give me that speed.
Posted by AspieMum over 5 years ago
We get Virgin Media leaflets saying we are in a fibre enabled area but if you go to their website it says we can't even get their cable TV let alone fibre. We just seem to have been missed off the upgrading list and their leafleters don't realise.
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 5 years ago
The wire that brings cable tv to the home is the one that brings their fast service. They dont install fibre into the home.

If the leaflets are persistent, then complain to the ASA - one web form. Virgin is not meant to advertise with leaflets to areas not able to get the service. Same with BT and Infinity.
Posted by spetznaz over 5 years ago
The latency issue with satellite kills it for a lot of people, we have just had our satellite connection at work removed as 3 x 1.5mbit adsl lines provide a better connection, similar cost and less restrictive data allowance.
Posted by cyberdoyle over 5 years ago
The third of the country with bad service now won't get much better with cabinets. They will be too far away from them, yet they will be classed as being 'superfast'. Just wait and see. Cabinets will go where there are lots of people, but there won't be enough of them even with funding. The main reason BT want the funding is to stop anyone else getting it.
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 5 years ago
@Cyberdoyle, you sometimes have good points, but your lastest sweeping statements are doing any rural campaigns a disservice.

I live in a final third area, and looking at cabinet locations, the vast majority would benefit greatly. As would many other villages.

If BT takes the money for a contract to get superfast to 90% of a county, and 2Mbps or better to the another 9.9%. Then fail, one would assume the usual penalties would occur.

BT may not be the most benevolent company in the world, but it is far from the evil monster some suggest it is.
Posted by fastman over 5 years ago
i think sometimes its a 2/3 step process as well -- if you can get the cab enabled and cover a good percentage of subsbribwers then you then start lookng at long lines of those cabs where subscribers wont get any uplift and seen what innovative ways you can deal with those -- i think more and more of this innovative stuff will come out of cornwall and is now in public domain and such projects over the next few months
Posted by fastman over 5 years ago
i would also take a look at this as well
http://www.thinkbroadband.com/news/4865-bt-claims-innovations-to-speed-up-fibre-roll-out.html
Posted by GMAN99 over 5 years ago
"Cabinets will go where there are lots of people" yep.. makes sense to me?
Posted by fastman over 5 years ago
but also cab could potentially go where there are not a lot of people or enough people if the DSlam was smaller size
Posted by GMAN99 over 5 years ago
Sure fastman if there are returns on the investment and that is what it is about for any business deploying this kit. Getting superfast broadband to any location in the UK isn't a technical issue its financial.
Posted by cyberdoyle over 5 years ago
Andrew, if you are in a final third area, and if you are near a cabinet you will be fine. If they enable that cabinet by putting a new one next to it. But your neighbours on the cab but further away won't be fine. They will have the 'down to' speeds, ie not 'superfast'.
There won't be 'penalties' for a fail, as there is no USO.
BT is not a monster. They have one of the best telephone networks in the world. But that doesn't mean they should sweat that asset and pass it off as a solution. Fine with their own money. But not with funding.
Posted by GMAN99 over 5 years ago
So why do people keep choosing their solution for their towns and cities then? You seem to be ignoring all of the recent articles about advances in VDSL pushing the speeds beyond 100Mbps and possibly up to 200Mbps

Time and time again it comes back to one thing which you never seem to get. BT could put in FTTP with the BDUK funding sure but it would only cover a very small percentage of people in a town/city is that what the town/city wants or do they want more people to have better broadband?
Posted by GMAN99 over 5 years ago
You seem to be of the view that as long as its FTTP the box is ticked and everyone is happy, never mind the rest of the people left behind as the money has gone, as long as someone has FTTP everything is rosy.
Posted by New_Londoner over 5 years ago
@CD
Same question as posted elsewhere regarding your repeated suggestions that people refuse to accept anything other than FTTP.

The £530m of public money could fund a good deal of the final third using a range of technologies, or very little using FTTP only. So either more money is needed (from where?) or many people will get nothing (who?).

It would be good to understand whether you're proposing a much more restricted coverage so the few get FTTP, or additional funding? Depending on your answer, who would miss out or who would fund the gap?
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 5 years ago
@cyberdoyle BT does not build its cabinets in the middle of nowhere, generally near to where people actually live.

Now if I live in a lone property 2 miles down a lane I own, then I dont expect much, but if in most villages laid out around an exchange or cabinet then good speeds will appear.

Posted by creakycopperline over 5 years ago
GMAN99
You seem to be of the view that as long as its FTTP the box is ticked and everyone is happy, never mind the rest of the people left behind as the money has gone, as long as someone has FTTP everything is rosy.

my jaw just hit the flaw, how many more comments of your's am i going to agree with?
Posted by cyberdoyle over 5 years ago
andrew, if bt build its cabinets in villages and keep everyone there happy that's fine by me. They don't need funding to do that, there are enough people there to show a profit. The funding should go into the areas that aren't profitable for BT to do. That was the idea of the funding. Those areas can't be served by copper. Nothing else makes sense, it has to be fibre. Therefore funding should go to rural fibre networks. These would provide a better service, and stimulate more investment and competition.
Posted by New_Londoner over 5 years ago
@CD
It is too simplistic to say that the final third can only be served by fibre, which is just as well as there is not enough money to fund this. Also, how would they stimulate (infrastructure?) competition given the areas are not economic for others to serve?

As above, who would you leave out to deliver FTTP to a small % of the final third? Or where woudl teh extra £billions come from to deliver FTTP to it all?
Posted by cyberdoyle over 5 years ago
well it won't come from BT that's for sure, even though they have sneakily taken off the discount for paperless bills thus hiking their charges back up again... maybe it will come from cityfibre doing the cities, and community networks doing the rurals, and virgin doing their bit, and before you know it we can have broken this copper monopoly once and for all, and made a fortune in scrap value when we recycle all this precious metal that people are stealing...
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 5 years ago
@Cyberdoyle, so BDUK funding should not go to villages?

How many people in the UK do not live in a village or urban setting?

Posted by Somerset over 5 years ago
cd - The companies owning the copper will benefit from its sale when replaced, as they have in the last 20 years when replacing copper with fibre.

What is the highest speed that people have wanted to replace with a community scheme?
Posted by GMAN99 over 5 years ago
@andrew

Exactly, BDUK funding is about no spots or poor spots wherever they may be.
Posted by GMAN99 over 5 years ago
cd, nothing seems to be happening with community networks though? Even if one takes off (which is yet to be seen) I'm not sure others will have the same appetite.
Posted by themanstan over 5 years ago
@CD

But, based on what you are saying B4RN should not connect anyone who is in a village within 600m of a cab... because the "market" will resolve their lack of connection... your arguments are becoming incoherent CD.
Posted by TavistockSFB01822 over 5 years ago
It would be a miracle if by 2015 only 10 percent of UK premises did not have access to superfast broadband. It is likely to be a far higher figure than that with BDUK (Broadband Delivery UnKnown) organisation. Wasting time and public money by passing their job out to local authorities.
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