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Highlands and Islands broadband improvements to start in 2013
Monday 16 January 2012 15:00:32 by Andrew Ferguson

The Highlands and Islands superfast broadband project is the largest rural broadband project in the UK. The project is also one where of the four main bidders for BDUK projects, Cable and Wireless, Fujitsu, Commendium and BT, only BT remains in the running.

Costs for the project are likely to run into the £200m to £300m region, with funding coming from both public and private sectors. The contract signing is expected to take place in August 2012, with hopefully rough implementation details appearing after then, the most likely solution will be a mixture of FTTC/FTTP/fixed wireless and satellite services. If the costs of full fibre are considered then it is unlikely that this will be limited in its deployment, the population to be covered is some 380,000 people spread over some 38,500 sq km.

This is not the first investment in broadband in this area, the £70m Pathfinder North project provided basic broadband services to a number of remote areas, also back in 2005 there was the Broadband For Scotland project that helped BT install basic 0.5 to 2 Mbps at some 230 exchanges, and the more limited Exchange Activate (0.5Mbps) product at another 148 exchanges. Upgrades since 2005 have resulted in many speeds improving for those with lines short enough to run faster (rate adaptive means that 2Mbps should be possible on around 5.5km of telephone cable).

If BT does remain the sole bidder and wins the contract, there will be widespread criticism, but it seems the numbers don't stack up for other commercial operators, and for communities that wish to go it alone, then nothing is stopping them ignoring BT and installing their own solution, other than the cost of doing so.

Some of the problems in raising investment for broadband improvements are highlighted by an economists comments on the Virgin Media speed upgrades.

"I am a Virgin Media customer, and years ago they offered a 2Mb deal. It worked well and I was quite content. Then they increased the speed to 5Mb, and I didn't notice. Then they increased it again to 10Mb, and I didn't notice that either. So I am certain I won't notice the increase to 20Mb, just as I wouldn't notice an increase in my car's top speed."

Chief Economist at CentreForum think tank

Of course comments like this ignore the problem that webpages are getting larger and more graphically heavy, the amount of interactive content and video is increasing too. The situation is akin to the ship building industry in the 1950's the tools of the 1920's were sufficient to meet orders, but when other countries invested in newer shipbuilding technology that then undercut UK shipyards price wise, the rapid decline took hold. The investment in broadband is not about being able to pay our car tax a few seconds quicker, but about ensuring the UK has the skills and businesses that will attract overseas investment.

Comments

Posted by Northwind over 5 years ago
Not sure that I follow the connection between improved broadband and increased UK investment.

Any business that relies on the Internet for its livelihood will have a leased Ethernet connection or some form of off-site hosting. There is no shortage of high-capacity connections to backbones.

The only people who need better broadband for hosting are geeks like me who insist on running their own services.

So, if I were an overseas company looking at setting-up in the UK, the standard of domestic broadband connections wouldn't even factor into my analysis.
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 5 years ago
Good consumer broadband - means a market for your service in the UK. Many businesses have no need for the high CBR of leased lines, but need something that bursts faster than current generation.

Cloud based services are starting to mean that if working from home the data transfer is a lot higher too.

The ship building illustration of we can meet current needs and fulfill projects, but there is a clear warning that things are changing sufficiently that the UK may lose what lead it has in various areas.

Posted by cyberdoyle over 5 years ago
The ship building illustration is the perfect one for what is happening today. Scotland has repeatedly handed funding over to the incumbent for stop gap solutions. It looks like it is going to do it again. They should build their own fibre backbone and let private investors tap into it to build networks instead of pandering to the copper cabal holding everything up. A few decent rural networks will make the incumbent up their game before the rurals harvest their unhappy customers.
Posted by Somerset over 5 years ago
Scottish government does not need to build its own fibre network for use as backbone, just rent circuits from the existing telcos. What are the sums for private investors in this situation?
Posted by GMAN99 over 5 years ago
If Scotland can build their own why aren't they doing it?
Posted by csteinle over 5 years ago
@GMAN99 - Because the Scottish Government of successive flavours has been woefully inept on technology, and the current one is more focussed on picking fights with Westminster to push the independence agenda to pay more than lip service to anything that doesn't further that goal.
Posted by zebedee2 over 5 years ago
"If Scotland can build their own why aren't they doing it? "

Because Westminster has stolen our oil revenues!

Seriously, the drive to higher and higher speeds for those who have broadband is not what we need.

A basic 2Mbps service for all must be the starter rather than forever upgrading those who already have a service.

Needless to say any service provided to the "have nots" should be the best available that is suited to the location but including any technological advances that will aid future upgrading.
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