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Further £24.5m to fill in broadband holes in Northern Ireland
Thursday 13 February 2014 09:53:06 by Andrew Ferguson

Northern Ireland has announced a £24.5 million investment to improve broadband speeds in the slow areas. The contract has been signed with BT and should benefit some 45,000 premises, and with 95% of Northern Ireland already able to access superfast broadband this should pretty much mean 100% coverage.

"I have consistently lobbied for additional investment from both government and telecoms providers to ensure higher speed broadband services are delivered as widely as possible. As we work to try and reach rural areas, the costs to improve services increase significantly so we need to ensure resources are used carefully.

Today’s announcement is great news for Northern Ireland. It is another significant step in making broadband services more widely available to our citizens irrespective of where they live or operate their business. I sought and I have gained an assurance from BT that these improvements will be completed by December 2015 so that consumers and businesses will benefit from the investment as quickly as possible.

Arlene Foster, Enterprise, Trade and Investment Minister

The project is the result of previous consultations on broadband coverage and speeds that gathered data from the public in addition to the telecoms operators themselves. There is no news on what technologies will be used, but one assumes a mixture of FTTC and FTTP pushing deeper into more rural areas, it is possible that even smaller FTTC units could be deployed, e.g. you can get waterproof 48 line units that are more suited to smaller villages or these could be inserted into the network closer to clusters of premises that have long runs of copper to their normal cabinets. The only certainty is that BT has assured the Minister that the work will be completed by December 2015.

Map showing speeds of the various UK regions
UK Regional Broadband Speeds Q4 2013
Click image for larger version

Northern Ireland comes out top from analysis of our speed test results, which adds weight to the claims of 95% coverage by superfast broadband. Though of course as people have the choice to remain with their ADSL or ADSL2+ based services or upgrade to faster products the actual average is also a measure of take-up, rather than what FTTC and other broadband technologies (e.g. Virgin Media) are achieving across the region. We currently estimate that during 2015, the average peak speed for the UK as a whole could be 30 Mbps.


Posted by Dixinormous over 3 years ago
So let's see if this investment is really worth it and is reflected in a higher GVA.

At the moment of the home nations NI is bottom of the pile for GVA, with Wales not much above. We hear an awful lot about the alleged economic impact of SFBB, so let's see some robust numbers.
Posted by WWWombat over 3 years ago
That consultation document is interesting...

The consultation in mid-2013 brought queries for near 650 postcodes, and resulted in 138 being added to the "don't get 2Mbps" list, and 85 being added to the "don't get superfast" list.

And while technology hasn't been specified, it looks like "radio broadband" has been ruled out, as they got insufficient response about coverage.
Posted by WWWombat over 3 years ago
The £24.5m seems to be a total programme cost, including funds from the EU, BDUK (original pot, or new pot?) and BT, whose share is £4.2m.

That's a cost of £550 per premise, of which £450 is subsidy. Those numbers might suggest the ballpark figures to be used for the final 5% of the rest of the UK.

But... nice to see willingness to go for the final 5%
Posted by TavistockSFB01822 over 3 years ago
England is going to shoulder the shortfall for superfast access in the UK. Without a devolved government and a lack of focus to deliver on an even basis. Millions of premises will be left out for many years to come...
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 3 years ago
Urm surely that was obvious when it was a target of 90% for 2015?
Posted by gerarda over 3 years ago
As usual the numbers are as clear as mud. One of the documents in the consultation suggested 80-100K premises get a sub 2mb service. So well under half are being upgraded on that basis. Also it appears that superfast coverage is well under 80% not the claimed 95%
Posted by WWWombat over 3 years ago
Was that quote of "80k-100k" premises from Annex A of the public consultation in June 2013? If so, that annex refers to a previous consultation in September 2012.

Has there been any further rollout in NI after Sept 2012?
Posted by gerarda over 3 years ago
I cant find the document - having cleared out my internet history but it was an assessment of who could get a plus 2mb service by any means, including wireless and mobile, and concluding that there was only capacity for about 10,000 of the remaining 80-100,000 to get a satellite service.
Posted by jtthedevil over 3 years ago
Consultation docs on this page. The plan appears to be superfast for 90% and 2mb minimum for everyone by the end of 2015. the 2012 consultation identified postcodes unable to receive 2mb or superfast. The second consultation had updated information from responses from the public, hence the added ones.
Posted by jtthedevil over 3 years ago
Thankfully satellite has been discounted and so has wimax it seems. Only have to look on the forum for wireless on the forum to get a good hint of why. I am on the lucky postcode list for superfast, just no timescales released yet. I prepared to wait as my cabinet and exchange have been upgraded for about 3yrs but i'm too far to receive anything more than 0.5mb.
Posted by flipdee over 3 years ago
I'm a little concerned if it you didn't participate in the consultation, i.e, got your postcode on the list, you'll still be left out.
Surely bt know exactly where they cannot provide sufficient coverage, do they need people to compile a list for them?
Posted by gerarda over 3 years ago
@flipdee if BT released real speed data that would blow too much off their carefully spun coverage myths out of the water
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 3 years ago
@gerarda Nothing stopping people running the speed test and plotting the result for their area.

The premises passed is declared in the investor statements, so lying there would be very serious.
Posted by phoneticduck over 3 years ago
BT is not defining the scope of the project, DETI are.

Also, BT has never said that 95% of NI has access to SFBB - where are you getting that from?

Just because a postcode was on the consultation output has no direct bearing on whether or not it will get addressed - which @jtthedevil seems to think is the case...?
Posted by phoneticduck over 3 years ago
@Andrew - you have put your finger on the central issue - premises passed and "coverage" are not the same things as the % of premises that can actually get VDSL services.
Posted by WWWombat over 3 years ago
Looking at the 2nd consultation, from Oct 2013, suggests that while 95% might be connected to NGA, they aren't getting SF speeds. Or even basic speeds.

That consultation resulted in
- 52k premises in-scope for basic intervention
- 137k premises in-scope for SFBB intervention

I make those, percentage-wise, as around 7% and 18% respectively, out of 700k households plus 70k businesses.

Even with these extra 45k homes, they still won't hit the 90% coverage target for SFBB.
Posted by WWWombat over 3 years ago
DETI themselves claim the 95% figure in this factsheet:

"95% of premises in Northern Ireland have
the option of subscribing to Superfast
Posted by jtthedevil over 3 years ago
@phoneticduck The original consultation identified postcodes it believed were not covered and asked for clarification. The second consulation added postcodes from the first, possibly new homes in rural areas or areas overlooked. At the bottom of the Whats new page the final postcodes to be actioned with minimum or SFBB are listed. My postcode is on both, so there must be a double up.
Posted by gerarda over 3 years ago
@ andrew yes but "premises passed" is just another misleading statistic and bears no resemblance to availability
Posted by WWWombat over 3 years ago
The lists of postcodes are *not* the sets to be "actioned" for either basic or SFBB.

They are the lists of postcodes where action is *allowed*, by state aid rules. You are on both lists, so they are allowed to use funding to give you either SF or basic BB.

Unfortunately, the funding is only enough to allow for around one third of the premises on the SF list to actually be actioned. Everyone else will need to wait for more funding.
Posted by gerarda over 3 years ago
@WWwombat DETI also claim 100% coverage of ADSL since December 2005 so I would not place much credence on the statement about SFBB
Posted by WWWombat over 3 years ago
As ever, it depends on how "premises passed" is qualified.

In the early days of BDUK, it was not often qualified well, and was as misleading as you say.

Nowadays, most BDUK projects do make the distinction between merely being connected via fibre and the actual availability of SFBB speeds.

Unfortunately, it looks like DETI hasn't been making it clear.
Posted by WWWombat over 3 years ago
Agreed - I wouldn't place credence on 95% SF speeds either. The consult puts 137k premises in-scope for BDUK funding, suggesting only 82% can actually get SF speeds.

And that consult uses a 15Mbps threshold to exclude you from intervention!
Posted by phoneticduck over 3 years ago
The threshold for intervention is set at a basic and SFBB level, and what you will see is that postcodes in-scope for basic intervention move from sub 2Mb to, in many cases, well over 15Mbps speeds.

Have you checked what the threshold was for other 'BDUK' bids...?

Posted by phoneticduck over 3 years ago
The "double up" is simply because the basic intervention area is by definition, a subset of the SFBB intervention area. As has already been emphasised this means nothing other than the postcode is in scope for investment.

This is not a BDUK project in the usual sense -the BDUK framework was used to drive the procurement activity - hence the BDUK "feel" to it all. Given the majority funding is non-BDUK, the reality is that it's a "broadband improvement" project.
Posted by flipdee over 3 years ago
Dear dear,so basically DETI are talking a load of rubbish, I wonder how you go about challenging their "percentages"?
Posted by flipdee over 3 years ago
Also, I wonder how they figure out what areas they are allowed to fund?
Posted by WWWombat over 3 years ago
Some BDUK projects use 24 as the threshold, while some use 30. I have seen no other ones using anything as low as 15. There is confusion in that those with higher access speeds must also have the capacity to support everyone at 15 Mbps for 90% of peak hour, but capacity is a separate measure from raw speed.

However, while NI isn't a standard BDUK project, the documentation very much suggests that this phase *is* funded and approved under the BDUK framework, with BDUK targets.
Posted by WWWombat over 3 years ago
DETI say They can fund any property that doesn't get the threshold speed, and they include any postcode with at least one or more property.

The demographics of NI is very different from the rest of the UK; the premises are much more likely, in NI, to live in very small clusters of premises... This is the very setup that @gerarda worries about nationwide, but it is more likely to be a problem in NI... and some of these clusters are likely to end up with distances that are too far back to the cabinet.
Posted by phoneticduck over 3 years ago
@WWWombat - I'm confused as to what you mean as the threshold. For the NI project, the definition of SFBB was >24Mb, and basic was of course 2Mb. If you are talking about what qualifies as SFBB in this project, it is 24Mb+ nothing to do with 15Mb.

I can't see any reference to 15Mb in the consultation linked above - can you point me to it?
Posted by phoneticduck over 3 years ago
@flipdee What can/can't be funded goes back to the definition in the framework of white/grey/black postcodes. An Open Market Review, and public consultations, inform the authority as to what CP's have available in each postcode. It all boils down to State Aid legislation, and unless this process is followed State Aid approval for the project will never have been given. Only White postcodes can be funded.
Posted by WWWombat over 3 years ago
Yes, they use those criteria to define SFBB. But when excluding properties from the second public consultation, they exclude those places who already have FTTC but at more than 15Mbps. Those with FTTC available but at less than 15 Mbps remain in-scope.

Page 3 of the second consultation, link on
Posted by WWWombat over 3 years ago
Thinking some more, I'm wondering if the effect of vectoring is being felt here.

Looking at the percentages, it seems that the targets can only be hit by deploying new cabs deeper in the network to include those with long lines.

If vectoring can lift those around 15 up to around 25, and it will be done to all cabinets, then you don't want to go deploying new cabinets to those people.

All conjecture though...
Posted by WWWombat over 3 years ago
A late addition to these comments...

On looking back, I can see that the original NI NGB project had different targets from the ones we are now familiar with in BDUK. Those targets were to get 85% of rural businesses to have 2Mbps, and 85% of urban businesses to have 10Mbps, even though the project was still a "next generation" one. Improvement for residential premises was just a happy by-product.

The lower thresholds of the project probably explain why DETI proclaim such a high percentage.
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