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Shock news - the more rural parts of Scotland may not get superfast broadband
Monday 03 March 2014 11:03:54 by Andrew Ferguson

The Royal Society of Edinburgh has taken a long hard look at the issue of how the BT project to improve broadband speeds across Scotland will fare. The conclusion is that in the rural areas of Scotland some 450,000 premises will not get superfast broadband, which is at odds with the Draft Budget Plan that has an aim of 95% superfast broadband by the end of 2017-2018.

Ignoring any calculations it is not 100% clear as to what the targets are for Scotland, when the contract with BT was signed in July 2013 the approved BT press release quoted "the new project will ensure that 85 per cent of Scottish properties have access to fibre broadband by the end of 2015 and around 95 per cent by the end of 2017" and in a very recent quote Nicola Sturgeon did not mention superfast in relation to the 95% figure. This makes judging any of the projects results so early as difficult, particularly as while the report is getting almost universal coverage saying the roll-out will be a disaster its optimistic estimate using a pure FTTC roll-out is that 85% will get superfast speeds.

In terms of the calculations we are possibly uniquely placed outside of people like Point Topic to know about some of the caveats and the dangers there in. Postcode data for the United Kingdom is fairly easy to source, but things start to fall apart when estimating line lengths from cabinets and the big unknown over what will happen to Exchange Only lines. Even the choice of 1.2km as a line length that will support 30 Mbps is open to question, as this will vary according to the gauge of the copper used in the local loop and the level of take-up and corresponding cross-talk. Plus it would appear the cabinet to postcode data is not fool proof, as where a postcode is served by two cabinets they split the premises in half, where some previous cabinet data leaked out actually gave the proportions.

Upper limits for copper-based superfast FTTC FTTC+EO Households left behind
Large Urban Areas 87% 92% 84,000
Other Urban Areas 89% 92% 60,000
Accessible small Towns 84% 92% 17,000
Remote Small Towns 80% 93% 4,600
Very Remote Small Towns 81% 90% 3,200
Accessible Rural 49% 63% 102,000
Remote Rural 33% 51% 43,700
Very Remote Rural 18% 31% 62,400
Scotland 79% 86% 376,900
Link shows 366,500, but on checking figures we got the higher figure)
Rural classification based on a Scottish Government 8-fold urban-rural classification system

The big unknown is how much FTTP BT may deploy in Scotland, potentially FTTP used appropriately can solve the long line issue, the issue is the cost and hence why the FTTC areas are almost always addressed first. It should be remembered that any FTTP deployed as part of a BDUK project, includes the same wholesale install costs and line rental as the FTTC product, i.e. GEA-FTTP 80/20 product is no more expensive than the up to 80 Mbps FTTC service. Only the fibre on demand service carries the high install and monthly fee.

The study has ignored Virgin Media coverage which is available in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Livingston, Kirkcaldy, Dundee, Airdrie, Denny and Perth, Ofcom reports 37% of Scottish homes have the option of Virgin Media and this can add a crucial few percent to the availability of superfast broadband. Add in the unknown factors over Exchange Only lines and the flawed assumption that EO lines will be served from the exchange (reality is that clusters close to an exchange usually have the cabinet installed close to the exchange, but long distance EO clusters will most likely have the cabinet inserted deep into the network) and one can start to see the level of uncertainty climb.

So where do we stand, well the reality is such that even if 95% superfast coverage is reached, for those in the final 5% they are still missing out. The key thing is that people need to remember that when the politicians showcase 95% coverage they are not talking about 95% of rural areas or a postcode group like Kirkwall, but 95% of the whole of Scotland.

In short we would love to have published some of our figures on speed estimates, but the caveats and gaps in the information that meant large assumptions had to be made has meant while we will talk about the foot print of specific cabinets where we have verified its actual location we are not able to publish a UK figure with a high degree of confidence beyond the estimate based on cabinet line length data given to Ofcom many years ago, but where only the summary was available rather than the full 30 million or so line lengths.


Posted by Somerset over 3 years ago
3rd set of numbers appeared. If they can't add up should we trust them?
Posted by asjonesmcguire over 3 years ago
As someone who lives in Scotland, in the TD10 postcode, our village does not have any street cabinets. I assume that makes us an Exchange Only line? According to DigitalScotland we are in the "rest of scotland" rollout - map seen here
Posted by TavistockSFB01822 over 3 years ago
There is no less clarity in England, but in proportion there will be more premises not getting access to superfast.

The big rub is that having access to superfast and actually getting superfast (over 24 Mbps) just adds to a larger gap of UK digital have-nots. The UK Government content to make the fast faster and leave the slow completely out of the picture.
Posted by clivegm4fzh over 3 years ago
We would love to have even 8Mbps here in DG8 8DU, our present speed is between 0.4 and 0.74 Mbps and that is when the IP line profile doesn't chop us back further. Neither BT or the Scottish Government are interested in us. We also only have Vodaphone 2G.
Posted by Somerset over 3 years ago
Another version appeared, total 356000.
Posted by AndrueC over 3 years ago
In what way are postcodes being used here? In rural areas they can cover a large area. Eg;

The nearest exchanges are to the North West and South. Speeds across that area probably vary from 4Mb/s downward.
Posted by chilting over 3 years ago
There is clearly a case for Satellite broadband to fill the gaps where fibre cannot reach. The Scottish Government should consider a funded scheme to supply and fit a dish and router to its taxpayers who cannot access decent broadband via BT.
Posted by WWWombat over 3 years ago
Satellite can only cope with around 300,000 connections across the whole UK - and even then, it is limited in aggregate speed and capacity, and costs a lot for an individual to use GB beyond his package.

Different transponders point in different directions, with (IIRC) around 5 covering the UK. That probably limits Scotland to around 60,000 useful connections.

There might be more launches, but satellite really is the tech for only the final 1-2%
Posted by lockyatlrg over 3 years ago
Good. One last thing to argue about when they get independence.
Posted by lockyatlrg over 3 years ago
Posted by chilting over 3 years ago
My point is to identify that final 1-2% now and at least give them the immediate option of selecting satellite broadband. Many of them probably don't realize that they are never likely to get a decent connection from BT.
Posted by Somerset over 3 years ago
Says households, what about businesses?
Posted by AndrueC over 3 years ago
@Somerset: Leased line?
Posted by DigiRog over 3 years ago
There's an infrastructure already in place in almost all rural areas of the UK (power lines)and I know of a new technology (invention) that can utilise this infrastructure with a large data capacity (Gbps), I just cannot prise open the door of the power companies to discuss it!
Posted by Gadget over 3 years ago
lets hope this new technology fares better than the first attempts which not only didn't impress but also brought down the wrath of the Ham Radio community if I recall correctly
Posted by 961a over 3 years ago
Those of us in small hamlets in rural Scotland know full well superfast broadband will never come our way. At 5km from the exchange we are aware that 5 Mbps is better than many.
There is, for us, an added complication. We are in Scotland, the exchange is in England!
Posted by alisonorr over 3 years ago
This article is so badly written. Please use proof readers to make it easier for us to understand!
Posted by dunks over 3 years ago
Is satellite broadband not available right now without any public sector intervention?
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