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Innovation equals what falls out of the toy box
Thursday 03 July 2014 10:05:07 by Andrew Ferguson

The DCMS announced two weeks ago how the £10m innovation fund to look at solutions to provide superfast services to the final 5% of the country was to be shared out. Alas while some of the solutions look interesting there are some where the outcome is predictable and almost none of them are actually innovative but repackaging of things that others have done in the last decade or products the provider sells elsewhere. Maybe innovation in Whitehall means anyone who is not BT or another existing major contractor with the Government.

Wi-Fi is great and brilliant in the home, but also the cause of many moans particularly in the 2.4GHz band where it is shared with many other devices that can interfere and even the number of Wi-Fi routers is causing problems with congestion. So any scheme hoping to use 2.4 GHz in a mesh or distribution system really needs to talk to those community projects who dabbled ten years ago and have moved on to other methods since then. NOTE: Fixed wireless can provide excellent speeds when done correctly.

Satellite based services, including the option of a central feed with Wi-Fi distribution was a big surprise, remember we are talking about something that is meant to be superfast (old UK definition over 24 Mbps, current EU definition 30 Mbps). Satellite services have improved greatly but latency over 500ms break online gaming for any game that relies on reaction times, e.g. Forza 5, TitanFall and the CoD and Battlefied series. We chased up on the satellite option to find out more particularly if the Wi-Fi system was going to have a much higher speed central feed and the result is inconclusive with more information appearing in a white paper during August. What we do know is that service speeds of 10/1 and 25/2 (down/up) will be provided using a KA-band service by SES Broadband and Avanti are pushing to a 30 Mbps solution. Clearly if the Wi-Fi service fed by satellite only has 25/2 down service at its core contention is going to be bad.

Update 29th July 2014 We previously postulated that if the satellite service only has a limited speed of 25 down/2 up for its backhaul this would limit the abilities when sharing the connection. SES has refused to confirm the size of the backhaul capacity for the community Wi-Fi solutions, but is keen to point out it is more than 25 Mbps download and 2 Mbps upload. This core speed is apparently going to be dynamic and dependent on monitored network conditions.

Another issue that will need seriously addressing is cost, the general public is used to the option of buying an unlimited broadband service in the UK, and with average usage climbing month on month a 30GB per month package that is for example £50/month is not what the general public will be interested in.

Satellite solutions are a great fast way to deploy broadband to locations around the UK, but in terms of meeting ambitions of a Superfast Britain their current inclusion really does highlight the fact that the decision makers in Westminster are just ticking boxes rather than looking deeper into what is possible. Essentially it is the original BDUK process but with BT excluded and none of the other major players like Fujitsu, Virgin Media, Sky and TalkTalk taking an interest.

Some may read these comments and think they are in support of BT, far from it, we are worried that some of these solutions for the final 5% may make some of the BT solutions that the large Telco talks about for the more rural areas look good (e.g., fibre to the remote node). To be frank the innovation fund looks more like a solution to pick up the missing pieces from the 2 Mbps Universal Commitment Fund rather than providing something that far exceeds speeds of 24 Mbps and is fit for all that a digital citizen wants to do now, let alone in five years time.


Posted by csimon over 2 years ago
Exactly why I'm jumpy about SFCymru's lack of transparency.I'm in an area not certain to be included in the 96% so may end up being in the final 5%.Have been on a flaky 0.2-0.4mbps for 10yrs & would just like some sort of indication as to where I stand. SFC have prevented me from obtaining Welsh government grant in the meantime,no-one is willing to tell me what's going on,whether I'm destined for the next 10yrs at 0.4mbps or if something better is coming along via BDUK.It's incredibly frustrating & their policy of "not raising false hopes" is doing exactly that & creating more frustrations.
Posted by csimon over 2 years ago
No-one wants to be in the Final 5% because, as you've pointed out, there is no decent solution.
Posted by ahockings over 2 years ago
I'm probably in the final 5%. My cab is active but I'm 5KM from it so no go!!
I damn well hope you are in support of BT. I don't want Satellite, I don't want WiFi. I want my broadband down a cable as it should be.
I and others around me (about 20 dwellings out in the sticks) are perfectly placed for FTTRn.
Bring it on BT. Yesterday would be good!
I currently have 1.6Mbps. My business is suffering.. badly now.
4KM of fibre (an easy run), stick an ECI 64v up the pole. Job done.
Stop going on about competition and WiFi already. It’s not helping at all. Arrgghhhhh.
Posted by UKNetizen over 2 years ago
If it is a box ticking exercise and nothing else, then us 5%-ers will all be told we can have expensive laggy satellite or lump it. It's cheap to install and hardly any geographic restrictions. Politicians can congratulate themselves on a job barely done and quote 100% superfast coverage in the UK. I wish I wasn't feeling so cynical at this point, but does anyone believe it's possible to avoid this scenario?
Posted by chrisdev over 2 years ago
@ahockings I'm in a similar situation but without the active cab 5km away! If I was you, I'd be pushing BT for Fibre on Demand to your house, and sharing the cost and bandwidth with your 20 neighbours.
Posted by mitchja over 2 years ago
Why aren't 4G mobile networks being used for this?
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 2 years ago
Airwave and its small LTE cells might be the 4G contender.
Posted by Plankton1066 over 2 years ago
This is all just rampant non-sense. Final 5% for what? I'm just about to get FTTC and fingers crossed will get 17mbps. The 1.5 Mbps I get now is woeful, the 17mbps will be nice but clearly will be inadequate in a couple of years. We'll never get to the final 5% as the target of acceptable broadband today will be useless tomorrow. We need a plan that recognises the march of technology. We should get FTTP to the worst served now, building back towards FTTC served areas who are getting 50mbps or better and then build out ftpd/FTTP from the centre till it meets the FTTP already built.
Posted by Plankton1066 over 2 years ago
And before you ask. Paid for by ring fencing 50% of line rental revenues for fibre deployment, taking VAT from all fibre based product and add this into the pot, public subsidy and a special 1% corporation tax on profits of companies benefiting from the internet, Google, Netflix, BT, Amazon (if they ever make a profit!) etc.
Posted by gah789 over 2 years ago
Inevitably, bureaucrats and commentators miss the key problem. Retail distribution by, eg, 5 GHz fixed wireless is not difficult. The real issue is backhaul,ie wholesale access. Unlimited packages are only viable with a lot of customers sharing huge pipes. No small operator can afford the fixed commitment of renting a 10 Gbps pipe while no large operator can recover the operating costs of fibre optic infrastructure to serve dispersed groups of 20 to 100 premises even if the capital costs are fully subsidised.
Posted by gah789 over 2 years ago
3G/4G is just another form of wireless retail distribution. Even where there is coverage the operators have little interest in installing sufficient backhaul to remote masts as they face the same costs as any other wireless distributor.
If small retail operators could be sure of getting access to a 100 Mbps symmetric FTTP line at or close to any exchange at retail (not leased line) prices, the rest can be organised by local initiatives. However, the consequence is clear. This would entirely undermine current leased line pricing, so it would be resisted by BT and other commercial operators.
Posted by nige1h over 2 years ago
I'm not (necessarily) suggesting that it's the innovative solution that everyone seems to be looking for, but whatever happened to WiMax?

That certainly *should* have been the solution!
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