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BDUK Market Test Pilots increase Government confidence in smaller operators
Thursday 04 February 2016 10:48:06 by Andrew Ferguson

Eleven pilot projects were given the chase sometime ago by DCMS/BDUK to show what smaller providers can deliver and how they will give better service at a lower cost to the public purse in the final 5% of the UK and now we have an initial report on the findings from the projects. We presume that a follow up report will happen later in 2016, since some projects still have low take-up due to the time taken to roll-out the new connectivity.

While not part of the pilots, Gigaclear who have won several BDUK phase 1 projects is the poster child for what can be done, and the impact of their roll-outs will be increasingly visible in the next couple of years.

The summary of what all the pilots have done and actually delivered is shown below:

Supplier and project area Coverage target Technology Premises passed by Dec 2015 1st live premise % take-up
Airwave, North Yorkshire 270 premises Wireless 68% Oct 2015 17%
Avanti, Aberdeenshire, Dumfries and Galloway, The Borders, Antrim and Fermanagh Satellite 1,000 customers across 23,472 premises 30% (300 premises) June 2015 3%
Call Flow, Hampshire 1,670 FTTP, FTTC, Wireless 80% March 2015 13%
Cybermoor 287 premises FTTP, Wireless 100% April 2015 24%
Quickline, North and East Lincolnshire Wireless 4,211 premises 85% June 2015 8%
Satellite Internet 420 premises Satellite/Wi-Fi 13% January 2015 13%
AB Internet 1,600 premises Wireless 0% N/A N/A

The Avanti figures need some explanation and not in the small print, the premises passed is based on the number of premises aware of the service i.e. have had marketing sent out to them. So to simplistic people like us this means Avanti has only mailed 300 out of the 1,000 target customer level and actually has just 9 customers. Hardly a ringing endorsement for satellite broadband to satisfy an insatiable desire (based on moans from those that cannot get it) for superfast broadband if that figure is correct. Though based on the volume of survey responses in the appendix C of 57 (survey had 93 responses in all) from the Avanti footprint it appears the 3% figure is wrong.

The take-up figures from most of the other projects look more in line with what you would expect, and while still well below B4RN levels as soon as you move away from a full volunteer/DIY approach that has had years of community engagement then things tend to happen slower. Another factor is that even in BT/BDUK and commercial areas take-up can vary considerably even across different cabinets in the same village, something that no one has fully explained yet.

On whether the projects have delivered superfast broadband the report is pretty upbeat and includes some basic speed test results, though it appears this is based on just 67 tests from those who responded to the survey which is a very small number, but given number of properties served significant enough.

By and large the data we have been also been seeing for the providers we track (and for those small providers we don't track, all we need is your name and details of your IP blocks) is in line with the BDUK report.

The results are skewed a bit low, because a number of providers offered 10 Mbps packages which at a lower cost were unsurprisingly popular with 29 out of 67 subscribing to one and their speeds ranged from 5 Mbps to 14 Mbps, though three did get results of 15 Mbps or more. Another part of the report tells a little more on the buying habits which is that 43 (46%) purchased a 10 Mbps or slower package, and 34 (37%) a package of 30 Mbps, and as we know 29 bought a 10 Mbps service, we know that 14 picked an under 10 Mbps option.

27 of those who ran the BDUK test subscribed to a package of 30 Mbps or faster and only one third registered a speed of over 25 Mbps, and one quarter got speeds under 14 Mbps. This either means that superfast broadband is being watered down, or another possibility that we see is that people when running speed tests don't always do so in an optimum way and this only becomes more obvious once you are able to collect much larger data sample sizes.

  0 to 0.5 Mbps 0.5 to 2 Mbps 2 to 4 Mbps 5 to 14 Mbps 15 to 24 Mbps 25 to 29 Mbps 30 to 99 Mbps Over 100 Mbps
Download Speed 3 2 5 28 20 5 4 0
Upload Speed 7 18 18 13 4 5 2 0

The overall result is in line with what we have seen over the last few months and has concerned us at times, certainly if this spread of speed test results was from a larger sample covering a BT/BDUK area there would be lots of complaints and people being dragged in front of committees. There should in theory be some FTTH results in this mixture, but the survey drew no responses from Cybermoor customers and for CallFlow the sample size was just 11 responses so it is possible no FTTH is present in the speed tests at all. The speed test information is heavily skewed towards the satellite services, since 65% of the survey respondents were on the satellite services.

The full report has a lot more in it and the appendices give you further insight into the pilots, but we have to say our feeling is that the pilots have demonstrated a set of options for delivering a Universal Service Obligation of 10 Mbps with some being able to get beyond, but for superfast delivery things look a lot less rosy and that is worrying as we know fixed wireless can deliver based on the speed tests seen from the established operators.

Perhaps the real result of the pilots is it will improve the confidence of the local authorities to work with others who are not BT, and the pilot was about double checking some of the costs involved so Westminster will have some idea of what sort of money it needs to find to push superfast closer to 100%.

The general of the feeling from those who have joined the pilots seems to be that the connections are better than the previous fixed line broadband offerings they had (which in some cases was no broadband was possible at all).

Comments

Posted by chilting 6 months ago
The challenge for BDUK and the local authorities is to get funding to the smaller commercial operators without overburdening them with red tape and overt financial controls.
The raising of the USC to 10Mbps offers them an opportunity to introduce a voucher scheme similar to the Connection Voucher scheme for businesses. This would mean that providers would simply have to register their businesses to take part in the roll out.
Posted by alewis 6 months ago
Can you clarify exactly what you meant, as this comment can be taken in several ways:

"Hardly a ringing endorsement for satellite broadband to satisfy an insatiable desire (based on moans from those that cannot get it) for superfast broadband if that figure is correct. "

It might need a comma between "broadband" and "to satisfy", for example.
Posted by rjohnloader 6 months ago
Lets get the North Yorkshire trial in perspective To the best of my knowledge - and the figures seem to confirm this - Airwave only delivered one of the 2 communities targeted in a respectable time- West Witton in Oct 2015, lack of extracted finger in Glaisdale has stymied them. I know we had 29 premises connected by the time the ofiicial opening by the MP but several more have come on since then despite the initial install price offer being over. The majority took 10Mb/s but we do have both 20 and 30 users. Interestingly those intial users are moving to VoIP as line rental contracts expire.
Posted by rjohnloader 6 months ago
Sorry -omitted - we have around 160 properties passed here so far BUT plans are in place and orders taken for reston under Scar, Swinthwaite and Castle Bolton to link into the West Witton system with a couple more masts.
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