What will LR-VDSL do for the Universal Service Obligation?
Long Reach VDSL has been in the background for almost a year now, and longer than that in the laboratory, and Isfield in Sussex has been taking part in a trial and Openreach is now expanding this trial to more locations. With the expansion of the trial and the progress in superfast roll-outs and improvements in our ability to model potential future changes we have revisited the estimates we made in September 2015.
We have run through six scenarios, which all start from the base line of the coverage levels that we were aware of at the time of doing the projects, and the scenarios vary from a very limited deployment of LR-VDSL to exchange areas where IPStream is the only exchange based service available, through to magical scenarios where every existing Openreach cabinet was enabled for LR-VDSL (even if not in any plans for VDSL2). This range of scenarios also give some insight as to where the UK is heading and while we have not made any changes to the levels of FTTP coverage in each one, the scenarios do show that as we head towards the 95% superfast target, and the ambition of going beyond, that infill cabinets and more native FTTP will be the order of the day.
For the performance of LR-VDSL we have worked on the basis of the speed achievable at various distances being the mid-point between the lab work speeds for LR-VDSL1 and LR-VDSL2.
|Current UK broadband coverage and various models showing the effect LR-VDSL might have on UK broadband coverage levels. Figures 10th August 2016
24 Mbps or faster
30 Mbps or faster
|% Under 2 Mbps USC||% Under proposed 10 Mbps USO|
|Current UK Coverage Levels - VDSL2/FTTP/Cable|
LR-VDSL deployed on existing live cabinets on exchanges where IPStream ADSL service available but no ADSL2+ at all.
LR-VDSL deployed on existing live and where we believe cabinet is planned and IPStream ADSL service available but no ADSL2+ at all.
LR-VDSL deployed on existing live and where we believe cabinet is planned and IPStream ADSL and WBC ADSL2+ service available but no LLU.
LR-VDSL deployed on all existing live cabinets and no ADSL or ADSL2+ at all from these cabinets.
NO LR-VDSL deployed but those VDSL2 cabinets we believe are in existing plans are considered to be live.
LR-VDSL deployed on cabinets irrespective whether live or in a plan or not. No changes assumed for Exchange only lines (i.e. still using ADSL or ADSL2+).
Scenario 5 may have some shouting that it shows that 95% superfast by the end of 2017 is impossible, but as we don't have magic visibility of all the plans there is going to be more cabinets enabled than our scenario used, plus we are seeing areas like Wales rolling out FTTP at a decent rate, such that Wales may surpass England for availability of GEA-FTTP very soon. Add to this the expansion of other operators such as Virgin Media, Hyperoptic, Gigaclear to name just three and it will all add up - hopefully.
The simplistic lesson from the scenarios seems to be that ADSL and ADSL2+ services are holding back the UK now, i.e. the LLU decision of 2005 by Ofcom which lead to historically low prices may now be holding back technology that could improve things. The reason that the presence of ADSL2+ makes is a difference is that to avoid existing VDSL2 and future LR-VDSL services causing problems the full capabilities are limited to avoid slowing down ADSL/ADSL2+ users. This explains the staggered removal of ADSL/ADSL2+ services in the scenarios, and while no-one will shed a tear if IPStream is removed and users moved wholesale to GEA-FTTC once LR-VDSL can offer the long reach things are more problematic once you reach exchanges with LLU based operators who have a financial interest in providing very low priced services with hardware they've installed in the last decade.
For those looking to see where the UK might head scenario 6 is crucial as it shows what is possible even if you stick to a VDSL2/LR-VDSL roll-out, though admittedly we expect some of the cabinets to be so small in footprint that FTTP might be more cost effective or a simple network rearrangement to place the dozen properties on an existing cabinet. Modelling the network rearrangement scenario, and what might also happen to the 2% of exchange only lines currently left in the UK is possible, but manually evaluating around 13 to 15,000 cabinets would take some months or a large team of people to do it in a short period.
The scenarios were recorded for UK, England, Scotland, Wales and the English regions, but we have skipped reproducing 14 areas with multiple figures for now, but one side effect of the work was information on the spread of exchange only lines across the UK.
Areas ordered by descending size for overall number of premises
|Percentage of premises thought to be using Exchange Only lines as of 10th August 2016|
|East of England||0.9%|
|Yorkshire and Humberside||5.6%|
So the lesson to take away is that LR-VDSL can have a major impact in terms of meeting a Universal Service Obligation of 10 Mbps, but to push the number of non-USO lines down to under 1% we will need to be relying on a variety of options, including more FTTP, infill cabinets and maybe even fixed wireless (e.g. 4G LTE or WiMax). In a years time we will be in a much better position to evaluate things both because the roll-outs will be further down the road, but Ofcom and the Government may be a bit more firm in how a USO will be delivered and most importantly who will pay for it.
The recent Ofcom publication of responses to its USO consultation highlighted the range of views but whether its the public paying via a levy on broadband customers or centrally funded by general taxation we will end up paying one way or another. For the policy makers the big quandary is reaping the socio-economic impacts as fast as possible and for minimum outlay of public money, while also surviving any backlash against decisions made both from the public about roll-outs being slow and broadband firms looking after their own bottom line financially. One danger is that with the high profile FixBritainsInternet campaign is that both policy and implementation of any USO may get tied down by the decisions Ofcom is under pressure to make on the future of Openreach and delays for USO implementation will mean that satellite broadband providers can cash in as that is the fastest to deploy solution but probably the one least favoured by the public.