Just waiting now on final piece of Connecting Devon and Somerset jigsaw
No-one expected BT to get any of the phase II contracts from the CDS BDUK project and previous lots in the phase II round had gone to Gigaclear and Airband, and the winner of the final lot number 4 which covers North Moor and bridges between Exmoor and Dartmoor has been won by Airband who will utilise fixed wireless broadband to bring superfast services to those premises that missed out in the phase I project.
Update 6pm Original item mentioned that lot 4 was the final piece, this was a mistake as Lot 1 which is the CDS Upper Area has not been awarded yet. Mistake arose from green and orange colours confusing the author and recall of previous info suggesting 5 of the 6 lots had been awarded.
The contract for Lot 4 is described as a £7 million investment deal and we do not know if this does or does not include the funding contribution from Airband, what we do know is that the contract covers some 13,000 premises spread over the area and that people in Exmoor with the up to 30 Mbps Airband service are posting actual speed test results of 30 Mbps down and 1.9 Mbps upload and when we look at the wider Airband footprint we can see faster tests suggesting that more speed via future upgrades is not just talk but is possible, though its probably some time before 1 Gbps over fixed wireless would become a standard product.
The CDS project has being one of complaints about none delivery by BT and broken promises, but a lot of this was due to poor use of language in the initial discussion phases and original announcements and it is dissapointing to see similar things appearing in the CDS press release now e.g. 'the future capacity to deliver ultrafast speeds up to 1Gbs' which applies just as well to FTTC and many other solutions. With no involvement of BT in these lots one would have hoped for a lot more transparent and plain press releases.
Fixed wireless can and does satisfy the various technical requirements for phase II BDUk work, but it is not perfect and when looking at the packages available in Exmoor (which we presume will be the same in lot 4) there is the caveat "The technology Airband uses requires the receiver on your house to be able to connect to one of our transmitters. Our mapping and desktop survey procedure is thorough and has a high accuracy, but it’s worth bearing in mind that for properties in really idyllic locations (i.e. tricky!) it might not be possible to connect your property in the first instance." and this means that until everyone has ordered and an installation attempted will people know for sure if its possible, now in many cases a short extension mast to raise the height of the transmitter can give it line of sight, but we have seen people in fairly flat Lincolnshire have installs fail due the height of surrounding trees. So while the distance limits of VDSL2 are gone, there are other issues and while full fibre solutions can mean more labour and cost to the most rural premises they avoid these distance/obstruction issues.
At the risk of upsetting some people, its time to say that based on the speed test results seen for Airband in the Exmoor and Dartmoor area when we do integrate the coverage later in 2017 we will be ticking yes for over 24 Mbps, but no to the 30 Mbps and faster box unless we see a faster product where users are regularly exceeding 30 Mbps. Tracking the success and independently assessing the premises that will or won't be covered is also much harder.
A big advantage of fixed wireless is the independence from the telephone line, and you can avoid paying voice line rental, but if you are in an area with patchy mobile coverage there is the issue around emergency calls to be considered and while VoIP over the fixed wireless networks can easily replace a fixed line, a business or remote home may want to consider keeping the fixed copper line for its reliability and ability to work during a power cut without any local backup UPS/power supply. Similar concerns applies to VDSL2, as while cabinets have battery backup for 6 to 8 hours after that you at the behest of Openreach bringing out new batteries, so for a business keeping an ADSL2+ line running to maintain basic email connectivity if mobile broadband is not an option is always worthwhile.
The current Airband packages range from £30/m for a 30 Mbps down with 2 Mbps upload and 80GB usage allowance to an unlimited superfast HomeWorker solution at £42/m with 30 Mbps down and 4 Mbps upload, there is a mid range package with 2 Mbps upload and unlimited at £38/m. Installation is £150 and the contract is 2 years and the two cheaper packages have a six months half price promotion people can take advantage off.
Comparing the pricing to the likes of BT Infinity 1 at around £47/m when no offers are in place the pricing looks attractive, but it is possible to enjoy much cheaper VDSL2 from the likes of TalkTalk and Plusnet which are around the same price or actually cheaper with offers. This does not matter of course if you cannot get VDSL2 at decent speeds, but price differentials in rural areas compared to urban ones have been a persistent complaint over the years and with VDSL2 set to get cheaper in 2018 residents may start asking questions over price.
We looked at the superfast coverage picture across the CDS area back in January, so an update is due as we have been seeing more FTTP and infill VDSL2 work from Openreach as the phase I project mops up. AirBand with its Exmoor and Dartmoor footprint does not feature in the figures.
|thinkbroadband analysis of Superfast Broadband Coverage for Connecting Devon and Somerset as of 21st June 2017|
|Area||% fibre based||% superfast|
Over 24 Mbps
(change since August 2013)
30 Mbps or faster
|% Ultrafast||% Openreach FTTP||% Under 2 Mbps|
|% Under 10 Mbps|
|CDS Phase I Delivery||99.9%||85%||82.9%||5.4%||2.65%||3.8%||8.7%|
|Bath and North East Somerset||93.2%||89.6||88.7%||32.8%||0.81%||0.5%||3.9%|