Broadband News

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)
% superfast
30 Mbps or faster
% Ultrafast% Openreach FTTP% Under 2 Mbps
USC
% Under 10 Mbps
USO
Combined Area 94% 87.2% 86.1% 27.9% 0.99% 1.7% 6.6%
981,988 Premises 922,649 856,164 845,463 274,391 9,674 16,633 64,420
CDS Phase I Delivery 99.9% 85% 82.9% 5.4% 2.65% 3.8% 8.7%
342,615 Premises 342,281 291,253 283,916 18,771 9,100 13,007 29,682
Devon 92.4% 82.5% 81.2% 19.9% 1.67% 3% 10%
363,973 Premises 336,311 300,277 295,546 72,430 6078 10,919 36,397
Torbay 95.4% 94.3% 93.7% 47.8% 0% 0% 0.9%
65,433 Premises 62,423 61,703 61,310 31,277 0 31 589
Plymouth 98.4% 98.2% 98.1% 91.4% 0.2% 0 0.7%
119,555 Premises 117,642 117,403 117,283 109,273 245 46 837
Somerset 93.8% 85.1% 83.7% 5.5% 0.92% 1.9% 8%
253,490 Premises 237,773 215,720 212,171 13,941 2,332 4,816 20,279
North Somerset 94.4% 89.9% 88.6% 21.1% 0.37% 0.5% 3.2%
97,605 Premises 92,139 87,649 86,478 20,594 359 488 3,123
Bath and North East Somerset 93.2% 89.6 88.7% 32.8% 0.81% 0.5% 3.9%
81,932 Premises 76,360 73,411 72,673 26,873 664 410 3,195

Comments

According to the CDS website they haven't awarded Lot 1 yet. It has also gone very quiet on the Gigaclear front although in a recent interview Gigaclear they were having to replan due to a change in scope. I think CDS is going to continue to be anything but transparent as Phase 2 progresses. Interesting to see who they blame this time for the lack of transparency.

  • Jerrym1
  • about 1 year ago

@Jerrym1
I presume these delays mean that the target completion dates are likely to be missed? Which is awkward as a key reason CDS went to tender in the first place was to secure faster delivery vs the offer made by BT.

  • New_Londoner
  • about 1 year ago

Have updated as yes looks like lot 1 is not awarded yet, for colour blind me the orange and green were so similar I just saw all orange.

Also memory recalled the council notes from Dec 2016 where talk had been of 5 of the 6 areas being decided, it seems that while Airband may have been the preferred Lot 4 candidate back then that everything had not been finalised.

  • andrew
  • thinkbroadband staff
  • about 1 year ago

Andrew. Para 6 says "we will be ticking yes for over 24 Mbps, but no to the 30 Mbps and faster box unless. "

Unless what? Faster tests or faster products or something else.

  • jumpmum
  • about 1 year ago

Sentence will make more sense now, distractions when writing stuff is never good.

  • andrew
  • thinkbroadband staff
  • about 1 year ago

@New_Londoner. Yes it will be interesting to see impact on dates. It is c.2 years since they failed to agree the Phase 2 contract with BT and they still haven't awarded all the contracts yet although to be far I think lot 1 is subject to legal challenge.
As far as I can tell they haven't started any physical implementation yet. They still seem to be in planning phase. An update on rollout plans from Gigaclear is due by the end of the month and it will be interesting to see if this appears or the date slips. I have my fingers crossed that my home remains in the Gigaclear plans.

  • Jerrym1
  • about 1 year ago

@andrew given that the existing Aitband contract was underperforming I assume they couldn't be seen to award them another bigger contract until the existing problems were resolved.

  • Jerrym1
  • about 1 year ago

Underperforming? Impossible they talk of 500 Mbps and 1 Gbps options on site.

  • andrew
  • thinkbroadband staff
  • about 1 year ago

@Andrew
I'm surprised Airband is able to do this, surely it must be hemorrhaging cash on the two projects on the moors? Aren't these costly to build and have few paying customers to generate any revenue? I can see cashflow being a real challenge.

  • New_Londoner
  • about 1 year ago

Have no access to their financials so impossible to comment, but the SA postcode area currently has lots more customers.

  • andrew
  • thinkbroadband staff
  • about 1 year ago

New_ LOndoner what is stopping the conversion of the £446m Capital Deferral into a coverage plan? We can see £130m being applied slowly, but what of the rest? How does this get applied.
There is nothing specifically written down or accessible from BDUK or EU stating why that Capital Deferral cannot be applied to increasing coverage.
Is it being ignored to allow some appearance of competition where no competition existed before? Spread across the remaining 1.5m rural, it could contribute hugely to original FTTP in-fill goal. How stuck is it?

  • ValueforMoney
  • about 1 year ago

Is Capital Deferral the £446m that is in the claw-back/gainshire pot or an additional £446m?

Numerous projects have announced what they are doing with the claw-back, and BT cannot unilaterally just reuse that money, it has to reach agreement with the local authority, who might not want expansion to continue and get the money back at the end of the contract term.

  • andrew
  • thinkbroadband staff
  • about 1 year ago

The £446m is formally recorded as a Capital Deferral in the accounts. Gainshare is like a PR name. Only £130m of the these funds have been made available for phase 3+ projects, the rest appears to be tied down, hence my question.

If there was more transparency you may find that some of the Deferred Capital includes some element of capital owed - unpaid gap funding.

There is an underlying objective and duty to make the funds go as far as possible. It would be embarrassing to return central gov funding with a new rural divide.

  • ValueforMoney
  • about 1 year ago

Andrew THis idea of it always being the LA decision is also odd. I think Phase 1 was £1.2bn for 4.1m premises or £292 subsidy per premise. The underlying Phase 1 cabinet cost of £26k (BT evidence) before BT's contribution and serving 200 premises is £130 per premise passed. The talk of incremental cost is weak, as by expanding the total premises, and mixing the difficult with the easy the average is still below the budget.
CDS decision making looks odd, as the position of BT capital contribution was never made clear. CDS once 'anticipated' BT's capital but could not confirm it publicly.

  • ValueforMoney
  • about 1 year ago

So your figures are no more than continued lobbying over what is happening with the money at:

https://www.thinkbroadband.com/news/7596-more-superfast-broadband-funding-unlocked-to-improve-uk-broadband-landscape

'Strong take-up and robust value-for-money measures mean £440 million will be available for reinvestment where it matters – putting more connections in the ground.'

Only seems to be @ValueForMoney calling for someone to show the suitcase of used £50 notes.

  • andrew
  • thinkbroadband staff
  • about 1 year ago

Andrew Transforming the network as opposed to sitting on the cash was the plan.

  • ValueforMoney
  • about 1 year ago

And it is happening, working with local government has a certain pace to it.

As very much illustrated by the time CDS has taken to make the phase II contract announcements.

Am sure roll-outs could also be done faster too, but that means more resources in a shorter timeframe, so might be more costly, or you end up using contractors that may not be sitting around idle anyway.

  • andrew
  • thinkbroadband staff
  • about 1 year ago

Andrew - £40m a quarter, compared to the accrual owed is rather small.
thank you for including the premise count! Is it convenient to report what BT claim they have done commercially in the CDS area? Are you claiming BT has passed c580k premises commercially?

  • ValueforMoney
  • about 1 year ago

@Jerrym1 - My home, too, is in the Gigaclear plans at present, so I'm remaining hopeful like you. But:
a) I'm about 1Km down a private lane (although a public road does come closer, but the route then crosses private land anyway)
b) Other (random) properties around are allegedly covered by commercial roll-out. Which makes me rather suspicious of the accuracy of the mapping down to property level.
(Current sync is 2.2 - 3 Mbps, there's a single VDSL cab 3Km away in the village)

  • mpellatt
  • about 1 year ago

"Are you claiming BT has passed c580k premises commercially?"

The numbers are there you make your own conclusions, if I wanted to make an editorial claim I would.

  • andrew
  • thinkbroadband staff
  • about 1 year ago

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