Broadband News

Report with recommendations for Digital Infrastructure in Wales published

Back in January 2017 we attended the Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee in Cardiff to give evidence on the state of broadband coverage across Wales and answer various questions the committee posed. Now in September the final report has been published and includes some 12 recommendations.

This news article is a little long, so we'd like to make one recommendation in public to the Welsh Government: There is no doubt that if future proofing broadband for those in the 8.5% who cannot get superfast broadband today is at all important that full fibre (FTTP) solutions should be delivered. Several areas of Wales now have such large amounts of FTTP that the benefits should be measureable in terms of connection reliability and benefits this brings to business and home workers particularly.

We raised concerns over confusion about what the Superfast Cymru project was delivering and unfortunately this confusion still exists in the report, in short the confusion over what the 96% target is Wales actually is continues. For those that don't know, the target is usually referred to as 96% fibre based broadband coverage across Wales, which would thus include VDSL2 lines at lengths where speeds of only 1 to 2 Mbps (or even less) were possible and this woolly definition may explain some of the public anger. We said that references to the final 4% back in January were misleading but still there is talk of connecting the final 4% across Wales when if the goal is to deliver superfast there is still more than 4% that needs delivering.

As the topic of where Wales is in terms of roll-out is so important we have included our usual analysis table with a few changes to the columns, and at 95.9% fibre based coverage Wales is actually only 1,600 premises away from meeting the fibre based target on our tracking. If the 96% target is a stricter one, e.g. only lines with speeds of 10 Mbps or faster are available then they are just 0.5% shy of the goal (another 6,700 premises). With a goal stated a couple of years ago of delivering 80,000 premises of native GEA-FTTP across Wales and lots of FTTP areas showing as in build both of these targets look achievable and before December 2017. The end of 2017 is important as any grace period for delays in the build ends and penalty clauses are believed to kick in for BT, so we can expect an all hands on deck invasion of Wales by Openreach in the next couple of months.

Of course no-one can be 100% accurate on such large and dynamic datasets, so if Welsh politicians want to say the 96% target has been reached it is so close that we will not fight that - the issues we have is that the superfast coverage levels are still down at 91.5% and the majority of the public when they hear 96% target reached for SuperfastCyrmu project will immediately think that this is incorrectly 96% coverage at superfast speeds, and we include journalists in this, as all too often once press releases are re-hashed for publication the wrong labels are used.

If you want to read our summary of the recommendations from the report, scroll past the coverage table.

thinkbroadband analysis of Superfast, USC, USO and Fibre Broadband Coverage across the Wales and delivery via the BDUK project.
data 20th September 2017
Area% fibre based
VDSL2 or
FTTP or
Cable
% Openreach VDSL2/FTTP% superfast
30 Mbps or faster
% Ultrafast
100 Mbps or faster

% Full Fibre
(Openreach FTTP)

% Under 2 Mbps download% Under 10 Mbps download
Wales 95.9% 94.1% 91.5% 32.6%

3.01%

(2.79%)

1% 4.5%

Total Premises

1,323,059

1,268.494 1,245,351 1,210,532 431,079

39,874

(36,921)

12,586 59,171
BDUK Project
Excludes FTTP (*)
99% 98.6% 90.8% 6.7% 0% 2% 4.3%
Wales in January 2013 45.4% 45.4% 44.1% 28.7% 0.25% 6% 22.5%
Abertawe - Swansea 98.4% 93.9% 97.1% 72.8%

1.91%

(1.91%)

0.1% 1%
Blaenau Gwent 99.9% 99.9% 98.3% 1.1%

1.05%

(1.05%)

0.2% 0.4%
Bro Morgannwg - the Vale of Glamorgan 96.7% 95.6% 93.7% 52.4%

2.07%

(2.07%)

0.6% 3.2%
Caerdydd - Cardiff 99% 94.2% 98.2% 79.7%

2%

(0.08%)

0% 0.3%
Caerffili - Caerphilly 99% 99% 96.1% 0.3%

0.25%

(0.25%)

0.1% 0.8%
Casnewydd - Newport 97.4% 90.2% 96.1% 68.5%

1.49%

(1.49%)

0.1% 1.3%
Castell-nedd Port Talbot - Neath Port Talbot 98.6% 96.7% 96% 60.7%

1.42%

(1.42%)

0.5% 1%
Conwy 95.1% 95.1% 90.5% 1.8%

1.76%

(1.76%)

1.2% 5.6%
Gwynedd 93% 63% 82.9% 11.4%

11.36%

(11.36%)

1.9% 9.8%
Merthyr Tudful - Merthyr Tydfil 99.5% 99.5% 96.9% 3.1%

3.07%

(3.07%)

0.3% 0.6%
Pen-y-bont ar Ogwr - Bridgend 97.3% 97.3% 95.5% 0.8%

0.80%

(0.80%)

0.2% 1%
Powys 84.5% 84.5% 71.3% 12%

11.96%

(11.96%)

4.2% 19%
Rhondda Cynon Taf 99.2% 98.3% 96.8% 9.1%

0.50%

(0.50%)

0.1% 0.7%
Sir Benfro - Pembrokeshire 92.5% 92.5% 82.5% 3.6%

3.46%

(3.46%)

2.7% 10.7%
Sir Ceredigion - Ceredigion 78.6% 78.6% 64.4% 7%

6.97%

(6.97%)

4.6% 25%
Sir Ddinbych - Denbighshire 86.9% 86.9% 82.8% 1.3%

1.30%

(1.30%)

0.7% 10.4%
Sir Fynwy - Monmouthshire 95.7% 95.7% 84.3% 4.5%

4.54%

(4.54%)

3.4% 9.5%
Sir Gaerfyrddin - Carmarthenshire 91.1% 91.1% 81.2% 4%

3.98%

(3.98%)

2.8% 11.4%
Sir y Fflint - Flintshire 95.8% 95.8% 91.1% 5.9%

5.84%

(5.84%)

0.4% 3.9%
Sir Ynys Mon - Isle of Anglesey 93.5% 93.5% 84.6% 11.8%

11.81%

(11.81%)

1.6% 9%
Tor-faen - Torfaen 97.9% 97.7% 95.9% 30.2%

2.05%

(2.05%)

0.2% 1%
Wrecsam - Wrexham 95.8% 95.8% 90.7% 3%

3.01%

(3.01%)

0.7% 3.8%

(*) In Wales the vast majority of Openreach GEA-FTTP is via the BDUK project, but indentifying new build estate commercial FTTP versus the BDUK areas is too time consuming to resolve, so we have included the BDUK footprint excluding FTTP. The full fibre column features two figures and any other coverage reports from now on will follow the same pattern, the first figure is full fibre irrespective of who the operator is and the figure in brackets is the contribution from Openreach, this change will hopefully highlight the contribution from operators such as Hyperoptic in Cardiff.

  1. Problems with communication have hampered the project and any future contract should include a communication performance target.
  2. A grant or equity scheme should be established to help small operators fill in the gaps in the network. Public ownership or partnerships should also be explored.
  3. Future schemes should build on the success of the Access Broadband Cymru and Ultrafast Connectivity Voucher schemes.
  4. It is vital that the hardest to reach communities and individuals are now engaged in the process to ensure that potential solutions can be tailored to their needs. Connecting the final 4% is will (typo in report)be more expensive and it is vital that communities buy in to to the solutions being proposed.
  5. As assessment of future needs is needed to inform the next stages. Connectivity needs to be suitable for now and the future.
  6. Welsh Government should consider making future public subsidy conditional on supporting government policy to improve digital infrastructure and to ensure that it meets the needs of consumers in the future.
  7. The planning regime should be reformed to support investment in digital connectivity.
  8. Welsh Government does not have the powers to force mobile operators to share infrastructure, but should encourage this.
  9. Work with Ofcom and Mobile Network Operators to offer non-domestic rates relief on new mobile masts in non-commercial areas.
  10. Work more closely with stakeholders over forthcoming Mobile Action Plan
  11. Ofcom needs to use all its regulatory powers to ensure its 100% geographic coverage target is met.
  12. Welsh Government and planning authorities should a toolkit to make acecss to grant and and community funding for those that want to enhance mobile connectivity in their area.

For those living in Wales who have checked their postcode on the Openreach site we estimate that something like 20,000 to 40,000 premises are pencilled in for FTTP to be delivered by end of December 2017, and as such this will tip the project past its original goals.

The real question now is what will Wales actually do in terms of additional contracts and how will the gainshare be used, £56m which has been announced as available to extend coverage, this could deliver 30,000 to 40,000 premises of full fibre coverage that is thus fully future proofed. Voucher schemes while appealing and a good way of dealing with those in most need who find out about the scheme but carry the risk of explotation in the form of prices rising to maximise income for operators from the vouchers, the bigger issue is that vouchers tend to pass much of the public with out them noticing simply because for most people their family and job occupy most of their time rather than chasing better broadband - yes poor and slow broadband is a real pain but other aspects of life often mean the majority only learn about better broadband options when its pointed out to them individually. This is actually a major problem with FTTP roll-outs where the choice of provider is limited, both for the Openreach and other alternate operators - this issue does vanish once you reach the community led efforts of B4RN and its clones since community spirit takes over.

Update 22nd September Apologies to the those in Ceredigion when transposing the figures into the table for the coverage round up across Wales we missed the area, this has now been remedied.

Comments

“majority of the public when they here”. Hear.

  • Diggory
  • 2 months ago

Thanks - fixed that one

  • andrew
  • thinkbroadband staff
  • 2 months ago

Surely the priority for the gainshare spend should be the 12,586 premises with under 2mb download ? The money could be spent moving households from 8mb to 25mb, but that will not fundamentally change what those households can do with their connection. They will be able to stream 4k instead of HD - whereas moving from 2mb to 10mb opens up a whole world of new capabilities. As one of those households (1mb download) it is frustrating to hear of spend going to people who already have far better broadband. We're not even in the middle of nowhere.

  • NarrowbandGrump
  • 2 months ago

We're 5k from the exchange, but in a group of around 30 households. The trouble with the current (and future) voucher schemes is that there is no-one for me to give the money to. The only voucher options available in my area are satellite, and that is not a viable solution in my opinion. Voucher schemes don't work if there is market failure, an no providers to spend the voucher with.

  • NarrowbandGrump
  • 2 months ago

The priority - down to the politicians and how much freedom they give providers to deliver...with value for money being a MASSIVE driver when using public money, if it costs £6,000 to give 1 property an uplift from sub 1 Mbps to 10 Mbps is that better value than spending the same £6,000 to take 8 properties from 4 Mbps to 30 Mbps and faster?

For the individual concerned its a very different equation, but choices of how to spend money need to be made and priorities set. Problem may be that it might extend the contract negotiation period.

  • andrew
  • thinkbroadband staff
  • 2 months ago

Agree that there has to be a cost/benefit consideration in allocating spend and deciding priorities. What appears to be missing is a realisation from the politicians that the benefit side of that equation is variable depending on current and post-intervention speed. I would contend that going from 1mb to 8mb should be given a higher benefit consideration that going from 5mb to 10mb for example. The BDUK approach appears to just be that each property helped counts as "1", regardless of the change in capability that would be delivered.

  • NarrowbandGrump
  • 2 months ago

@NBG
It isn't an either/or decision.

From the perspective of putting in an FTTC cabinet, the outcome results in a broad improvement across the board - you can be helping both those getting 8Mb at the same time as helping those on 2Mb, all with the same cabinet.

  • WWWombat
  • 2 months ago

Or as is happening in a number of places across Wales (but not all) those who did not benefit from the cabinet and are still at the slow end are seeing FTTP rolled out to them. So there are cabinets where you have...

Superfast inside ~1km, 23 to 10 Mbps zone and then a 330 Mbps zone of FTTP

Because its not happened to everyone, does not mean this is not happening for some. Why home A instead of home B - a good question

  • andrew
  • thinkbroadband staff
  • 2 months ago

Any stats for Sir Ceredigion please as they seem to have been left off your table?

  • Enrico21
  • 2 months ago

Oops, now all 22 areas are in the table...glad someone spotted. There is advantage these days it bounces a news item to the top of the pile, meaning any corrections are obvious rather than buried after a few days.

  • andrew
  • thinkbroadband staff
  • 2 months ago

Andrew, thanks for adding Ceredigion's stats which currently shows it in last place at 78.6% fibre-based coverage. Is it likely to get into the 90%+ range given the amount of infrastructure in build (now mostly FTTP) that needs to be completed by end of December 2017? As you have said, it will need ‘an all hands-on deck’ invasion of Wales by Openreach in the next couple of months’ to improve coverage. The poor weather during the early Winter months will also be a major factor.

  • Enrico21
  • 2 months ago

No idea with the 20,000 to 30,000 more FTTP is concentrated in Ceredigion or not. To reach 90% superfast another 10,000 or so premises needed in the area.

So looks unlikely, 90% fibre based i.e. including VDSL2 at any old speed needs a lot less in the 4,000 to 5,000 region and adding that much FTTP would more than double the current footprint.

  • andrew
  • thinkbroadband staff
  • 2 months ago

I’m in Flintshire. Sub 1Meg. Have had FTTP infrastructure (green boxes and coiled cable) on the poles around my house for 3+ years, yet the ‘when and where’ checker has had a moving target of dates all that time – has varied between 3 and 6 months.

BT have obviously been paid for that part, but there's no incentive to actually finish the job.

This is what un-accountable politicians and a defacto monopoly telecoms provider get you.

  • FibreSpud
  • 2 months ago

Ive read on here they don't get paid until the work is completed, sure someone will correct me if I am wrong

  • jonny4288
  • 2 months ago

They can only invoice if people can order it, so in areas where the network is part built they should not have been paid. It is usually the bits that are simply physical that appear first, i.e. the resource limit is the number of teams that do fibre splicing/blowing.

As for monopoly seeing not dissimilar moans of roll-out speeds in Gigaclear and people waiting on Hyperoptic to name two.

  • andrew
  • thinkbroadband staff
  • 2 months ago

I am in Ceredigion and connected to a "new" infill fibre cabinet. According to the OR website they are doing the final checks and fibre should be available within a month ....... note that is what the OR website has been indicating for the past 7 months.

OR advise that they are waiting for a "live to live" transfer of fibre??? In reality it appears there is a problem with a blocked duct access preventing the fibre installation. Obviously OR need to concentrate their effort in other areas where they will produce greater customer penetration for less effort. Can't wait till Xmas and OR!

  • dvvrue95
  • about 1 month ago

The map in the consultation was the first and only time that I've seen a definitive plan of which premises are supposed to be connected and by a date. I'm still hoping they'll rollout the FTTP indicated by the end of the year. The overhead coiled bundles were finally attached to splice points and the postcodes between ours and the exchange connected in the summer - though none of the residents I've spoken to were aware it had gone live.

Not much time left to serve wayleave notice to 300m field owner that is happy for them to duct/access existing duct to reach our cluster of 15 premises.

  • danielmec
  • about 1 month ago

Although the BT staff surveying where the council intend to splash ~£10K of taxmoney moving an FTTC cab & PCP box (568 subscribers) thought arranging wayleaves was the easy part - contrary to the view of the Minister quoted in the press when finger pointing.

  • danielmec
  • about 1 month ago

@dvvrue95 The Live to Live migration for infill cabinets can be a major delay sometimes, as Openreach have to wait on responses from all the providers with customers on the previous cabinet who will be moved to the new one, and a date agreed for the move that is good them all.

Often if its a live to live issue you will find a small number who can actually order on the new cabinet, so if no-one at all in the cabinet footprint can order, it may be the final fibre or commissioning that needs doing.

  • andrew
  • thinkbroadband staff
  • about 1 month ago

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