Confusion for public as Scotland celebrates 800,000 premises figure
The BDUK roll-outs in Scotland is split into two distinct areas Highlands and Islands (HIE) and the Rest of Scotland and the split is geography based with the HIE area being a larger land mass but with a lot more smaller number of premises.
The last few days has seen the announcement of 800,000 premises being passed and celebrated by the Scottish Government on a path to 95%, but as we found back in February when the previous 700,000 milestone was reached there is confusion about what the 800,000 represents.
Press exposure for this milestone is important as positive coverage will encourage more people to go out and check what is available and maybe discover they can order a better broadband service, and particularly for those in smaller exchanges that have to date only offered an up to 7 Mbps ADSL service (IPStream Max) we would recommend upgrading to VDSL2 even if the speed estimates do not offer a significant improvement - the reasons being that VDSL2 is using a new backhaul network scaled to handle lots of video streaming and the IP Profile and DLM systems are much better on VDSL2 compared to ADSL.
The problems we have seen is that some outlines are headlining with words like superfast and even calling the 95% target a 95% superfast one, back in February we were told that the 95% target was 'anything fibre based' but given we believe Scotland has hit that figure now (see our Oct 7th round-up) and some of the more recent wording from politicans in Scotland it may be they are using a high speed broadband definition which is generally taken to mean access to a 15 Mbps or faster option. To hit a 95% or higher target another 1% of additional coverage at that speed is needed and the projections suggest this is likely by the end December 2017.
We have looked at the progress in terms of premises and it does look like an additional 100,000 have been added since February 2017, but are not publishing the full table of figures because of the complexity around the overlaps from the Virgin Media roll-outs, for example in areas where the Rest of Scotland project has delivered VDSL2 cabinets since May 2016 we saw Virgin Media roll-out to around 50,000 premises. If you look at the roll-out chart for North Ayrshire the cable footprint has gone from 1% to 19.5% since January 2016 which is some 13,000 premises in one local authority are alone. Deciphering which came first and exactly who paid what and whether better value for money was possible by skipping a cabinet that overlapped with some pre-existing Virgin Media footprint would not be a cheap exercise to do since it would require a lot of time to figure out and access to invoice paperwork that is not in the public domain.
A second key part to the celebrations is that Scotland has the fastest pace of roll-out and this looks to be the case especially in the Highlands and Islands but we would have urged some caution in how this has been worded, since it is not uncommon when delivering services (not just broadband) for those who have lagged behind that once they start playing catch-up that the pace of change will look impressive.
You might think we are creating trouble where it does not exist, but just read the following quote from the award winning Holyrood current affairs publication.
More than 800,000 premises in Scotland can now access superfast broadband, the Scottish Government has announced.
The Scottish Government says it is on target to meet its commitment to 95 per cent of homes and businesses in Scotland having access to superfast broadband by the end of 2017, after 34,000 more connections were made in the last six months.
The £428m Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband scheme is delivering two projects – one led by the Scottish Government and the other by Highlands and Islands Enterprise – to ensure that areas of Scotland that would not have received high-speed broadband through commercial rollout have the option of better connectivity.Opening paragraphs from Holyrood.com on 800k broadband news
There are so many mistakes, Scotland as a whole is almost at 2.4 million premises with a superfast broadband option, the 800,000 being those where public money has been used and as we've discussed earlier the 800,000 is not 800,000 superfast but a different measurement metric. For those who have reached for the calculator and come up with a £535 intervention cost per premise, do remember that with the subsea fibre cables needed in Scotland and the extra work involved in converting exchange only lines to cabinet based or in some cases full fibre the costs will not be uniform at all.
Once the 95% high speed internet coverage is met things do not end, there is obviously still lots more to do and with Scotland working towards its R100 goal the question will be around how deep will they go with fixed line services and as with other projects across the UK how much full fibre is going to be deployed in the final days of the phase I roll-out and any subsequent work under gainshare arrangements.