Following the broadband money

How BT can give 99% of UK homes >30Mbps broadband, real cheap

with 10 comments

Market consultancy Analysys Masons (AM) has done some theoretical thumbsucking and concluded that by doubling the network frequency (planned for 2012) and applying novel VDSL acceleration technologies such as vectoring, bonding and phantom lines, BT will be able, theoretically mind, to provide a 30Mbps broadband service over existing copper lines to 99% of homes in the UK.

Bloody marvellous, what!

AM was at pains to say that these technologies are in use or planned in the United States (AT&T’s U-verse), in Netherlands (KPN) and even Pakistan (PTCL), because they allow incumbent telcos to compete on sheer speed using their existing copper access networks against fibre and cable companies, and in some cases beat them for coverage.

Of course, there are caveats (see here for attenuation issues). Fibre to the cabinet, the most expensive part, has to be pretty well ubiquitous. The line length from the cabinet to the premises must be under two kilometres. The copper in the lines should be good quality. The homes should have at least two pairs of wires that could be bonded. The telephone pole to the cluster of homes it serves should be not be multiplexing services ie 12 homes each with two pair cables should have a 48-wire cable on the pole.

AM says it’s a secret how many homes have just a single copper pair. Br0kenTeleph0n3 understands that many, if not most, premises actually have four pairs, something AM doesn’t dispute hotly. And 99% of homes are within two kilometres of a street cabinet, it says.

Slam dunk, game over, right?

Well, no. There’s a problem with quantifying demand, which goes to the commercial or business case.

OK, so what’s the cost of just building it and hoping they will come? Remember this is only for the one-third of the country that BT says it requires taxpayers’ money to make it worthwhile. AM reckons the extra costs represents about 15% of monthly revenues from those subscribers.

So would BDUK’s £830m cover it?

AM’s answer to that is not clear and explicit. That’s because I asked if that money was applied mostly to put in fibre to the cabinets rather than upgrade the “last mile”, might it not contravene European Union rules on state aid?

Apparently this was getting into an area where conflicts of interest might apply, and the interview ended. Abrup…



Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2012/02/02 at 21:50

10 Responses

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  1. An awful lot of homes in rural areas are on DACS, which mean two homes share a copper pair so bonding wouldn’t work unless BT ran more copper. A lot are more than 2km from exchange. A few are still on aluminium lines.

    Of cours if the ‘powers that be’ believe what they are saying and give them the funding to patch up this old copper network, by the time they realise they have been had it will be too late.

    The job will be to do all over again, instead of getting somebody to do it right NOW.

    We need fibre. Men of fibre. And not these short sighted ‘consultants’ propping up the copper cabal.

    Cities ‘may’ be ok, cos virgin will sort them. The rest of us are throttled and capped and fighting over scraps. For this country to prosper in a digital world we need abundance, and that can only come if this fearful monopoly is broken.

    The way to do it is to build rural fibre rings round all the cities, start at the hardest to reach places and work inwards. That will make the established networks up their game, or be taken out. Competition is good. Unfair subsidised competition propping up a victorian phone network and calling it progress to get a few extra meg when the world is moving on to gigabits is bad.

  2. cd – throttling and capping has absolutely nothing to do with copper delivery. This has been explained many times to you, but you choose to ignore it.

    Broadband with FTTC does not use a ‘victorian phone’ network, when was the technology developed?

    ‘Rural fibre networks round cities’ means nothing when you come to do the real network design. Where will the funding come from? Not helped by ADSL2+ giving many a speed they will buy. I seem to remember someone asking what the applications beyond HD TV were that needed high speeds and no one replied. So what will have to be done again?

    Alternatively the £30b for HS2 could be used elsewhere…


    2012/02/02 at 23:44

  3. A good article Ian thanks for posting. I think it would be safe to say that this approach would be appropriate for the urban areas and push them on for the next few years at least as the distances are short and the chances of having multiple pairs greater. As for rurals I can’t see this being a solution for the opposite reasons. @cyberdoyle mentions shared lines and aluminium cable so that’s a problem for starters.

    @somerset while the technology is not Victorian, I agree with you there, parts of the networks used are, or at best they are quite old. No matter what clever tech you throw at the copper there’s a limit as to what can be got from it. Physics dictates that.

    Now your point on spending the £30b set for HS2 more wisely. I agree there……

    Martyn Dews

    2012/02/03 at 07:41

  4. and now…

    BT holds successful trial of “FTTP on demand” and sets timeframe for doubling of FTTC broadband speeds


    2012/02/03 at 09:31

    • That’s great news. Finally coming round to the thinking that 100% fibre is the future. Estimated £80 per month though. Ouch!

      Martyn Dews

      2012/02/03 at 09:33

  5. I do hope that AM, who are advising the odd LA on solving the ‘rural issues’ are not going to push this ‘dream stuff’ there. BT claim “3/4 of the population” can benefit. – Hmm! Deja Vue here. I wonder where the other 1/4 will be?

    It appears to be FANTASTIC if you are with in 300m of a cabinet, have good quality COPPER local loop stuff and a few spare lines to your house. Oh well, that’s Rural UK out of it.

    Time to stop fiddling while Rome burns, stop ‘boosting’ urban speeds, and get on with a solution that actually serves those who live outside conurbations.. Is this going to – no. I cannot see what all the excitement is about – line pairing is by no means new. The frequency, yes. Now, will someone properly address the ‘digital divide’?

    Mike Phillips

    2012/02/03 at 12:51

  6. If you ask someone for a Bonded line now, they are too expensive for a Residential Subscriber – whose to say there are enough “spare pairs” in every cable – GPO Telephones weren’t in the habit for providing 2 pairs to the house, unlike in the USA, where it was standard.

    Mel Bryan

    2012/02/04 at 10:39

  7. I live in rural Kent – about 4km from the exchange and 3km from a cabinet. I still don’t understand how statistics like 99% work when those of us are over 1km from a cabinet will probably get worse broadband using VDSL / FTTC.

    Time to do some serious calculations on how big a problem this really is…. i.e. How many households are >1km from a BT cabinet (or BT exhange that has no cabinets)? I suspect this number is a lot more than 10%….. In my Parish it is more like 40%!

    Nothing like lies, damned lies and statistics to make this whole BDUK exercise near-meaningless for folk like me.


    2012/03/04 at 00:02

  8. Most properties have a two pair drop wire or underground cable, in my experience. I would go so far as to say the vast majority. Provides for a second line (used to be common with dialup) or for an easy spare in case of a fault.

    Once you get to the pole things may be less rosy.

    A project in Lithuania got State Aid approval for laying backhaul in the styl eof the fabled “village pump”, leaving the first/final mile to commercial or social operators.


    2012/03/04 at 10:38

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