Following the broadband money

Has BT exaggerated the 15 million homes with SFBB access?

with 30 comments

Only 20% of the lines in Cambridgeshire’s new fibre to the cabinets (FTTC) cabinets will be enabled for superfast broadband (SFBB). If this is the case in the rest of BT’s FTTC roll-out, it suggests that BT’s claims that 15 million homes have access to SFBB are wide of the mark.

The revelation came at a feedback meeting to the Cambridgeshire Digital Champions on the county’s new contract with BT for next generation broadband.

According to notes taken by Mel Bryan at the meeting, Annette Thorpe, BT’s regional director for the east of England,  told the meeting that BT would apply the same criteria for populating DSLAM cabinets under the CCC (Cambridge County Council) contract as under the commercial areas. “DSLAM cabinets (which come in two sizes max. capacity 256 lines or 288 lines) will initially only have 20% of lines in the PCP offered SFBB,” Bryan wrote.

Almost two years ago Kevin McNulty, Openreach’s general manager for next generation access commercial partners, told Br0kenTeleph0n3 BT’s NGA financial plan was based on a breakeven period of 10 to 12 years and a 20% take-up.

Bryan reported Noelle Godfrey, programme director of Connecting Cambridgeshire (CC), said CCC expects 90% of premises will be covered by SFBB speeds above 24Mbps plus a further 8% of premises will be covered by “fibre” below 24Mbs. 2% will receive at least 2Mbps. Where this speed is measured is not defined.

Bryan wrote, “This figure of 98% SFBB is somewhat misleading – only 20% of 98% will initially be able to receive SFBB. As customers in the Commercial Areas have already discovered, they may have to wait months post the initial DSLAM installation before BT adds more equipment in the DSLAM cabinet to accommodate the increased demand.”

Bryan wrote, “There are no plans to offer FTTP under the CCC contract but after heated representations from the floor who were prepared to pin their money on Annette there and then, BT /CCC agreed to look at this.”

Thorpe told the meeting the BDUK’s £6.7m contribution to Cambridgeshire had to be spent “within the life time of the current parliament” which ends on 17 May, 2015. This gives BT an installation period of just over two years.

“What happens if a general election is called earlier?” Bryan asks. “What happens post-2015 if a village DSLAM cabinet (capacity 256 lines) becomes full and another DSLAM cabinet is required? Will BT deem that commercially viable?  In my village we only have one PCP serving 315 premises.”

According to Bryan, Tony Smith, BT Openreach programme manager, told the meeting “it was very difficult, at this stage, to forecast time-scales and even when BT had done their detailed planning down to the exchange level, they cannot forecast how long an installation of the fibre cables and DSLAM cabinets will take, due to the unknown condition of their ducts, planning permission in conservation areas (which most of our villages have), obtaining power supplies, permission to dig up roads and pavements, etc., etc., etc. ”

The meeting heard that 20 suppliers had registered an interest in the county’s project. Only three were chosen for “dialogue” after which BT was chosen “for offering the widest coverage and best value”.

The names of the other suppliers were not disclosed, nor was the methodology by which value was measured.

More details of the project plan are expected in May.

Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2013/04/20 at 13:42

30 Responses

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  1. Revelation? More likely that a 128 port cabinet can be equipped with 4 32 port cards. As these are the expensive bit then only one is installed at Day 1. More will be installed as demand increases.

    So FTTC is available to 100% served by the cabinet and the 15M figure is correct.

    Clearly Bryan does understand the engineering.

    Panic over.


    2013/04/20 at 14:18

    • Or, if the FTTC cabinet becomes full then BT install another one as seen in some places.


      2013/04/20 at 14:30

    • ‘capacity 256 lines or 288 lines’ What about the Huawei128 cabinet?


      2013/04/22 at 16:40

  2. The good thing from BT and the LA’s point of view, and the unfortunate thing for the taxpayers is that we will never know the true answer to your question, Ian, as it will be hidden under the NDA smokescreen. I ‘cannot be given’ the figures BT have supplied to my LA for my own postcode and sure as Murphys are Murphys, I will also not have access to the resulting figures after the contract is (inevitably?) completed by BT. So, how does one begin to judge ‘value for money’ which is one of the criteria in the BDUK scheme?

    Smoke and mirrors?

    mike phillips

    2013/04/20 at 15:04

    • Nothing to stop the unsuccessful suppliers revealing who they are and what they proposed.


      2013/04/20 at 16:16

    • In any case, it might be that this is all irrelevant – judging by Maria Miller’s comments (The Register it looks perhaps that HMG are really getting cold feet and now the game is to play down ‘HSB’ and the glorious ‘90% at 24mb+ by 2015’ and then when everyone is actually only expecting 2mb+, anything better will look good – come the election. I just did not realise that the actual ‘target’ was to get everyone at 2mb+ – silly me.

      “Miller’s department now talks of a “transformation in broadband in the UK by 2015”.
      It added:
      “Part of the our ambition to have the best superfast broadband network in Europe by 2015, is to ensure that rural, as well as urban areas, are provided with good online access with a minimum of 2Mbps.”

      mike phillips

      2013/04/22 at 21:29

      • So ‘good’ = 2M.


        2013/04/22 at 21:35

  3. How quickly THIS TIME the truth is being revealed! However, so many people still think the Emperor is fully clad. For those of us who have watched this scenario pan out previously, it is again excruciatingly painful to watch scarce tax payer’s money be poured liberally down the drain that is BT.


    2013/04/20 at 16:09

    • Understand the statement that capacity is provided for expected demand. There would be complaints here?) if money was spend on FTTC cabinet capacity for the every line in an area from the beginning.


      2013/04/20 at 16:14

      • Somerset – I have been trying to get a definition of ‘Homes Passed’ for over a year now – Ofcom do not appear to know either. What do YOU think it means?


        Let’s try a few:

        1) I am connected to an exchange that has VDSL enabled.

        2) I am connected to a PCT that has a co-located and active fibre cab

        3) As 2, but fibre not yet active

        4) As 2, and there is capacity in the DSLAM for a ‘no delay’ connection for me

        5) I am connected to the DSLAM and receiving 24mb+ (‘HSB’)

        6) As 5 but I am not getting HSB

        mike phillips

        2013/04/20 at 17:06

      • 1 – clearly NO as not all cabinets are enabled and quoted figures for exchanges do not add up to the total number of lines.

        2 – YES – this enables a FTTC service to be provided.

        3 – NO, the cabinet is not live without the fibre, and cabinet, live and configured.

        4 – NO, this probably makes little difference to the numbers in 2.

        5 – NO, this would exclude lines who have not ordered a service.

        6 – NO, as 5.

        Seems a bit obvious to me. See the Cornwall website when availability numbers increase regularly.

        So the fact that the initial provided capacity is based on predicted demand is no surprise, so why does it deserve an article here?


        2013/04/20 at 20:22

  4. The DCMS select committee is due to have its annual session with Ofcom. Given its statutory duties (see the 2003 Act not the Ofcom website which is curiously selective) what questions should Ofcom be asked with regard to their performance on such matters? Also what questions should the National Audit Office ask in any audit of the BDUK programmes with regard to value for taxpayer’s money?

    P.S. Installing the cards to handle the expected take-up and then adding more as needed looks rational to me. What am I missing? I sympathise with those who want broadband in a conservation area. See my Midsomer Broadband Murders blogs.

    Philip Virgo

    2013/04/20 at 18:53

    • Ofcom’s figures suggest take-up of fixed broadband penetration is 71% of all UK premises, and that between 95% and 100% have access to broadband (ie above 144kbps). That suggest 70% should be the figure BT works to, not 20%. Do we believe that Virgin Media, B4RN, Gigaclear, Kijoma and the other operators who own their own infrastructure will provide the other 80%? As they are not state-funded, why should we believe BT deserves taxpayers money when it is already the incumbent supplier in the areas that these altnets address? Moreover, Liv Garfield has been reported saying Openreach will not revisit FTTC cabinets once they have been installed. She may have been misquoted; I have not seen these reports retracted.


      2013/04/21 at 00:18

      • The statement is easily found and referred to replacing FTTC with FTTP,

        For many their existing speed will be adequate and they will not want to upgrade to FTTC, hence there is no current requirement to install additional FTTC cabinet capacity.

        Your words about other operators make no sense!

        So do we all understand the 15M figure?


        2013/04/21 at 07:00

      • “For many their existing speed will be adequate…” That’s a pretty big, arrogant assumption and probably wrong. The uptake of higher speed broadband on Virgin Media’s network appears to give the lie to your assertion.
        Secondly, you say “and they will not want to upgrade to FTTC,” see above. Further, if there is no price difference between an all-copper service and a fibre service, consumers are more likely to go for the fibre service.
        What I, and I suspect many others, want is bandwidth on demand. On the few occasions when I’d like to upload a home video for the family, I’d like to do it at pace, not spend five hours or more. I’d be happy to small a small premium for an upload speed that would allow me to do that for the duration of the upload.
        What we understand about the 15 million claim is that it is an exaggeration that borders on falsehood. Just for the sake of argument, how many of those homes are in Market 1 areas, where BT has a fixed line monopoly?


        2013/04/21 at 09:58

      • Where is the evidence that the 15M number is correct or incorrect? 1452 exchanges now accepting orders. You could add up the number of total properties on those exchanges from SamKnows to compare.

        What is the significance of FTTC homes on Market 1 exchanges, they can use any one of 15 home or 30 business ISPs?


        2013/04/21 at 12:19

      • BT makes the claim of 15 million homes have access to ‘superfast broadband’. We have only its word for it. How many of those homes are in Market 1 areas? Please note that for this discussion it is irrelevant how many ISPs might or might not be able to provide them with service.


        2013/04/22 at 23:14

      • What do you believe the correct coverage number to be?

        Rollout starts in large exchange areas so the small Market 1 exchanges which are scattered around in low density areas are covered in the BDUK scheme. Note Market 1 covers less than 10% of the population so what’s your point?


        2013/04/23 at 07:00

      • So FTTC installations should have enough kit for 70% initial take up?

        Any news on the 15M figure, higher or lower?


        2013/04/23 at 22:45

  5. As you say, Ian, “She may have been misquoted; I have not seen these reports retracted.”

    PCPRO 25/11/10
    “The vast majority [of FTTC homes] get between 33 and 38Mbits/sec,” said Liv Garfield, BT’s group director of strategy, policy and portfolio. “There’s no point in going back and investing, just because it’s something called P instead of C,” she added.

    Does everyone agree with Somerset that “2” is the correct definition of ‘premises passed’? If so, it means that the numbers quoted are not necessarily able to receive more that ADSL2/2+ and even if connected may not be achieving the government’s targets for HSB. Do we need a clearer and more indicative definition to enable us to see the results in 2015? Should the NAO be addressing this when considering ‘value for money’?

    Somerset – “So the fact that the initial provided capacity is based on predicted demand is no surprise, so why does it deserve an article here?” – the scene has changed. We are now all seeing our money spent on a defined availability under the BDUK scheme, not a demand. Hence, I think, Ian’s focus. It is no longer a ‘commercial’ decision for BT.

    mike phillips

    2013/04/21 at 07:31

    • The fact that BT do not install all cards at the outset is understandable. However, why do they not install enough tie line capacity at the outset? Future enhancements require expensive time-consuming street works, which is likely to be after the local authority contracts are signed off; given the LA do not seem to have any proper methods to evaluate value for money. Surrey County Council have been asked questions about definition of premises passed in their contract, but no answer after 3 months! Draw your own conclusions.

      David Cooper

      2013/04/21 at 20:27

      • Do you know that there is not enough tie line capacity at all cabinets? Putting in more is not difficult as the cabinets are linked with standard size duct. Hardly complex street works.


        2013/04/22 at 16:12

      • I did not say it was complex – just seems shortsighted not to install full capacity as far as the tie-line is concerned on day 1. All cabinets (urban and rural) we have seen follow the same standard whereby the limiting factor is not line cards, but tie-line capacity. In some cases when this capacity is busted street works (digging) have been necessary and in others, where the new cabinet was too small, another cabinet has been installed – all of this surely costing money and time delay. With the bold claims by local authorities relating to a high percentage of access to (supply) superfast broadband would we not expect our tax payers’ money to be spent in a forward looking way rather than being bound to BT’s demand driven model? Otherwise, in the future those premises left out by lack of capacity may be “not commercially viable” and yet again require more of our money. Also, without the full tie-line capacities in place how can the premises passed statistics be meaningful?

        David Cooper

        2013/04/24 at 07:11

      • @Somerset – here is an example of the work that needs to be done to increase the “homes passed”, and this will still not provide the full capacity that BT report in their “homes passed” statistics. The same initial lack of tie-line capacity seems to be the standard for all installations. How do we tell whether public money is being inappropriately used to augment the insufficient capacity from the original BT investment?

        David Cooper

        2013/05/08 at 19:46

      • What excavation was done for additional capacity? 128 cabinets round here have 2 standard size ducts which should be sufficient so what was installed in your area? Clearly it does not make commercial sense to provide initial capacity for every property but to base on forecasts.


        2013/05/08 at 21:38


        Around here there does not seem to be any commercial sense from BT. It seems that tie cable capacity limited the initial installation to 100 VDSL services for a PCP containing around 500 telephone pairs. At the outset the tie duct capacity for expansion was doubted and such doubts received sneers from BT managers when aired on this blog. We now see the work to increase capacity requiring installation of more duct as the link above, which documents the whole saga, confirms. And this is not an isolated incident.

        I still do not have an answer as to how the total cabinet capacity can be included as “premises passed” when even with the enhancement the full PCP capacity is not covered.

        This whole sorry episode, which is repeated in other places and I guess will continue to be repeated, should have never been necessary in Ewhurst were there were plans to provide a far superior solution to meet the forecast takeup; the forecast provided at the time to BT. But of course BT made sure that it never happened by the use of NDAs with local politicians and outrageous promises. Anyone with any technical nouse could see through the promises, but still some go on believing.

        David Cooper

        2013/05/09 at 13:04

  6. “Even when BT had done their detailed planning down to the exchange level, they cannot forecast how long an installation of the fibre cables and DSLAM cabinets will take, due to the unknown condition of their ducts, planning permission in conservation areas (which most of our villages have), obtaining power supplies, permission to dig up roads and pavements”

    Hang on a minute. I thought the reason that BT were best placed to do all of this is because they have a ready-made network of ducts and poles to deploy. That’s what they’re offering with PIA too – access to nice clean ducting to put cables down, no?

    Well, no. And if you will insist on active street furniture which requires individual power supplies from another monopoly in another industry then you’re going to have a problem negotiating prices.

    Why is BT getting the money again? I’m failing to see the USPs or where the long or even medium term advantage is in trying to repurpose such an old network to create a modern and rather different one.

    In terms of “speed the broadband up a bit” maybe this is the cheapest short term option, but with talk of the post 2015 strategy (the “to 2015” one appears, from the original BDUK goals, to have been largely abandoned) – there *is* a forward plan to deal with the entrenched monopoly we’ll be creating to get long term value for money, isn’t there?

    Well, no. Not really. We seem to be embarking on a solution which provides the least possible choice for the consumer, with that choice predictably dwindling as providers consolidate unable to make enough cash from it to bother with, and creating the perfect conditions for us to have to either throw away all the money we bunged to BT to then do it properly all over again, or keep being shafted up the backside putting money into a private monopoly over and over asking each time how hard we would like to be spanked.


    2013/04/22 at 15:07

    • I don’t understand what is ‘old’ about the BT network and why it is a big issue. The experience in Cornwall has shown what can be achieved.

      Also no-one seems to be able to explain what they mean by ‘then do it properly all over again. If the next stage is FTTP then the fibre spines and backhaul will be in place across the UK with FoD availability. Not forgetting the 1000’s of km of fibre already into many business premises.


      2013/04/22 at 16:23

      • The miles of ancient rotting copper and aluminium, and modern broadband services don’t work together.

        Here we can’t even use the old GPO phone line as despite being only 3.6km long the quality of the ancient line, the ancient socketry or probably both is so atrocious it can’t even do broadband (just 1.5Meg), and is now lying unused for the sixth year I think. But then that’s because we have a choice, and we choose to pay a little more to have the speeds that 3G provides instead. And the cell is actually further away than the phone exchange is – even oxygen can be a far better conductor than knackered old phone lines.

        How will giving all the money to the same provider give people choice, incentivising competition, incentivising private investment, thus bringing with it the keys to continued improvement without the taxpayer having to be shafted over and over again either by opportunistic and ludicrous prices for fibre broadand or by further injections of “BDUK money”, which is of course, again, taxpayer’s money.

        In essence, all the driving principles of capitalism have been abandoned here and we have learned the sum of precisely nothing from the last decade.


        2013/04/22 at 23:00

  7. […] Only 20% of the lines in Cambridgeshire’s new fibre to the cabinets (FTTC) cabinets will be enabled for superfast broadband (SFBB).  […]

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