Following the broadband money

BDUK uses Catch-22 to sideline altnets despite OK to 15Mbps

with 33 comments

A next generation broadband service will be acceptable as long as it “feels” like 15Mbps, according to BDUK, the government agency responsible for spending £1.2bn with BT  to  procure NGA.

This emerged from correspondence following the BDUK industry day meeting last Monday to gather ideas on how to get high speed broadband into the Final 10% of the country. It is confirmed by presentations at the meeting.

The EU target for next generation broadband is a 30Mbps universal service. BDUK has watered this down to 24Mbps and not universal. However, BDUK now says the service need deliver only 15Mbps “90% of the time”.

A delegate writes, “I specifically questioned the panel about the detail of this as did another audience member. We asked what the exact criteria were and how BDUK would actually assess and measure/calibrate this – what does it actually mean?

“I pointed out that for example  BT allocates a maximum of 1Gbps supply to a 150 line Infinity module. Therefore if all 150 users were online simultaneously they could not get more than  7Mbps each – so how does this relate to users getting 15 Mbps for 90% of the time?

“The panel could not answer, which was surprising and disappointing. The chairman of the day actually stated to the room, ‘Well, as long as it FEELS LIKE a 15Mbps connection it would be fine’.

“After the room stopped sniggering he was asked to clarify what ‘feels like 15Mbps’ actually means – what are the criteria? He literally shrugged his shoulders, pursed his lips and could not answer.”

The meeting learned that any applicable technology would have to demonstrate a theoretical capability to deliver 30Mbps but that there was only a requirement for customers to get 24Mbps to qualify as the service being NGA/Superfast.

“In other words, if you had a technology that could deliver (a maximum of) 25Mbps and not a bit more, then even if it could deliver 24Mbps 100% of the time to 100% of users on a ‘pure’ and uncontended basis, it would not comply technically with BDUK as it had no potential to offer 30Mbps.

“This is more than a little confusing but I think I get what they are trying to say,” says the delegate.

According to him, delegates wanted a new open market review (OMR) for the Final 10%. He notes note no agreements where made, no suggestions adopted and no policies changed at this meeting.

“There was no suggestion or commitment from BDUK that they would make any policy changes in light of Monday’s meeting. We naturally would all hope that they were genuine in their reasons for calling the meeting rather than it simply being a ‘box ticking exercise’ so they can say they ‘consulted’ us. There is no guarantee of anything and nothing to stop them from saying they listened to what we had to say and are going to do their own thing, or simply leave things as they are with no changes.”

The reader went on, “The exact speed and coverage predictions and templates are not being disclosed to the public due to NDA agreements put in place by BT with local authorities.

“The panel was asked how it can be appropriate/allowed for any company participating in a publicly funded project to hide behind NDAs regarding the scope of the project? (BDUK) accepted that, in future, they would have to look at ways of preventing this happening again for future contracts so that companies (ironically all the regional/local providers who hope to get involved from this point forward) would not be able to hide behind NDAs. This issue was in no way resolved – it was simply debated – nothing more.”

Our reader says he and several other delegates believe BDUK may use this to give everything to BT again. “After all, if BT are the only ones that know the scope and speed and coverage for the existing projects, then only BT will be in a position to be able to scope out, identify and present a project for the Final 10%.

“Let’s say the ‘rest of us’ have to wait for the current projects to finish before we can identify what’s left – then we could not even begin planning for the Final 10% until 2017 – post the current roll out. This would leave BT in a preferential position as they, armed with all the info, already know where they intend not to reach and so would be able to plan the Final 10% projects around that NOW so that they could begin and be well under way, if not completed, by 2017 – potentially before the information is even disclosed to the rest of us.”

He described the situation as “atrocious”. He said, “One could see how BDUK may use this ‘Catch-22’ to declare that they have to give it all to BT as, due to the failure to prohibit NDAs from the existing projects, they have no option now but to leave it all to BT as BT are the only ones able to access info to make plans.”

Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2013/10/14 at 05:03

33 Responses

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  1. Home Broadband connections operate off shared “Best Efforts” style capacity contention, which means you’re always sharing the capacity out with many users (i.e. it’s not a dedicated 1:1 contended leased line to each home with an SLA) and thus speeds will vary due to things like congestion, Traffic Management and other factors.

    So as we attempted to say in our own article on this last week, what the related state aid rule is really saying is that the physical connection must be able to do “superfast” speeds but that other factors (e.g. shared capacity) may reduce that at times in order to make the connection affordable for home users.

    • So really any target figure is really a wish and a prayer, right?
      Funny how no-one spelled that out to the House of Lords, the National Audit Office, the Public Accounts Committee, Neelie Kroes and all the prospective customers before they committed to spend £1.2bn with BT. Why do you think that is?


      2013/10/14 at 07:44

      • Because ministers & civil servants can’t admit failure this close to an election… politically, it’s too big to fail. If the electorate get a product that is value for money and/or fit for purpose is way down their list of priorities!


        2013/10/14 at 09:00

      • All networks are shared resources. Ultimately affordability/common sense points a measure involving joules expended per bits sent or received, something not yet in the academic press but it needs to be. The peak hour planning rules which are hidden for most suppliers have been growing as the demand for Video has grown. The 1Gbps (to the Hand Over Point) in the access layer divided by 150 users gives a whopping 6Mbps should everyone be making a demand on the network at exactly the same moment – statistically improbable. I would imagine the links from the HO will reduce this to an allocation of some 400-600Kbps per connected user. Non NGA networks had and needed little more than that needed to load facebook or the BBC home page – 30-35bps so NGA is opening up a lot of resources.

        Throughput will grow as it needs to grow, as managing the consequences of congestion costs more than the provision of bandwidth.

        Maintaining quality, low packet loss, jitter, and delay in the peak hour is a different matter. The IETF and indeed BT have not really got beyond generous provisioning as a means to assure our bits keep flowing. But the ‘best efforts’ concept has been hugely successful, engineering wise probably one of the most successful concepts in our lifetime.

        NGA for all

        2013/10/15 at 10:22

      • Glad you raised the energy question. Another reader has commented privately that the fibre-enabled cabinet near him is running very hot, not quite enough to boil an egg, but certainly a place to cosy up to in the cold weather. Anyone want to do the sums on how much electricity the FTTC roll-out is going take compared to an equivalent FTTP roll-out? Of course, when BT does its follow-up fibre to the distribution point roll-out in 2020, it’ll want subscribers to supply their own electricity from the DP to the home, which is why it’s keeping the copper network. You have been warned 😉


        2013/10/15 at 12:01

    • The farce continues and grows? Well done for highlighting this nonsense, Ian.

      “The meeting learned that any applicable technology would have to demonstrate a theoretical capability to deliver 30Mbps but that there was only a requirement for customers to get 24Mbps to qualify as the service being NGA/Superfast.”

      -and then we only need to ‘feel’ 15mb? What is this gobbly-gook? Mark – your ‘other factors’ are the very ones that have been used historically to BAR other systems, but now appear to be the ones that ‘PROTECT’ BT and FTTC.

      Fixed wireless can easily meet these requirements. Satellite cannot. Let’s go!

      mike phillips

      2013/10/14 at 07:59

    • If I remember correctly the phrase “contention ratio” was dropped by BT (Wholesale) with the introduction of 21CN/ADSL2+ connections, preferring instead to focus on “traffic management”. Previously with ADSL, the contention ratios for domestic and business connections were 50:1 and 20:1 respectively. It appears BT have diluted the contentions ratios even further with FTTC.


      2013/10/14 at 08:20

      • Indeed – I am not sure whether a BT ‘Infinity Module’ has 150 or 128/256 ports, but either way the ‘best’ at full throttle will be under 8mb – which I don’t think will ‘feel ‘like 15?

        mike phillips

        2013/10/14 at 08:35

      • How often is ‘full throttle’? All part of network design. Those who manage networks can tell us about actual traffic profiles instead of dividing numbers.


        2013/10/14 at 09:31

    • “So really any target figure is really a wish and a prayer, right?”

      Yes and no. If you want 25-30Mbps+ then you can have it but you’ll be paying for a business grade product on a dedicated line with SLA. In fairness I think the 90% rule is actually pretty good as it’s like giving home users their own mini SLA, which most haven’t had before. The important thing is that the connectivity itself is physically capable of Superfast and then you let end-users make the ISP/package choice.

      None of this is new:

      Click to access NGA_Technology_Guidelines_300813.pdf

      • Mark – “None of this is new” – a bit subjective there? I classify ‘August 2013′ as reasonably new AND it is post OMR and contracts/bidding! NB there is no mention of the new’ feeling like’ sensations in that paper.

        Also 15mb (the ‘STEP CHANGE’ in para 1.5) does not match the existing ADSL2+ ‘up to 24mb’ already available (non-rural, of course)…………in fact is it not effectively a reduction in capability?

        mike phillips

        2013/10/14 at 09:10

      • The most important thing is that the product is labelled correctly so consumers know exactly what they are purchasing. For years broadband has been missold to consumers with “up to 8Mb” or “up to 24Mb”. Now they are being allowed to continue this with “up to 80Mb”.

        I don’t think you would go back to your favourite High St coffee shop if they handed over the large coffee you ordered only to find it quarter full?

        An A-G rating, similar to the energy efficiency rating for domestic appliances, should be introduced for broadband connections. This could cover monthly data allowance, traffic shaping, shared capacity, upload/download speed etc. and would give consumers and easy and honest way to compare the market.


        2013/10/14 at 09:29

      • Hi Mike, interesting point on ADSL2+. But of course many business grade ADSL2+ packages have a similar “guaranteed minimum speed” style policy and it’s often in the low 0.5-2Mbps range.

  2. wonder why we aren’t surprised? It was always going to be this way. They can’t do anything else, the monopoly has to protect its copper assets. BT is very good at that. Altnets can’t be allowed in, that would be competition and they don’t want that.

    Chris Conder

    2013/10/14 at 06:44

  3. There are may facets to this vexed situation that require clarification. In terms of actual performance our observations in Ewhurst may provide some indication:-

    Click to access Broadband%20Performance%20Ewhurst%20-%20Issue%202.pdf

    Starting with the FTTCabinets, it appears there are five capacities depending upon the manufacturer, Chinese Huawei 96, 192 and 288 or Israeli ECI 128 and 256. Re the fibre supply and capacity, although the fibre feed has been skimped in some instances and it is not a dual diverse feed, there should be ample capacity available as every FTTC has at least a four fibre bundle with only one fibre connected in most cases. Copper / aluminium line capacity is quite another matter as none of the cabinets we have observed can approach the number of lines in a PCP. Adding a second FTTC, as has been done in a number of places, is costly and unsightly when others have already demonstrated that cabinets can be designed to accommodate 500 services.

    The unscreened distribution side network is in very poor condition in some places and lacks sufficient maintenance budget. It was never designed to carry ADSL2+ let alone VDSL frequencies. Many lines are also far too long, some using indirect routing. We have observed a number of long line services where the VDSL sync speed achieved is less than the previous ADSL speed. In other cases there are major discrepancies in speeds even on different short cables of around 500 m. As there is no Universal Service Obligation, the monopoly can leave things as they please and will not countenance major re-wiring of an area. This is indeed “One of the worst mistakes humanity has made” (Dr Peter Cochrane – former BT CTO – to the House of Lords select committee; evidence session 2 on 20 March 2012).

    Regarding actual line performance note that BT have a good idea of the likely performance on all lines in an area where FTTC is available. See:-

    Here is a redacted example of the text obtained on a long line:-

    WBC FTTC Downstream Up to 2.2 Upstream Up to 0.9
    WBC ADSL 2+ Up to 2.5
    WBC ADSL 2+ Annex M Downstream Up to 2.5 Upstream Up to 0.5
    ADSL Max Downstream Up to 2
    WBC Fixed Rate Downstream 2
    Fixed Rate Downstream 2
    Other Offerings
    Fibre Multicast

    But also note if the line is too long for any VDSL service the checker doesn’t even mention FTTC.

    Merrow Drover

    2013/10/14 at 07:59

  4. “Any applicable technology would have to demonstrate a theoretical capability to deliver 30Mbps but that there was only a requirement for customers to get 24Mbps to qualify as the service being NGA/Superfast.”

    Even if you lower the bar down to 15Mbps, this effectively rules out FTTC for connections more than 700m from the cabinet. Hang on, hasn’t BDUK put all its money (literally!) on BT and FTTC?!


    2013/10/14 at 08:37

    • yep they have Andy , it was clear form the DCMS that they have no mechanism in place to confirm the minimum speeds will be met by the “provider” either..

      The 15 Mbps figure is if course the convenient lower cut off for provision by BT retail for FTTC.. they will allow slower , 5 Mbps apparently was reported 2-3 years ago, via wholesale customers who ask for it.

      So the 30 isn’t 30 or 24 or is it 15 or 5 ? , who cares it seems, BT and DCMS know that a wobbly 5 Mbps line will make those happy who had a flaky 256 kbps ADSL one before.. after all after 256kbps, 5 Mbps will FEEL LIKE 15 Mbps 🙂

      Anyway this is all too late, the money has been handed over, the profits will be made , this is guaranteed, the possible claw backs from under speed etc.. are less so..

      Bill Lewis

      2013/10/14 at 18:28

  5. So are some here saying they did not know that networks are shared. That the 100M LAN connection on your office desk will be shared with eg. 500 others with a 50M link to the outside world. And similar principles apply to broadband networks.

    There is also the difference between connection speed and throughput. And where should throughput be measured to?

    Reality is that all users on a network, or a FTTC cabinet even, will not be simultaneously downloading and a network is sized appropriately. I understood BT could add extra links to cabinets if required.


    2013/10/14 at 09:22

    • I suspect most home broadband users know only too well that they are on a shared network when their connection grinds to a halt during peak times. I doubt they get the much hyped “up to” speeds that sucked them into their 12/18 month contracts then!


      2013/10/14 at 09:53

    • “Reality is that all users on a network, or a FTTC cabinet even, will not be simultaneously downloading” – agreed, but BDUK themselves have chosen to set the bar at ’15mb AT PEAK TIME’ which implies heavy use of bandwidth – NB undefined.

      “I understood BT could add extra links to cabinets if required.” – I’m sure they can, with planning issues, road/pavement congestion, extra costs, delays – BUT the whole thing we are discussing is about ‘value for money’ for the taxpayer, not what is theoretically possible at an indeterminate mark-up (viz Mike Keily).

      mike phillips

      2013/10/14 at 09:56

      • 15Mbps peak would be measured once every 15minutes and available 90% of the time to the users served. Statistically, you would be attempting to create a quality home working experience for a single at an affordable price while giving the engineer some elbow room.

        Efforts to impose jitter, packet loss and delay budgets, sufficient to support a quality VC experience will be another days work.

        NGA for all

        2013/10/25 at 11:50

  6. what a farce

    Chris Conder

    2013/10/14 at 17:02

    • that sums it up Chris, a repeat of the ADSL exchange farce of 10 years ago .. that had an equal lack of VFM guarantee , hence the mess now 🙂

      Bill Lewis

      2013/10/14 at 19:04

  7. Click to access Infrastructure-report2012.pdf

    Click to access scorecard.pdf

    Ofcom define broadband speed as “modem sync speed” in the above documents (see Annex 1 and Annex B, Section 2.2 respectively). Ofcom use “modem sync speed” as this measure is something that is fixed and year on year data can be compared to hopefully show an improvement.

    Surely BDUK and local authority contracts should use the same measure, which has no “90% of the time” connotations. Data throughput is of course dependent on other factors such as backhaul capacity from the cabinets and can be enhanced, possibly just with different electronics at each end. To now say that the official Ofcom measure should be replaced by something else that is lower, variable and not measurable in a consistent way seems perverse for a government department that is trying to demonstrate “the best broadband in Europe”.

    It seems as if the contracts will be signed off and payments made on some sort of feeling that 15Mbps has been achieved for some of the time, whereas the original intention, before BDUK and local authorities allowed BT to influence them, was for greater than 24Mbps; at that time defined in line with the Ofcom “modem sync speed” definition.

    We now have the politicians not wanting to announce bad news, so we have the fudge with DCMS (BDUK) not even working to the same definitions as their independent regulator Ofcom. Will Ofcom change their definition or will they join in the fudgery, or should that be FUDery?

    For some results of the likely poor performance when “modem sync speed” is the measure, see here; with the conclusion copied below:

    Click to access Broadband%20Performance%20Ewhurst%20-%20Issue%202.pdf

    “The conclusion for Ewhurst is that an estimated 226 households are at such a distance that they will not be able to access greater than 24Mbps, the Government defined superfast minimum. This total of 226 equates to approximately 24% of premises (942) in Ewhurst. Further, this is 63% of the likely installed capacity (356) for superfast broadband in cabinets 18, 19 and 20. An even higher percentage cannot achieve the European Community requirement of 30Mbps.

    Of the 226 households, it is estimated there are 69 premises, including a number with multiple occupancies, where BT’s Fibre-To-The-Cabinet infrastructure is incapable of providing any service at all. 34 of the 69 are connected to cabinet 6, which provides telephone lines to Ewhurst premises but from which no household can access a broadband service via the new fibre connection to the cabinet, probably due to cable quality and length.”

    The low percentages achieving a modem sync speed of 24Mbps in this report suggests that a “feeling” of 15Mbps will be a far better way of ensuring success than believing actual Ofcom approved measurements.

    David Cooper

    2013/10/14 at 21:36

    • David, the Ewhurst report you co-authored should be compulsary reading for all local authorities not yet signed up to a BT contract!

      What it also highlights is the small percentage of premises that can actually achieve BT’s headline rate.

      If you use 75Mbps to allow for losses then here are the figures for each cabinet:
      Cabinet 6 – 0%
      Cabinet 18 – 4%
      Cabinet 19 – 18%
      Cabinet 20 – 3%
      Average – 6%

      I’m guessing cabinet 19 serves the centre of the village?


      2013/10/17 at 08:23

      • Andy – Thank you for reading our report. We think that some local authorities have read it and at least one had second thoughts about signing up to a BT contract. However, apart from that one, no local authority has responded to the report, least of all Surrey County Council.

        Cabinet 19 does serve the village centre, but I am not sure how you derived the cabinet stats. You have to bear in mind that out results are not for all broadband services from each cabinet. Those near to the cabinets will get near the headline speeds, but that does not remove the fact that many will not and many of those will be below 24Mbps, the speed that Surrey County Council stated at the outset would be available to 99.7% of premises.

        We have not focused on seeking stats for those getting near the headline speeds. We have just taken 87 measurements of sync speed where permission was given by the end users and extrapolated other results based on a combination of the measured results and the distance from cabinets. This gives 226 premises less than 24Mbps. Just for the record we raised our concerns with SCC before they placed the contract with BT – see here:

        Clearly, superfast coverage at levels of nearly 100% will not happen, so the politicians answer is to move the goalposts.

        David Cooper

        2013/10/19 at 21:48

  8. BDUK could do with re visiting the EU rules it is required to implement. Paras 41 & 42 require a “Step Change”. This from “State aid SA.33671 (2012/N) – United Kingdom National Broadband scheme for the UK – Broadband Delivery” (UK Brussels, 20.11.2012
    C(2012) 8223 final )

    Richard Jackman

    2013/10/16 at 07:28

  9. They have signed the contract in Northern Lincolnshire and whilst they are upgrading cabinets it will not include exchange only lines

    mark klinger

    2013/10/17 at 00:41

    • That’s an interesting comment Mark. Our village is currently getting a couple of new BT cabs but there are a lot that are on EO lines so I asked what would happen to them and the response was,

      “Details on the EO solution in the next few weeks. We will be able to say something when we do the PR for the two cabs. We are looking at FTTP for some of these areas but here we will also test the case for a new cab to pick up the EO lines. But they will be done.”

      So a definite “yes”. I take that at face value but if you are getting a “no” then it shows a degree of inconsistency for how EO lines are handled. Who stated the EO lines would not be done?

      Martyn Dews

      2013/10/17 at 11:45

      • I think EO lines will be done in areas that are already bases for altnets? Competition is a great driver for change. 😉 It will only be a few near the exchange though, nobody else will be able to afford it, and take up won’t be great as those close to cabs or exchanges will already think they have adequate connectivity. for now.
        The time is fast approaching where 100 meg won’t be enough. The councils are gonna look pretty damn silly in a bit. Especially when their voters realise they can’t afford a decent connection when they look at the excess construction charges.

        Chris Conder

        2013/10/18 at 18:55

      • Given that HD video is only 10Mb/s and a 100Mb/s link will nearly fill a 1TB disk in a day it will be interesting to see what applications surface for a typical home that finds 100M is not enough.

        Certainly not smart metering as has been mentioned before…

        If your cost comment is about the cost of FoD, then it’s to the aggregation node, not the exchange


        2013/10/19 at 20:15

  10. […] Read more… […]

  11. […] (the body handing government cash to BT) reckons 24Mbps – and then further watered that down to 15Mbps for 90 per cent of the time, as long as it “feels like a 15Mbps […]

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