Following the broadband money

Lies, damn lies, and broadband statistics

with 13 comments

VM's contribution to the UK's high speed broadband figures is twice that of BT. Source: Company quarterly reports

VM’s contribution to the UK’s high speed broadband figures is twice that of BT. Source: Company quarterly reports

Ofcom has released a report suggesting that the UK is leading its peers in the race to become a superfast broadband nation.

For various reasons it chose to measure the UK against France, Germany, Spain and Italy, rather than the EU28, the Nordics or the members of the Commonwealth of Independent States, formerly known as the Soviet Union.

Ofcom found the UK has the highest broadband take-up (all types, by household), at 83%; the highest proportion of people to have bought goods online over a year (77%); the highest weekly usage of the internet (87%); and the lowest proportion of people who have never used the internet (8%).

Ofcom’s own figures for fixed connections, quoted in the report, give a more optimistic view: “France (is) still leading the EU5 with 36 connections per 100 people, followed by Germany (35 connections per 100 people), the UK (34), Spain (24) and Italy (22).”

Ofcom went on to say, “Eurostat data suggests that 83% of UK households had fixed broadband access at that time, the highest reported rate of household penetration among the EU5. Our own research suggests that 75% of UK households had fixed access broadband connections in October-December 2013.

“Take-up of superfast broadband, which is capable of providing speeds equal to or greater than 30Mbps, had reached nine in every 100 people in the UK at the start of last year, the highest in the EU5 ahead of Spain (6 in 100) in second place.”

When questioned on this, Ofcom responded, “We’re slightly mixing data here. 83% refers to households and comes from Eurostat (Q1 2013); the 9% superfast up figure is for individuals and comes from Cocom (Jan 2013). So we can’t combine the two.”

We also asked how many households could access broadband at more than 30Mbps, and how many received less than 2Mbps in Market 1 and Marlket 2 areas, ie those where BT has little or no competition. Ofcom can’t tell us because it doesn’t have the data.

Ofcom responded, “In order to get the picture across speeds, I’d suggest our Infrastructure Report Update 2013, which has this:

Broadband take-up: 72% of households (Q1 2013 – p.19)

>30Mbit/s take-up: 16% of premises (households and small businesses) have superfast connections/22% of BB connections are superfast (June 2013 – p.27)

<2Mbit/s take-up: 8% of connections (p.21)”

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) says there were 26.4 million households in the UK in 2013. Of these, 29% consisted of only one person and 20% consisted of four or more people.

BT, in its quarterly report to 31 December, said it had “now passed more than 18m premises in the UK with our fibre broadband network and (is) making progress with extending the reach of fibre to rural areas.”

As that covers 68% of UK homes, that suggests that BT has completed its roll-out to “two-thirds” of commercially viable UK homes.

BT went on to say “Openreach achieved 339,000 net fibre connections, an increase of 38%, with around 2.4m homes and businesses now connected. We added 228,000 retail fibre broadband customers, up 14%, and now have around 1.9m customers.”

Regrettably, BT doesn’t say what speeds its customers get. Regular readers will know that BT’s “up to 80Mbps” service, based on fibre to the cabinet GPON/VDSL technology, is a bit of a pig in a poke. Actual speeds depend on distance between the cabinet and the premises, line condition, network congestion, content filtering, traffic shaping and other factors that degrade the service people pay for.

Other things being equal, line length is the main factor that affects broadband speed. Openreach keeps secret the average line length, but it is longer than 1km. Analysys Mason has calculated it at 1.704km. According to ThinkBroadband, that should deliver a download speed of under 15Mbps; for 30Mbps you need to live within 750m of the cabinet. BT speakers have earlier claimed the average length of the line between premises and cabinets is around 900m. According to ThinkBroadband, this would give a download spped of about 24Mbps.

Virgin Media also operates a fibre to the cabinet (FTTC) service based on DOCSIS 3.0 technology using coaxial TV cable rather than twisted copper pair wires between the cabinet and the home. Its latest quarterly report reveals that “Of all of our 4.4 million internet customers, 3.2 million, or 74%, subscribe to superfast broadband services of 30 Mbps or faster, an increase of 1.0 million in twelve months, including a 209,300 increase in Q4. We continue to see that nearly half of our new internet customers subscribe to speeds of 60 Mbps or higher, showing the strong, ongoing demand for faster speeds.”

Now we are in a position to judge whether Ofcom’s claims to be leading Europe are worth anything, even if true in the limited context it chooses.

Adding BT’s 1.9 million and VM’s 4.4 million gives us 6.3 million customers. BT said Openreach had connected 2.4 million premises, so we should add 500,000 LLU lines, giving a total of 6.8 million customers connected to a fibre-enabled cabinet. That is a fixed line penetration rate of 26%. However, if we consider that, according to Analysys Mason’s figures,  less than half of those on Openreach lines will receive a service of 30Mbps or faster, the household penetration rate drops to around 17%.

If the Ofcom report is measuring progress towards the EU’s 2020 target of 30Mbps for all with 50% using a 100Mbps service, as it seems to be, then we are a long way short of achieving the EU targets, or even Ed Vaizey’s nebulous “best broadband in Europe”.


Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2014/03/13 at 06:54

13 Responses

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  1. The whole thing is a farce. A superfarce. ‘The emperor has no clothes’ whispers the little boy.


    2014/03/13 at 07:39

  2. You might want to correct line length only cabinet length matters for vdsl and virgin is docsis 3 not gpon

    Sent from my iPhone



    2014/03/13 at 08:18

  3. Man City’s and Arsenal’s exit from European footie prompted editor of world soccer magazine to observe (BBC R4 Today) the we are ‘best in Europe’ “at self promotion which blinds our clubs to their standing in Europe”

    Substitute Towns and Cities for ‘clubs’ and apply to Ofcom viewpoint. An own goal methinks.


    2014/03/13 at 08:23

  4. Why all the mention of GPON? BT uses Point to Point Gigabit Ethernet between the exchange and the VDSL cabinets, certainly for the ECI Telecom kit, which is making up most of the installations these days. ECI F152-HB OLT in the exchange and the HI-FOCUS M41 MSAN in the cabinets.

    Virgin use Radio Frequency over Glass (RFoG), simply converting the radio signals from a DOCSIS cable MODEM head end into light, and stuffing it down a fibre. In the cabinets the light is converted back to electrical signals for coax cable.

    GPON is however the offering for their FTTP deployments for the lucky few.


    2014/03/13 at 08:49

    • >> GPON is however the offering for their FTTP deployments for the lucky few.

      Should read “GPON is however BT’s offering for their FTTP deployments for the lucky few.”


      2014/03/13 at 09:25

    • Vm doesnt use RFoG. It is DOCSIS 3.0. Over a HFC network. Trust me,I build and support it.


      2014/03/15 at 18:34

      • Perhaps you can expand a little on what HFC is within VM, because as I understand it HFC is RFoG for the fibre part at least. Ie the signal on the fibre is a modulated radio frequency signal, not a pulsed signal as would be the case in Ethernet / GPON etc.

        Thus the opticla nodes out in the cabinets feeding the coax drop to customers are dumb media converters, not active network equipment like an Ethernet switch.


        2014/03/18 at 10:22

  5. I notice this statement about ‘superfast’ and 30 Mb/s being made again here. WHY then do so many BDUK projects use a different figure for ‘superfast’ of just 24 Mb/s.

    WHICH IS IT – 24 or 30?

    High Point Infrastructure - Wiber

    2014/03/13 at 16:41

    • About a year ago Ofcom revised its definition of superfast from 24Mbps to 30Mbps, in line with European Union targets, because the UK has said it supports EU broadband targets.
      This is a very material point because of the attenuation issue; signal strength degrades with distance, so to receive a 30Mbps service you need to be that much closer to the street cabinet. It is suspected that BT persuaded the powers that 24Mbps is “superfast” because Openreach’s average line length between the cabinet and the premises would support 24Mbps, but not 30Mbps. Having a 30Mbps target for 100% of the country would require BT to build cabinets closer to homes, and a lot more of them. The cost of this would be high as it requires lots of civil engineering. I am guessing this was spelled out to local authorities who then looked in their bank accounts and decided to go with the 24Mbps figure.
      Apparently BT plans to run fibre to the distribution point as a way to shorten the distance to homes, but that does not seem to have been costed or budgeted for yet.
      Increasing the power of the signal so that it would go the extra distance risks causing interference on neighbouring lines. If the lines were fibre, this would not be an issue as fibre does not suffer from electrical cross-talk.
      Bottom line: the UK is unlikely to meet the EU targets of 30 Mbps for all, with 50% of subscribers using a 100Mbps service by 2020, no matter what Ed Vaizey says about having the “best broadband in Europe”.


      2014/03/13 at 18:47

  6. I am at CeBIT in Hannover and watched David Cameron and Angela Merkel spar about their releative Broadband plans. I guess that was well covered in the UK Press and I am still in Germany.
    My friend in Bucharest currently gets 100Mbps for 10 Euros a month in his apartment. Gigabit will be available shortly.
    I chair CMA (Communications Management Association and formerly TMA). We are having an event on 1st April with an appropriate agenda. “Are you a smart business in a smart city or a Grumbling SME in the sticks?”

    We would be pleased to meet you all and have a discussion about the inadequacies of Business Broadband in Britain and particularly receive any case studies as ammunition when we meet Ofcom.
    Rick Chandler

    Rick Chandler

    2014/03/14 at 14:49

  7. All that technical debate over acronyms and abbreviations is great for you BTOR engineers – what about the poor old customers who are subject to having no idea whether ‘superfast’ means a TRUE poential to have a copper phone line circuit supposed to deliver them 30+ Mb/s like ‘superfast’ is supposed to mean – rather than just a copper phone line that’s been conveniently redefined based on ‘up to’ 24 Mb/s – redefined entirely to enable a monopolistic encumbant to whitewash government and local authorities into handing out millions of pounds of public money towards so called ‘superfast’ connectivity that is in reality more of a SUPER-FARCE than genuine ‘superfast’ – because all that’s been done is a redefinition of terms.

    Wiber - High Point Infrastructure Ltd.

    2014/03/16 at 02:48

  8. How about just realising that some of us are too far from a cabinet or the exchange to get anything at all…
    Superfast and how it delivered is immaterial when all you have is intermittent and very expensive 3G.

    Occasional Berk

    2014/03/22 at 23:56

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