Archive for May 2014
Vodafone has called on European regulators to ensure that non-incumbent-owned mobile network operators have access to fibre backhaul on the same terms and conditions as their in-house operators or face a declining competitive ecosystem.
The call stems from a looming shortfall in microwave capacity and prohibitive pricing of incumbents’ fibre, poles and ducts to cope with the fast-rising volume of data traffic.
Research by Analysys Mason commissioned by Vodafone found that incumbent operators favour their in-house mobile operators when it comes to accessto a fibre-based backhaul. “These inputs are not always made available to competing operators as a wholesale or retail product with the desired interface, quality, speed or price.
“The fact that the required inputs are not available, or are extremely expensive, may dampen competition in the mobile market in some countries because the fixed incumbent operator is usually (with the exception of the UK) also a major mobile operator and can gain benefits as a result of this vertical integration – specifically the much greater capillarity of its fibre network,” it said.
The leased line market, in which the mobile operators are a large segment, contributed £2bn/y to BT’s £18bn turnover, the researcher found.
Ben Wreschner, who leads Vodafone’s regulatory economics section, said all Vodafone wants is access on equal terms and conditions as the in-house mobile operator. He said Vodafone accepted that there couldn’t be a single price across Europe, if only because labour prices differ. Instead he called for a harmonised approach to access to fibre for mobile backhaul.
He called on the European Commission to provide guidance to BEREC, the European telecoms arch-regulator, for directives that national regulatory agencies (NRAs) can implement to give effect to this.
The study showed that independent mobile operators use microwave extensively to backhaul their traffic. But they are running out of spectrum. The shift to small cells for LTE traffic is quickly eating up the available capacity. Vodafone’s preliminary report for 2014 revealed that 4G smartphone users use about twice as much data as 3G users, mainly to stream video. Smartphone penetration in Vodafone’s European markets is around 45%. Both factors are pushing mobile operators toward fibre, which has the required capacity to ensure an acceptable user experience.
The MNOs’ options are to switch to so-called E-band microwave in the 60-90MHz band, which due to rapid attenuation of signals, will require many more sites to be rented; to rent access to commercial fibre where available; to rent regulated fibre from the incumbent operators, or to build their own fibre networks.
Vodafone has bought some of its own fibre backhaul (eg Cable& Wireless), but it has cost billions and doesn’t always cover the cities where demand is greatest. Building new fibre would duplicate existing fibre networks, take a long time, and cost a lot more on top of their expensive mobile licences.
Last week Ofcom said it would give BT a further period of non-regulation of fibre prices for high speed (above 1Gbps), where it holds an effective monopoly outside London. It also promised to rule soon on a TalkTalk complaint that BT operates an illegal margin squeeze on fibre prices.
Wreschner said he was watching the margin squeeze decision with interest, but stressed that that is a different market (retail) to Vodafone’s concern (wholesale) about backhaul. “We think the wholesale market needs specific regulation,” he said.
This is why, although they face similar problems as altnets trying to provide fibre to rural homes and businesses, the mobile industry did not speak out when the BDUK process was being set up, he said.
The Dolphinholme high speed broadband roll-out teeters between farce and tragedy.
The question is, has Dolphinholme been cut out of BT’s proposed subsidised coverage area in Lancashire? Email correspondence this evening reveals some uncertainty.
On one hand, a correspondent writes, “LCC have agreed not to fund the BT rollout in Dolphinholme as B4RN is already active there. The Dolphinholme postcodes have been removed from the LCC SFBB contract. So if BT does continue then it will be at its own expense without any public subsidy.”
On the other, it elicited this reply: “That doesn’t seem to be true as the contractors have been working down here over the last week. There is a wonderful set of under-road tunnels…if only we could use them. Today, they gave up as most of the chambers are clogged with mud and they need to call in the suction guys to clear them out! They said it wouldn’t be live for ‘some months’.”
Another chimed in, “BT’s contractors (Battersby) are back in Lower Dolphinholme. They have been shoving piperods through different culverts to get into River View Fold, pulling blue rope in afterwards, ready to pull whatever fibre/cable when the time comes. I asked them about the chamber they failed to dig three months ago (hit gas mains etc), to which the response was, well if there is no chamber, that’s why we can’t get through. They also explained that they were coming all the way from the A6, and that lots of ducts were still blocked. XXX asked them some detailed questions about timing – and was told that they had been told by BT to do Dolphinholme as fast as possible – by the end of June. The two guys here clearly thought that unlikely.”
Another correspondent responded, “I didn’t realise they were BT. They had parked their van blocking the pavement by chapel, and both were fast asleep at 3:10pm. That was until I knocked on their window and frightened the life out of them before asking them to park on the road in future!”
The first correspondent notes BT “does of course have the right to self-fund its network build out. However having previously declared the area uneconomic without public subsidy then why would it suddenly change its mind and do it with its own money? I think there would be some questions asked about anti-competitive behaviour if it does.”
Despite a £56m investment and its status as the test bed for BT’s next generation broadband roll-out, Northern Ireland remains the laggard in terms of internet use, the Office of National Statistics reports.
This represents no change in 18 months from Ofcom’s findings then.
The ONS says London had the highest proportion of internet users, with 90% of adults reporting that they had used the internet. In contrast only 79% of adults in Northern Ireland reported that they had ever used the internet. Dumfries and Galloway contains the highest proportion of people (29%) who have never gone online.
More than 659,000 people went online for the first time in the past year, more than a quarter of a million in 1Q14. Some 99% of people with a weekly income above £500 are regular users.
There are a host of other figures and graphs in the ONS’s excellent report on internet use for 1Q14.Peruse them at your leisure.
In a welcome move, it has also made an animated map that shows how internet usage has spread since 2011.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t say what upload and download speeds they receive. Nor does it say whether users’s primary access is via fixed line or mobile. Hopefully these little omissions will be corrected in future reports.
Nice to see that Broadway Partners’ affiliate company Cotswolds Broadband has received funding commitments for £1.6m from West Oxfordshire District Council to make superfast broadband available to every home and business in the hardest to reach areas of West Oxfordshire, some 4,000 premises.
BT’s £25m county-wide project with the Oxfordshire County Council would have left 2,000 premises without access to high speed services. The new deal will address that shortfall.
The district council will supply a loan, BDUK is expected to chip in a grant, and private investors will match the funds so raised. Broadway Partners’ Adrian Wooster, late of BDUK, says this is the first time a a public private partnership has been set up for a UK rural broadband project.
The network will be mainly fibre to the premises (FTTP). It will offer open access to attract multiple ISPs and a richer choice of service offerings, and could backhaul 4G mobile in the area.
It’s an interesting approach, and one contrary to BT’s. BT’s approach has been to optimise the delivery of next generation broadband to rural area for its shareholders. Cotswold Broadband (and B4RN and all the other FTTP projects) are about optimising for the users.
According to a TED talk that I can no longer find, the maths insists that the optimal solution to a problem like delivering superfast broadband to rural areas optimises for one or the many. You can’t do both
So, as BT is beholden to its shareholders, it’s rational for it to do the least it can for the money it is given. In practical terms, that means making minimal investment in its network for as long as possible and persuading everyone that this is as good as it gets for the money, and besides they don’t need more.
In optimising for users Cotswold Broadband has to use a variety of technologies to connect the 4,000-odd premises to be cost-effective.
Assuming BDUK chips in £400k and the investors match the public sector money with their own £2m, what can Cotswold Broadband buy for £1000/premises? It’s already said most will get FTTP; if it can persuade a cellco or two, 4G mobile broadband is possibility. It could also consider microwave in E-band, Carrier Wi-Fi or and upcoming free to air WiGig wireless access, which is all becoming cheaper, and is more flexible to apply than fixed lines like copper and fibre. Over time it could use spare cash from wireless customers to extend the fibre where there is a demand.
Of course, these technology options are also available to BT, but the fact that Cotswold’s deal exists suggests BT has had no interest in supplying the area, presumably because of cost. Besides, using the new tech would involve it getting into new technologies. Going through the learning curve would sub-optimise its return on capital employed, so logically it won’t. The best it can do, logically, is to become an ISP on the Cotswold Broadband network.
Having behaved rationally so far, let’s see if BT’s common sense will prevail.
He has postponed a study of public sector broadband aggregation (PSBA) in favour of the value for money review, which is due out by the end of the year.
The study will try to answer three questions:
- Does the Welsh government have a coherent strategy for investing in high speed broadband infrastructure in Wales?
- Does the Welsh government have robust contractual arrangements for Superfast Cymru?
- Are the Welsh government’s high speed broadband programmes likely to achieve the intended benefits?
In scope is the effectiveness of the government’s strategy and targets; the programme’s financial planning and governance; the contractual arrangements with BT; the procurement processes, risk management arrangements, and the monitoring and evaluation of the contract.
Not in scope is the propriety of having BT staff represent the Welsh government’s fund-raising effort in Europe, says Rachel Moss, head of communications at the Auditor General’s office.
The question of a possible conflict of interest in having Ann Beynon, BT director of Wales, sit on the European Programmes Partnership Forum in the Welsh European Funding Office was questioned in March 2013. £90m of the money for Superfast Cymru comes from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF.)
At the time the Audit Office said, “We need to establish the risks arising from any real or perceived conflicts of interest, how they have been managed and the extent to which appropriate declarations of interest have been made.”
The value for money review follows the National Audit Office’s scathing review of the UK government’s next generation broadband programme overseen by Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK). The NAO said there was no clear way to assess whether taxpayers would see value for money, and the £1.2bn they were giving BT would strengthen BT’s monopoly.
The review also follows a damning critique of the Superfast Cymru contract with BT by broadband consultant Richard Brown. “BT will deliver exactly what it contracted for, which is 95% of homes passed,” he said.
BT’s local network subsidiary Openreach is expected to lay 17,500km optical fibre and install around 3,000 new fibre broadband cabinets in parts of the country not covered by BT’s commercial plans. The government hopes to cover 96 per cent of the population.
Asked why the study is being done now, despite criticism of the project and its process before the contract was awarded, Moss said, “It would have been premature to carry out a review of this nature before the contract was signed – this would be straying into policy decisions which are not matters for the Auditor General, and limited evidence would have been available on the likelihood of the project delivering its intended benefits. The current timing of the study allows for a broader examination of the likely impact of the Welsh Government’s investment in broadband infrastructure.
Part of the report will compare the Welsh project with that of England. “The NAO’s work in England and that of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) is certainly helpful in enabling us to compare the situation in England with Wales and this will be reflected in the final report,” Moss said.
The PAC has said it will recall BT a second time because it is unhappy with BT’s answers to its questions at two earlier hearings to discuss the NAO’s findings.
The Welsh Auditor General will survey around 1000 businesses and households in Blaenau Gwent and Gwynedd, the two areas where there has been “significant progress”, to see what difference access to BT’s Infinity product is making.
The general public can also recount their experiences of the Superfast Cymru programme by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. The auditors will not able to take up any complaints about BT or other broadband service providers and may not be able to reply to individual correspondence, the Auditor General’s office warned.
Note: Brown has submitted a Freedom of Information request for the test data and methodology that led the Welsh deputy minister for skills and technology Ken Skates to associate himself with press claims that over 100,000 premises are now able to access fast fibre broadband as a result of Superfast Cymru.
“The houses have been tested and verified as being able to receive superfast speeds. The average download speed of 61 Mbps is also more than double the contractual minimum for the programme,” the News Wales web site said.
It then went on to quote Skates as saying, “The fact that where premises are already benefiting as a result of the programme, with an average speed three times the UK average, shows the positive impact it is having as roll-out continues.”
“I am delighted to tell you all that Dolphinholme now has hyperspeed broadband! Thanks to the ‘fusing team’ the Village Hall and the first few houses came online today. A fantastic effort by everyone concerned, those who planned, those to dug and those who did the ‘technical stuff’. A real community effort by everyone involved. Particular thanks to those who have given us access over their land, those who have invested time and money and those who have supported this is so many ways.
“Of course there is still a huge amount to do and at the Fleece meeting this evening the DB4RNAG dedicated ourselves to completing this project, which means bringing the service to all those in Dolphinholme who want it. This will of course take time, but in the meantime having the Village Hall live means that there is a facility for anyone in the Village who needs to use it.”
Thus was the news broken last night that a tiny Lancashire village overcame red tape, appalling weather, and a fear, uncertainty and doubt campaign to get future-proof, fit for purpose broadband access to their residents.
After learning that Dolphinholme, which is less than five miles from the county seat in Lancaster, was unlikely to get high speed broadband from BT in the Lancashire County Council next generation roll-out, residents resolved to dig their way to hook up with the 1Gbps network installed by B4RN.
B4RN had included Dolphinholme in its original plans, but in a later phase. Impatient villagers vowed to speed things up. This led to correspondence reported in July last year by the well-connected blogger Philip Virgo. It went as follows:
I thought you might be interested in an update on how BT is behaving around the B4RN patch.
We are busy digging towards a village called Dolphinholme (included in our list of postcodes for B4RN build out which RCBF/BT and LCC have had for a very long time). As we are getting close interest has climbed and some villagers held a meeting to see how to progress things into the village and the distribution around it.
One inhabitant of the village is very pro BT and went back to Lancashire County Council to ask for an update on where the Lancashire County Council SFBB project was in relationship to Dolphinholme.
LCC wrote back saying they were going to deliver SFBB soon and there was no need for them to support B4RN, the villager then emailed everyone saying B4RN wasn’t needed as BT were going to do it.
I responded saying the patch was in the B4RN build out and we thought we had an agreement that LCC’s build out wouldn’t overbuild us. Also that because the village was a long way from the exchange and there was no PCP then FTTC would not deliver true NGA broadband to the village.
This was apparently fed back to LCC/BT (see snippet 1/ below) and triggered what appears to be a general letter about to go out to residents, see snippet 2/ below
In view of Barry Forde’s comments, I wrote and subsequently spoke to Andrew Halliwell, Assistant Director at the Lancashire CC, overseeing the roll out scheme throughout Lancashire, and he has assured me the roll out to Dolphinholme is still on schedule to arrive sometime between September and December, 2013. In order to allay any scepticism, Andrew Halliwell has agreed to give us written assurances and I will notify you upon receipt of same.
Due to the distance from the exchange BT will use FTTP technology in order to ensure that you and your residents in Dolphinholme get the best possible service.
This means that the cabinet location will not effect the installation of fibre into Dolphinholme as this will be fed direct from the exchange to the homes and business’s.
This is excellent news for you and your residents and I will look forward to keeping you upto date with the latest plans!
With Kind Regards
Superfast Lancashire Programme Control Manager
So what do we make of the fact that BT are choosing to roll out an FTTP deployment, focused entirely within the B4RN footprint targeting the core of a village we are digging into?
Also that they can find the resources to do this between September and December, before any other bits of the county are done but coincidentally matching the time frame for our service build and go live dates . I’ve not got any data on which properties they are targeting but wouldn’t be surprised to find it’s just the easy to service core of the village and that all the surrounding isolated properties are excluded unlike our project that is 100% inclusive.
That is now water under the bridge, although people in these parts have long memories. As Dolphinhome says, “The work goes on. Tomorrow we hope to bring a few more houses online and then in the afternoon at 2:00 we hope to start the duct from the cabinet to Corless Cottages.”
But for the moment, take a bow, chaps – you deserve it.
Free Wi-Fi access to the internet and greater use of electronic ways to monitor convalescence could help patients recover quicker, according to Gary Hotine, informatics director at the South Devon NHS Foundation Trust.
In a world first, Hotine pioneered free public access for patients and staff at the Torbay hospital and associated community hospitals.
Speaking on TechQT, Hotine said although the clinicians at South Devon have not explicitly provided evidence of the benefits of patient connectivity, they regard it as a “no-brainer”, he says.
Hotine says it’s “common sense” that if people are in touch with people who care about them, they will be less anxious about going to hospital and this will speed up recovery and/or provide more comfort while they are in hospital.
“Just recently we had a terminally ill patient in our cancer ward who was being blocked from getting into a bingo site. (South Devon’s policy is that providing access to gambling sites is inappropriate in a state-owned service.) She contacted our service desk; we asked the ward if they had any objection, which, under the circumstances, they didn’t, so we were able to unblock it fairly quickly. So you can’t just leave people hanging; you have to provide a level of support.”
John Popham, a campaigner for free Wi-Fi in hospitals, said he’d seen an early stage dementia patient speaking about how having an iPhone has transformed his life. Although it had a number of apps to help him, the most important thing for him was the stored numbers of people he could call if he was unsure or in trouble.
We wanted to use something people were already familiar with when they came to hospital.
Popham also reported on a patient who was recovering from stem cell surgery and had to live in an isolation pod for six weeks. The hospital gave him a laptop and an outside link for the time. According to the supervising doctor, the laptop did the patient more good than all the drugs they gave him. “Those are the kind of stories we need to be telling,” he said.
Hotine put in Wi-Fi two years ago because South Devon asked themselves what they would like if they were patients.
“We go to a lot of meetings in hotels, and it’s extremely irritating if the hotel doesn’t have Wi-Fi, and only slightly less irritating if they make you jump through hoops to authenticate, or you disconnect suddenly,” he says.
“We wanted to use something people were already familiar with when they came to hospital. The opportunity arose to put Wi-Fi into hospitals about four years ago. I asked my technical teams to see if we couldn’t use the same infrastructure to provide a publicly accessible, secure and robust Wi-Fi infrastructure.
“They found a way, and we did penetration tests to make sure that there could be no unauthorised access to the hospital and patient records systems, which of course would be a major concern.
From 2Mbps to 30Mbps
“Then we bought some capacity from the company that provides the junior doctors’ residence with Wi-Fi with I think a 2Mbps pipe originally. The idea was that we’d let the patients and public use it, and if it filled up and slowed down, we’d monitor it. To justify an increase we could show the trust board that it was having a beneficial effect on our patient community.
“We’re currently up to 30Mbps of bandwidth. The bearer circuit we’re on will allow us to go up to 100Mbps, but the present demand is satisfied by 30Mbps.
“The busiest period is 10am when we have about 1,500 connections, and the quietest period is 4am to 5am when we have about 220, mostly patients connecting to iPlayer and email.”
A significant percentage of the 1,500 are staff who are using their private devices to access the internet during breaks.
Staff at hospitals in neighbouring towns have been nagging their managers for similar access, and Hotine has been taking calls for information on how he’s done it.
Popham says hospitalisation, especially for long term patients, is a very isolating experience, both for patients and visitors. The equipment now in hospitals to access the internet is out of date, he says.
“Being able to access the outside world would be helpful in the recovery process because being able to speak to others is therapeutic.
“Making telephone calls on those units costs about 39p/min. If you’re online you can use Skype or Hangouts and talk to anybody for free for as long as you want.
“Even if you are on 3G or 4G, half the time you can’t connect because the wards are in a basement or the walls are steel and glass and the signal can’t get out.”
Popham’s campaign is growing – he has about 400 members on Facebook, and he claims it’s becoming accepted that public access Wi-Fi should be available free in hospitals. “I reckon there’s about 25% of hospitals now that have it; that’s a big increase on what it was four or five years ago, but still not enough.”
Hotine says provided a hospital already has a 24×7 IT service desk, the extra cost of providing public access Wi-Fi is the marginal cost of receiving a telephone call from the public. In the year since the system was in place he counts four or five logged incidents. “You can’t really measure the cost of that, in our experience,” he says.
Hotine notes that the £10,000/y he pays for the South Devon’s 30Mbps bandwidth seems a lot more than what people pay for their home broadband. But it’s the service level agreement, which includes the managed service, the walled garden, the site blocking and uptime requirements that pushes up the price. “Typically at home when there’s an outage you are in the lap of the gods as to when service is restored,” he says.
Being able to speak to others is therapeutic.
The Wi-Fi system supports Torbay Hospital with 400-500 beds plus another couple of hundred beds in community hospitals. The main hospital has about 1,500 access points, which Hotine expects to rise to about 2,500.
He notes that the existing patient entertainment system is rare in hospitals with fewer than 200 beds, but few community hospitals have that many. Closing the gap was key to the design of the Wi-Fi system.
Hotine said the trust has an active ‘league of friends’. He is considering asking them if they’d like to support building up a library of access devices, such as laptops or iPads, for patients’ use.
He hasn’t done it yet because the advent of mobile phones in hospitals has hurt the revenues of the firm that supplies the trust’s patient entertainment system and services.
An offer refused
Hotine notes that patient turnover has been rising in Torbay hospital, but the community hospitals take patients who need long term care. Remembering to collect devices that the patient has rented is likely to be low on the list of priorities once the clinical decision to discharge a patient has been taken, so an efficient collection service is a must, he says.
“We’ve made (the company) an offer asking them if they’d like to offer a paid-for service whereby they would supply the access devices. They haven’t been very keen, so we’re probably getting to the point where we will ask the Torbay league of friends. They’ve got a small army of volunteers who could get around the wards to handle the logistics.”
Hotine and Popham also spoke about the use of tech to monitor and diagnose patients remotely.
South Devon uses data provided by Patients Know Best, a private firm run by UK-trained doctors. Data privacy is governed by the patients’ contractual relationship with PKB. This allows the patients to give their data to South Devon without the trust having to abide by the duty of care restrictions that would apply if it were the primary data collector. Doing it this way has been “quite liberating and allowed us to make the progress we have,” Hotine says.
To hear the full discussion go to TechQT.