Following the broadband money

Deadline danger for Superfast Cymru

with 20 comments

wales-welsh-flag-16-pThe Welsh government and BT have promised to start work on delivering fibre to the cabinet in every Welsh exchange by this time next year, but it may be too late to meet its deadlines.
Today’s official statement by deputy minister for skills and technology Julie James says “Work is planned to start in every telephone exchange in Wales by the end of September 2015 bringing superfast internet speeds to even more villages and towns across the country.” The finish date is Spring 2016. That gives BT, the sole contractor, six to nine months to fibre up some of the most difficult terrain in the UK.
The statement goes on to say “approximately 400 engineers (have) worked more than 400,000 hours on the project”. That’s about 25 weeks each to pass 230,000 homes and businesses. According to Welsh government statistics, there are about 1.3 million homes in Wales. Assuming that the initial 230,000 are the “low-hanging fruit”, the rest should take them at least 120 weeks. Starting this month, that makes the finish date early 2017, assuming the squad stays the same.
The £425m Superfast Cymru project, which will see 17,500km of fibre installed to connect around 3,000 new green roadside cabinets, is already under government scrutiny over value for money. The Auditor General for Wales is expected to deliver his report by the end of the year.
According to the statement, £205m of funding has been provided by the Welsh government, the UK government and the European Regional Development Fund, with BT contributing £220m via its commercial roll out and the Superfast Cymru programme.
Even if BT his its deadline, there are likely to be questions over the broadband speeds delivered. The contract (obtained under a Freedom of Information request by broadband consultant Richard Brown) commits BT to the following targets by 30 June 2016 or at the latest by the ‘Drop Dead Date’, which was redacted:
1. 90% coverage of all premises in the ‘intervention area’ at >30Mbps PPiR and a minimum of 2Mbps CIR (committed information rate)
2. 95% at >24Mbps with a minimum of 0.5Mbps CIR
3. 40% coverage with >100Mbps with a minimum of 10Mbps CIR.
Whether this will ignite the white-hot digital inferno that the government hopes for remains to be seen.
Communities scheduled where work is set to begin by the end of September 2015 are:
Gwynedd: Aberdaron
Conwy: Capel Curig, Dolgarrog, Dolwen, Llanfairtalhaiarn, Llangernyw, Penmachno, Pentrefoelas
Denbighshire:, Llannefydd, Nantglyn,
Carmarthenshire: Brechfa, Dryslwyn, Gwynfe, Madox, Rhandirmwyn
Flintshire: Saughall
Monmouthshire: Crucorney, Dingestow, Ponrilas, Shirenewton, Skenfrith, Tintern, Trelleck, Wolvesnewton
Pembrokeshire: Angle, Castle Martin, Clarbeston, Cynghordy, Llanteg, Llawhaden, Maenclochog, Martletwy, Puncheston, Rhos, St Nicholas
Powys: Beguildy, Llananno, Llangunllo, Llanwddyn, Painscastle, Pantydwr
Wrexham: Llanarmon Dyffryn-Ceiriog


Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2014/10/16 at 00:01

Posted in Uncategorized

20 Responses

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  1. In sparsely populated areas it seems madness to even attempt any FTTC due to the higher number of poor quality / long lines. Yet there seems precious little FTTP being suggested ?

    Walter G M Willcox

    2014/10/16 at 00:10

    • But there is nothing to say they have to offer VDSL from the cab. There is no reason why ADSL/2/+ or even HDSL can’t be provided from the cab as that would at least allow people on the longest of lines some chance of a working service rather than either nothing or as good as nothing.

      I believe there is a SIN document which says BTOR can do ADSL2+ from the cab. I’m trying to get an ISP to chace this up for me as it opens some new doors.


      2014/10/17 at 17:13

      • In this context, what the SIN?
        As to the technologies BT may deploy, it appears the contract with the Welsh government is silent on the matter. However, there are speeds and coverage targets as noted in the story. A “working service” is one thing; meeting the targets another, and a “future-proof, fit for purpose network” yet something else again.


        2014/10/17 at 23:02

      • If Q’s belief is correct, it would be one of the more enlightened moves that the wholly independent BT Openreach Group could provide. It would allow those now on VDSL-condemned lines to achieve a little more than they can at present and it might well increase the throughput speeds for those on very poor VDSL services too.

        It might also remove the fog of those on “Unlimited Faster (VDSL) Broadband” that actually have the slowest VDSL service. Whether BT Retail would like to offer such a service at a lower cost is another matter entirely and might even force the BT Group to fund more expansion to the partially equipped VDSL cabinets installed everywhere.

        Walter G M Willcox

        2014/10/20 at 09:13

  2. Percentage take-up is the best measure of success – per cabinet and per local authority area. If that turns out to be low it will prove that the money has been wrongly targeted.


    2014/10/16 at 08:33

    • Comms minister Ed Vaizey was on TV recently saying take-up in rural areas is better than in urban areas. Which activists have been saying for a long time – it’s thanks to BT’s virtual monopoly in rural areas. BT originally based its business case on a 12% take-up. That always looked low.


      2014/10/16 at 09:41

  3. In terms of take-up the problems you have to balance against aren’t merely related to the availability of a new technology, simply adding it is only solving part of a wider problem.

    Consumer knowledge of “superfast” availability, time-scales (people won’t sign-up immediately so how long do you allow before gauging the success?) and attractiveness of the proposition (can you entice people off that £1.75 per month standard broadband package etc.) are all factors that must be weighted. No doubt it’s also going to be a harder sell in areas where existing ADSL2+ lines already deliver reasonable 10Mbps+ speeds.

    I recent study of 1000 non-techy people from across the UK found that 30% of superfast enabled households didn’t even know it was available and 50% adults said they don’t know what it is.

    So to say low take-up in isolation shows the money has been wasted might be a bit narrow unless you take a wider and longer-term perspective, just as with the case for FTTH/P etc.

    • On take-up, Ofcom’s 2013 Infrastructure report (p19) reports a 72% take-up of broadband. That took about 12 years. BT says it will break even on the next generation spend in 12 years or more. When I asked, I was told by BT it assumed a 12% take-up. That was probably a conservative estimate, given Ofcom’s take-up figures, wouldn’t you say?


      2014/10/17 at 02:20

    • If you take the basic constuct is cabinet with one 48 port card, and basic incremental cost of £5k for a cabinet, £5k to install and power and £5k to connect up, then 35 customers paying £12 a month wholesale for three years and your marginals are covered in three years. Most of the smaller LLU suppliers are happy to quote £25k for rural where 2/3 of payments go to BT.

      The myth on gap funding (one of many) is the demand. The costing and recovery will be done on 30-40 out of the 288 capacity – which will be about 10% while clawback will be declared semi publicly at 20-30%.

      Why would you recover costs on 6×48 cards, when you can do it on the first card?

      NGA for all

      2014/10/17 at 12:33

      • It might be a good idea to factor in (Say 50% ?) the smaller Huawei 128 cabinets which are usually supplied with 2 * 32 ports out of the four line cards. Cabinets of either size are usually only supplied with one set of 100 pr tie cables so there are more costs to include too.

        Walter G M Willcox

        2014/10/17 at 13:58

      • There is no 128 line Huawei cabinet. Those are manufactured by ECI Telecoms.

        100 pair tie cables are standard and more are introduced when existing ties hit 80% utilisation.


        2014/10/26 at 21:13

  4. Useful – charging 400,000 hours for coverage of 230,000 premises, – c920 cabinets out of 3,000. That’s 12 man(woman) weeks of labour charges per cabinet. IN state aid is this charged at £20 an hour? (12weeks x 35hours x£20)= that would £8,400 per cab from the average subsidy of £68,300 (£205m/3000) – which makes BDUK a bargain at £46,000 average, but more than four times that observed in NI for the same components up to 85%-88% coverage. BT pumping that labour rate will be a key objective but ought to be identfiable by state aid experts, but the pumped labour rate or its equivalent is built into the inflated milestone payment and these have been present for over 2 years ( set 1 month before the Olympics) and remain unchallenged so people get used to them.

    This labour will include the survey costs which have reported as 5% of the contract value in Suffolk. 5% of £205m which is £3,400 for each fibre path. The latter would be good to press on for publication as it would see how many hours to walk and record an average of 1-2km path. At £20 subsidy an hour – that’s nearly 5 man/woman weeks of labour cost just for a survey.

    The amount of new fibre to be laid 17,500km/3000 = 5.8km per path looks at odds with the 400Km reported (excluding submaine cable) for the Highland and Islands. How much of this 17,500km already exists and is just being enabled?. I was expected to see an average of 2-3km which includes a contribution to the putting a spine to a handover point.

    The process of ‘regulatory capture’ of officials is explained well by the Prof Tirole the new holder of the Nobel prize for Economics. Let’s hope the NAO Wales builds on what NAO did, although reconciling milestone payments to the invoices created per path may not be taking place at all.

    No mention of identified efficiency gains following the surveys, no verification of BT investment, no verification that invoices being checked. How many new apprentices working on this?

    To be clear I support BT doing the work, but these rates provide the opportunity for state aid to be used on BT projects other than rural. If so it is illegal.

    NGA for all

    2014/10/16 at 13:20

  5. SIN 498 (Issue 6) Sept 2014 – Page 34 –

    “GEA over ADSL2plus employs Ethernet over ATM mode (XoEoA, where ‘X’ is PPP or IP) over cabinet based ADSL2plus. Cabinet based ADSL2plus is used to provide extended reach beyond what is possible with VDSL2. The Ethernet layer functionality and requirements do not differ from what is offered and supported on standard GEA-FTTC.
    It should be noted that XoA is not supported by GEA over ADSL2plus.”

    I’m about to start on at a couple of ISP’s and see if they can actually order this… I’d rather have ADSL2+ from the cab than VDSL and I’m in an urban setting not far from the cab…


    2014/10/20 at 17:44

    • Good luck with that. Let us know how you get on.


      2014/10/20 at 19:12

    • It’s not a released product yet. No ISP can order it. They will be notified when it becomes available however it will max out at 12Mb and will likely not be available to those who can receive >12Mb over VDSL.


      2014/10/26 at 21:17

  6. @carl, I beg to differ re cabinet and card capacities. The ECI 256 has a capacity for four 64 channel line cards. The Huawei 128 has a capacity for four 32 channel line cards. The Huawei 288 has a capacity for six 48 channel line cards.

    The 80% rule seems to be only a best endeavours as THSE PCP 4 Albury has been without availability for about a month and is due for upgrade completion by 5 November.

    Thank you for the information on ADSL via a FTTC. Can we assume the 12 Mbps limit is the figure provided by the BT Wholesale estimator ? Are you able to guess an availability date for this service and whether it will be available for all lines currently unable to order either a VDSL or ADSL service or whether there will still be very long lines without any service availability (apart from dial up) ?

    Walter G M Willcox

    2014/10/26 at 23:01

    • No the 12mbit figure is given due to tone/power masking to avoid interference to other adsl2+ services from the exchange.

      Its also believed that only none eci cabs will support this – its all very up in the air and until OR launch an official product we don’t know. There’s lots of other small print to be borne in mind as well – such as OR running it meaning no/little DLM control for the ISP etc.


      2014/10/27 at 16:58

      • Thanks very much Q.

        So, assuming BT Openreach do launch such a product, I appears that such a service would be capped at 12 Mbps, rather than it being a limit on the order process. Even so, there are many fuming at single digit download speeds who would be more content to achieve a reliable 12 Mbps.

        It’s a shame ECI is to be excluded though as the VDSL logic must be quite similar. Perhaps it’s more of a business / political limitation ?

        Walter G M Willcox

        2014/10/27 at 17:21

      • Exactly – lots of people would do better on 12mbit than not very many mbit.

        Its believed that the service may only be offered to people who can’t get VDSL its unclear if it will ever become a generic product.

        There is discussion on thinkbroadband news site along with a couple of other places about it all.

        It raises a bigger more interesting question though – could we think about deploying all xDSL services from the cab (being run by OR) rather than any exchange services (run by WS) of cause this might upset a lot of providers who have installed kit at exchanges everywhere – but would give a far better end user experience (ignoring DLM issues)


        2014/10/28 at 09:55

  7. To quote from KPN’s 3Q14 report today: “On track for ~50% coverage of households with 100Mbps end 2014.” And they’ve started paying dividends again. Just sayin’.


    2014/10/28 at 15:18

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