Br0kenTeleph0n3

Following the broadband money

Posts Tagged ‘Fibre

Lies, damn lies, and broadband statistics

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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”.

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Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2014/03/13 at 06:54

Fibre tax no longer fit for purpose?

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Picture by BigRiz. Some rights retained.

Picture by BigRiz. Some rights retained.

The current system of business rates is not fit for purpose and needs to be fundamentally reformed, say MPs.

The call could open the way for a reassessment of the so-called fibre tax that makes BT’s competitors pay 20 times more to operate fibre networks. It could also kill efforts by civil servants to tax Wi-Fi hot-spots, which areincreasingly important to backhaul data on mobile broadband networks.

A spokesman for the business, innovation and skills committee said that while its study focused purely on the effect of the tax on the retail sector, it was possible a full review would examine the effect and desirability of the fibre tax.

Normal network operators must pay the tax whether or not they make a profit and in advance of sales. However BT pays the tax in arrears and on profits, while Virgin Media pays based on the number of homes passed by its network.

The committee called for a “wholesale review” to examine whether non-domestic property taxes aka business rates should be based on sales rather than the rateable value of a property and how frequently revaluations should take place, among other things.

The call for the review was prompted by the growing success of e-commerce and consequent slackening in demand for high street premises as a sales channel.

Chairman Adrian Bailey said business rates are one of the highest forms of local property tax in the European Union, adding, “Business rates are the single biggest threat to the survival of retail businesses on the high street. Since the system was created (in the 1600s) the retail environment has changed beyond all recognition. A system of business taxation based on physical property is simply no longer appropriate in an increasingly online retail world.

“This is a time for wholesale review and fundamental reform, not for tinkering around the edges. Business rates are not fit for purpose and minor administrative changes will not alter that.

“The government’s retail strategies are full of warm words that fail to address the most debilitating levy on existing businesses and the most crucial deterrent to new businesses appearing on the high street – business rates. Fewer strategies are required; simple, decisive action is needed.”

The government must respond by 4 May.

Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2014/03/06 at 01:37

Real fibre broadband comes to 500 Northmoor homes

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In a rare bit of good news for the altnet community, Gigaclear announced it has won funding from the Rural Community Broadband Fund (RCBF) to design, build, implement, and operate a fibre to the premises (FTTP) broadband network to serve around 500 homes in Northmoor, Oxfordshire.

Just weeks ago Gigaclear scrapped a planned rollout in Dun Valley, Wiltshire after it discovered BT planned to use taxpayers’ money to provide a fibre to the cabinet (FTTC) service to the area.

Gigaclear won the contract in an open procurement by West Oxfordshire District Council (WODC) after the parish secured an RCBF grant from the Department for the EnvironmentFood and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). The value was not disclosed.

In a survey of residents’ needs, 14% of respondents said they could get no broadband service at all. A quarter of responses were either from business premises or from residential premises used by people to work from home and/or run their own businesses. Better broadband was high on their priority list.

Graham Shelton, chairman of the parish council and leader of the broadband group, said talks with Oxfordshire County Council revealed the parish would be likely to fall outside the area covered by Oxfordshire’s £4m Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) subsidy. “That freed us to pursue other options. We were aware of Gigaclear’s work elsewhere, so were delighted they won on merit.

“The network will ensure that everyone can obtain equally superfast broadband and that it will be available to all properties in the parish – including a number of caravans.”

Gigaclear is expected to finish the network in September.

Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2014/03/04 at 00:26

How to get better value from that £250m for rural broadband

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BrokenTelephone doesn’t normally publicise paid-for events, but we’re making an exception in this case. We have long argued that the UK has ignored alternatives to the gap-funded model beloved by BT to finance investment in broadband networks. At last someone has heard us and is taking he message seriously.

Adrian Wooster, late of BDUK and now with Broadway Partners, is putting together an event for 12 March to look at the non-engineering aspects of getting next generation broadband into the Final 10% – funding, investment, business models, social inclusion, and the dreaded state aid. It is aimed at the public sector, financiers and communities.

The timing is perfect because DCMS has just announced how the £250m of the £300m promised years ago will be divvied up: England £184.34m; Wales £12.1m; Scotland £20.99m and Northern Ireland £7.24m.

The official reply to BrokenTelephone’s questions about the terms and conditions tied to the allocation was, “Procurement will be a local decision – we’re not dictating who the supplier should be. Where contracts are already in place with BT, local bodies can decide to extend them (within contractual limits); or to undertake a new procurement either using the national framework or not.”

Reading between the lines, there is a desire for local authorities not to simply give it all to BT but to conduct genuine fresh procurements in an attempt to get better value for taxpayers. INCA has shown that LAs can likely get better value for their taxpayers’ money if they go with altnets rather than BT. INCA executive director Malcolm Corbett is on record saying that procurements that pick BT find they contribute up to 90% of funds to what is meant to be a match-funded process; altnet solutions could come in at 30%, thanks to the willingness of private investors.

BT is already trying to “white ant” altnet coverage areas, making it difficult for altnets to provide coverage without overbuilding BT’s subsidised coverage areas. It is also spending £50m to fill in city not-spots and hook up multi-tenanted buildings to stop Hyperoptic and CityFibre from having a free run. BT claims that serving 150-home villages like Lancashire’s Dolphinholme is commercially viable. That might be true, but only because BT is running a fibre to a nearby radio mast; Arqiva or a mobile network operator is picking up most of the capital cost, and the village (or rather homes along the road) is covered en passant at marginal cost.

The other big win for LAs is that many would-be altnets offer fibre to the home; BT’s fibre stops at the street cabinet. So even if the altnet fails, the fibre is in the ground; LAs could get BT or another big operator to take it over at a fraction of the cost than if they picked BT at the start.

Wooster says the event will present funding options that don’t depend on gap-funded grants. “The UK is largely alone in gap-funding. There are very good, tested models that we should be learning from. These have a bigger economic impact and are better value for the stakeholders including, not least, the public sector,” he says.

Wooster says delegates will learn to how create more options and choices for broadband delivery; how to maximise their SEP allocation; how to love state aid; how to get new funding streams without spending a penny; how to de-risk their projects; how others abroad have done/are doing it; and how to make your area a contender for ‘Best Broadband in Britain’.

The event will be at the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith, so reasonably central. Fees are £99 each for civil servants, and £50 each for communities. Book via https://broadwayworkshop1.eventbrite.co.uk.

UPDATE

The price for communities has dropped to £25, and Wooster says, “We will listen to cries of poverty.”

Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2014/02/27 at 10:32

WSCC/BT roll-out to duplicate wireless broadband coverage

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It’s becoming increasingly clear that BT is prioritising rural areas where it faces competition for its initial taxpayer-funded roll-out of next generation broadband.

The latest example comes from West Sussex, where BT has already upgraded the coastal belt in its commercial roll-out, and is now moving inland.

The official West Sussex County Council interactive map (which is not up to date in terms of its colour-coding; it still says the coast is “under evaluation”) does not reflect any choice of suppliers of high speed broadband.

BT's taxpayer-funded roll-out will largely duplicate Kijoma's privately-funded wireless coverage (outlined in black).

BT’s taxpayer-funded roll-out will largely duplicate Kijoma’s privately-funded wireless coverage (outlined in black).

However, BrokenTelephone has made a more up to date map which shows roughly how BT’s taxpayer-funded coverage maps onto the coverage provided by wireless internet service provider Kijoma (outlined in black).

Interestingly, the WSCC says that two of the exchange areas shown as pink are “partly in the commercial roll-out”.

“These are Billingshurst and Bosham. The rest are outside of the commercial roll-out and therefore in the area eligible for funding by the project.”

When the BDUK procurement framework was first mentioned, wireless was excluded as not being capable of meeting EU targets of 30Mbps for all, and 50% of the population on 100Mbps service. The European Commission later relaxed its stance on wireless, but BDUK and local councils appear to ignore the change in contracting for next generation broadband networks.

We have asked WSCC for clarification as to precisely which areas in Billinghurst and Bosham (bottom left of map, just south of Kijoma coverage) are in the commercial roll-out, and what the time-frame is for the roll-out to the non-commercial parts are. We’ll update this story if we get a reply.

This is not the first sign that BT is being allowed to use public money to overbuild privately-run networks. The most egregious so far is BT’s roll-out of a fibre through the

Lune Valley, Lancashire - site of the BT/B4RN broadband battle.

Lune Valley, Lancashire – site of the BT/B4RN broadband battle. (Click to open.)

Lancashire village of Dolphinholme, where residents have spent time, money and effort digging towards the B4RN network to ensure that their village doesn’t miss out.

While BT’s Dolphinholme roll-out looks good in terms of “homes passed”, the actual availability of a fibre connection to those homes not on the road appears slight. The more likely reason for the fibre link is that the road through Dolphinholme leads to a radio mast, and the fibre is there to backhaul mobile radio traffic, not to carry residential broadband traffic. But its presence is a threat to B4RN, which, try as it might, is unlikely to persuade mobile network operators to use its fibre, at least in the short term.

Tunstall, another Lancashire village in the B4RN coverage area in BT’s sights, is on the road to Kirkby Lonsdale and there is already fibre in that road. BT is also targetting Whittington, which is the hamlet after Arkholme and Docker on the way up to Kirkby on the opposite side of the Lune valley to Tunstall.

Two weeks ago Gigaclear scrapped plans to roll out a 1Gbps-capable FTTP network in the Dun Valley, Wiltshire, after the Wiltshire County Council said it would apply BDUK money to BT’s “up to 80Mbps” FTTC roll-out in the area. This followed months of discussions between residents, Gigaclear and the council as to their roll-out plans for the valley.

Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2014/02/20 at 07:01

Broadband buyers need to get their hands dirty

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Telephone poles lashed together because Openreach can't afford to  swop cables from the old pole to the new one.

Telephone poles lashed together because Openreach can’t afford to swop cables from the old pole to the new one.

This is a guest post from Walter Willcox and David Cooper, who have been involved with Surrey village Ewhurst’s efforts to get high speed broadband. Regular readers will know that it’s not easy, as this post, based on their experience, shows.

Many local authorities that congratulated themselves for securing deals with BT are now employing their staff to promote the benefits of high speed broadband using BT’s marketing-speak, which can be grossly misleading and sometimes even false.

Surrey County Council, indeed all county councils, should pay more attention to the technical details.

Take the claim that BT is installing “fibre broadband”. In Ewhurst and almost every other village in the country, the final link between the cabinet and the premises is copper or sometimes aluminum. It is remarkable that no-one has asked the Advertising Standards Authority to investigate BT’s “fibre broadband” claims for possible misrepresentation.

But there is a more important practical issue: millions of subscribers are likely never to get the service promised by BT and paid for by taxpayers under the BDUK contracts.

The often-stated figures for those “Having Access” are based on the total number of telephone lines in the fibred-up street cabinet, yet very few of the new cabinets approach that capacity. Surely the ASA should require the cabinet capacity to be clearly stated?

BT deploys new upgraded full-featured fibre to the cabinet (FTTC) cabinets with a capacity of 192 or 288 lines, but BT’s investment in the cable infrastructure is limited to single ducts and a single set of tie cables that each provide a capacity of just 100 lines.

BT is on record saying that it will install more cabinets if the demand is there. Inevitably this means delay, sometimes of over 80 days, while remedial work is done to the cables, followed by even more delay to install a second cabinet.

Most of the BDUK contracts to date are supposed to complete by the end of 2014 or 2015, so what happens if a cabinet’s full capacity is needed after the contract ends?

Similarly, do local authorities realise that to meet demand greater than that provided by the first cabinet, the streets will have to be cluttered with more cabinets? Besides, who will pay for the extra cabinets post 2015?

In addition, technology advances such as G.fast and vectoring, which have still to be proven in the field, are dead ends because of the copper in the last mile. BBC Newsnight and others reported last August that FTTC was the wrong technology in the opinion of experts, here and here.

The local authorities’ lists of postcodes that BT will cover disregard the known line performance and lengths. BT knows the limitations of the service speeds and provides that data as soon as a cabinet is forecast for service. For example, in Peaslake, Surrey BT told the Surrey County Council it will cover the postcode GU6 7NT; yet superfast broadband is unavailable at all 10 addresses, according to the BT Wholesale estimator.

Those unfortunate subscriber at the extremes of the network, or with sub-standard lines, are not even informed by the BT estimator that the fibre cabinet is commissioned. (However the curious may pick up that the category “Fibre Multicast”, which is still shown, indicates that the cabinet is enabled.)

BT is very good at promising the world, but once a customer is hooked for its VDSL service there can be a distinct change of attitude. The subcontractors that BT Openreach hires for installations simply don’t carry the test equipment that can confirm the line’s performance. They rely on a speed test which, just after installation, is tuned to the maximum possible speed. This can change in just 48 hours. At one site we know of, a sync speed of 40Mbps on 9 July degenerated to only 4.38 Mbps by 08:09 on 11 July.

Subscribers then risk a charge around £170 to fix the wires if a fault is detected within their curtilage* (the area around your premises over which you are deemed legally to have control).

A number of ISPs are now offering self-install packages but the result is likely to be more disgruntled customers. How many end users have a detailed understanding of house wiring, let alone line performance issues? Surely Trading Standards should insist on a proper performance test once the connection has had time to “bed down”?

The difference it makes can be material. One case we know of concerns a new Sky self-install where the installation produced 13 Mbps. After remedial works to the house wiring the speed jumped to 28Mbps. That is still well below the “up to” 42Mbps the user was led to expect.

The separation of powers between Openreach and its wholesalers means that when a fault occurs, the end user has to convince the ISP, and the ISP has to convince Openreach to fix it.

This thread on the Kitz bulletin board (two pages) shows just how hard it can be to figure out and fix what’s wrong. It shows clearly that faults on the copper (telephony) network can destroy broadband performance, and that Openreach’s process and practice to fix them is arcane and open to error, to say the least.

Those responsible for making policy and for paying BT might also like to ask how BT can invest a billion pounds on TV sports contracts while Openreach’s maintenance performance has been so bad for so long that it has accepted it must pay fines if it misses certain targets.

Even casual observers can see signs of poor maintenance. For example electricity poles are quite properly being replaced, but the old rotting and unsightly poles remain lashed to the new ones, apparently because Openreach can’t afford to swap the cables from the old poles to the new ones.

These may be boring technical details, but in the end, they determine the customer experience. BT may be able to buy off shareholders with dividends and politicians with promises, but only performance will win the hearts and minds of customers.

As BT is the monopoly supplier in most rural areas, unhappy customers have only the ballot box through which to voice their displeasure. With elections just 18 months away, anyone whose job depends on a vote should start getting their hands dirty with the technical details of superfast broadband.

Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2014/01/14 at 00:32

Ofcom on missed Openreach targets: you’ve been a very naughty boy

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WLR2
WLR1
Ethernet1
Ethernet2
As these graphs show, Openreach, BT’s in-house communications infrastructure provider, has for the past two years consistently failed to meet targets to provide and repair services.

Regulator Ofcom reacted this week by announcing that Openreach,which has an effective monopoly over last mile fixed access, has agreed new targets for service, and may pay fines if it misses deadlines.

The news will be welcomed by communications providers (CPs), but the terms are not onerous. The deal comes into full force only from April 2016, by which time Openreach should have largely finished providing fibre to its street cabinets to handle GPON for next generation broadband.

The new targets cover “wholesale line rental” and “metal path facility”, the two most common products Openreach provides to resellers, says Ofcom. They include 80% of repairs completed within two working days, 80% of new lines provided within 12 working days, and realistic estimates of when customers can expect the service they ordered.

Failing to meet the new targets, averaged over 12 months, opens Openreach to Ofcom sanctions, including fines. However Ofcom proposes that BT can use “extreme weather” as an excuse for missing targets for up to three per cent of repairs and one per cent of new installations in a “typical” year.

In a statement the regulator said, “Ofcom is concerned about the time it can take for Openreach to complete this work. The problem was most acute during 2012, when installations and repairs were to some extent hampered by extremely wet weather conditions.”

According to Ofcom, Openreach’s performance has since returned to pre-2012 levels.

Walter Wilcox, spokesman for the Surrey village of Ewhurst, which had an independent deal with Vtesse Networks for a fibre network “gazumped” by BT, reports, “Ewhurst (has been) without VDSL for 80 days due to inadequate equipment provision. (It has taken) 22 days to repair storm damage on eight lines at two locations.”

Ofcom also appears to be asking Openreach customers to pick up the cost of meeting the new targets. “Any increase in charges resulting from the changes would be at wholesale level, and estimated by Ofcom to be in the order of a few pennies per month. Telecoms bills have fallen in real terms over the past 10 years, and Ofcom wishes to ensure that services remain competitive and affordable for consumers.”

The proposals are part of a consultation relating to Ofcom’s fixed access market review, which closes on 13 February 2014. Ofcom will announce its decisions in spring 2014.

Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2013/12/21 at 23:33