Br0kenTeleph0n3

Following the broadband money

Posts Tagged ‘FTTH

Common sense challenge for Cotswold Broadband roll-out

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West Oxford mapNice 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.

 

 

 

Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2014/05/14 at 06:58

Dolphinholme overcomes FUD to light up on B4RN’s 1Gbps fibre

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Dolphinholme is where the marker is in the lower right hand corner. Map by Google Maps.

Dolphinholme is where the marker is in the lower right hand corner. Map by Google Maps.

“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

1/

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.  

2/

Dear <resident>,

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

Judith Brown

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.

Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2014/05/07 at 00:39

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

Devon refuses public vote on competing broadband projects

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The proposed South Hams coverage area, just west of Dartmouth, Devon.

The proposed South Hams coverage area, just west of Dartmouth, Devon.

Devon residents were refused a vote on which next generation broadband plan they prefer – their own or BT’s – at a public meeting hosted by the leader of the county council.

Local newspaper the Kingsbridge and Salcombe Gazette reports that residents who attended a public meeting on 22 January heard details of a fibre to the home (FTTP) project by would-be community network operator South Hams Broadband and a fibre to the cabinet (FTTC) alternative by BT and the county council-run Connecting Devon & Somerset.

The paper reported that Bill Murphy, MD for BT’s Next Generation Access roll-out, told the meeting they “had an important choice to make”.

County council leader John Hart, who hosted the meeting, refused to allow a vote on the two proposals.

Click the pic to enlarge.

Click the pic to enlarge.

Chris White, who spoke for the South Hams Broadband project, which plans to run fibre to all the premises in three coastal parishes west of Dartmouth, was reported saying it was now “unclear” how residents would be able to make this choice.

“Perhaps a vote could have been taken then and there to give Councillor Hart a flavour of what the audience had made of the two options presented. Unfortunately, he was having none of it, and refused to have a vote of any sort.”

White went on to say, “Although the mood of the meeting was in fact unmistakeable, it became clear that (Hart) and his select committee would make the decision on ‘commercial’ grounds, based on a written report from the CD&S broadband team that would remain confidential as it would contain ‘commercially sensitive information’.”

Shortly before Christmas BrokenTelephone reported that Lancashire’s B4RN and Devon’s Thurlestone (aka South Hams) community-based next generation broadband projects had passed the BDUK hurdles to qualify for money from the £20m Rural Broadband Development Fund. The next step is have their county council exclude their planned coverage areas from BT’s taxpayer-subsidised fibre to the cabinet roll-outs.

As reported here earlier, BT has an effective veto over such exclusions.

A 2012 analysis of the South Hams project by rural broadband consultant Adrian Wooster (whose subsequent contract with BDUK has just finished) revealed the area has 4,610 homes. Seventy per cent are main residences and 260 are social housing properties; a quarter are second homes or holiday lets. South Hams now plans to cover about a quarter of the original area.

Wooster reported the average predicted speed in the project area was just 3.1Mbps, (at the time half the national average), with ADSL2+, VDSL and Docsis services all unavailable.

There were 13 BT telephone exchanges. None was “unregulated”, and only in Kingsbridge did BT have competition in the form of TalkTalk.

“The existence of additional operators in a telephone exchange can be a useful indicator of the markets general interest in the area, and the existence of backbone connectivity; some operators offer wholesale access to their core networks as well as retail services,” Wooster wrote.

“That only Kingsbridge has additional operators is perhaps an indicator that the whole of the South Hams area is not considered attractive to broadband operators and that backhaul connectivity may be scarce and expensive.

“Should the community decide to progress a FTTP project in the Thurlestone area, the budget is likely to be in the realm of £3-5m.”

White said the South Hams plan is to make a 100Mbps symmetric service available to all premises in the parishes of Thurleston, South Milton and South Huish. He expects to issue a tender in March, select a supplier in June, and start work in July, provided the county agrees to “descope” the three parishes.

Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2014/02/04 at 06:57

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