Following the broadband money

Posts Tagged ‘FTTH

Red letter day for two rural broadband projects

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A now derelict BT microwave tower has been superceded by fibre in the countryside. Pic by Peter Barrington via Wikimedia.

A now derelict BT microwave tower has been superceded by fibre in the countryside. Pic by Peter Barrington via Wikimedia.

B4RN and Thurlestone have had their applications for funds to build fibre to the premises (FTTP) networks in remote rural areas approved in principle by BDUK, the government’s broadband delivery agency.

They are expected to receive their confirmation letters today. The only thing stopping the projects now is their local county councils.

BDUK’s approval is expected to increase pressure on Lancashire in B4RN’s case, and Devon and Somerset in Thurlestone’s case to remove the proposed coverage area post codes from their BT contracts.

BT effectively has a veto on such deals. BDUK guidance says it may choose to assess the impact of removals on its existing plans before claiming compensation for the smaller contract or proposing a new deal that includes some or all of the altnets’ areas.

Michael Armitage, who speaks for the Thurlestone project, confirmed that BDUK has made a “conditional award”. “The key condition is that Connecting Devon & Somerset (CD&S) has to agree to de-scope (exclude) the Thurlestone project area postcodes from the BT procurement, which so far they’ve been ‘reluctant’ to do.”

The Thurlestone community is to meet on Tuesday evening to compare two network proposals, but Armitage says CD&S and BT are refusing to attend. CD&S and BT plan to hold a separate public meeting on 22 January 2014, at which BT Next Generation Network boss Bill Murphy and Devon Council leader John Hart may speak.

Thurlestone plans to use money from the DEFRA-controlled £20m Rural Community Broadband Fund (RCBF) to back bank loans plus Enterprise Investment Scheme equity plus private equity to fund a FTTP network to 1,300 premises across Thurlestone and South Huish (Hope Cove) parishes. This could be extended to Salcombe and the rest of the South Hams over time, Armitage says.

Christine Conder, who has been the public face of the B4RN project, says she hasn’t seen confirmation of BDUK’s approval.

“As with all the community/altnet projects it’s the lack of data from the councils/BT that is blocking DEFRA from releasing the money. That is a fact that won’t change. Some councils release ‘maps’ but without the data they are meaningless. I believe some councils are actively working with their communities but ours don’t seem to want to. Our original plan was for eight parishes, but I believe we are up to 21-23 now wanting to join the network, and the RCBF would have facilitated that.”

That would more than double B4RN’s original footprint of around 1400 homes/businesses to over 3,000.

Funded originally along the same lines as Thurleston, B4RN has been waiting years for RCBF money to fund the bigger project.

Well-connected blogger Philip Virgo reported correspondence from B4RN’s CEO Barry Forde that suggested Lancashire had reneged on a deal to exclude B4RN’s coverage area from its £130m next generation broadband deal with BT. Project director Andrew Halliwell refused to speak to BrokenTelephone about the alleged agreement, or a controversial fleet management deal that BT has with Lancashire County Council via a joint venture, which attracted a police investigation.

If Thurleston and B4RN get their money, they will join Rothbury in Northumberland and Fell End in Cumbria, both of which have contracted with BT for their networks, as the only RCBF beneficiaries so far.

Others are trying to join in. There are reports of more than 50 RCBF applications, nearly all of which have been turned down. One of the survivors, the Northmoor, Moreton and Bablockhythe Community Broadband Project in Oxfordshire, has just issued a state aid consultation on its plans to deliver 100% coverage at >24Mbps by 2015 with RCBF backing.

“We have some 520 homes and businesses in the project area, which is now descoped from the county plan by Oxfordshire County Council,” says spokesman Graham Shelton.

Shelton’s group has worked with West Oxfordshire District Council to manage the grant and the various steps to procurement and delivery. “(Councillors) have been, and are, hugely supportive. Ours is a very rural district with 25% home working or businesses run from home, so this initiative is highly significant to support our community,” he says.

Current broadband speeds in the Northmoor coverage area vary but are often below 1Mbps when homes are far from a street cabinet, he adds.

So far he has had expressions of interest from two network operators. “There may be scope to connect with neighbouring villages which are also outside the first phase of the county plan, and it will be for the successful bidder to follow up from the community contacts that we can provide. At this stage those villages are not descoped.”

Shelton estimates that state aid intensity to be no more than 50%. That is in stark contrast to some BT contracts where the state contributes more than two-thirds of the costs, and may run above 90% in some cases and deliver less than the altnets promise, according to Malcolm Corbett, CEO of the Independent Network Cooperative Association (INCA).


Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2013/12/10 at 06:54

Lies, damn lies, and broadband statisitics

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UK SFBB penetration to outstrip Japan by 2018. Really?

UK SFBB penetration to outstrip Japan by 2018. Really?

It took a single question to unstitch a carefully woven fabric that pictures the UK as a global leader in high speed broadband.

Three reports have came out in the past couple of weeks that appear to justify the government’s broadband policy. One, on the domestic demand for broadband was from the Communications Chambers for the Broadband Stakeholders’ Group. Another, from SQW, reported on the economic impact of broadband to the department of culture, media and sport (DCMS), which is responsible for the UK’s telecommunications policy and implementation. BT earlier commissioned market researcher Analysys Mason to write a benchmark report comparing the UK’s roll-out to competitor nations.

The reports are well worth reading to understand the assumptions and methodologies that led to the conclusions drawn and pictures painted. Each in its own way puts the rosiest possible gloss on the numbers. SQW found a 20 to 1 ROI in terms of gross value added by 2024. BSG said the average home will need only 19Mbps by 2023, and the top 1% of homes will need only 39Mbps tops.

Analysys Mason partner Matt Yardley told a Westminster eForum audience in London yesterday that the UK coverage of high speed broadband would slightly exceed Japan’s  by 2018 (see graph).

It all looked so responsible as to the use of taxpayers’ money.  Only the cynical might think that the coruscating National Audit Office report on the value for money that taxpayers can expect from the £1.2bn (or is it £1.4bn?) they are giving BT has anything to do with the sudden improvement in our insights into broadband a la UK.

Then a question from Kcom’s financial director Sean Royce dimmed the glow. Referring to the graph (above) that showed the negligible perceived differences between the UK and Japanese  coverage by 2018, he said, “I’m just keen to understand what your observations might be if superfast broadband was 100Mbps rather than (EU-defined 30Mbps).”

To his credit, Yardley didn’t duck it. “The EU policy objective is on take-up,” he said. “This (chart) is based on a 30Mbps definition of superfast. It would be interesting to know if these (data for other countries) were 100Mbps to the users themselves, because we know that there’s a combination of fibre to the home and fibre to the basement using VDSL (to the flat/office), but I don’t have that breakdown. But it’s pretty clear that if we took a definition of 100Mbps, then a gap would still exist.”

According to an Arthur D Little presentation to the FTTH Council Europe, in December 2012, fibre to the home or basement was available to 90% of Japanese homes, and 42.5% were connected via fibre. According to OECD figures for September that year, the average advertised broadband speed in Japan was 95Mbps.

Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2013/12/06 at 06:54

Will Vaizey end B4RN’s wait for broadband money?

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Vaizey - time to take the wait off?

Vaizey – time to take the wait off?

Communications minister Ed Vaizey is expected to sign off at least one application for funds from the £20m Rural Community Broadband Fund (RCBF) on Tuesday.

The application is from B4RN, the high profile DIY fibre to the home network in rural Lancashire. B4RN applied months ago for £875,000 from the RCBF, and is also negotiating a bank loan.

B4RN’s application, and up to 50 others, have been delayed while local councils try to establish where BT intends to roll out its next generation access to broadband and what access speeds and reliability it promises. Early reports suggested BT intends to duplicate two-thirds of B4RN’s coverage in one of the remotest parts of Lancashire.

The government has said the speed and coverage template details (SCT) in BT’s NGA contracts are commercially confidential, but it expects local councils to publish them once the BT roll-out is under way.

However, B4RN had a prior agreement with Lancashire County Council (LCC) for the county to exclude B4RN’s coverage area from BT’s plan. This meant B4RN’s application should have been gone through without reference to BT’s roll-out.

“The hold-up was down to LCC refusing to confirm (to the RCBF) they were not planning on funding BT from the main pot (of state aid) in the same postcodes, this despite our agreement,” B4RN CEO Barry Forde told Br0kenTeleph0n3.

Forde said LCC had asked B4RN to drop a complaint with the European Commission against LCC’s use of state aid to help BT overbuild a pre-existing privately funded network, namely B4RN. He agreed to drop the complaint only after LCC promised to give B4RN’s postcodes ‘immunity’ from state-aided competition from BT. Forde published B4RN’s latest postcodes as recently as April.

LCC did not immediately respond to a request for comment. If it does, we will update the story.

B4RN’s complaint is essentially the same one BT and Virgin Media used to scupper the government’s Superconnected Cities initial £150m plan to see 100Mbps fibre to the premises networks built in the UK’s 22 largest cities. This prompted the extremely well-connected blogger Philip Virgo to suggest that the two carriers be referred to the competition authorities for anti-competitive behaviour.

LCC does a lot of business with BT. Three years ago it handed BT the management of the Cumbria and Lancashire Education Network (CLEO) schools network, which Forde designed, and later signed a £40m contract for its county public service network with the telco. In 2011 it entered a £400m, 10-year joint venture, One Connect, with BT to provide back office services, a deal whose transparency an MP has questioned. BT now stands to scoop £130m from the Lancashire NGA roll-out.


Barry Forde has been in touch to say that the amount B4RN is currently seeking is £875,000, not £750,000, due to a bigger coverage area, and that I should be referring to the Lancashire, rather than Lancaster, County Council. Points noted; changes made above.

Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2013/06/30 at 13:37

When push comes to shove in rural broadband

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Culture secretary Maria Miller may be calling for a shake-up at BDUK, the agency tasked with delivering high speed broadband to the “Final Third”, but she might do better going to Kent to beat the bushes for the Ultrafast Underriver project.

Underriver is hoping to contract Gigaclear to provide a 1Gbps fibre to the home (FTTH) service to homes in its area. They are unlikely to get >2Mbps via BT ever, despite almost £20m of taxpayers’ money going to the telco.

After first pitching the idea in the depths of winter, and getting a resounding “Yes, I’m interested” response, the organisers are now doing the hard graft of signing up customers. Gigaclear won’t move until it has 190 firm customers, and the organisers are 60% there.

Mike Clyne, who is leading the project, says progress so far is normal, but he is looking to push so that the diggers can move in.

He faces two main problems: ignorance and apathy. To reduce ignorance levels the organisers have sent out FAQs and their answers.

So why are some people being shy?

“Anecdotal evidence seems to primarily fall into two categories. The first is about cost and the second is ‘do I need more internet speed?’,” he says.

Taking the cost issue, Gigaclear is offering 50Mbps symmetrical plus phone line starting at £43/month plus £100 connection fee, and a 1Gbps for £69/month. That’s about 2.4x what TalkTalk is advertising (£18.00/month), but likely 25x what TalkTalk could possibly deliver to these homes.

As the speed question, the real question is What’s your time worth? That’s pretty easy to answer. A more subtle question is, What could you do that you can’t do now? That requires imagination and perhaps courage to take advantage of the service and change your life.

By the by, Clyne says the local parish councils have raised Underriver in their discussions of broadband issues. “Sevenoaks District Council have also listed our project on their website. Kent County Council have declined our request to list the Ultrafast Underriver project on their website.”

Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2013/06/25 at 22:14

Britain’s NGA broadband bill – £6.2bn?

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Tucked away in the appendix to Point Topic’s reassessment of the cost of providing 100% next generation broadband access to Europe is the cost to do it for the UK: £6.186bn (€7.304bn).

This is made from €1,157m for urban areas, €1,297m for semi-rural areas, and €4,850m for rural areas.Image

This is a far cry from the £29bn estimated by rival consultancy Analysys Mason for the Broadband Stakeholders Group, which became government and industry dogma for the cost of ‘fibre-ing up the country’.

Point Topic’s think-piece estimates €60,000 is the total capex cost (including long-distance backhaul for example) of providing universal 30Mbps downloads via VDSL for a single street cabinet that covers a European urban area of radius 700 metres, approximately 1.6km2 in area. The cabinet is assumed to serve all homes in the area up to 600, ie €100 per home. Less than 100% take-up and other inefficiencies probably push this to €150 per home passed, it says. This rises to €900 in semi-rural areas.

The rural areas need a different approach, it says. Point Topic suggests a subsidy of €2,000 per home will do the trick and attract private investment. B4RN, the private FTTH network, expects to connect homes for an average of £1,400.

The analyst further suggests the UK has the smallest rural “challenge”, with just 4.6% of rural homes facing above average or high funding needs.

Point Topic puts the cost to provide every home in the EU with access to a broadband service that offers 30Mbps downloads at €80bn, less than half the usual estimates of €180bn to €270bn.

True, this is not the ‘future-proofed’ fibre to the home (FTTH) B4RN solution, but uses existing copper in the local loop. One suspects that using E-band (>60MHz ‘WiGig’) wireless links instead of copper could also play a role, despite the need for greater beam accuracy and signal attenuation in rain.

Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2013/05/28 at 22:36

More broadband farce, this time it’s BDUK

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The Financial Times has come to the belated view that the BDUK procurement of next generation access to broadband is a farce.

The trigger appears to have been Fujitsu’s decision not to compete for any of the contracts available under the BDUK procurement framework, a process that has cost taxpayers £10m to create and left BT as the sole supplier.

The formal announcement has been a long time coming, but has been anticipated ever since the Cabinet Office effectively blacklisted the company by describing it as a “high risk” supplier of government IT systems.

That description did not preclude Fujitsu, with BT the only qualified suppliers under the BDUK framework, from bidding for business.The final straw for Fujitsu appears to be BDUK’s absurd requirements for wireless suppliers of NGA broadband to rural areas.

These were published on 18 February in response to the European Commission’s sensible relaxation of the ban on wireless as a means delivering next generation broadband.

Much of Fujitsu’s business plan, at least in Cumbria, relied on wireless to get around the need to access BT’s poles and ducts. When this was ruled inadmissible, Fujitsu withdrew, leaving BT as the sole bidder in Cumbria.

The commission then rethought the ban and raised it. However, it still appears to believe that fibre to the home is the end game, but it is willing to acknowledge that high speed broadband delivered by cellular technologies such as LTE are the way to go.

This is making life hard or impossible for fixed wireless broadband providers. In its guidance to local councils regarding the use of fixed wireless in their coverage plans BDUK asks for service levels that not even fixed line suppliers have to meet.

For example, wireless providers must show that their system is capable of providing access speeds in excess of 30Mbps download,  with at least ~15Mbps download speed to end-users for 95% of the time during peak times in the target intervention area.

Then it says the wireless operator must put in a fibre to the home network . “The subsidised solution must be an interim solution chosen where a fibre-based solution is not yet economically viable, and there shall be a commitment to replace non-wired connections with fibre at a later stage.”

Kijoma Broadband, which supplies high speed wireless connectivity in the south of England, says, “There is no such guarantee (on download speed) for FTTC for example. FTTC starts at 15 Mbps sync speed  and as previously reported, 5 Mbps orders will be accepted via wholesale providers,” he says.

BT has doubled its original offer of 15Mbps download speeds to “up to” 30Mbps. Ofcom this week reported that the average national download speed is 12Mbps, due largely to Virgin Media’s largely urban roll-out of high speed broadband over cable TV channels.

FTTC connection (speeds) will be lower in practice due to line length, crosstalk, ISP contention, traffic management policies, and other issues, Lewis adds.

Regarding the commitment to install fibre, Lewis says, “If fibre in a low density area is viable in around five years, then it is viable now. The only time it would improve is if the rural area in question gained a large new housing estate.”

Fibre is going into rural homes and businesses, but it is due to community-based efforts such as B4RN and Gigaclear. Both face hostile responses from BT, which has consistently failed to publish precise coverage plans for both its £2.5bn “commercial roll-out” of FTTC to two-thirds of UK homes, and its BDUK-funded roll-outs in “not spots”.

As Ewhurst resident Walter Willcox notes elsewhere on the blog, even having a fibred-up street cabinet in your street doesn’t guarantee access to a high speed service because the cabinet’s capacity may already be taken up.

This should raise questions regarding the percentage of “homes passed” that can actually be served by the cabinets BT has installed so far. BT has said in the past that it would add more street cabinets if the newly installed ones reach capacity. Ewhurst’s experience is to the contrary.

Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2013/03/16 at 15:24

BT makes the case for fibre to the home

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BT has inadvertently made the case for a national fibre to the premises roll-out.

Today it announced it was delivering 10Gbps to a Cornish engineering company over that company’s 330Mbps fibre link between its office and the BT exchange in Truro.

BT claims this is the fastest “retail” broadband link in the world, but it’s not connected directly to the public internet. Nothing on the internet presently works at that speed, it claims. Indeed, the computer and networking kit on either end of the link run slower than the fibre link.

The BT press release quotes Ranulf Scarbrough, programme director for the Cornwall superfast broadband programme, saying,“What is exciting about this trial is that these hyper-fast speeds have been obtained over the exactly the same fibre that carries BT’s fibre broadband services today. All we are doing is changing the electronics at either end.”

Scarbrough goes on to say, “This trial shows we are thinking and ready for the future even though there are no current plans to deploy this technology. A lot of this project is about future proofing – making sure that it’s not just the fastest speeds today but that we can continue to be at the cutting edge for five, 10, 20 years.”

Case closed.

Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2012/11/22 at 23:19