Following the broadband money

Posts Tagged ‘Mobile

Free up fibre – Vodafone calls for equal access

with 5 comments

Capacity/cost crunch hits microwave backhaul

Capacity/cost crunch hits microwave backhaul

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.





Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2014/05/26 at 08:58

VOA seeks info on wireless broadband networks – to tax them

with 7 comments

The Broadband Stakeholders Group is hosting a meeting at which the Valuation Office Agency (VOA) will set out its views on the potential application of the non-domestic rating regime (aka ‘business rates’) to wireless broadband network infrastructure.

This meeting marks the start of a public consultation before the VOA publishes a Practice Note to clarify the valuation for non-domestic rates of wireless broadband network infrastructure. It is looking for inputs from industry on rental values and costs of installation.

The meeting comes less than a month after Vfast withdrew its proposal for a wireless broadband network for Tunbridge Wells, saying the VOA had told it the scheme would be subject to business rates taxes.

The VOA is the same organisation that saw fit to subject lit fibre to business rates and introduce three different ways of valuing it, two of which favour BT and Virgin Media. A recent Ofcom report on the market for >1Gbps services found the fibre tax is a serious inhibitor for investment.

Alan Bradford, head of telecoms at the VOA, will provide an update at the BSG meeting and there will be time for Q&A.

The BSG says this meeting is the VOA’s first opportunity to begin this industry consultation. However, Vfast’s reaction to its meeting with the VOA suggests that the VOA has already made up its mind to tax wireless networks. It is now just trying to fix the rate.

The meeting will take place from 10.00 to 12.00 on Monday 22 April at the Intellect offices, Russell Square House, 10-12 Russell Square, London WC1B 5EE.

The BSG thinks this will interest mobile operators, fixed wireless providers and other stakeholders with an interest in the non-domestic rating regime.

RSVP to by Tuesday 16 April.  Places are limited so early registration is advised.

Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2013/04/05 at 07:46

More broadband farce, this time it’s BDUK

with 28 comments

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

What broadband gap is the government funding?

with 22 comments

Miller – knowledge gap?

Last week’s statement by new culture secretary Maria Miller, about cuts of red tape to speed up new broadband roll-outs, actually announced a return to the status quo even before the BDUK process began.

Most UK citizens are not going to get even a pedestrian “superfast” broadband despite the government spending more than £1bn* in taxpayers’ money to get the fastest broadband service in Europe by 2015.

Acknowledging that “Superfast broadband is vital to secure our country’s future – to kick start economic growth and create jobs”, the statement went on to say, “superfast broadband means potential headline download access speeds (are) greater than 24Mbps”.

In Europe the target is 30Mpbs for all, with half the population subscribed to a 100Mbps service by 2020.

This statement also ignores BT’s much ballyhooed announcement that it had doubled the network frequency, bumping download speeds “up to” 80Mbps and higher.

Leave aside the weasel words “potential” and “headline” and consider this: “Our investment will help provide 90% of homes and businesses with access to superfast broadband and for everyone in the UK to have access to at least 2Mbps.” What percentage of the population will receive a speed between 2 and 24Mbps?

In addition Br0kenTeleph0n3 has received reports that even 24Mbps is the top end of what BT’s Infinity fibre to the cabinet service will deliver. It appears that some councils are being told to plan for the average speed delivered from an Infinity cabinet to be just 15Mbps.

Users who live close to the cabinet and have good quality copper will enjoy the top speed, but most will not.

The imminent arrival of LTE, the 4G high speed mobile broadband technology, is unlikely to help either. Theoretically capable of 300Mbps download speeds, experience in commercial LTE markets suggests that 15Mbps is the norm once a number of users are online at the same time. In fact for its LTE service Verizon in the US advertises 5-12Mbps downloads, and half that for uploads .

The government’s desire to have the best i.e. fastest broadband network in Europe by 2015 looks increasingly out of reach, and consumer research by Thinkbroadband shows that nine of 10 people don’t believe BDUK can deliver it.

BDUK’s host, the department of culture, media and sport, has not yet responded to questions about the looming broadband gap.

* Note. This excludes billion in funding from suppliers, local councils, and European Commission sources.

Rural broadband


Superconnected Cities


Mobile broadband


BBC digital dividend


Rural Community Broadband Fund




Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2012/09/10 at 08:01

UK faces Comms Bill disaster because DCMS doesn’t get it

with 49 comments

The government has released a schedule of seminars designed to gather information that will inform the Green Paper that will lead to a new Communications Bill in 2015. The supporting rationale suggests it is bent on solving last century’s issues, not those of a fully digital, hypernetworked, globally competitive economy. In short the department of culture, media and sport (DCMS) just doesn’t get it.

Starting in July delegates will address

Fundamental to the debate is the broadband market in the UK, which underpins everything DCMS would like to happen. The government appears to think this job is done. It is wrong.

It says it “is already investing a total of £830 million by 2015 into improving broadband connectivity in poorly served, mainly rural areas, upgrading mobile infrastructure and establishing some of Europe’s best connected cities. Government must now also consider the other crucial building block of digital infrastructure: spectrum.”

In fact, there is not yet a single live line in the country that has come through the BDUK procurement framework process, which governs the £830m. The nine firms invited to pitch for the business resulted in two  suppliers – BT and Fujitsu – hardly a rampantly competitive scenario.

Furthermore, the European Commission has stalled the release of BDUK’s funds because none of the UK proposals put forward so far meet its target of a universal 30Mbps broadband service by 2020. There has been some movement on this; existing contracts such as Cornwall, which offer “up to” 24Mbps, will be allowed to go ahead, but new ones must meet the 30Mbps target.

Why now?

The timing of the seminars is curious. Not only is DCMS distracted by the Olympics, but the House of Lords communications committee is looking at the broadband issue. It has heard evidence that the fibre to the cabinet solution proposed by both BT and Virgin Media is a technological dead-end, unlikely to meet Europe’s secondary target of 50% of users receiving a 100Mbps service. The committee’s findings and recommendations are unlikely to inform the seminars, but may be out in time for the Green Paper DCMS hopes to publish early in 2013.

Similarly with Ofcom’s business connectivity review. This three-yearly review of the network services available to businesses, such as leased lines and backhaul, will not start before July, an Ofcom spokesman says. Its conclusions, which will assess issues such as competition levels and barriers to entry in this £2bn/y market, are unlikely to be available much before year-end. This leaves little time to absorb and debate them before they are incorporated, or not, in the Green Paper.

Fit for purpose?

It is true that DCMS has some important issues to put to bed. These include online copyright, content creation and protection, and access to content. However, these issues derive from rather than drive the physical networks.

The government appears to believe that the UK has a network infrastructure fit for purpose for the networked age. There is plenty of evidence that this not the case.

At the consumer level there are just two physical networks, BT’s and Virgin Media’s. They presently overlap, duplicating coverage for about 50% of the UK’s houses. It is unlikely that VM will go much further than this for fear of being forced to provide third parties like BT with physical access to its ducts or wholesale access to its fibres and cables.

This is likely to leave BT with an effective fixed network monopoly in the two-thirds of the country where the “Final Third” of the people live. Of course, there are other fixed networks, such as those of Geo, of Cable&Wireless Worldwide, of Vtesse Networks, that criss-cross the country. But they do not offer connections to residential customers. Some, such as Gigaclear, do. But they are very small and their business models fragile.

BT has a product, PIA or physical infrastructure access, that allows third parties access to its poles and ducts. So far only Andy Conibere’s CallFlow Solutions has taken it up. Matthew Hare, CEO of Gigaclear, says CallFlow can do it because it gets its money upfront from customers. Hare has looked at PIA and rejected it. He’s put off not so much by the price (which Fujitsu and Virgin Media say is way higher than cost) but by the terms and conditions.

“You can use PIA only for residential customers,” he says. “BT knows that any viable business plan to service rural areas relies on being able to go to all customers, including businesses,” he says.

That’s not all. Hare says, among other things, you have to disclose your entire roll-out plan, and pay BT to survey the ducts you want to use. “They should know what’s available and what condition it’s in,” he says.

Other firms, such as TalkTalk and Sky, simply rent BT’s local access networks to deliver TV, broadband and voice services to customers. The rent they pay BT, or rather Openreach, ensures that BT still profits from the transaction. This is common practice throughout Europe

Wireless worlds

Then there are the wireless network operators, led by the mobile phone companies (MNOs and MVNOs like Virgin Mobile who rent their entire network infrastructure from Vodafone, Orange, O2 or Three). They are increasingly interested in serving data products to consumers, but preferably only in towns. Besides, they have to rent space on fixed networks to hook up with the UK’s core networks and internet peering points.

This is why Vodafone’s mooted takeover of CWW is a possible game-changer; it gives the mobile operator instant access to a fixed network whose backbone is probably as extensive as BT’s and which could backhaul wireless local access links in competition to BT. It also responds to the £100m, eight year backhaul deal between Virgin Media Business and MBNL, the network company for Everything Everywhere (O2 and Orange) and Three, signed in September 2011.

The only wireless network operator with coverage comparable to BT is Arqiva, whose main job is distributing TV and radio broadcasts. BT and Arqiva are in a joint venture with Detica to compete for the network for the smart meter project that will connect the UK’s 28 million homes and offices.

Content competition

The UK has the world’s second largest independent television production sector, is the second biggest exporter of music, the largest video games industry in Europe, and the fourth largest film market. That suggests the UK’s content businesses are doing all right.

DCMS says the “creative industries” including publishing, contribute 2.5% of GVA (gross value added), about £36bn, and employ 1.5 million people. Ofcom’s Communications Market report for 2011 largely corroborates it. It says TV revenue was up 5.7% to £11.8bn, radio was up 2.8% to £1.1bn, recorded music was down 8.6% to £1.2bn (but legal downloads were up 5% to 24% of sales), advertising was £16bn, 24% of it online, about the same as TV.

But that hides some problems. Publishers and other rights holders worldwide have been stunned by the proliferation and fragmentation of media. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Huffington Post, Google, Amazon etc have made mincemeat of business models that depend on high-priced access to exclusive content.

Even so, it is staggering to find DCMS wants to debate “whether convergence in the content market should require a degree of convergence in the telecoms/broadcast competition regimes”. It is hard to know what this actually means. It makes no sense unless it is a veiled threat to the ability of the likes of Google, Amazon, Apple and Sky to do deals that aggregate content and deliver it to customers for a price they are willing to pay.

These firms provide platforms for ordinary people to create and distribute their own content, without bothering cartel-like middlemen like record companies and book publishers.

There are things to be said about excessive market power and abuse of personal information, whose disclosure is often the price paid. But that is a different issue to one that should inform a Communications Bill.

By ignoring the issue of competition at the network infrastructure level, the government is in danger of condemning the UK to a sclerotic digital infrastructure that is not fit for purpose in the 21st century.

By missing or ignoring the fact that the future networks are as much about uploading and sharing as downloading and consuming, the government risks duplicating the content distribution cartels of the previous century.

Let the debate begin.

Ofcom reveals state of the nation’s comms capacity

leave a comment »

The volume of data passing through the London Internet exchange rose seven fold in five years, communications regulator Ofcom reported today in its first triennial report on the UK’s communications infrastructure.

This means fixed broadband users are consuming 17Gb of data per month, or about 11 movies. Mobile broadband users consume just 0.24Gb, but Ofcom notes that much mobile broadband traffic is off-loaded onto fixed networks, either by end users or by mobile network operators themselves.

3G mobile coverage, which the operators say is at its economic limit, means that 7.7 million, or about a quarter of all UK homes, cannot get a  choice of 3G signal.

Maps produced by Ofcom from operators’ figures show that 97% of premises and 66% of the UK landmass can receive a 2G signal outdoors from all four 2G networks. This leaves some 900,000 UK premises without a choice of all four 2G mobile networks.

Ofcom said 73% of premises and 13% of the UK’s landmass can receive a 3G signal outdoors from all five 3G networks, with lower coverage in less densely populated areas. “This means that approximately 7.7million UK premises do not have a choice of all five 3G mobile networks,” the regulator said.

Ofcom said 14% of residential broadband connections are currently operating below the 2Mbps speed that government wishes to make available to virtually all homes by 2015.

“We expect the number of sub-2Mbps connections to fall over the coming year as customers upgrade to new technologies and resolve in-home wiring issues that are affecting the speed of their connection. Superfast broadband networks (offering speed of over 24Mbit/s) now pass 58% of UK premises and BT plans to reach two-thirds of UK premises by the end of 2015.”

BT said this week it planned to speed up spending of £300m to cut that deadline by a year. In an interview,  BT’s group strategy director Sean Williams, said its fibre products (mainly up to 40Mbps fibre to the cabinet) now passed five million homes, and it had more than 200,000 end users. BT planned a quarter of its fibre rollout would be a 100Mbps service to homes, and it would test a 1Gbps service soon, he said.

Virgin Media, whose cable TV network is BT’s biggest threat, said it had four million broadband customers, with more than 150,000 taking its 50Mbps service, one-third more than a year ago. It said two million homes would have access to a 100Mbps service in 2012, and it was starting tests of a 1.5Gbps link following aa successful test of a 1Gbps service in London this year.

UK infrastructure dashboard 2011

Fixed telephony (PSTN)

Coverage of fixed line telephony

100% of premises

Fixed broadband

Coverage of broadband at 2Mbps or more

86% of existing connections

Coverage of Superfast broadband (>24Mbps)

58% of premises

Mobile 2G (outdoor)

Premises served by all operators

97% of premises

Premises not served by any operator

<0.1% of premises

Geographic area coverage by all operators

66% of land area

Geographic area not served by any operator

6% of land area

Mobile 3G (outdoor)

Premises served by all operators

73% of premises

Premises not served by any operator

1% of premises

Geographic area coverage by all operators

13% of land area

Geographic area not served by any operator

30% of land area

Digital terrestrial television

Households served by three multiplexes (public service broadcasting channels)

89% (rising to 99% by Nov 2012)

Households served by six multiplexes (all digital terrestrial television channels)

73% (rising to 92% by Nov 2012)

Digital radio

Households served by BBC national multiplex

91% of households

Roads served by BBC national multiplex

74% of roads

Households served by the national commercial multiplex

85% of households

Roads served by the national commercial multiplex

64% of roads

CapacityCapacity2 (for March 2011)

Fixed telephony (PSTN)

Number of active residential telephone lines

23.7 million

Total number of residential fixed voice calls

1,717 million

Fixed broadband

Average fixed broadband modem sync speed


Total data throughput on residential fixed lines

311,000,000 GB

Average data throughput per residential connection

17 GB


Total number of active mobile connections

76.4 million

Total number of mobile calls

10,406 million

Total mobile data throughput

9,000,000 GB

Average mobile data throughput per 3G connection

0.24 GB

Digital terrestrial television

Total capacity of six multiplexes

121 Mbps (rising to 161Mbps by Nov 2012)

Digital radio

Total capacity of the two national DAB multiplexes 2.5 Mbps

Source: UK Communications Infrastructure Report 2011

Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2011/11/02 at 08:00

Ofcom mulls national roaming obilgation plus cash to boost 4G mobile coverage

with 2 comments

Whichever mobile operator wins government funding for rural coverage following the upcoming 4G spectrum auction may have to allow the others’ customers free access to it.

In addition to the national roaming obligation, Ofcom is also considering asking government to set aside money from the auction to pay to increase present mobile coverage.

Ofcom chairman Colette Bowe: roamin' in the gloamin'

An Ofcom spokesman said the regulator is presently considering, rather than consulting on the national roaming issue.  Ofcom says it has the power to impose such an undertaking unilaterally, but would like to bring the government along with its decision. It says the government has sovereign powers over how the money from the auction will be spent.

This has emerged from correspondence between Ofcom and the Communications Consumer Panel seen by Br0kenTeleph0n3.

Chancellor George Osborne has promised £150m to expand mobile coverage, but hasn’t said where that might come from. Some analysts believe the 4G auction will raise around £4bn, and according to Br0kenTeleph0n3’s sums, there is about £74.2m unallocated in BDUK’s £530m budget for rural broadband projects.

Communications Consumer Panel (CCP) chairman Bob Warner wrote to Ofcom in July expressing concern that the auction, now delayed until late 2012, will not result in mobile coverage beyond the present 2G footprint, which covers about 90% of the population.

He said that basic voice coverage issues of 10 years ago still existed. This was because mobile operators, faced with the need to recover the £22.4bn they paid in 3G licence fees, none of which went into network building, had switched their priorities to rolling out 3G in more populated areas.

“We do not believe that the current coverage on 2G meets the legitimate aspirations of consumers or the needs of small businesses,” Warner wrote.

Mobile operators and others had told the CCP that current 2G coverage was at its “commercially economic limit” and was unlikely to be “significantly extended” following the 4G auction, he warned Ofcom.

Ofcom chairman Colette Bowe replied in September that Ofcom shared the CCP’s assessment.

“Whilst we agree with you that something needs to be done to improve mobile coverage in rural areas, we believe such action needs to be proportionate and implemented in the most cost effective and efficient manner possible,” Bowe replied.

She agreed that if only one network received funding to extend 2G mobile coverage, it was unlikely that others would follow. “Therefore without national roaming, this coverage would be unlikely to be available to the customers of all mobile networks.

“We are therefore indeed giving careful consideration to the need for some form of roaming obligation on any network funded to provide coverage beyond today’s 2G coverage,” she replied.

The exchange of letters is a sequel to Penrith & The Border MP Rory Stewart’s Commons unanimous motion to boost mobile coverage from 90% to 98% of the population. The CCP estimated the cost of adding the required 1,400 extra base stations at £250m, which could come from the auction fees, it said.

Bowe said the figures had to be confirmed.

Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2011/10/24 at 08:00