Following the broadband money

Posts Tagged ‘Olivia Garfield

Superfast broadband roll-out slows to a crawl

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BT appears to have slowed the pace of its next generation broadband roll-out for a number of reasons.

Most readers will be aware that DG Competition has still not given its approval for the release of more than £1bn under the BDUK procurement framework because of concerns over wholesale access to the resulting infrastructure. This is holding up about 30 NGA projects in both cities and rural areas.

But there are other reasons too.

Liv Garfield, CEO of BT’s infrastructure arm, Openreach, told the recent NextGen12 conference that its £2.5bn Infinity fibre to the cabinet project now “passes” more than 11 million homes. But take-up rates so far are thought to be under 10%.

The conference was full of talk that BT is now concentrating on preserving cash flow, so NGA roll-outs that use BT’s cash are unlikely until it gets more paying customers.

Another is that Openreach is missing its targets. On 31 August it revealed that its planning department was missing targets to confirm excess construction charges (Day 8 target) and lead times to customers (Day 14 target). (See graph.)

Missing targets: the best laid plans gang oft a-gley. (Click for a larger image.)

It said it was taking remedial action to bring the number of missed deadlines back to it target of 10% by November.

Another is that it has asked the firms that actually dig the trenches, throw the concrete, fit the cabinets, that it wants price discounts of between 20% and 30%.

This was confirmed by a delegate at the NextGen conference. A sub-contractor to Openreach’s primary contractors, he told Br0kenTeleph0n3 that NGA business had pretty much dried up following two years of breakneck activity. He was expecting his customers to pass on the discount request in the near future. “It’s just not there,” he said.

The contractors have reportedly responded by asking for a 270-day notice period for contract starts.

That means even if BT won NGA contracts today for say, Derbyshire, the earliest shovels could break ground is 8 July next year, says a source close to county council procurements.

Parish and council elections in 33 counties are due in May next year. Many councillors who have promised voters superfast broadband may have to enter the election unable to make good their promise if they stick with the BDUK procurement framework.

The department of culture, media & sport, which owns the BDUK process, told local authorities (LAs) on 19 June that the bidders (BT and Fujitsu) had warned that they could not roll-out NGA concurrently in every county. (This was before the Cabinet Office blacklisted Fujitsu.)

LAs heard that the bidders could handle no more than five bids “until progressed far enough to ensure process is running smoothly”, and then no more than three per month to start, with performance dictating actual numbers at any time.

According to DCMS, five LAs have already signed contracts: North Yorkshire, Rutland, Lancashire, Surrey and Wales. Nine procurements are under way: Cambridgeshire, Cumbria, Devon & Somerset, Herefordshire & Gloucestershire, Highlands & Islands, Norfolk, Oxfordshire, Suffolk and Wiltshire.

DCMS has published a spreadsheet detailing the order in which the remaining LAs can bid.

Mark Heath is tracking the NGA spending here. This includes UK taxpayers’ money via BDUK and other government budgets, BT’s “matching funds”, and even the EU’s contribution.


Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2012/10/12 at 07:05

Millions spent on DSL no help as BT seeks rural NGA broadband answers

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BT is treating the UK’s rural areas as new build sites for the purposes of next generation broadband, Openreach CEO Liv

Garfield – green fields and greenfield sites

Garfield told delegates to the NextGen12 conference in London on Monday.

She said she had taken a look at “vast chunks of rural UK, and there is nothing there to assist” Openreach in rolling out fibre-based broadband access.

“There is just ground, and we’ll have to go through that ground, or we’ll have to use aerial poles, and that’s the way rural broadband will be connected. It will not be based on what’s already there,” she said. “It will be brand new provision.”

This is despite BT spending tens of millions of pounds 10 years ago to install ADSL broadband in rural areas. Critics, including former BT CTO Peter Cochrane, say BT’s current choice of fibre to the cabinet (FTTC) is a technological dead end that means BT is likely to ask taxpayers for more money in a few years as  its implementation can’t deliver fibre to the home (FTTH).

Garfield went on to say that the present cost is not “the few hundred grand” it costs to upgrade a cabinet, but the millions it costs to upgrade an exchange to support fibre-based broadband.

BT has faced questions over its proposed costs of upgrading broadband in rural areas. Leaked documents prepared by former BDUK contractor Mike Kiely show a stead rise in the cost of cabinets from around £12,000 to £30,000 since BT began rolling out next generation broadband. Garfield’s “few hundred grand” marks a massive escalation in cabinet costs at a time when it is the effectively the only firm likely to win BDUK contracts.

Garfield said putting next generation broadband into rural areas “requires taking a look at an area like Wales, and (seeing what’s there) and saying there is nothing in the ground that is going to help us – there’s directly buried copper in most rural areas, that’s the reality, so there is nothing to benefit (us).”

She said BT had looked at this issue and made sure that it is not holding back consumer rural broadband provision.

She added that BT provides various options to communications provides, but dark fibre is not one of them. “I think people would like to use dark fibre not for consumable provision but to make it cheaper to provide business customers with different options. That’s not something (we) choose to do, if I’m honest, right now.”

Garfield equated different ideas about symmetrical and asymmetrical upload and download speeds to “religious beliefs”. BT had chosen to provide 80Mbps asymmetrical broadband to millions of people quickly using FTTC rather than 1Gbps symmetrical, which is likely to be a fibre to the home (FTTH) network.

She said she had seen stuff in BT’s labs that would make broadband speeds “dramatically higher” without resorting to fibre to the home. 1Gbps upstream is not what consumers need, she said. Nothing the labs had modelled so far required more than 24Mbps, she said.

One such technology is Genesis Technical Systems’ copper-based DSL rings, which at the show were running at 400Mbps. BT is expected to start trialling the technology towards the end of the year, with Genesis planning a commercial launch in mid-2013, probably with a European operator.

Garfield said Openreach would start work on the BDUK contracts it had already won “the day after” Brussels approves state aid under the BDUK procurement framework.

Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2012/10/09 at 07:02