Following the broadband money

Posts Tagged ‘Virgin Media

UK’s £1.7bn broadband spend passes 1m homes; 13m to go?

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UK broadband - fit for purpose?

UK broadband – fit for purpose?

Last week ministers claimed that the government’s £1.7bn budget has paid for superfast broadband to pass one million homes, so far.

This is 12% of the 8.8 million homes it is meant to serve with speeds above 24Mbps by 2017. As there appears to be no official source for the number of business premises, ministers are free to ad lib broadband availability to businesses.

There was no indication of what upload and download speeds users receive, and there are growing reports that services promised from some cabinets are now being deferred, perhaps indefinitely.

The money is all going to BT under the Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) programme. It supplements the £2.5bn BT claims to have spent providing “superfast” service to the two-thirds of the population deemed “economically viable”, roughly the area covered by Virgin Media’s cable network.

A department of culture, media & sport spokesman said: “The £1.7bn is comprised of £1.2bn for phase 1 (£530m of BDUK funding plus local and European funding taking this up to £1.2bn) and £500m for phase 2 (£250m from BDUK to be matched by £250m further local and European funding).”

Based on the 2011 census, 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% had four or more people.

According to the department of business, innovation & skills, there were 4,895,655 UK businesses in 2013. Nor BIS, nor the ONS, nor the department of communities and local government (DCLG), which counts the cash raised from business rates, has a number for the physical shops, offices and factories businesses occupy.

That did not stop the Federation of Small Businesses last month from reporting that the national broadband network is unfit for business use. “The current government targets of 24Mbps for 95 per cent of the population and 2Mbps for the remaining five per cent will not meet the future demands of UK businesses.” it said. This includes video conferencing, remote back-ups and cloud applications.

This was tacitly confirmed by HMRC, which now allows firms in “remote locations” to submit their VAT returns by paper instead of online. FSB national chairman John Allan said the move will benefit many small businesses. “However, it clearly highlights the need for the government to tackle the poor state of digital infrastructure in the UK. Too many firms are negatively impacted by sub-standard broadband. It is vital business owners spend more energy doing business and less doing paperwork.”

There are also widespread reports that BT has deliberately ignored central business districts and business parks in both its commercial and taxpayer-subsidised broadband roll-outs. As a result, DCMS set up a £150m SuperConnected Cities fund that will give small business a £3,000 grant to upgrade their broadband connections in up to 22 cities.

The scheme was “red-lighted” In a Cabinet Office report in May 2013. A year later these cities had issued 1,008 vouchers.

Fixed to wireless connectivity was 77:23 with Virgin Media leading the list of suppliers followed by Metronet UK. DCMS said 149 suppliers had registered; 90 had won business as a result.

BDUK’s quarterly broadband performance indicator for June said the £72.4m BDUK has spent so far guaranteed at least 24Mbps download speeds to 888,133 premises. That is £81.56 per premises passed.

Put another way, the government is covering 12,260 premises for every million pounds spent so far. Ministers say they expect a £20 return on every pound spent on this roll-out.


Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2014/08/11 at 11:23

Broadband is ‘national embarrassment’ – MP

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Meg Hillier wants to make urban broadband a discussion topic.

Meg Hillier wants to make urban broadband a discussion topic.

Shoreditch MP Meg Hillier is to hold a Broadband Roundtable at 10am on 31 July at Perseverance Works in Shoreditch, the heart of London’s TechCity district, to discuss the “embarrassing” availability of broadband in central business districts, never mind rural areas.

So far 422 suppliers have registered to service the government’s £150m Urban Broadband Fund, which funds the SuperConnected Cities scheme. Some 149 have have provided quotations, and 90 have won business, says DCMS.

By the end of May the cities had issued 1008 vouchers in 14 months. The fixed/wireless connectivity split was 77/23 per cent, and the average speed per connection went from 11.2Mbps to 70.3Mbps for downloads.

According to Hillier’s blurb, “Broadband is a national embarrassment and action is urgently needed. Government grants of £3,000 have been added in, but that is like a sticking plaster on a broken arm. Businesses are moving out of the area because they simply cannot access high speeds.”

The cities in the SCC programme are Aberdeen, Belfast, Birmingham, Bradford, Brighton and Hove, Bristol, Cambridge, Cardiff, Coventry, Derby, Derry/Londonderry, Edinburgh, Leeds, London, Manchester, Newcastle, Newport, Oxford, Perth, Portsmouth, Salford, and York.

DCMS says it will provide a city by city breakdown “this summer”, but declines to say how much money has been paid out so far or to whom.  However, Virgin Media tops a DCMS table of suppliers to whom vouchers have been issued (see below).

BT, which Ofcom says has an effective monopoly on wholesale fixed line access despite Virgin Media’s efforts, declines to say how many vouchers it has won. Its Openreach division is likely to be a big winner anyway. This is because smaller operators like Hyperoptic and TalkTalk rent ducts and lines from Openreach, even as BT’s Business division competes with them at a retail level.

So does 1,008 vouchers issued in 14 months represent success or failure? To be fair, it’s probably too soon to tell, but there’s not much time left – DCMS says the money dries up in March 2015.

It’s appropriate that Perseverance Works (PW) is the venue. Helped by former BDUK consultant Mike Kiely, the firm has just contracted Fibre Options to supply a 16Gbps link into the premises which houses around 90 businesses.

As landlord, PW will own the network. Each tenant will be able to use the government vouchers to order a connection running at up to 1Gbps. Fibre Options will do the provisioning and billing.

It took more than a year to negotiate the deal because the usual suspects were not prepared to consider an aggregated customer base – they wanted to sell a long-term leased line service that most tenants neither wanted nor could afford. PW eventually went to tender, which Fibre Options won.

PW spokesman Paul King says he sees “no reason” why PW’s approach should not be replicated by business parks across the country. Members of INCA are currently targeting business parks, most of which have been neglected in BT’s NGA roll-out.

The details again: 10:00-11:00, Thursday 31 July, 2014 at Eastside Educational Trust, Suite 16, Perseverance Works, 37 Hackney Road, E2 7NX. To book a place call Meg Hiller’s office at 0207 219 5325.

 ISPs cash in on voucher scheme

1 Virgin Media Business
2 Metronet (UK)
3 Spectrum Internet
5 Unitel One Source Ltd
6 Tibus
8 Atlas Communications
9 Venus Business Communications
10 ITC
11 BT plc
12 Optimity
13 Unique Network Solutions
14 Qubic Group Plc
15 Exponential-e Ltd
Source: DCMS  

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”.

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

Edinburgh tries to rescue £10m from UBF wreck

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Rather than lose the £10.7m earmarked for Edinburgh under BDUK’s  Urban Broadband Fund, The Scotsman reports the city’s fathers have reframed their bid as follows:

£2.7m for wi-fi in public transport and council buildings; £3m for vouchers for small businesses; £4m to support start-up businesses in “key sectors” such as the creative industries; and £1m for an online archive of programmes and reviews from previous Edinburgh festivals.

Edinburgh councillors were forced to this after BT and Virgin Media complained to the European Commission that Birmingham’s Superconnected Cities roll-out would violate state aid rules, and BDUK had to suspend the entire £150m programme while the Eurocrats considered their verdict.

The government’s recent review of major projects warned that both the UBF and the Next Generation Access projects are amber/red-lighted, ie. in danger of failing.

If it’s accepted, it’s hard to see how it would contribute to the UBF’s goal of getting 100Mbps services into the UK’s biggest cities.

The cities that are destined to share the loot may never see it if the decision comes after the 2015 UK election,  so Edinburgh is at least trying to rescue something from the UBF debacle.

Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2013/06/19 at 21:03

VM hikes UK broadband average

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Virgin Media was responsible for more than half the rise in the UK’s average broadband speed, Ofcom told Br0kenTeleph0n3 today.

Ofcom senior telecommunications analyst Nick Collins said VM has been doubling the speeds of its customers, and this was mainly responsible for the national average broadband speed rising one-third from 9.oMbps to 12.0Mbps in the six months to December 2012.

Collins said the national average reflected a combination of headline speeds and market share. He said these data were confidential as they contained competitively sensitive information. He confirmed that Ofcom looks at these figures in assessing the national average, but does not publish them.

VM’s acceleration programme will end towards the middle of the year, Collins said. At that point growth in the national average is likely to depend mainly on the take-up rate of BT’s Infinity fibre to the cabinet product, which will dilute VM’s influence on the figure.

In February US cable TV firm Liberty Global agreed to buy VM for around $23.3bn. The deal will create a multinational broadband company that covers 45 million homes and serves 25 million customers. Around 80% of its estimated $17bn sales will come from the UK, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland and the Netherlands.

VM’s skills in mobile telephony and B2B networking were cited as key to the future growth of the group. VM CEO Neil Berkett, who will leave the company, said  the combined company will be able to grow faster  and more profitably by capitalising on the “exciting opportunities” that the digital revolution presents in the UK and across Europe.

Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2013/03/14 at 21:18

End game for traditional telco model

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The end game for the traditional telco business model is already in play.

On 12 February the European Commission cut €8bn from its €9.2bn broadband fund. This was money that telcos expected would be coming to them to spend on fibre networks.

The next day, the ITU said, “The move to IP-based communications is irreversible – and the timescales for business models, regulatory frameworks, development cycles and infrastructure investment in the internet world and that of traditional telecommunications may be dangerously out of sync.”

BT's Don Clarke - programming the network

BT’s Don Clarke – programming the network

And on Valentine’s Day, at the launch of its software defined network strategy, Huawei’s director of dolution marketing, Dai Libin, said telecoms operators “had to change their genes” if they are to survive. They can no longer afford to provide ever-faster performance if they cannot also reduce costs the way the computer industry has, he said.

That same day saw the official launch of B4RN, the community-funded point to point fibre to the home network in rural Lancashire. B4RN customers get a nominal 1Gbps symmetric service for a £150 connection fee plus £30/month, which you can halve if you want to give up your BT phone line and rely on Skype for voice calls.

In contrast, BT’s up to 330Mbps fibre on demand service, due out in spring, will cost £500 to connect and £38/month, plus a distance-related fee averaging £1,000. And it will be available only in BT’s fibre to the cabinet footprint. And you’ll have to hold on to your £15.45/month phone line.

Some at BT are certainly alive to the threats. Last October BT told ISPs about its new Multiservice Edge (MSE) roll-out that will see more than 500 data centres installed around the country on the “edge” of its network. This is to cope with greater consumer demand for data services, it said.

MSEs will give BT Vision subscribers a better quality experience because it cuts down the distance signals must travel. It will also improve subscribers’ experience of Netflix, Facebook, YouTube and other “over the top” (OTT) services too.

BT is also deeply involved with ETSI’s effort to standardise how certain network functions are virtualised; Don Clarke, BT’s head of network evolution innovation, is the working group’s technical manager, largely because he’s been studying the problem for the past two years.

Virtualising the network means that networks will be programmable. According to the pitch, it will be quicker and cheaper to provide and change services because all the devices in the data centre will be virtual machines and will run on very fast industry standard servers. Provisioning and changes will be done via a dashboard rather than physically patching cables and using command line instructions to install and set them up.

This situation pretty much is at least partly true already for core networks, if only because Cisco so dominates this market that it is effectively the industry standard. But this ETSI network function virtualisation (NFV) initiative is really about increasingly that agility across the entire network, even right into the home.

Clarke says his team wants to finish its initial work within 18 months. Telecom standards can take years or even decades to establish, so this urgency suggests a penny has dropped somewhere.

This software defined networking and/or NFV heralds so many changes in the traditional business models of equipment vendors and telcos that we could be at what the gurus call an inflection point. It is like the meteor that some say wiped out the dinosaurs.

It’s not the only source of change. So many subscribers are giving up their fixed line services for mobiles, or taking up cheaper offers from unbundled local loop operators like Sky and TalkTalk, Ofcom is reportedly toying with the idea that the duopoly enjoyed by BT and Virgin Media should end at the kerb rather than at the wall plug inside your house.

This could make it easier for new fibre network operators like B4RN and Gigaclear to compete with BT and VM (and may be partly why VM was sold to Liberty Global, a US-based European cable TV operator). This is because the home owner could, as they do in Scandinavia, dig his own trench to the kerb and connect to his service provider of choice. This would save the operator a lot of time, hassle and cost, around £100 per household.

There is already a robust public interconnect standard (Active Line Access), so in theory this should not be a problem.

However, BT is the monopoly fixed local access infrastructure provider in two-thirds of geographic UK. The reserved 800MHz mobile licence currently at auction will provide only a 2Mbps indoor connection. So for fibre to the kerb to happen on large scale Ofcom would have to revise the terms of BT’s physical infrastructure access (PIA) product. PIA’s costs, terms and conditions meant that none of the eight other network operators invited to join the BDUK purchasing framework for next generation access in rural areas was able to make money in competition with BT.

We can be sure BT (and other incumbent telcos) will continue to fight for its monopoly while building its replacement network. But will it run out of customers and money before the new network is fit for purpose?