4G as fixed broadband replacement? – successful case study

4G

4g broadband can be used as a replacement for a fixed broadband service

Blog reader Mitch left a comment about how he now uses VoIP over a 4G line that has replaced his fixed broadband connection.  His broadband had always been rubbish and 4G is now giving him speeds as fast as fibre broadband. I asked if he would be willing to tell the story. It makes for a very interesting read that many will be able to identify with. It may also give hope to those folk in the “final third” who are the 2nd class citizens of the UK when it comes to connectivity.

It’s Mitch from here on:
Well here goes. I moved home back in 2004 to an area where i wasn’t sure if we could get broadband or not. I was hoping that I could get a dsl connection rather than cable due to the fact that the cable providers were only proving 512k down and 128 up, whilst Plusnet were just starting to offer up to 2Mbps downstream as standard. When I walked up to the house I bought, I saw a Thomson “frog / stingray” modem on the windows sill.  Thats it, I’ll buy the house I thought. How foolish was I? As I’ve work on leased lines since 2000 I should have known better and thought about the potential of coax over a twisted copper pair.
Anyway, roll on a few years, adsl2+ is being rolled out to pretty much the whole country. Everywhere apart from my local exchange that is. Due to a lack of space in the exchange, several isp’s cancelled their installation of their LLU kit into my exchange. Luckily though, TalkTalk finally managed to place some of their kit into my exchange and I was able to synch at about 4500k and also get an upload speed of 800k. This wasn’t too bad considering how far I was from the exchange. I had done all the usual tricks like removing the bell wires and adding filtered faceplates to the NTU.
Then in 2010 I saw a forum post called cable my street. Virgin media had managed to get some money together and they will willing to expand their network in areas that already had a Virgin presence nearby. Perfect I thought. As I am surrounded by Virgin cable either side of my housing estate this will be the perfect opportunity to finally get a decent broadband speed.
I received an email after a month or so from Virgin to say that my housing estate had been surveyed and we did not meet the £300 per house requirement. The survey said that it would cost £500 to bring us on to the Virgin network per property. I asked if they would be willing for households to add a further £200 each out of our own pockets, but unfortunately it was turned down.
I moved over to Sky broadband and i was getting 4.5 Mb down and 800k up. I was reasonably happy with this service.
Around the same time the fttc rollout was announced by BT. Great I thought. They had even announced that my exchange was being rolled out in phase 4a. I couldn’t believe my luck. I then started to dig a little more and found that someone had a website with more detailed information regarding the rollout. This info I think also announced which cabinets were going to be fibred up. Unfortunately before I had the chance to see if my cab was going to be included on the network build, BT had told “trefor.net” that they had to take down the webpage. (thats when I first came across your posts). It wasn’t a massive problem as I knew that I would be getting fttc soon.
Driving home from town one day with the mrs, i saw a BT engineer sitting at new fttc cab. Sad as I am, I even took a photo of him. I may have even shouted “Go’on BT”. I wont be left behind for much longer. About a week after, I saw so many BT engineers arrive in my area, I couldn’t believe it. There was even more engineers and vans building the network, it was even more that used to be in our local BT yard & BT cafe when I worked for them in the 90’s. Every day I drove past them pumping my fist in the air. They were getting closer and closer to my home. I even saw the BT surveyors on my estate in their land rover. It wont be long now I thought. Then when they got 2 cabinets away from mine they all disappeared and never to be seen again. I was gutted.
2012
Swindon had a 4G network installed. Great I thought. All you need is a modem placed in your home. Unfortunately I was too far away from the mast to get it.
May 2013 I moved over to BT broadband and calls mainly to get the free BT sport package. What i didn’t realise was that BT would put me back on adsl max and my upload speed dropped to about 370k. This was devastating after having 800k for the past couple of years. I could hardly use facetime on my iphone anymore. I always used it to keep in touch with my mother in East London. Now it is constantly breaking up and practically unusable. It certainly wasn’t a pleasure anymore to see my mum with the picture freezing and breaking up. I raised a couple of tickets asking BT to move me on to their adsl2+ kit and both times I was told it was not possible. I could not understand this.
July 2013
The houses on the estate across the road can get up to 120Mbps with virgin. The new housing estate they are going to build on a disused farm behind my home is due to get fttp when the homes are built.
I made contact with the openreach next generation team via email to ask if I will ever get fttc/p. I was told that my cabinet does not meet the criteria for the 2013/2014 expansion. I queried it and I was told that my cabinet also does not meet the criteria for the 2014/2015 expansion. This is when the network build finishes unless my local council will assist with payment.
I contacted my local MP to ask if we could request my estate can get added to the new fibre network when they start rolling it out to the farm behind my home. There was so much of a petition against the homes being built and after several years of dragging through the law courts, the case was lost. I thought that maybe as a sweetener to the local residents that maybe they could add a fibre connected wireless link from the centre of the estate to serve all of our homes. The councillor thought it was a good idea, but then i think it fell on deaf ears.
Then came the BT line rental price rise. “You have ten days within receiving the email or letter to contact BT to get out of a contract”. Perfect i thought. I will start looking around.
I came across a company named Cotswold Wireless who resell 4G from ukbroadband. This to the best of my knowledge is the same 4G that was rolled out last year, but the difference being they can install an external antenna to your home so that properties that were out of range have more of a chance of receiving it  the service. Cotswold Wireless have been around for the past decade, but have only just started their 4G product.
They came to my home with an external aerial that was attached to my tv aerial. I told them that I don’t want to sign up without seeing what speeds I would be able to get first as I would be mad to sign up for a 12 month contract if the product wasn’t right for me. They came indoors to my bedroom and hung the antenna out of the window and could not pick up a signal facing the direction of the local mast. They went to the back of the house and hung the antenna out of the back window and the connection synced up. Straight away i get 7mbps down and 3Mbps up. Now this was ok, but was it worth a £195 installation fee. At this stage I think they installers were going to give up  but as I told them the story about not being able to get decent broadband on my estate they decided to go up on the roof and install the antenna to the tv aerial. I then straight away got 30Mbps down and between 3-5 Mbps up. Sod the £195 connection, I’m having it.
A week before the guys came to do the install I spoke to Cotswold Wireless about the usage limits. I told them that my family use about 80GB a month. I was told that the £25 or £30 a month package should be fine. I will start on the £25 package and if I use too much, they will put me on the £30 package. Now there are usage limits on the product during business hours, but evenings, overnight and weekends you can pretty much use it as you wish.
I did my sums and worked out that if i cancelled my BT line, i could save £15.95 a month on line rental, £7 a month on unlimited calls and also £16 a month on my 4Mb broadband service.
I looked at my BT bill to see how many minutes we use. Now the mrs is on the phone to her mother & sister, it was more like an intercom. I saw that over the past 3 months we had used 1000 minutes. This is 16 hours worth of calls. I looked around for a voip provider and found a company named localphone.com. They charge 0.5ppm inc vat for calls and 0.75p per month for the rental of a geographic number. Sipgate and do a deal with calls costing 1.19ppm with the phone number thrown in for free. I worked it out that if the mrs used the phone for more than 200 minutes a month it would be cheaper to go with localphone.
In the end i ended up using both providers and also getting two local phone numbers. I was going to keep my BT number but decided it would be easier just to cancel all of it.
My set up is as follows. I bought a yealink t20p voip phone that can support 2 numbers, with each number being able to take several calls at once. I have given close family the main number. This is set up to auto answer. I know this is really lazy, but me or the mrs do not even need to get up to answer the phone anymore. We have no issues about close family being able to “appear” in the front room at any time.
The 2nd line will ring normally. We will give this out to friends and business’s and everyone else. I have set up a divert to voicemail after 15 rings. If a message is left, the mp3 gets sent to my email and i can listen to the message straight from my email. it works perfectly. I can also set the phone up so that while it rings at home, it can also ring on the voip app on my iphone at the same time. The only problem with this is it canes the mobile battery, but i also don’t wan’t my phone ringing all the time.
I expect my phonecalls to cost me about £3 a month. I was going to sign up for the £5 a month 1000 minute call package that sipgate have, but i wont use that my and it’ll end up costing me more.
The only downfall about all of this is, i will need to resubscribe to BT sport as i like watching the UFC. So breaking it down to costs.
BT line rental, calls and broadband with free bt sports cost roughly £39 a month
Cotswold Wirelss broadband £25, voip calls £3 = £28
Cotswold Wirelss broadband £25, voip calls £3 = £28 and BT sport £15 will cost me £43 a month.
So depending if i want to keep the sports package, it will cost me more every month, but i have a cool new house phone that i can play with, but i also have a broadband connection that a family of 5 can use without any issues. This is the one of the main reasons as me & the mrs have backed up all out hd videos from our phones to google plus for the past couple of years now. They used to take ages to upload and regularly fail.
Well thats the plan anyway. The BT line gets cut off today. Wish me luck. I cannot believe i have given you my personal broadband history of the past 10 years. Anyone else would have fallen asleep reading this. I hope its not too boring.
Anyway, i’m off to bed. I finished my last nightshift last night and i’m gonna get a few hours kip and enjoy my 9 days off.
Take Care Tref, and thanks for the blog posts over the past few years.
Mitch
P.S, i ran a ping from an ip gateway two nights ago during the storm and the connection remained stable all night long.
If it all goes wrong, i will let you know.

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  1. Trefor Davies Trefor Davies

    Sorry about the formatting of this post – couldn’t get wordpress to play ball for some reason.

    I have a couple of points to make.

    I’m not sure that this is truly 4G as cotswolds broadband (http://cotswoldsbroadband.co.uk/our-services/how-we-do-it/) don’t have a 4G license. It must be some other wireless tech but their website doesn’t tell us what it is. Notwithstanding that it is clearly doing a job and is an illustration of what might be achievable more generally as 4G gets rolled out everywhere.

    Secondly it is noticeable how the cost of calls is tending to zero. Mitch may be paying £3 for his calls but most of his costs relate to bandwidth. This is similar to how the mobile networks are selling their new 4G bundles. There is a scenario where you don’t even need to pay for a phone line if everyone you know is using Skype et al. Might also mean the end of spam calls from Indian Call centres.

    Finally I might look at BT sports myself. I thought you had to be a BT customer to get it. Thanks Mitch 🙂

  2. Trefor Davies Trefor Davies

    Correction. My mistake. It isn’t cotswold broadband it’s Cotswold Wireless and it does seem to be 4G – details here http://www.cotswoldwireless.co.uk/ccn/index.html

  3. PhilT

    So it’s LTE according to the website, but the map was confusing as only Swindon is marked 4G.

    UK broadband have some 3.x GHz spectrum they won at auction and bought up, they haven’t done much in the way of coverage. Swindon, Southward and Reading according to http://www.ukbroadband.com/node/100

    NB this isn’t 4G in the 800 / 900 / 1800 / 2100 MHz mobile phone sense.

  4. An interesting case study. It’s a shame UK Broadband haven’t done more with their licence in other areas, since the reseller model works well as Cotswold Wireless have proved. Thanks for pointing out the difference between Cotswold Wireless and Cotswolds Broadband!

  5. Lord Elkington

    Always interesting to read about resellers or small companies with their own network and wonder how long they will survive, just looking at the recent closure of “digital region” in Doncaster and area who rolled out a fibre network and now is trying to sell it off – closed without an exit or buyer in situ – who would buy a small regional wired network, when competing technologies (let alone companies) enter the same space. Can you ever trust them for long term solutions, or is bts old copper always the fall back position some will have to take? only time will tell…

  6. Trefor Davies Trefor Davies

    Your argument is valid your Lordship and it forms the basis of the BDUK strategy. My gut feel though tells me that we need to take risks to make things happen in this space.

  7. Lord Elkington

    Not knowing anything about bduk but having a quick look I see its a .gov strategy; surly digital region’s closure highlights a failure of a government led strategy, this is a failed eu to BIS to local government scheme which has gone tits up spending all it’s money with no demand for supply??

  8. pctech

    If the user base remains small, the experience for all will be good.

    The real test will be when 4G is in the hands of the mainstream with millions of users with wildly varying loads on the networks but for now I’d agree it does look promising.

  9. Trefor Davies Trefor Davies

    I’m hoping that with Ethernet backhaul the 4G networks will be able to scale up bandwidth as demand rises.

  10. South Yorkshire Digital Region indirectly achieved it’s goal of increasing high-speed broadband in the region, by giving the private sector the justification to invest in upgrading it’s infrastructure in the area. There’s anecdotal evidence that BTO accelerated it’s FTTx deployment in the area, and VM accelerated it’s DOCSIS 3.0 rollout in the light of the DRL plans.

    The private sector were quicker at getting their act together than DRL, and easier for ISPs to deal with than DRL on a number of fronts, so it’s no surprise that DRL only attracted a fraction of the number of connections they anticipated.

    DRL also initially targeted the wrong areas in their Phase 1 deployments, which constrained service uptake – seems to be the cost of allowing politicians to set priorities.

    I’d be surprised if anyone picks up the distressed network assets as a functional wholesale broadband delivery network.

    In terms of taking risks, it’s probably better if the risks are borne by the private sector and with a fail fast, fail cheap model – the polar opposite of DRL, which is part way through an expensive and slow 12 month long death.

  11. Trefor Davies Trefor Davies

    You are right re private sector doing things better Mike. Problem is they aren’t bothering with some parts of the country cos there ain’t any money in it. It would be like pouring money down a fast flowing country tarn (with natural sounds of sheep in the background).

    Meh

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