Rural Broadband — a Lesson in JFDI (Part 1)
Rural broadband strategy- sometimes a community will haver to jfdi & sort their own solution
Trefor.net welcomes guest blogger Tim Robinson, Director of TxRx Communications Ltd. Tim’s post will run in three parts, beginning today and extending through to week’s end.
It is an onerous task to write a guest blog for one with as much credibility as @Tref, however this tale needs to be told, and the opinions herein need to be aired.
In the beginning there was ADSL. Historically, most of Basingstoke has suffered from bad broadband speeds. This all comes from having a telephone exchange in the town centre, and having most of the residential areas built in a doughnut-shaped ring around the centre of the town moving out 4-7km (as the copper runs) from the exchange. Thus, broadband was doomed before it was even a twinkle in BT’s eye.
As broadband became more of an essential utility and less of a luxury, campaigns were lead by frustrated people (including me) for whom 1.5 mbit was simply not adequate for doing one’s job, or keeping the offspring up-to-speed with the latest cat videos. We raised the issue with the Big Telco and others, but they all said nothing could be done. Unbeknown to us, though, there was activity between BT and our local council, and in 2010, there was a fanfare of excitement when it was announced that Basingstoke was going to be one of the first towns to get VDSL2 – colloquially (but incorrectly) known as ‘fibre broadband’.
The poor residents on the outskirts of Basingstoke breathed a collective sigh of relief, basking in the ‘knowledge’ that finally BT was doing something to help us. There was elation, and delight. Things were not all that they seemed, though, and the elation lasted only until the actual deployment plans began to be made known. That elation, in fact, quickly turned to disbelief, anger, and frustration. It seemed that BT were cherry-picking the cabinets in the already well-served Virgin Media areas close to town, plus a few others that met some secret internal criteria. The worst served parts of the town would continue to be unserved by the new technology! We were furious that BT had chosen to deploy VDSL2 into places that didn’t really need it, and omitting the places that did!
There were meetings. Beer was cried into. Letters to our MP written. There were Big Meetings with the campaign groups, the council, our MP and important people in BT. Above all, though, there was the spark of an idea. If some areas were to be served by VDSL2, why not pick up the backhaul from a VDSL2 connection and use wireless to provide internet service to the parts that were not included? Thus, this was the start of the JFDI* approach to broadband provision.
I live at the top of a hill. It transpired that a friend — let’s call him ‘Dave’, as it is after all his name — lived exactly 981 metres away, and was one of the ‘chosen ones’ set to receive VDSL2. With an element of stupidly unnecessary risk on Dave’s part, involving antics with a torch and a drill at the top of a three-section ladder, my friend and I determined that we had line of sight to his chimney from my house. Leveraging that knowledge, we managed to get an 80 mbit wireless link from Dave’s house back to what was to become a data centre in my garage. Our excitement was palpable, akin to the feelings of those pioneers who made the first London to New York phone call. Soon after, one of my neighbours lent me an old laptop, which we set up in Dave’s loft and from which we ran constant iperf and ping tests to see if our contraption would actually work.
Convinced over a couple of months that this wireless lark might actually fly, I took the plunge and ordered a shiny new phone line for Dave’s house from AAISP, along with a shiny new VDSL2 connection. (Installation was not exactly smooth, but that is another story.) Finally, once the connection was installed, I linked the Openreach VDSL2 modem straight into the wireless link and fired up a PPPOE connection at my house. Bingo! Suddenly what was 1.4 Mbit/sec on a good day became 40 Mbit/sec…and this was a very good day, indeed.
*To the uninitiated, JFDI stands for ‘Just Flippin Do It’. There are other alternative interpretations of JFDI but this is the one I am using.