broadband End User

how to choose a broadband provider

Just writing out aloud the process I’m going through of choosing a broadband provider. I currently have an 80/20 line from which I get 35/7 performance, most of the time. It’s an unlimited service. Bandwidth usage is approaching 300GB a month.

My current supplier is Timico a business ISP. As such I get great service from them but the monthly line rentals for broadband and phone are now approaching £80 inc VAT. If I were a business user then I’d probably pay that just to get peace of mind that when i had a problem I could easily contact someone to get it sorted.

Although I have no interest in TV I am interested in seeing what sports packages I can get so I took a look around at the consumer deals available.

I do have a couple or three concerns in looking around:

  1. I am worried about ending up with an offshore call centre – my only real options in this case are to choose Plusnet or Sky
  2. What wil lthe service levels be like – at least I have the phone answer statistics to work with here
  3. Currently I am with an ISP that isn’t governed by government decree to monitor my behaviour or filter the websites available to me. This will not be the case if I go to a consumer service

The other consideration in looking is the speed of the connection. FTTC never delivers its headline speeds but the Virgin Cable service does, near enough. However Virgin are notorious for having technical issues such as bufferbloat and they do have a very public traffic management policy whereby they throttle heavy users at busy times. I am a heavy user. Will I be choked in this net?

The Virgin threshold for throttling a service is based on upload usage. If I assume I’m interested in the fastest service then Virgin allow 2.25GB upload in an hour (3GB in 2 hours). My biggest daily upload usages to date have been 10GB in April and 8GB in July (which was when I changed my google photos backup policy). I’m probably just about ok on the upload usage threshold.

The other consideration is availability of IPv6 and AAISP would have been a natural choice for this. AAISP are also fanatical with their support which is one of the reasons they are used by many in the UK internet engineering community. However they don’t do TV and don’t have an unlimited data usage product. They aren’t big enough to be able to cope with a few users maxing out on an unlimited bundle.

I’ve ploughed through the various ISP websites trying to compare their different offerings. It isn’t straightforward as there are lots of variables. All the products in the table below except Virgin are based on BT’s VDSL service. I’ve quoted 80/20 but most of the ISPs probably use 76/18 or some similar marketing variant. We also have to remember that for my house we really mean 35/7 where 80/20 is the stated speed. I would get a better download with any of the three Virgin speed variants but only with the top end one would I get a better upload (although there isn’t much between the 6Megs upload of Virgin’s middle offering and my existing one).

I’ve only quote the regular pricing (some may have been rounded). It is possible to get a great deal in the first contracted year but I’m not planning on hopping ISPs just to get a good deal every time a contract expires. The ongoing cost is more important to me. Where I’ve been able to (remembered) I’ve stated the pricing with weekend calls thrown in.

Product speed (Mbps) regular price (with phone line rental) contract term (months)
Timico 80/20 £77.40 24
BT 80/20 with “free” BT sports £47.00 12
Sky 80/20 £46.40 12
Virgin 50/3  + weekend calls £34.50 18
Virgin 100/6 £39.49 18
Virgin 152/12 £46.99 18
Virgin 50/3 broadband only £28.50 12
Virgin 100/6 £33.50 12
Virgin 152/12 £41.00 12
TalkTalk 80/20 £36.70 12
Plusnet 80/20 £36.00 18
aaisp 80/20 (not unlimited – have assumed pricing for 300GB usage with £10 line rental no voice) £70.00 6

It may be seen that the FTTC camps are divided into three. There’s the very low cost providers, Plusnet and TalkTalk who come in at around £26 a month. Then there’s the big guys Virgin, BT and Sky who are very similarly priced at £46/£47 (albeit BT bung in sport). Finally there are the business ISPs who are perhaps around £20ish a month more expensive edging towards the £100 for a product that comes with better customer support.

Plusnet’s call waiting times are often up around 15 minutes although in their defence their call centre is in Yorkshire (thanows).

What else do I need to take into consideration. How about the cost of making phone calls?

peak time call charges (pence per minute) voipfone virgin sky BT
uk landline 1.2 10.6 9.5 9.58
uk mobile 12 19.35 12.7 12

I’ve added another variable with this table. Compare the Voipfone call charges with those of BT, Virgin and Sky. Makes the three of them look a real rip off doesn’t it? Voipfone are one of  the UK’s longest standing and most successful Internet Telephony Service Providers. You run their service over your broadband line aka Skype but cheaper. There is a scenario where I can go with Virgin’s broadband only  package. If I want to transfer and use my existing landline number Voipfone will charge me £2.40 a month including VAT. In the business I’ve spent £40 with them on call charges since October 2014.

I realise that each of these providers will probably sell me a bundle of minutes but the members of our house rarely use the landline. They all have mobile phones with their own bundles. We only really need our local Lincoln number for legacy purposes (mostly for calls from aged parents).

So there is a scenario where I could take the Virgin 152Mbps broadband only service at £41, add £2.40 for a Voipfone landline number and it still would only cost £43.40 a month plus calls a very low rate.

What might be the problems with using Voiphone? In theory their service would work just like our existing home phone line. We use DECT phones around the house and I have a SNOM DECT phone system with a couple of handsets going spare in the office. Obviously the service relies on our always having a broadband and there have from time to time been issues with different variants of Superhub blocking VoIP. They don’t do this deliberately – it’s just incompetence and I don’t think the problems are there right now.

I also use Voipfone using a CSIPSimple client on my android so the whole family could have an alternative means of calling over wifi when abroad (for example).

How about adding TV or more specifically sport?

sports packages
BT Sports on virgin big kahuna £66.00
BT & Sky sports (full package) big kahuna £93.99
BT free BT sport £47.00
with BT sport & Sky 1&2 £68.99
sky original bundle & sky sports – no bt sport £71.90

The numbers change quite dramatically. BT stays the same but adding Sky sports into the picture sport is very expensive. Remember the punter is the one paying for all the big money contracts that Sky have with the Premier League.

The BT offer with just BT sport is dramatically better than the others as long as you remember it isn’t as comprehensive a bundle as having Sky in the deal.

If I went with Virgin I’d effectively be paying and extra £22.60 a month just to get BT sport – remember I’m not really interested in the other TV stuff.  The full monty on Virgin is very expensive at £94.

Going with BT and taking both Sky and BT sports would cost me an extra £25.60 over my base Virgin broadband only deal and I’d not have all the Sky Sports.

You can’t get BT Sports on Sky.

This is the interesting set of facts I have to set before the family. I suspect I am not interested in paying  a lot of money for the sport and am likely to end up with the Virgin broadband only package plus Voipfone. This really pains me as Virgin have a one of the longest telephone answer times and their call centres are in India. Sigh…


broadband Business

Rural Broadband’s disaster – why I care – what’s wrong – what’s to be done

A farmer’s wife speaks – rural broadband solutions

why I care – what’s wrong – what’s to be done

I am a hairdresser and a farmer’s wife, and I don’t want to run the country, but I do want to set a few facts straight.

I got involved with tech in the late 80s, when my children started using computers, I didn’t want to ‘not know’ what they were doing. I did some training, and worked as a digital graphic artist for a designer from home, whilst doing caring duty. This meant posting large files on disks, but then we got digital in earnest to keep up with competitors. I started with dial up and tried satellites, without much success, so I ended up as part of a group building a wifi mesh with the help of the university, and this then led to laying the very first rural community fibre to the home in 2009. I am now a small cog in a fibre network called B4RN, built by the community, for the community, and costing £30 a month for gigabit symmetrical, unlimited, unthrottled awesomeness.

During the last 15 years I have seen what a mess we are making of ‘Digital Britain’. I have seen funding wasted. I have seen politicians looking foolish. I have worked as a volunteer for the Digital Assembly as an observer and reported to Neelie Kroes, who, like me wants every citizen to have the chance to be digital. I want to help. Thanks to my community and B4RN JFDI, I now have one of the best connections in the world, here on my farm. My speed test, just for interest, what’s yours like?

Why I care. (about the rest of the country) (inc You)

Millions of us are left on connections that are not, and never will be fit for purpose. Government have been brainwashed into believing in infinity.

In order to save billions of pounds in eHealth, eEducation and eGov we need every single citizen to be able to go online, easily, affordably. At the moment they can’t, so the analogue ways have to continue which is very expensive for the government and taxpayer. We should NEVER ask ‘what will it cost?’. We should ask ‘what will it cost if we don’t grasp the nettle and do it once, and do it right?’ Patching up the old phone lines is not a solution, and it is a scandal and a disgrace that this government, and the previous two have got it so wrong.

We are up against a monopoly incumbent, determined to protect its assets, with a massive marketing budget and snake oil salesmen. We are the lobbyists of the future. We need to be heard. Thank you to Tref for the platform! May I also say at this point that our phone line network was one the best in the world, it fed the industrial revolution, and that is down to the fantastic engineers who built and maintained it. Sadly, since privatisation the finances for upgrades simply haven’t happened. Yet money can be found to buy football coverage to try to stamp out Sky…

What’s wrong. (with the rest of the country) (inc you)

The current state of ‘Digital Britain’.

What really bugs me is the fact that most of the politicians, civil servants and funders who are in charge of building a Digital Britain in order to keep up with the digital revolution know very little about the subject. This has been proved time and time again. The emperor has no clothes, yet all the minions assure him he’s gorgeous. (looking at you Edward). As we lose our manufacturing industries we have to replace them with other exports, and digital exports are the way to do it.

All the funding for the final third (rural areas and those on long lines) who couldn’t get broadband has been manipulated into Openreach coffers and wasted. ‘Wasted’ you say? ‘they have brought fibre broadband, superfast to millions of homes’ you say? Not so. If you study the statistics its ‘homes passed’. What has really happened is that the monopoly has effectively prevented anyone else getting support by grabbing the funding and by doing so has throttled innovative solutions from altnets. They have enabled some cabinets, and every single home on those cabs are classed as having ‘fibre broadband, even if they are still on dial up.

The quango in charge of regulating telecoms is staffed with ex BT employees and tickboxers doing reports. They base their reports on information from BT and consultancies who are often paid by BT to write more reports. The ASA (advertising standards authority) has no grasp of physics and is worse than useless. They think we are getting fibre broadband through phone lines. They let millions of pounds of marketing budgets bombard you with advertising until you believe in infinity. This is total rubbish. I will tell you why…

Fibre broadband does not come down phone lines. Also, their statistics are ‘homes passed’, and many in those statistics aren’t really connectable, (too few cabinets deployed and not enough fibre).   If an exchange is enabled it moves into the superfarce statistics, even if users’ lines are still too far away to get a fit for purpose connection. Business area cabinets are not upgraded to protect openreach revenue from leased lines. Poor areas are often not enabled. Rural areas don’t have any cabinets to upgrade to ‘fibre’. It is all a superfarce.

The ‘fibre’ cabinets are a choke point (see p141, Peter Cochrane evidence to HOL) and a dead end and are not futureproof. All the funding wasted on these would have been better spent getting real fibre nodes into the final third, not squandering it on the urban fringe where there was easy picking. All it has done is enable a few near the cabinets to go a bit faster.

It hasn’t helped any on long lines. Many cabinets haven’t been enabled, only the easy ‘economic’ ones that BT could have done themselves, and should have done if they had wanted to.

Many millions are therefore still on the wrong side of the digital divide, still tied to copper phone lines. We are no nearer NGA than we were in 2003. In those days 2Mbps would have been luxury,  in 2005 someone invented youtube, and iPlayer and now needs are climbing and 100Mbps doesn’t seem that fast any more with many homes streaming on TV and PCs. Cabinets cannot deliver what many need now, let alone in the future. Many families have multiple devices and a single feed won’t be enough. Also they have to pay copper land line rental for phones they don’t use just to get the broadband.

Why did it go wrong?

In 80s the then government led by Margaret Thatcher started a programme to bring fibre to every part of the UK. They didn’t want a monopoly (BT) to do this, so they opened it up to competition. BT were well advanced in the manufacture of fibre and in pole position to deploy it in those days, but the Americans came in and it looked like they would get masses in before BT did.

So BT started with dial up, and followed with ADSL, and the bottom dropped out of the market, and the cable companies pulled out. BT have since ruled the roost with the second class solution – internet access through phone lines. Cheap as chips, should actually have been free.  Virgin bought some of the bankrupt fibre lines and started their own network in urban areas. This competition in towns and cities has led to what is FTTC, fibre to the cabinet, or ‘infinity’, a faster service for those who are close to the cabinets. It doesn’t help those who aren’t within a few hundred metres much – if at all. Where Virgin go, BT upgrade, but Virgin cable is a lot better service so customers stay with them. Virgin on adsl isn’t good, they then become just another reseller of Openreach via wholesale. (I know, it’s complicated but stick with it).

In the late 90s in project Colossus, most of the exchanges were fibred up. That meant your dial up was fibre based. Smaller exchanges were government funded (all the project access funding went there) and only odd tiny ones were left out. Then Openreach sat back and collected the golden eggs, not investing, not feeding the goose, just paying fat cat wages, and shareholders.

They even gave their boss over £9 million a year, two years running!

The only time they have done anything to update the infrastructure is when and where there was a sniff of competition. The rural areas languish on dial up and sub meg ‘broadband’ and nothing has been done at all to help. Along came the digital switchover fund, and BDUK. They gave the money to the councils. The councils gave BT the funding, and they have used it to cherry pick the urban fringes. Essential maintenance has not been done, as any customer will testify, but now Sky (another ISP) is calling for a review. Openreach are now holding out their paws for yet more funding, (Phase 2) having not delivered the first set of promises. This funding will end up going into satellites with their partner Avanti. It is all a stitch up.

British telecom is split into a few groups. Openreach control all the infrastructure. Wholesale sell the access. BT internet buy from wholesale and are an Internet Service Provider. All the other ISPs buy from wholesale too. Wholesale buy off Openreach. This is why we are deemed to have ‘a competitive market’ but in reality we are held to ransom by a monopoly, with the exception of a few altnets who are independent. Virgin also has an alternative network, mainly fed from their own cables. But in the main, it’s all down to Openreach, and they are failing the ISPs.

In 2002 we attempted to get our telephone exchange ‘enabled’ for broadband. We already had fibre in it, as did most of the others. We marketed for BT openreach in other words. They weren’t interested in us, as with many of the rural exchanges, there was not enough profit in us. In 2003 there was masses of funding made available, ie Project Access in our area, and we tried to get funding to build our own wifi mesh, using a feed from the publicly funded CLEO project. (CLEO Cumbria Lancashire Education Online) We couldn’t get any, and all the other funds – Big Lottery, Plunkett, Nominet, Nesta etc etc replied to say that ‘BT promise to get broadband to every home in the country, so we can’t fund you’.

Eventually project access, having wasted all their funds enabling a few exchanges for BT in Cumbria, and millions in ‘promoting the benefits’ were a bit embarrassed to have nothing to show for it, so they gave us £25k for 6 case studies to shut us up. We did the case studies from the wireless mesh we built with their money. They spent a fortune making a film about it. It was showcased at the launch of project access at Rheged  27/10/2005. As soon as we started building the mesh, BT enabled our exchange. Coincidence? It didn’t matter, as our network couldn’t get broadband through the copper anyway, and still can’t. Our mesh thrived and prospered and now all the customers are on our own community fibre. And have sacked off their phone lines.

For the next few years, our hopeless regulator assured government that everyone had access to broadband. The OFCOM website still has the information on it (page 5, but they have now added a proviso about long lines after pressure from grassroots lobby groups). The ordinary people who I met every day still hadn’t got it, and where I live the lines are so long even dial up didn’t work, despite being ‘fibre based’. In some areas there is no terrestrial tv nor mobile signals. Some places don’t have mains water and electric, but you can generate that. Not so with internet. If there are south facing hills, even satellites don’t work, but we tried those too. Very expensive to run, dodgy upload, high latency and not reliable. One even broke the quoins out of the side of a house, because round here it is windy too.

Anyway, we made a fuss. We had a conference in Cumbria, we launched the Final Third First campaign. Government needed to realise that to enable everyone to have NGA you have to start at the outside and work inwards. Openreach jumped onto this very quickly, and with their snake oil salesmen they convinced the councils that only they could deliver to this final third. They assured government that their commercial footprint would be upgraded at their own expense, if government would fund the harder to reach places. They visited every one of the councils and convinced them they could do it. They have put a lot of time and effort into making their vital vision work. Their vision is to keep the country on copper, but they call it fibre. FTTC is no more fibre broadband than dial up is.

Dr Cochrane: Fibre to the cabinet is one of the biggest mistakes humanity has made. It ties a knot in the cable in terms of bandwidth and imposes huge unreliability risks. 

We made it quite clear at the start that they couldn’t do it with copper. We tried to get the civil servants and the EU commission to see through the hype. But they wouldn’t listen. (nobody got fired for buying IBM).

The upshot of all this, is that any altnet (alternative network) was not able to access any funding. Despite the PAC and NAO investigating and castigating BDUK and BT Openreach, and demanding that they release the postcode data to descope areas they don’t intend helping, nothing has been done, and regulation isn’t working. In the last few months, 6 years after the launch of Digital Britain, we have seen a couple of altnets get support, having spent 3 years and a lot of community and private money fighting for funding. There is hope. But it’s a farce to have to play a stupid game when it should be made easy for people to help themselves.

We are being held to ransom by a greedy monopoly who is killing the golden goose. It has consumed all the golden eggs, so there is no next generation waiting in the wings. We are stuck on an obsolete phone network for our internet access, and we are fast becoming a laughing stock as BT leech the last remaining assets from what was a world leading telecoms company.

Nations without good phone networks have leapfrogged straight into fibre, which has also enabled powerful mobile networks too, even in remote regions. All this talk of 4G and 5G, it won’t work without the fibre backbone, and unless we want millions of masts it still won’t work in the majority of the land mass without small local fibre mobile cells in homes and businesses. Even 2G still isn’t available in a lot of rural areas. As long as government believes the telco hype, there is no hope for us though. That is what compelled me to write this blogpost.

You cannot get fibre broadband down a phone line. You cannot connect the whole country using obsolete cabinet technology. gFast is the next stupid thing they will try to push on to us, this only works down 19 metres of copper in lab conditions, not through miles of twisted pairs flapping in the sky or knotted up in trees and ploughed up in fields, or up and down city streets in jammed up conduits. We have to wake up and talk to the taxi drivers and those who cut our hair, and stop listening to snake oil salesmen.

In our area we are now ok. We all have real fibre, dug in by the community, owned by the community, and funded by the community until it was sustainable. Our local heroes.

photo by Murdo McCleod in June issue of Saga magazine

Now it is making a profit. We have proved it works. This project can be replicated to go the extra mile, where telcos fear to tread. We are ok, so should I just stop ranting and ignore what is going on in the rest of the UK? I think not.

Who are We ?

It’s the whole population of the UK really, isn’t it? If not us, then who? The population employs a government supported by public servants to ‘serve the public’. We can all see “our employees” have been seriously led astray by commercial interests who have lost the plot and are stifling innovation in the UK. The Vital Vision brainwashing ran for many years before it was removed, but the damage had been done and many public servants had been on it. They became the ‘visionaries’ for the infinite superfarce.  BT have erased all traces of it from their site, but the pdf lives on, thanks to the cloud.

The incumbent is determined to protect its investment in copper. It will not invest in fibre until it is forced to. It is wasting its profit on patch ups, fat cats and football, instead of futureproof upgrades. It has brainwashed our vital ‘visionary’ employees in Westminster.

What’s to be done?

If not now, then when? It’s almost impossible to deal with the “yes ministers” public servants but MPs are duty bound to investigate difficulties and instigate remedies. We need to insist that a group of MPs are educated with the basic rules of physics and successful solutions, such as B4RN the rural community solution, Gigaclear the commercial operators who have deployed rural fibre in several places and Hyperoptic in urban areas. These must be visited and studied as templates. These altnets have not had government support, but they are still delivering a vastly superior and more cost effective solution than the incumbent. After the explanations of what’s wrong, and when they understand, the MPs could follow instructions for including a much clearer and more precise set of definitions:

rural broadband solutions

It is not ‘fibre broadband‘ if it comes down a phone line.

‘Homes passed’ should not be included in statistics.

Upto‘ speeds are not acceptable.



It so happens that an “All Party Parliamentary Group” (this group could easily be brainwashed into becoming yet another delaying tactic?)  has been set up specifically to investigate Rural Broadband. Ian Liddell-Grainger MP will chair the Rural Broadband APPG with Richard Bacon MP and Nigel Evans MP as vice Chairs. They, for a start, must visit B4RN in Rural Lancashire, Hyperoptic in London and Gigaclear in Oxfordshire and find out the truth, free from snake oil salesman hype. The telco lobby has brainwashed most of our nation. Rural areas are the lifeblood of our nation, and need fibre, and it has been proven to be economical by altnets. Once the rural areas have fibre, the rest will swiftly follow, as food and water flow into the cities, so will superb internet access for all. <end rant>

If not us, then who?

Please do your bit. Think about it, talk about it, to the taxi driver and your barber/hairdresser, friends, family and co-workers, and help stop this superfarce, bit by bit. The same way you eat an elephant. One bite/byte at a time. Do it for the next generation. Help build a real Digital Britain.



4As – the Activists enthuse the Adopters, the Adopters can enthuse the Apathetic, (activists scare apathetics) otherwise the Anti brigade get their way, and all we’ll end up with is FTTC and a superfast train set for a few commuters. If you can’t be an Activist, be an Adopter. Help us build a Digital Britain to be proud of. Why not be the best?


We have made a start, here in Lancashire. We have built our own fibre network from scratch, and it just works. The people have done it all. We have many retired people working in the trenches, grannies and granddads with spades and pickaxes. We have found it builds community cohesion and everyone has a feel good factor. It can be done. If we can do it, others can too. If government would support it, it could be done a lot faster and a lot easier. Your future is in your hands. To which group do you belong? Activist or Anti?Adopter or Apathetic? You don’t have to be techie. It isn’t rocket science.


Thank You. Power to the People.

Dr Cochrane: Fibre to the cabinet is one of the biggest mistakes humanity has made. It ties a knot in the cable in terms of bandwidth and imposes huge unreliability risks. Click here for the full interview with the ex CTO of BT.

Update, July 8th 2015:

For those who are interested in a truly factual account and history of the Superfarce that is Digitalbritain, they need look no further than this blog, it is written by the very brave whistleblower, Mike Kiely, and you will have no doubt after reading it that what I said is true. He has the proof.


B4RN was ISPA Internet Hero in 2012

B4RN were awarded two MBEs in the Queen’s BirthdayHonours list 2015.

Other posts in our women in tech week include:

Geeks do drink prosecco by Liz Fletcher
Network filter bypass solutions by Rhosyn Celyn
Network Automation by Leslie Parr
IX model defended by Valeria Rossi
Veteran board level techie sees progress by Leslie Hansen

broadband Business

Central London superfast broadband desert

London broadband speeds shocker

At first glance this map of London broadband speeds coverage is a bit of a shocker. It’s been published by Mayor Boris Johnson (or by his minions) based on inputs from Ofcom.

You can see that the residential areas outside the centre are by and large well served albeit with a fair few “not so superfast spots”. However central london is a nightmare.

One presumes that the same logic applies to central London as to business parks where FTTC is frequently not provided. The rationale is notionally absence of an adequate business case. Cynics have been known to suggest that the real reason is that operators (naming no names) prefer to push businesses towards higher value Ethernet connections knowing that superfast isn’t available and the bandwidth they must have (as Yoda might have put it).

We make no call here. Simply report he facts. I would be a bit dischuffed if I was in an area that could only get “fast” broadband if all around me were on the blistering stuff.

For your convenience, and because the embedded pics are just screen grabs of the original interactive maps we provide the legend:

Superfast – Next generation broadband (> 30Mbit download speed) is available at 1 to 100% premises within postcode

Fast – Maximum download speeds from 10 up to 30Mbit

Slow – Maximum download speeds from 2 up to 10Mbit

No Data – No data available for this postcode

Interesting to consider that 2 – 10Mbps is labelled as slow by the GLA folk. Can’t disagree with them. It’s also the uplink I’d be wanting to make sure of.  The old ADSL uplink speeds don’t cut the mustard anymore.

I’ve done you a zoomed out version of the featured image – shows a lot more superfast broadband availability.

superfast broadband availability london


On a slightly different but similar subject I was browsing the Twittersphere for broadband related tweets and came across thissun:

It was this response that struck a chord – the forgotten people of the internet world. London or Aberdeenshire. Notspots know no geographic boundaries, only population densities.

PS I don’t know how I came across this map. I figured a link was emailed to me but I can’t find the email. Odd eh?

Och aye

broadband Business

B4RN the movie

B4RN storming video 🙂

B4RN as all of you should know is a rural broadband network providing a 1Gps symmetrical service to parts of the countryside near Lancaster.

B4RN has produced a video that has been entered into a competition. It features @cyberdoyle plus many volunteers seen out digging trenches high up on the hills in  in deepest mid winter. They are helping themselves to provide themselves with decent broadband connectivity, an essential for life nowadays.

It’s a world ignored by mainstream providers of broadband service because there is no business case. As a result the B4RN footprint is growing. The featured image isn’t good quality because the vid isn’t available in hi res until after the competition judging is over. It does however give you a feel for the B4RN geographic footprint.

It takes 2 hours to drive from one end of the B4RN area to the other just because the terrain is so difficult and the roads consequently windy. According to @cyberdoyle you can drive for 2Km without a customer in sight.

It isn’t really just the network operators that find it uneconomical to service these rural areas. The government, which through its BDUK initiative, has hitherto considered it too expensive to facilitate broadband into these areas. The notional spec offered to prospective customers in these areas is 2Mbps. Totally inadequate.

I have just upgraded my 81 year old father in the Isle of Man from ADSL Max to 80Mbps FTTC. The cost difference was very small and in fact he said he was perfectly happy with his existing service. Now that he has the new connection even he, at 81 and with very simple internet access requirements (email, guardian online etc), says he can notice the difference.

Maybe 4G might be the answer but B4RN provides 1Gig at £30 a month with unlimited bandwidth. No way you’ll get that from a mobile service. In fact you won’t get an unlimited bandwidth bundle. It’s just too expensive for mobile operators to provide.

Now B4RN is a special case. A not for profit with a community of helpers willing to pitch in because it’s the only way they’ll get broadband. B4RN also has, in Barry Forde, someone that knows what he is talking about when it comes to networks. Most rural areas won’t have a Barry Forde.

So if you are in a B4RN area then you are lucky. If not and you can’t get broadband I don’t know what to say really. You need a @cyberdoyle and a Barry Forde.

Now watch the video:

Loads of B4RN stuff on this site btw. Search results here.

PS expect an extended “director’s cut” version in due course. They were filming for 3 days.

broadband Business

Superfast broadband Connection Vouchers – not!!

Superfast broadband connection vouchers – hands up if you’ve had one

Slightly annoys me. I get this email from HMRC winding up my expectations. “Up to £3k towards a superfast broadband connection”. Now I already have an 80/20 line but actually it is rubbish. I’m about 800 metres from the cab. It’s a long way. I only get 30 megs down and 7 megs up. It’s a bit of a disappointment but on the other hand much better than the old ADSL2+ I had. Maybe superfast broadband connection vouchers are for me.

So when HMRC send me an email suggesting that I might avail myself of a three thousand pounds grant I think. Okaay. Goood stuff. Maybe I’ll be able to use it to connect to a nearer cabinet. There is one I know.

I clicked on the find out how link and entered my coordinates. It a message jumped out of the screen, punched me in the face and said no way jose do I get a grant.

superfast_broadband_nograntIf I lived in Brum, Coventry, Derby, Chesterfield, Leicester, Milton Keynes, Nottingham, Oxford, Stoke on Trent or Wolverhampton I’d be ok. Maybe.

How totally crap is that? Of course I’m not really bothered, says I putting hands nonchalantly behind my back and looking distractedly into the distance. I am though. It bothers me that there is a finite list of places that can get the grant.

How did they figure that one out? Totally pathetic. What makes Milton Keynes more deserving than where I live?

The other pathetic bit is that HMRC know exactly where I live yet they still spammed me with hope inducing messages. Messages that make them sound great and good and generous whilst knowing that really they were just playing with my emotions. Lifting me up, dangling me there and then letting go.

“Let’s have a bit of a laugh” goes the conversation. Well I don’t find it funny.

Superfast broadband Connection Vouchers. To have and have not.

agricultural broadband Business fun stuff

The making of the bullet proof internet movie

Exclusive behind the scenes footage of how we utterly destroyed some routers in the interest of science in the making of our broadband movie

Most of you will have seen the broadbandrating shotgun movie by now. Actually to call it a movie is a bit of a stretch. In fact we would have to stretch the footage by an hour an a half or so to do so because the original is only 52 seconds long.

52 seconds of pure gold nevertheless. What people don’t see in these 52 seconds is the immense amount of work that has to go on in preparation and on the day to make such a blockbuster. Take a gander at this introductory video.

Many years ago I worked as an extra on a movie called “Experience preferred but not essential”. It was made in the Isle of Man and I was home from Uni for the summer. One thing I specifically remember was the frequent meal stops. We had breakfast and a full blown 3 course lunch and I got ten quid for the day.

No meals were provided on set during the making of this broadbandrating movie. We were all back in the office before lunchtime and got our own sandwiches from the caff downstairs.

And finally:

Four old routers were destroyed in the making of this video including a BT Homehub, two netgears and a technicolour. The Technicolour proved to be very resilient. However this was, ahem,  down to the fact that our marksman missed it three times from very close range before thoroughly despatching it with his fourth shot.

We have to thank marksman Clinton Slingsby for turning up to do pyrotechnics shooting, Farmer Bill for the loan of his location and local Lincolnshire weather forecasters for keeping the rain away until we had the last reel of film in the can, so to speak. Also in the various media in this post you will see me and Sasha, able member of the staff. Finally thanks to Tom at Eyup Media for putting the film together so professionally.

I do have some stills but seem to be having problems uploading them right now – I’ll do a separate post later.

Ciao amigos

No potatoes were destroyed during the making of this broadband movie.

broadband Business fun stuff

Social Media video marketing – bullet proof broadband

social media broadband marketing

I know we got thousands of you thinking when we put out a post last week asking what had happened to the router. Well it was all a taster for our social media broadband marketing – video style.

Last Thursday we had a corporate day out shooting. This was shooting in both senses of the word. We shot routers both with shotguns and with a camera. In fact we shot the shotgun with a camera as well.

It was all done in the name of social media publicity for Here’s the video that came out of it all:

Look out for more from the filming over the coming days.

Many thanks to our video production manager Tom Davies for his outstanding media production skills.

If you are looking for help with a corporate video then do get in touch. This is all part of our Technology Marketing capability. Look out also for an announcement this week regarding a series of events we are putting together around the theme of Technology Marketing.

broadband End User

Tunisia broadband to reach 100% of households by 2020 says minister

Tunisia broadband

Following on from last week’s China broadband post this tweet mentioning Tunisia broadband caught my eye

Just goes to show how vital broadband is seen to be everywhere. You can imagine every government looking at league tables for broadband speed and % coverage and thinking “we have to get our country up the table if we want to be competitive”.

I’ve lost track of where the UK is in it’s progress towards ubiquity in broadband services. As I recall the target was 95% of the population by (the end of) 2017.  I did follow it for some years but my enthusiasm became bogged down in the mire of government obfuscation (quite like that phrase 🙂 ) and the general lack of transparency associated with the whole project. You get my drift.

I guess if you live in an idyllic rural hamlet surrounded by meadows, tinkling streams and birdsong but don’t yet have decent internet access you will have been following progress of the fibre broadband roll-out very closely. All I can say is that one of the reasons I might eventually move to said paradise is to get away from it all, but I know I’m not helping here.

The last census (2011) showed the UK having a population of 63.2 million people living in 26.4 million households. The OECD report of 2014 suggested the UK had 36.2 broadband lines per 100 people (23.2 million lines). That gives 87.88 penetration of broadband to households in the UK in 2014. The data, which was supplied by HM Govt will have been old at the time and will also now be out of date in any case.

I imagine we are still on for the 95% in 2017. Don’t know how this compares with Tunisia’s 100% by 2020 but I doubt the UK will be at that level. I’m not suggesting that Tunisia is a major competitor of the UK in global markets but they will almost certainly have worse problems in connecting to rural communities than us in the UK. From the tweet it’s also not possible to tell what the Tunisian government minister means when it says “high speed”. In fact it’s difficult to find out much about broadband in Tunisia using Google.

The point is that Tunisia is demonstrating the right kind of ambition.

Should anyone have any more info then feel free to share. In the meantime I’ll just be looking at brochures for country cottages surfing Tunisian holiday websites cracking on in the office here with my high speed connection.

See ya!

broadband Business net neutrality

Global broadband competition stakes heat up

China broadband

Picked up this article in Total Telecom.  China plans to spend $327Bn on rolling out ubiquitous broadband by 2020. The slowest performance will be 20Mps with urban connurbations (or however you spel it:) ) of more than 200k people getting 100Megs.

I don’t know how that compares with the per head spending in the UK but I guess the two things that stick in the mind are the 100Megs in cities and 20Megs on the farm. It’s very difficult to come up with a business model that justifies the investment but of course in China that doesn’t matter.

The UK government should take heed though. In some respect, at least in the cities, competition will ensure that we get the speeds we need. Poor old Farmer Giles however is never going to be looked after. Unless he looks after himself and even then they will probably be exporting milk from China to rural Britain because Farmer 賈爾斯 (look it up) is going to have an edge on him.

Actually there are some things you just can’t leave to a competitive marketplace. I was at RIPE70 in Amsterdam last week (now a distant memory). Someone from the GSMA stood up and towed some bland corporate line on how market competition meant that net neutrality was not an issue in the mobile space. We all know that this is total rubbish. At least in the UK.

I was able to inform the assembly that the only reason net neutrality had been accepted by some mobile operators in the UK was down to 3 years of intensive lobbying (including by ITSPA) and the tacit threat of government legislation if operators didn’t toe the line.

So sometimes governments do need to get involved, even if as in the case of net neutrality they were just a threatening presence in the room. I think that our government should really start thinking about how a competitive UK plc should have a competitive broadband infrastructure, and by this I don’t mean the cheapest services although that does help.

We have always struggled with finding MPs that understand technology enough to be able to make informed decisions. I even recall an anecdote a few years ago whereby the civil servants who worked on the Digital Britain report had all been joking about the fact that none of them had ever been on Facebook. I guess that having ex Facebook Director Joanna Shields in the government could help here. We now also have former Telegraph Technology Editor Matt Warman as an MP.

Only time will tell whether these new kids on the Parliamentary block will make any difference. We shall see. In the meantime if you live in China broadband is coming your way.

broadband End User

Average broadband prices expressed as pints of beer

Average broadband prices roughly equal 5 pints of beer a month ( 3 pints if you live in London).

We have introduced an average broadband price element to This allows punters to see what the average monthly cost of a broadband line is over the period of a contract.

The average pricing takes into consideration any up front incentives and also any set up costs (router delivery charges etc). Where a reduced cost line rental is available the lower price is assumed. This is normally for an annual upfront payment.

The “normal” broadband (ie ADSL) average price works out at £14.35 a month. This is slightly skewed by TalkTalk who don’t bundle any telephone calls into their deal whilst the others chuck in at least weekend calls. Seeing as a lot of people only use their mobile phones these days we don’t see that as a huge issue.

Monthly charges will increase once the initial incentives are out of contract but in theory there isn’t anything to stop consumer switching supplier every time this happens.

The average “fibre” pricing is £24.42, also taking into consideration offers and incentives (the TalkTalk telephony observation remains)

For periods of time when ISPs aren’t offering cashback or rewards their average prices are significantly higher and presumably means lower new customer signup/higher churn. You have to believe that ISPs are also assuming low churn after the initial contract period as I can’t see much margin in their deals otherwise.

The cost difference between normal broadband and fibre is around £10 which presumably represents the difference in bandwidth usage costs. Broadband is certainly very cheap now. The average price of a pint of beer in the UK is £2.90. That means that regular broadband is the equivalent of around 5 pints a month. Fibre is more like 8 1/2 pints. That’s very affordable.

Londoners get an even better deal which will bemuse our rural friends as beer is usually a lot more expensive in the capital. Their tourist rip off prices are nearer a fiver a pint so we are talking less than three pints for a broadband line. Amazingly affordable I’d say:)

More details on the average prices here.

Check out our other broadband posts here. Loads of em:)

broadband Engineer engineering internet

Bufferbloat and Virgin Media

Virgin Media Buffering – Bufferbloat spat

Bufferbloat, as most of you will know is the situation in a packet switched network where the packet buffers are so large1 they cause high latency and jitter. Bufferbloat can also reduce the network throughput. This post is all about a guy called Dave Taht and his encounter with Virgin Media buffering issues.

On the face of it the Virgin Media headline speeds are great and one often sees tweets with pictures of speed tests showing near to spec speed results. Virgin’s DOCSIS cable modem tech is far better at meeting theoretical specs than is its various competing DSL technologies. I do however occasionally hear anecdotally about Virgin Media buffering problems with their broadband connections.

This blog post describing the Virgin Media buffering problem due to bufferbloat is a bit of an eye opener.

Dave Taht knows what he is talking about when it comes to network performance and pitched in on a Virgin Media forum to complain about why they weren’t doing anything about their buffering problem. Dave ascribed this Virgin Media buffering problem to bufferbloat. Dave is an expert on bufferbloat – check out his website.

In the forum post Dave offered advice on what to do to sort the buffering problem – there are a number of well established fixes.

Virgin not only deleted his post but blacklisted his IP address. This is quite counter productive. It seems to me it would have made much more sense to fix the issue than throw their toys out of the pram. The former course would have generated lots of good PR. The latter the opposite. Witness my own particular post.

The decision to delete Dave’s post was probably take by a low level supervisory person. If a member of the senior management team had been involved one would like to think they would have taken a different approach. It doesn’t matter now. It is interesting to understand that these consumer service businesses are all played out a 60 thousand feet. It’s a game of throwing enough money at specific macro level functions of the business – usually marketing.

Spending a lot on advertising how great you are goes a long way towards making a sale. Most people are sufficiently disinterested in the detail of how their broadband works to note buffering as an issue. It’s only when something gets really bad that people up sticks and go elsewhere.

I don’t know where buffering is at in the Virgin Media list of priorities – something quite possibly driven by the marketing department. It is a shame that they don’t seem to be wanting to fix it though.

1 The fertile imagination will now see a packet buffer large enough to store a whole movie – you will never get to see it:)

Footnote from Dave Taht this evening: (I take no credit for the result 🙂

Thank you. I got my access restored this morning and updated my blog
post, and will put out more information later today on the mailing
lists I spammed later today – BUT! I have no problem continuing
holding the entire industy’s feet to fire for a while, so I don’t
suggest changing your piece on that front.

However, it would benefit from the addition of an embedded link to
this talk at uknof – which is the shortest talk I gave EVER on this
issue, and thoroughly describes the revolution we could make,
together, if we work at it:

(I don’t remember how to embed videos in html anymore!)

… after which I’d had such hope from the follow-on meeting at virgin
as to walk out walking on air. 2 years ago. 🙁

I certainly would like all ISPs to do a little testing of openwrt +
sqm-scripts with fq_codel (barrier breaker has all the fixes that work
on cablemodems, and has a nice gui and is stable. Chaos calmer has all
the DSL fixes, but is not quite stable and takes some work to use –
but it works on currently shipped things like the wndr4300. )

and publish appropriate settings. It is hard for users to get the
measurements right.

All the home router products that just shipped, got their shaping
algorithms terribly, terribly, wrong and missed DSL and PPPOe
compensation entirely. Sigh.

broadband Business

EE home broadband pulls plug on affiliate marketing partners

EE goes it alone with direct marketing programmes & ditches affiliates

EE who are my mobile service provider have announced the closure of their EE home broadband affiliate programme. This means that they are likely to disappear from most comparison websites as there will be no incentive to push their products1. We will also be ditching them on Whilst we have a neutral policy on who we push – we let the data decide – we do want the ability to earn commission from sales generated through our site. They had already pulled the plug on any TV related commissions. These are the most lucrative with most ISP affiliate deals. in part uses Social Media Sentiment Analysis to decide who is the best provider of the moment. EE, with only around 750k subscribers is the smallest of the ISPs we monitor. In practice they had very few people tweeting about their broadband services which is likely to be a reflection of the general level of interest in the product.

Add to this the fact that EE’s Twitter account is unable to support any enquiry regarding broadband (they have been very useful to me re mobile) and direct you at an email address. It’s very poor. We are told that the decision to pull the plug is based on a “commercial decision … due to budget constraints”. Suggests cash could be tight at EE. This communications market is brutal and needs lots of free dosh to keep bringing in new subscribers whose loyalty by and large has to be bought.

To me this all points to the EE brand disappearing post BT acquisition, at least in respect of broadband. It’s such a weak proposition. The mobile play is a different kettle of fish.

I don’t think that network operators can lead with mobile if they are trying to sell broadband. Makes you wonder what the O2/3 team and Vodafone plans might be. I can only see TalkTalk, Virgin Media and BT in the game and TalkTalk have a bit of spending to do before they can really be players. More likely that they will be bought, assuming they have the appetite for that.

1 We will be launching business broadband services on during 2015. Not many business broadband providers participate in affiliate marketing schemes but this will not stop us pushing their services. We assume that there will be other means of generating cash

broadband Business Engineer Net

Virgin expansion – a quick shufty at the business case & why they aren’t interested in the final third

Virgin Media expansion

All over the news today are the Virgin Media expansions plans. Virgin plan to spend £3billion expanding their network reach from 13 million to 17 million homes. That’s £750 per household passed. If, following this investment, Virgin grows its customer base by the same proportion as the growth in network coverage they might expect to grow their base from 5 million to 6.5 million customers. That would make it £2000 per acquired customer. Let’s not worry about other customer acquisition costs.

Virgin will depreciate that cost over maybe 25 years so that’s £80 per customer per annum, or £6.66 a month. That’s £6.66 of the monthly subscription cost of a new customer being the cost of laying down the network. This would be reduced if they depreciated it over a longer period which maybe they do – I imagine BT’s strategy is to depreciate over many decades as once in the infrastructure lasts a long time. A chunk of the £3bn might well be operational cost which would reduce the depreciation but add to operations costs.

Brings it home as to why these services cost what they do. It’s analagous to why a BT line rental costs roughly £16 a month although one imagines that BT has written off most of the capex of installing its copper. Even though broadband can almost seem to be free nowadays the cost at the lower end is driven by the line rental. When it comes to superfast broadband bandwidth costs come more into play.

The revenue growth would notionally increase from £4.2bn to £5.5bn although I’m being a little simplistic and not taking the effect of their mobile business into consideration.

I haven’t seen profit numbers for 2014 but I think they are pretty profitable. Lets assume 10% profit. Could be more. 10% profit of the delta sales arising from the new investment (our guess is around £1.3bn as stated) would be £130m a year. That would be a 23 year payback time for the £3bn of cash spent. It’s a long term game isn’t it?

These numbers are very rough back of a fag packet calcs but I think it certainly gives you an idea. I’m sure there are lots of Variables played in by Virgin accountants to come up with a business case. Also I’ve almost certainly missed something out but I bet I’m not far off the mark.

A 23 year Return on Investment wouldn’t pass muster with most companies. Even BT which is in the same long term infrastructure game as Virgin. I’m told that BT’s Cornwall infrastructure project which had the benefit of substantial EC cash only showed a reasonable time to money because of that EC money. And that was something like a 12 – 13 year payback.

Note there were according to the Office for National Statistics 26.7 million households in the UK in 2014.

So Virgin’s investment takes them to around 64% coverage. Their existing network reaches around 49% of the population so for £3m they get 15% more. If we were to extrapolate these numbers then the whole country would cost £20billion to service. I realise it isn’t as simple as that but the number isn’t orders of magnitudes adrift from the Caio report of a few years back which estimated the total cost of rolling ubiquitous Fibre to be around £29bn.

If we keep the maths simple and assume that rural areas would cost the same per household to service, which they won’t the cost of extending the Virgin network to every household would be just over £7bn. I don’t have the additional cost of servicing non-metropolitan areas off the top of my head but it wouldn’t surprise me if it wasn’t represented by the £9bn delta between my own calcs in this post and Caio.

So the cost of providing a high speed broadband infrastructure to the last third for a new provider feels as if it would be something like £16bn. We don’t have a number were BT to be the provider but BT will already have a chunk of infrastructure in place towards fulfilling the job.

My guess is that there’s no way based on these projected costs that Virgin would ever seek to invest in the “final third”. Their RoI/payback would stretch almost to the next century. This is just a bit of an exercise but it does serve to illustrate the long term game that is the telco business.

broadband End User

ISP report places Sky at top of rankings for Q4 2014 ISP report

Couldn’t help noticing that have published their quarterly ISP report.

Highlights include:

Sky was rated top provider for Q4 2014

Plusnet recovered from  a number of service outages in Q3 to rise  to second place in the overall ratings

BT showed a big improvement in customer support levels with average call waiting times over Q4 dropping from 15 mins to just over 6.

The report also shows a sustained social media campaign in the run up to Christmas took TalkTalk to the top of the Sentiment rankings with EE showing how a piece of good news (launch of TV service) influences the way people feel in a positive way.

Check it out yur. Some interesting graphs to look at in the isp report, one of which is the featured image for this post.

For those who didn’t already know is a brand recently introduced by as part of our foray into the world of affiliate marketing. There is much dosh to be made in this game although you do have to be quite high in the search engine rankings to get your hands on it.

I first thought of adding such functionality to but decided not to sully this site (too much) with the notionally crass commercialism that is the affiliate market. does have some differentiators. We use Sentiment Analysis to rank ISPs – those getting it in the neck most on Twitter get lower rankings. We also use what is known as Customer Support ratings whereby we call up the ISPs every day to see how long it takes them to answer the phone. These result are quite revealing. You can have a play with the different charts for sentiment analysts here and customer support here.

When we first started, BT were often taking an eyewatering 15 minutes to answer the phone. Since then this has improved dramatically (see featured image) and chatting to a senior BT exec last week I’m told it reflects a conscious effort on their part to improve things. Fair play.

The next ISP report will be for Q1 2015 and is due in April.

More anon…

broadband End User

Are ISP incentives to new customers going to be counter-productive and drive broadband churn?

Offers to new customers could drive broadband churn

The broadband market is massively competitive. This is a good thing. As in many markets ISPs offer incentives for new customers to sign up. In the B2B world these incentives are frequently given to resellers rather than the end customer. However in the consumer marketplace where everything is automated and done online new customers often get a bung to join.

These highly visible offers often rub up existing customers the wrong way. They feel unloved, regardless of whether they received such an offer themselves way back when. It is also very noticeable that customers will complain about the slightest additional cost and when they have a service interruption look for compensation. I some cases, where their monthly broadband bill is already miniscule, for example TalkTalk’s standard monthly cost for their LLU ADSL product is £3.50 plus line rental, any compensation received is likely to be very token indeed.

So when a customer, such as Shaun Hamilton in our example tweet above wants to upgrade his existing service but finds that he can’t get a particularly good deal because such deals are only available to new subscribers it is easy to see how he may be tempted to up sticks and leave.

Regardless of the fact that all ISPs sting leaving customers with an admin fee , typically around £30, it is possible to make big savings in the first year of a new service. As well as attractive (free even) monthly rates in the first year up front incentives can often be over £100 in terms of cashback or a shopping voucher.

If you are going for a high end TV package the savings can occasionally exceed £300 in the first year, if you catch the offer at the right time.

One wonders what effect this has on churn. Apart from the occasional sporting package most of the ISPs offer similar TV packages, at least those that do TV, so it’s not as if the big consumer players have that much in the way of exclusive content.  Sport seems to be the one exception here and although Sky Sports is available via most ISPs BT have been building up some exclusivity with their rugby coverage.

It’s a difficult equation to manage. All ISPs assume a certain level of customer churn. One wonders whether churn generated by over-gilding the lilly for new customers might get out of hand. At least they can control this as they can just reduce their attractiveness to newbies.

It’s a difficult marketplace. You can check out the latest deals over at BROADBANDRating.

broadband Business

TalkTalk get 75k Tesco broadband customers plus 5 million clubcard points

TalkTalk buys Tesco Blinkbox & broadband for £5m cash

I’ve been watching the consumer broadband market as part of the development of the site. In this space size really is everything. Every day we perform sentiment analysis on the Twitter activity of all the ISPs we monitor – BT, Sky, Virgin, TalkTalk, Plusnet and EE.

It’s very noticeable that the levels of activity (ok complaints mostly) fall into three tiers. BT, Sky and Virgin get roughly the same number of tweets every day. Likewise Plusnet and TalkTalk at maybe a quarter of the above. Then EE typically get very few mentions.

Virgin and Sky get lots of complaints about TV problems. BT gets it in the neck I suspect because of Openreach. TalkTalk and Plusnet I assume “do well” out of not having as many TV customers (none in the case of Plusnet).

EE very much stand out as the smallest ISP by subscriber numbers in this cohort. At 750k subscribers last time I looked they lag behind everyone else who are in the several millions (note we don’t get to see any separately published data for Plusnet who are part of BT).

EE do get a ton of complaints on Twitter but they mostly concern mobile services – unsurprising considering EE are the biggest mobile operator in the UK.

Where is this conversation going?  It seems clear to me that this is evidence of the chances of success in the consumer broadband market being very much down to scale and also the ability to offer a full suite of services – triple play, quad play – call it what you like. This is why EE introduced a TV service. We can’t believe it’s doing that well or we’d see more talk about it on Twitter.

It’s also why TalkTalk have gone and bought the Tesco Blinkbox service. TalkTalk want to be up there with BT, Sky and Virgin getting more complaints about their TV services (not really but you get my drift – they want to be talked about because that will mean more people are buying their services).

It’s clearly also why Tesco have given up on broadband. If EE with 750k subs are hardly getting any exposure, other than what they pay for, then Tesco with 75k customers stand no chance. You might ask why they even bothered with the Blinkbox service in the first place. Tesco are up against the big boys in the broadband game and now it’s game over.

Outside the big ISPs mentioned here there are a number of other smaller operators that sell to consumers. These guys very much sell on service and quality of their product and tend not to have a TV play. There could well continue to be a place for them (I’m not mentioning any names although I wonder how long the Post Office will stick at it) but the market is increasingly going to be driven by bundles that include TV and very soon mobile.

I’ll finish with the vision of TalkTalk CEO Dido Harding turning up at a Tesco checkout with 75k broadband subscribers and the Blinkbox business in her shopping trolley. She hands over £5m cash and presents her Tesco Clubcard. That should get her 5 million Clubcard points. Had she been able to pay with her Tesco Clubcard Master card the could have doubled the points. Unfortunately Tesco only let you have a credit limit of around £7k or so that must have discounted that possibility:).

broadband Business Mobile

BT branding strategy with EE?

Will BT keep the EE brand?

Picked up this little gem from Twitter. It’s a good question because it opens up a discussion regarding BT’s strategy post acquisition. Assuming it all goes through.

When BT bought Plusnet it was convenient to keep the brands separate. Plusnet became BT’s “value” brand although it is interesting no note that one might consider some aspects of their service delivery, such as UK call centres, to be premium (BT broadband call centres are in India).

EE brand image is very much consumer value oriented and at least on the broadband side is a direct competitor to Plusnet.  Plusnet doesn’t have TV in its bundle (ok you can buy BT Sport if you also happen to be a Sky TV customer) but you get the impression that the EE TV offering is very much a last gasp blimey we need TV or we ain’t in business pitch.

BT is buying EE for its mobile base and not for any other reason. BT is also a major infrastructure provider to EE through BT Wholesale which supplies thousands of Ethernet circuits to EE cell sites so there will be efficiencies there.

So the question is would the EE brand remain? If I were BT I’d want the BT brand to be at the forefront of the market. With 24.5 million mobile subscribers EE has many more end users that BT’s fixed line services (BT annual report says 2013/14 broadband tails = 7.5m Openreach “broadband tails” 18.5m – presumably you don’t add the two together). Too much scope for confusion I’d think. BT will want one big brand, eased in over a two year window perhaps. Integration would be slightly complicated by the fact that EE are still probably in the process of integrating TMobile and Orange.

On the other hand I really know nooothiiing. Otherwise I’d be running BT and dictating this to my PA’s PA from the back of my Rolls Royce.

In answer to Fraz’ question I imagine he will still be able to source low cost broadband through some BT brand or another. If he can’t he could always take his business elsewhere.

broadband Business media Mobile

The future UK telecoms landscape

Future UK telecoms landscape – UK telecoms in period of massive change.

The twittersphere is going wild following the news that BT has tabled a bid for EE. Mostly with messages like this one:

I’m not commenting on the tweet itself, just reporting. I’m also assuming that the deal will go ahead. I’m further assuming that Vodafone will buy Virgin Media, or its parent company Liberty Global. Last week a reliable source told me that Voda has already tabled a bid although I don’t think this is yet in the public eye.

So in the UK that leaves us with two giant telcos – a red one and a purpley bluey green one, a content provider (Sky) that rides on the back of the purpley bluey green network and TalkTalk (mostly purple with yellow tinges) who coincidentally have recently teamed up with O2 (blue) having ditched Voda as their mobile provider.

Word has it that these manoeuvres have been going on for a while with the protagonists delaying to see if someone else moved first in order to get around the tedious Ofcom process that will inevitably ensue. Once this concept of market consolidation has been accepted as workable it will ease the passage of the second and maybe third mergers/acquisitions.

Sky may be able ride high and operate as a content provider that all the other networks will want to work with. BT however has been after a piece of Sky’s pie and has been buying up sporting rights left, right and centre. One wonders what will happen to the Murdoch machine if it gets to the stage where it’s TV packages no longer have the best content deals.

All good stuff. Here’s an interesting one for you. In the future UK telecoms landscape Sky, TalkTalk and O2 merge… Not so stupid an idea. TalkTalk is talking about building out a UK wide fibre network. That would give us three completely separate networks and some serious basis for competition.

The future UK telecoms landscape – you heard it first on, maybe.

broadband Business

Vodafone looking at Virgin Media Acquisition


Further UK telecoms consolidation?

It’s all over the tech/comms news that the Big Red is looking at the possibility of buying Virgin Media’s parent company. Google it. There is a fit because both companies have bright red branding so they wouldn’t have to change much.

It was only recently we discussed the fact that Voda was looking into buying TalkTalk.

What’s more other recent rumours have suggested that BT are looking at buying either O2 or EE. BT of course sold off O2 all those years ago – what hindsight can tell you eh?

I think it is inevitable that there will be more consolidation in the UK telecoms landscape. We only have to look at the ISPs we follow in brand BROADBANDRating. Of the six we look at, BT, Virgin, Plusnet, TalkTalk, Sky and EE EE has by far the fewer subscribers and this would appear to be reflected in their social media engagement.

If you look at EE’s twitter stream it is very busy. However it is mostly people complaining about/discussing their EE mobile service rather than broadband. So if we thought that the future world was going to revolve around broadband then you wouldn’t bet on EE being one of the winners, even though they are trying to change this with the intro of EE TV (etc).

O2 already gave up on their broadband project. One wonders at which point EE would do the same although you would then think that this would write them off as a long term player.

It feels as there is going to be further consolidation in the UK telecoms market and we are going to end up with just 4 players in the UK, remembering that Plusnet is owned by BT.

I’d guess

BT + O2 (or EE?)

Voda + Virgin

TalkTalk (+EE or O2?)

Sky (Sky could buy 3 for good measure)

This could all be a load of rubbish but there’s no harm in speculating. If I’m right it will make me look good. If I’m wrong I could just delete the post… 🙂

There is an argument that says that even 4 players is too many but I can’t imagine many people would want there to be fewer – the competition has been great for prices and product development in the UK.

broadband Engineer engineering

Openreach engineering visit

Openreach engineering visit fixes one fault and finds another

The doorbell rang yesterday just after lunch. It was an Openreach engineer. Good news. He had come to fix our phone line. I wasn’t expecting him but there again wasn’t going to turn him away.

Out phone line has been jiggered since Saturday. It’s ok as the broadband was still working fine and the only persons that call us on our home phone are scammers and my mother in law. In one sense that was a bit of a result although funnily enough that was not my wife’s view on the situation.

The fibre to the cabinet connection only needs one wire but the phone needs a pair so it is  quite possible for one to continue working without the other.

openreach engineering visit - up a poleSo the engineer turns up and does a few tests both inside and outside the house and proceeds to find two faults. One is the one on the ticket which turns out to be a short circuit somewhere in the house (hoover bashed the socket!?). We fix that by just disconnecting that socket.

The other, which was a bonus, hasn’t been fixed yet and relates to a mismatch between the impedance profile on the two wires, or something along those lines. I wasn’t totally listening.

Our telephone wiring has been butchered about no end of times over the years so it comes as no surprise that there is a fault. It all started when I got so annoyed with BT that I ordered a second line and had a second ADSL line installed with a different provider. Funnily enough after getting the second line put in I got a sales call from BT trying to sell me broadband.

Having two lines coming in to the house has confused things from time to time especially when one of them was no longer in use. During one Openreach engineering visit a couple of years ago the engineer reused one of the spare wires from the second line to fix a fault in the first. This I think is where this current problem lies.

I’m not getting involved. Just leave it to the Openreach engineers who are actually quite a competent bunch of lads. Their (openly stated) problem lies in the fact that the whole copper network is just a pile of cack and it’s a difficult job to stay on top of the faults.

BT do from time to time make announcements to the fact that they are taking on more engineers (go to BT jobs pages here if you are looking around). The time may well come that the cost of maintaining the ageing network will outweigh the cost of rolling out fibre everywhere.

It’s gonna be a while. The only way I can see it happening short term is if we all go out and steal the copper lines. If the whole network was pinched then it would probably make sense to replace it all with fibre. Glass is cheaper than copper. Please don’t try this one at home though. It was merely a throwaway jocular remark intended to raise a smile. It was not intended to be genuine guidance for the frustrated home owner looking for reliability and genuinely high speeds in their broadband connections. Also it would be illegal. You have been warned!

Anyway back to my outstanding fault and the Openreach Engineering visit. My broadband speeds have been a bit up and down of late. I’ve been reluctant to raise a fault as I’d be getting in to a maze of engineering no shows and the possibility that they wouldn’t find a fault anyway as the problem is intermittent. Also it’s not helped by the fact that whenever I do a speed test using one of the network ports in the kitchen it runs at the correct speed. I just didn’t fancy wasting hours trying to improve the home wifi performance.

So I’ve been burying my head in the sand and avoiding the issue. Now thanks to the inadvertent discovery during my other Openreach engineering visit the problem may get sorted. Yay.

Don’t forget you are all invited to the xmas bash. When the tickets are gone they are gone.

broadband End User

Calling the fibre broadband rollout team

Fibre broadband rollout not reaching “parts that other rollouts cannot reach”

My heart goes out Jazz – see tweet below. We hear that metropolitan areas get new tech rollouts because of their population densities make the return on investment faster and more attractive than say rural areas.

Reality is not all city slickers get the fast stuff early. There are many possible explanations for this. For example Jazz could be unfortunate enough to live near an industrial estate.

BT tend not to upgrade cabs next to industrial estates because compared to residential there will be fewer subscribers in a given area. The cynics amongst you will no doubt say the real reason is that BT want to keep selling businesses their more expensive Ethernet services. Come now. Surely not.

Another reason could be purely logistical. There could be a problem with the existing cab., planning permission issues maybe, a blocked duct or insufficient power. It could be that the cost to BT of sorting out the problem was such that they prefer to spend their money elsewhere

Unfortunately for Jazz it isn’t just a question of having a word with the fibre broadband rollout team. BT would have so many people wanting to talk with that fibre broadband rollout team that they would never get any work done.

We can only hope that BT hasn’t actually finished in Jazz’s area and moved on leaving him as one of an unfortunate few left on the legacy “normal” broadband.

In all fairness to BT they are cracking on with their fibre broadband rollout generally (I know @Cyberdoyle will have a go at me for calling to fibre broadband but hey…).

The purists amongst us will not settle for less than Fibre to the Premises but that is another story..

Ciao amigos. Skinny latte in the trendy coffee show around the corner anyone?

broadband Engineer engineering net neutrality

ISP traffic management policies

An overview of consumer ISP traffic management policies

ISP traffic management in which some types of traffic may be prioritised over others has been the subject of an ongoing debate. This is particularly the case amongst the Internet Telephony Service Provider (ITSP) communities but also elsewhere. NetNeutrality is the issue (look it up) and is extensively covered on this blog.

This post is a simple one. It takes a look at the biggest six ISPs, tells you if they traffic manage and provides a link to the ISP’s own pages on the subject.

ISP Do they traffic manage? Comments
BT No Fair play to them
EE Yes Lots of contractual stuff
Plusnet Yes Looks complicated to me
Sky Yes and No Sky Connect only – Unlimited and Lite packages are free of Traffic Management
TalkTalk No Except to prioritise TV packets which is fair enough
Virgin Media Yes Also looks complicated

It is generally the case that if an ISP does traffic manage they generally prioritise time sensitive packets such as VoIP and gaming. Traditionally this has been done to save bandwidth costs at peak times. However I will say that if TalkTalk who are traditionally seen as a pile it high sell it cheap ISP who you might think would need to conserve bandwidth costs,  can manage without traffic management, so to speak then there should no reason why all the others can’t follow suit. BT and Sky (mostly) do.

It could be down to their having older core networks that require investment but I can’t say for sure. Whatever the reason, bandwidth is cheap and ISP traffic management needs to be seen only in the rear view mirror. It is outdated.

This does to a certain extent come down to scale. The bigger your network the cheaper the bandwidth on a per unit basis. 1Gig connectivity is more expensive per gig that 10Gig etc etc etc

If you need more details on ISP traffic management click on the links in the table. Lots more stuff also on this blog here.

Ciao amigos.

broadband Business

Plusnet music on hold = “Don’t you want me baby”

Plusnet music on hold = “Don’t you want me baby”

In the big consumer ISP world I would think people expect to have to listen to music on hold whilst waiting for their ISP support line to answer.  Usually it’s why a business will pay that little more for a broadband line – just to make sure of the better level of support.

I’ve been quite surprised however at the range of telephone response times when calling consumer ISPs. ISPs with pile it high sell it cheap reputations don’t necessarily live up to the poor support reputation of such an ISP. At least when it comes to how long you have to wait before answering the phone. TalkTalk for example normally answer in less than a minute whilst BT can take anything between 10 and 20 minutes. Both use Indian based call centres.

The mere fact that the call centre is in India would stop me using the services for business. One wonders perhaps whether business customers get onshore customer care. However if I was considering having a second broadband line in as a backup to my main business one then using a low cost consumer service seems a no brainer to me.  Consumer broadband is ridiculously cheap and there are even offers around a the moment that give you free Fibre Broadband for one year as an incentive to sign up (eg Sky).

And not all the consumer players use Indian call centres. Both Sky and Plusnet are UK based. Plusnet seem to have a reputation for great music on hold. The problem is that you have to spend time on hold to them (seems to be the norm)  in order to find out. I’ve seen more than one Tweet that mentions the fact that they have heard “Don’t You Want Me Baby” as  music on hold whilst waiting for Plusnet. Their customer services director must have a sense of humour 🙂

If I was a business I’d definitely consider getting a low cost consumer broadband line in as an insurance policy for when my main one fails, which it inevitably will at some stage. Internet access is mission critical these days.

broadband Business H/W UC voip voip hardware

Why the Desktop VoIP Telephone isn’t Going Away

Major leaps in technology allow business phones — the desktop VoIP telephone — to serve a rapidly growing range of needs. welcomes “VoIP Week” contributor Jeff Rodman, Polycom‘s Chief Technology Evangelist. Since co-founding the company in 1990 Jeff has been instrumental in the realization of Polycom’s iconic products for voice, video, network communications, and other media.

The death of the desktop telephone has been predicted for decades. Technology has steadily advanced, business processes and communications needs have grown, and it’s actually rather surprising how that stodgy old friend the “desktop phone” has prospered. Look at its challenges: the PalmPilot, mobile phones and the Blackberry first, then on to Skype and other soft clients, unified information systems, mobile iOS, Windows and Android devices, teleworking, personal video calling, open-air workspaces, multiple Unified Communications and Control (UC&C) platforms, and the internet itself. And, of course, an always-growing need for specialised applications and consistent, efficient globalisation.

The desktop device remains firmly in place, though. What has actually happened is something that many didn’t see coming, yet is obvious in hindsight. The question was never really about when the desktop telephone would disappear, but rather how changing work needs and new technologies would shape its evolution.

“Personal transportation” did not disappear when Karl Benz introduced the Motorwagen in 1885, it evolved as technology moved beyond the horse. A broad range of personal transportation solutions emerged, from the motorbike to the motorhome, addressing such specific needs as the sedan, snowmobile, and all-terrain vehicle along the way. Similarly, the phone (which we might describe as a personal desktop live communications device) is not vanishing. It is, rather, becoming even more critical to business success, as it has advanced from its roots. Once merely the “black phone on a desk,” there is now a range of devices to cover an assortment of user needs from a basic desktop VOIP telephone to the rich integration of essential capabilities known as the Business Media Phone.

What is a phone today?

Modern business phones exist in many forms, but the most basic requirements they all share are durability and reliability. They are always on and ready for use, unlike cell phones, which require charged batteries and wireless connectivity. Similarly, soft clients or UC clients running on PCs must be running to accept calls or place calls. A phone is one thing we expect to always work, which is why they have traditionally been built like “brick houses,” never knowing who might slam down the handset, douse them with tea or drop them off of a tall table. Any phone is designed for a tightly defined set of uses, which it flawlessly performs. Whether a particular phone today supports only voice or a full bouquet of functions and applications, it is expected to do those jobs with unblinking confidence. As we will see, any device that might hope to take its place must be measured against this simple but essential standard of absolute reliability and responsiveness, one which we might call the “phone’s prime directive.”

Beyond this, major leaps in technology allow business phones to serve a rapidly growing range of needs. The adaptations to serve these can be broadly categorised in three directions— extensibility, unification, and media. Manageability and reliability, looking at the centralized support model removes the hassles from the end-user who can simply use it and doesn’t have to worry about software updates or configurations.


Whether PSTN, SIP, or some proprietary network, the most basic analogue phone needs only a handset and a phone cable. The underlying vision usually supports a much larger assortment of abilities, though, and different models within the same family will express different combinations. These can take the form of additional interfaces to support Bluetooth, wired, and DECT headsets, memory stick hosting to preserve conference audio, additional Ethernet jacks, “sidecar” accessories to provide one-touch selection of additional lines, and even add-on interactive HD video. Each of these extends the usefulness of a phone, by enabling future enhancement without burdening the initial purchase. The extent to which a phone can support this kind of evolution is one measure of its suitability for an organisation.


Although the range of abilities, environments, and platforms that might be supported by contemporary phones is much broader than it was just a few years ago, the user still expects them to work together simply and reliably. This means that functions must tie together transparently, and any complexity has to be neatly and efficiently concealed. The functions performed by the desktop phone must be able to connect to a wider set of networks; but more than that, the user’s experience has to remain consistent—a user cannot be confronted with wildly different behaviour just because, for example, SIP dialling and the Microsoft Lync platform are both in use within the organisation. For this reason, one essential requirement of a properly-implemented phone is that it retains compatibility with existing infrastructure. This means that interoperability among different UC and UC&C host platforms and simple, predictable behaviour is essential for a successful phone, whether it is a basic voice phone with enterprise directory access, or a full-fledged Business Media Phone, such as the Polycom range of VVX Business Media Phones.


Today, conversations can take place among almost any combination of styles and environments (i.e., HD or narrowband voice, accompanying charts and presentations, HD video, small-screen video from a handheld device, or even Immersive Telepresence rooms). They can be between two people in only two places, or among a gathering of groups and individuals everywhere (i.e., at airports, desks, homes, workspaces and conference rooms).

Although there is today a growing expectation that participants will join meetings with video, a phone must give its user a clear perception of the meeting and also present its user as a competent, efficient participant in that meeting, whether the user has joined with video or only audio. This means that whether sitting in open spaces or quiet offices, phones must reject surrounding noise while allowing their users to speak clearly. Further, if video capable, they must send a clear, high-fidelity image even if their display is compact. Just as a user does not want to sound like they’re on a muffled Smartphone, they also want to look as if they’re working from a professional HD video system, not shaking and blurry with a precariously- mounted camera.


The desk phone has changed and today it does enormously more than it did in the past, yet it remains a keystone of effective business operation. By providing consistency, reliability, comfort, and an easily managed connection, there are few tools in business that prove their continuing worth as well, or as quickly, as well-built table-top voice or Business Media Phones.

Over the past three years, the tables have turned. Savings that some organisations had expected to gain by leveraging employee BYOD’s have evaporated as enterprises are often now the ones who buy those smartphones for employees, often at considerably higher life-cycle cost than a well-built desk phone. This is one reason that we’re really not entering a “smartphone world,” and why the market for real desktop phones of all descriptions continues to grow. Organisations that experiment with smartphones discover that they’re no panacea, and they return to the purpose-built and IT-friendly desktop phone — and especially to its powerful newer sibling the Business Media Phone — as the tool for doing what they do best, communications without compromise…

The bottom line is that regardless of what the final decision for each employee turns out to be, the first step toward making correct choices is to carefully investigate, taking care to understand what is important to the organisation and to each user, and get the facts about the options available when making a long-term investment such as a phone system.

This is a VoIP week post on Check out other VoIP themed posts this week:

Why are major telcos afraid of encrypted VoIP? by Peter Cox
Emergency calls and VoIP by Peter Farmer
VoIP, the Bible and own brand chips by Simon Woodhead
Why the desktop VoIP telephone isn’t going away by Jeff Rodman
Small business VoIP setup by Trefor Davies
VoIP fraud-technological-conventionality-achieved  by Colin Duffy

broadband End User

BROADBANDRating soft launch – feedback welcomed

The BROADBANDRating soft launch happens today folks.

Today is the BROADBANDRating soft launch. BROADBANDRating is a new property that seeks to help consumers with their choice of broadband provider. Rather than being  site that just compares broadband deals we want to help people decide which ISP to go for.

This is actually quite a difficult task after all there are basically only two flavours of networks in the UK: Virgin Media and BT and most products are the same.  For the purposes of this activity we aren’t including the small emerging players who have a limited geographic coverage. All the big ISPs offer highly competitive packages, eg free Fibrebroadband for 12 months (!!!), and occasionally they chuck in amazing sign up deals. For example at the moment TalkTalk are offering £100 worth of Love2shop vouchers to go with an already cheap deal whether you choose regular broadband or Fibre broadband (sorry to lapse into non ADSL2+ and FTTC speak – this consumer game is affecting me :)).

The site is probably only 30% finished but it is good enough to get us started kicking a few tyres. The idea is that we have different metrics that we use to judge an ISP’s service. Initially these include “Phone Answer”, plainly speaking how long it takes a helpdesk to answer the phone, and “Social Media Rating”.

Working on “Phone Answer” has been quite interesting not all providers work the same way. Some ask for a minimal amount of information before sticking you in the call queue. On the other hand others, and Virgin Media specifically spring to mind here, take you through an IVR tree that includes some diagnostics. When emerging from the IVR queue the phone is answered immediately. This has to go down as a highly responsive service on the part of Virgin but is still involves queuing time. We just record the time it takes to get to a human because I think that is what most people will want. All ISPs are called at roughly the same time of day which may differ each day. The response times are converted into star ratings based on a formula that takes into consideration recent historical data.

The Social Media Rating is essentially Twitter Sentiment Analysis. This has been an eye opener. We use a tool to do a first pass Sentiment Analysis and then run a human check. You certainly couldn’t give the checking job to a minor. The language used can be seriously juicy. It also shows how much people have come to rely on their broadband connection and the emotions brought out when the B*&^%y thing doesn’t work. Some ISPs definitely seem to come out worse than others on Twitter. We expect that we will be able to show who gets more outages over a period of time than others because when this happens Twitter gets flooded with complaints. A week or so later and people may have calmed down. We rate a few thousand tweets a week. We must bear in mind that the ISPs listed have millions of subscribers so the complaining tweets represent only a tiny proportion of their customers. One has to consider how many people just put up with problems without complaint.

Social Media Rating currently attracts a higher weighting than Telephone Answer although we will be monitoring this and perhaps tweaking as we add more metrics. How we specifically rate for each category is listed here on the BROADBANDRating site. Some metrics will change more regularly than others based on the type of data being measured. The site should change most days.

BROADBANDRating is up and running but not yet being shouted about. We would be happy to receive feedback, positive or otherwise about any aspect of the site. The links should all work. Maybe you have some observations about the User Interface. It is still very much work in progress and as already mentioned we are only around 30% of the way through.

Please feel free to click on one and if you like what you see buy the service. There are some amazing deals, and that’s not just me saying. Affiliate Marketing commissions are the name of the game.

PS a few related posts here and here.

broadband Business

TalkTalk Fibre to the premises

TalkTalk Fibre To The Premises (FTTP) rollout in York announced

I’ve been doing a bit of background work on UK broadband service provision, the output of which will appear in the fullness of time, in due course (etc etc). Yesterday the Twittersphere threw out the news that TalkTalk fibre to the premises was being rolled out in York. Digging into this (as one does when installing fibre 🙂 ) it seems that this is a part of a deal involving City Fibre Holdings, Fujitsu and Sky, TalkTalk and Sky presumably being the channel/retail partners.

I’m not going to regurgitate general press release blurb that you can find for yourselves. However it is worth saying that in the longer term the whole of the UK needs to be lit up with FTTP. I have pals working for BT who will nay say this and that Fibre To The Cabinet has plenty of mileage in it yet and that people don’t need the 1Gbps+ speeds that FTTP offers. They are right, at the moment.

The argument also comes partly from the fact that businesses need to see a return on their capital investments.  In telecoms this is a very long term game – BT’s Cornwall project for example had a ROI of 12 years only because of EU funding and even then I don’t think it met its subscriber targets which would have further pushed out the time to money date. Add to this the ferociously competitive marketplace with deals such as Sky’s £0 for the first year of unlimited Fibre and it is no wonder that large telcos such as BT don’t see a business case for ubiquitous FTTP.

The TalkTalk fibre to the premises availability in York is going to be an interesting one to watch. Interesting from the point of view of seeing the take up of the service and interesting to see if the business case pans out. York is a far more manageable proposition than the UK as a whole. It will involve capital but probably only a few tens of millions and not the £29 Billion that doing the whole of the UK would supposedly cost (see Caio report here). It will also be interesting to see how the infrastructure sharing works out (ie using BT’s ducts and poles) assuming that is the plan. Lots of scope for confusion there.

Having spent a fair chunk of my recent life looking at tweets about TalkTalk fibre and other broadband ISPs it is easy to see how fibre might take some problems away. Tweets either slate the ISP for poor speed, no speed or engineer no-shows and time spent on hold on the telephone. The poor speeds are often down to the copper line and perhaps end user expectations. This would largely disappear with FTTP (congested core networks aside but there really is no excuse for that nowadays). Engineer no shows I imagine are mostly down to resource problems due to having to cope with an ageing copper network and an increased demand for FTTC. The telephone hold times are a function of the problems caused by these factors.

So the TalkTalk fibre (and, lets be fair, Sky fibre too) rollout in York could be the forerunner of an Utopian ISP world where there are never any complaints about speed and the engineers turn up when expected because they don’t have any copper lines to mend (or replace those pinched). This world is also where probably the good citizens of that fair city spend their time playing with new and hitherto unimagined services happily available on their unbelievably fast and stable broadband lines.

TalkTalk fibre in York? It must be so.

Bad Stuff broadband End User

Broadband sentiment analysis

Broadband sentiment analysis used to examine broadband providers

When you browse an ISP website looking at the packages they have on offer it is really difficult to decide how to choose. By and large they are all very similar. Some may offer different TV bundles and you occasionally see the occasional high street store voucher thrown in as an incentive to sign up. Been trawling through various ISP streams on twitter doing a bit of broadband sentiment analysis. I though this might throw up some real world feedback on specific ISPs that might help people decide on the right one for them.

What came out was quite revealing and makes me glad I no longer work for a broadband service provider. The amount of vitriol that gets heaped on ISPs when their service goes wrong is amazing. It’s no surprise. The same probably happens when there is an electrical outage. People now rely on their internet connection as an utility.

In doing the work it is worth noting that an automated sentiment analysis tool isn’t perfect because computers can’t understand the nuances of human language. Sarcasm for example is very difficult to get right. eg

So and so is a great provider


So and so is a great provider !!!???

Same words but the second would go down as negative sentiment if judged by a human. Because of this some human checking has to be performed. This human checking has brought out some interesting anomalies.

For example this tweet:

@drdeakin: Most reliable network @EE ? Rubbish! 4 mobile contracts plus mobile broadband each month and was about to add a business mobi…

was retweeted 112 times (at the time of writing). I found this curious so looked up @drdeakin. He has 177k followers. No wonder he was getting so many retweets. I also wondered how he got hold of so many followers whilst only following 412 accounts. Was he a celebrity? Turns out he just got married to the mother of someone in “One Direction” – a popular music group, apparently 🙂 (@JohannahDarling with 1.15M followers). On this basis I didn’t consider it fair to apportion negative sentiment to tweets other than the first, although a few did get through early on.

Other tweets were showing positive sentiment but clearly posted by someone with a vested interest. These were discounted (eg “@Exposure4All Get 152Mb broadband, 260+ TV channels &amp; unlimited anytime calls to UK landlines →″ is on the face of it just a sales pitch)

One provider in particular, Plusnet, looked like drowning in complaints. Plusnet suffered a major outage during the window in which I was looking at the tweets. This was exacerbated by the fact that Apple had just released iOS8 and all the fanbois were at it in droves.  As such Plusnet came out very badly compared with other ISPs. However this is a constantly changing data set. I know from experience that ISPs occasionally have problems that seem to the huge disasters at the time but they are overcome. A historical trend chart of broadband sentiment analysis should reveal who is the most reliable ISP overall.

ISPs use Twitter as a means of engaging with dissatisfied customers. Twitter is used basically as an alternative inbound means of communication. Some seem to  handle it better than others.

These two examples illustrate how:

  1. @BTCare @someukbitch Happy to but need a better description of the problem, whats the problem and is the light on your Hub blue?
  2. @EE @RhodriOR Hi Rhordi, Afraid we can’t help with home broadband queries, Please call on on 0844 873 8586 from your …

In this case BT is doing a good job compared with EE who aren’t making it as easy as they could for their customers.

The one common thread that came out of the analysis was the number of times an engineer didn’t show up. People had usually taken days off work to wait in for the visit. This is pretty unacceptable but is unfortunately a situation that has prevailed for years now. Maintaining the copper broadband network is a nightmare.

I’ll be making the output of this broadband sentiment analysis available quite soon but thought some of my findings were interesting enough to publish beforehand.


broadband End User food and drink fun stuff internet media travel

What I Did On My Summer Holiday (Digital Issue)

Recounting a (digital) summer holiday, well spent.

I didn’t intend to take a break from writing during this year’s La Famille Kessel summer holiday in Normandy. No, I had plans to regale stalwart readers with missives on the nature of my vacation from the digital perspective, intending to carry the content flag for anyone out there hungering for fresh pixelated meat during these dog days of August. Of course, I also planned to put sugar in the Latte Cannelle that just arrived to the left of KoryChrome here at Paris’s RROLL. Not salt.

Offering up the Yiddish proverb my departed mother used to wield easily and quite often, “Man plans and God laughs.”

Failures aside (gee, that was easy), in an attempt to backwards-engineer satisfaction of the aforementioned hunger I will recount five (5) areas of computer-based fun I indulged in around the edges of my mostly unearned R&R over the past four weeks.

<OK. Everybody take a breath. Here we go.>

  1. As an R.E.M. fan(atic) dating back to the 1983’s “Murmur” I was thrilled to learn in May that the band was finally making good on their long-held promise/threat to issue a rarities collection. And in typical R.E.M. style the boys over-delivered, kicking out not one collection but two — Complete Rarities: I.R.S. 1982-1987 (50 tracks) and Complete Rarities: Warner Bros. 1988-2011 (131 tracks). 181 tracks, the equivalent of 18 albums of “new” material. Of course, the fact that I already had 98% of the tracks didn’t make this treasure trove any less interesting, oh no! These two digital “boxsets” represented an UPGRADE opportunity supreme, as well as hours and hours of artwork foraging and data tagging and reconciliation amusement. Just my kind of BIG data.
  2. It seems that every summer for going on who-knows-how-many years I have on some late night or other sat down at my computer determined to finally get a definitive handle on media information delivery. Or, in other words, figuring out how to configure RSS feeds in a way that not only brought links across from my favorite resources in a great many areas, but that did so in a way that allowed me to spend more time benefitting from the deluge than managing it. I hesitate to whether I succeeded this time, but with RSS Notifier in place and tweaked pretty darn well I can say that my hopes are high. If next summer I find myself NOT re-attacking this project, at that time I will know that “Paid” has finally been put to this bill.
  3. The new site that you hold in your hands, dear reader, has been praised far and wide, end to end, and in between the cracks (yes, I am the reason the store is out of clichés until next Tuesday). And on the surface it rocks far and wide, end to end…well, etc. Behind the scenes, though, quite a bit of work remains to be done to really get the thing humming. One major effort taking place is SEO (Search Engine Optimization) enhancement/reconciliation for legacy posts going back six-plus years, an ongoing task that represented pretty much all of the work I did on the site during August, between opening my throat for copious food and drink intake, forming a marvelous first-impression of Guernsey (the result of a brilliant 4-day holiday-within-a-holiday excursion), and doing whatever-the-heck-else constituted a holiday well taken. Regular visitors to the site will likely not notice any changes to their experience, save perhaps for greater crowds milling about the more popular attractions therein.
  4. 38+ rolls of film. In the four weeks stretching from 27-July to 24-August I shot over 38 rolls of film. “Holy Shutterbug, Batman!”, you are no doubt thinking, because presented like that the feat sure sounds impressive. And expensive. Leyna the Leica is quite the digital camera, though, so please temper your awe accordingly. Still, I do shoot in RAW and that necessitates that I “develop” the photos into .jpg files, adjusting various photo attributes as necessary (exposure, contrast, shadows, highlights, white and black clipping, saturation, sharpening, noise reduction, and perspective correction, to name far too many), so if you want to let your awe (awe for RAW?) run rampant then by all means please do.
  5. The “La Famille Kessel” cookbook project continued during summer holiday 2014, with 10 recipes added, the appendage of notes and photos to existing content, and even some scant thought paid to eventual production. The collection, an ongoing concern, is an amorphous beast of a thing that will bring together pass-down family and friend recipes and a wealth of those found in key cookbook/magazine/whatever over the years. Promises to be quite the tasty thing when version 1.0 is finally completed…sometime in 2022 or thereabouts, coinciding with the kicking of The Boy out of his broadband-enabled nest.

So in summing up my digital meanderings for summer 2014, it is apparent that it was all about data and databases (about as surprising as water flowing out of the spigot when the tap is turned on). And naturally, we at are curious to know what you did to wile away the long days and short nights of summer — nobody will laugh — and thus invite your prolific Comments input. C’mon…have at it!


broadband End User internet Net

Openreach Profit Incentive in Action

Openreach’s sub-contractors may not all be so bad after all.

I finally had BT Infinity installed a few weeks ago. Having watched the installation of Huawei DSLAM at the end of the road some time before that with much anticipation, I pondered how badly BT Openreach and its subcontractors would botch the job and ruin the frontage to our community, while also yearning to finally break beyond the 14 Mbps glass ceiling I have endured for 3 years.

With regular broadband I have been fortunate, being on brand new copper and only 100 yards from the primary connection point with a short run thereafter to the exchange; thus I’ve always had the top end of the advertised broadband speed. My problem was with up, though, not down. Regular readers will know I am a home-based professional nomad, and as such uploading documents to file servers etc. in a timely manner is rather important. 1 or 2 Mbps just doesn’t cut it.

I had done my research and knew that an Openreach engineer would have to visit to install Infinity II. Forums and blogs were full of details about cable models and data extension kits and Openreach engineers having to run new cables through peoples’ houses. In this industry, we would hardly trust them to dress themselves in the morning half the time let alone undertake works in our nicely decorated hallways. I was scared.

Turns out though that the BT Homehub 5 has an integrated cable modem, so that problem went away (and I note it has better in-house coverage for WiFi than its predecessors — I have been fortunate enough to have had a Homehub 2, 3 and 4 and a Businesshub 3 to play with — and it didn’t nerd up VoIP with SIP ALG either). Also, as the cabling in the house is only 3 years old and to modern standards, the engineer felt no need to run a new line or change face plates — useful as it is a large integrated one that includes TV aerial, satellite, etc. — and just plugged it in. The entire installation took about 20 minutes, including the jumpering in the PCP and DSLAM.

What struck me most about my Openreach install was that my neighbour was also having it done in the same installation slot. The engineer visited both premises and did what he had to do onsite, and then visited the PCP/DSLAM to do jumpering just once (i.e., he simultaneously did both jobs). Furthermore, he called me on my mobile from the PCP/DSLAM to check if it was working, thus negating the potential need for going back and forth. Turns out the sync speed is virtually the advertised 76Mbps up down and 19 Mbps down up, with the reality not far off (up is almost dead on, down hovers around 50/60 so far).

The engineer was a sub-contractor to BT Openreach, working for Kelly Communications. These sub-contractors are often derided for cherry picking easy jobs, making out that the customer wasn’t present when they were, so they can complete as many of the low-hanging fruit as possible to boost their profit margins.

I am not sure whether Openreach Direct Labour would’ve had the initiative to simultaneously perform two installations, thus, ultimately, reducing lead times and increasing customer satisfaction. I do know that Openreach Direct Labour, upon realising that there was insufficient copper in the ground between a PCP and the exchange to install a new line in a colleague’s home, had to get another engineer to pull it through and then that engineer couldn’t just provision the line, they had to get another one to do it (no doubt you can imagine how long that sorry saga took). If that job had been sub-contracted, I wonder whether it would’ve been done more efficiently and ultimately to a better level of customer satisfaction?

The incidents we have all endured at the hands of Openreach are many and would shock anyone. Anne Robinson and Watchdog even did a piece on it. Many of these incidents involve sub-contractors, however I think we are in danger of throwing out the baby with the bathwater here as clearly the profit incentive is doing some good in certain circumstances….. it may even work to overcome the inherent moral hazard in the way Openreach’s prices are calculated (i.e., the industry often pays for inefficiency, directly through the charge controls and indirectly through non-Openreach brand damage). Surely, the real challenge is how to we promote the positives and negate the negatives.

Lots of posts on t his site re BT engineering visits – check out this one on BT engineering visit lottery

broadband End User

Home broadband deals – how to choose?

Home broadband deals for consumers getting very competitive – help needed

I’ve been spending some time preparing for the launch of This is a new site we are working on to make affiliate advertising revenues from the broadband market. In doing so we’ve been signing up with ISP partners and getting an eyeful of the home broadband deals available. The offers are primarily for consumers but very eyewatering. You’re talking to someone who never looks at his own comms charges.

On Friday I walked past the EE shop in Lincoln and noticed this home broadband deal – see featured image above. £21.25 for unlimited landlines (whatever that means), unlimited broadband, 1000 mobile minutes, international calls (uhuh) and Now TV (I could look it up).

I can’t keep up with the pace of competition in this game. In fact faced with so many offers how on earth do people make their minds up?

I recently booked a family holiday in Mallorca. I spent hours online looking but gave up in the end and remembered there was a Coop travel agent in the nearby Carlton Centre. I popped down there and within ten minutes had opted for a hotel in Cala D’Or. The travel agent had been there and was able to recommend it.

Also a couple of weeks ago I was chatting to a pal of mine who had recently had an agonising six months getting his new office networked with the main one in town. He was crying out for good advice (he should have asked me 6 months previously).

The world is is crying out for good advice. Holidays, business connectivity, even insurance – ever tried to decide on how to choose an insurance policy. There’s small print everywhere!

Where comms are concerned there are so many home broadband deals with tons of stuff bundled in its bewildering. It’s no use going to a comparison website. All you get is a list of deals. These guys just work on volume. They spend a fortune getting themselves up the Search Engine rankings and then rely on a percentage success rate on a high volume of clicks. The consumer isn’t really helped. They still have the problem of staring at the page trying to decide which deal to choose.

We aren’t ready to go live with broadbandrating yet but when we do I’m hoping we will go some why towards helping people with their buying decisions on home broadband deals. It’s long overdue.

Coming back to the blackboard outside the EE shop the offer sounds good but the devil is in the detail and I ain’t going in to that detail right now because I haven’t got it.

Stay tuned…