broadband Business ofcom Regs

Pros and Cons of @Jeremy_Hunt Superfast Broadband Strategy Document #digitalbritain

DCMS Minister Jeremy Hunt has finally announced the government strategy for providing “superfast broadband” to the final third. I’ve read the speech, the press release and the 64 page strategy document and this is my interpretation of where it is all at.

The government has the laudable aim for the UK of having “the best superfast broadband network in Europe by 2015. Moreover gov is not letting the grass grow under its feet. We have already seen work progressing on the 4 Big Society projects (initially three but apparently none included BT so a fourth was added).

Another positive is that the Universal Service Commitment of 2Megs is being rolled into the “superfast” activity. The investment in an infrastructure to just provide 2 Megs is a waste of money.

The announcement talks of a ‘digital hub’ in every community by the end of this Parliament. This is great. You do however have to read between the lines to see what is going on.
The idea of a hub stems from the concept of the Digital Village Pump as is now installed in Ashby de la Launde and is being looked at for the Cumbrian Big Society project. This concept brings a high speed fibre connection into a community and allows for that connection to be used to connect to a variety of means of terminating to local end users.

There are however some worrying indicators. In today’s announcement there are constant references to BT together with “cabinets” and “fibre connectivity to the nearest exchange”. DCMS has also now confirmed that in saying digital hub they do indeed mean FTTC. BT has said that it intends to tender for each project covered by the £830m of funding made available for this activity and that it will match any government funding. On the face of it this might not sound like a bad thing. BT has said that such an arrangement would allow it to extend superfast broadband reach to 90% or more of the population.

The real issue is something that Jeremy Hunt alluded to unwittingly in his speech in saying

  • “…unless you take extraordinary risks, you won’t survive in the digital world. I want our broadband infrastructure to make it possible for our entrepreneurs and investors to take those risks.”

It would appear that the government is taking a safe, non-risk based option here. The signs are that it is lining up BT to provide the digital hubs into these communities. Superfast broadband to 90% of the population would get the UK a long way towards Jeremy Hunt’s stated objective.

So is this a bad thing we have to ask ourselves? The problem is that BT is not a company that is going to take risks. BT is also too big to be able to innovate. Everything BT does has to scale, which is one of the reasons that the government will inevitably want to partner with it. In this case however scale = inflexibility and lack of innovation.

If, as reading between the lines suggests, we are going to see FTTC as the solution for the final third this has the following issues:

  • Once FTTC is in that is it. The end user will be stuck with a copper based solution for a long time to come. BT has said that it won’t be upgrading users to FTTP if they already have FTTC. Note that the residents of Ashby de la Launde already enjoy 100Mbps symmetrical FTTP with an upgrade path if necessary. My own view is that 100Mbps symmetrical is the minimum standard we should be aiming for. This is supposed to be a long term investment.
  • BT does not currently allow competitors access to its cabinets to connect their own services. This will prevent innovative communities and service providers from providing cost effective solutions to that last 10% that still wouldn’t be getting FTTC. BT’s preferred solution for this 10% is a copper based BET technology that facilitates the government’s 2Meg USC.
  • Even if competitors were allowed cabinet access, the backhaul for FTTC is expensive – on a wholesale basis up to 3 x the cost per Megabit as putting in your own fibre backhaul.
  • The government would effectively be extending to BT a monopoly status in these areas – something that successive governments have been working hard to erode – to the great benefit of UK plc it might be added.

It seems fairly clear to me that BT will probably win the majority of tenders. For one thing today’s strategy document effectively hands it to them because the government has said that it does not see any reason to change the way fibre rates are calculated.

  • “First, that the decisions of the Valuation Office Agency are made independently of ministers. It is not our role to decide who is liable for what under the business rates regime. Second, that the existing rates regime has been tested in court numerous times and no ruling has required any change to the regime. Third, that while in general we favour a low tax environment for new investment; it is right that non-domestic property should continue to be taxed to provide the essential public services we all rely on.”

This means that only BT is likely to be able to submit a competitive bid – all other network operators will be required to pay rates on their connectivity.

There are also other issues that weigh the scales in BT’s favour. Third party access to BTs poles and ducts has been mandated by Ofcom and we await a proposal from BT in January telling us how they are going to do this. BT’s most recent offer to NextGenUs (Ashby’s network operator) required them to use BT engineers (and consequential high labour rates & uncertain availability ) to do all the work. NextGenUs were also being quoted 21 days repair time for any problems. This is not a viable business situation. They would almost certainly repair their own problems within hours. It is very important that Ofcom negotiates hard with BT re this. Ofcom’s reputation in the industry for being another department of BT does not augur well.

If, as it appears, that BT is being lined up to take most of the cash available for NGA I can understand why the government is taking this approach. Let us not however delude ourselves into thinking that this is the best long term strategy for UK plc. This strategy is not an example of innovation and risk taking. It is anti competitive and is likely to be a step backwards from the progress of recent years. FTTP and true open access are the only sensible long term solutions.

End User gaming

Football Manager 2011 now available to purchase online – yay

Exciting isn’t it? Football Manager 2011 has just been released online. 2 out of 4 of my kids have had it on pre-order and I note from Facebook that one of them got it last night and started the process of downloading the game.

Uhuh I hear you say?! 🙂

The significance of this major event in the lives of my offspring is the size of the download. Football Manager 2011 requires 2GB of hard drive. The student only has 1.3GB a week download allowance at his hall of residence. It will be interesting to see how he gets on. At the time he reported this exciting milestone in his student career he was 1% through the download process.

broadband Business ofcom

Broadband Fibre Rollout is Massive Civil Engineering Exercise

BT’s broadband fibre rollout has attracted unprecedented interest and huge levels of disappointment.

Fibre dig in Newark Notts

A few recent events have brought home the enormity of the task of rolling out broadband fibre to every premises in the UK. Firstly the pigeon stunt of last month. I drove for miles looking for Furrows Farm, passing farmhouses half a mile apart on the way. Clearly not an economic prospect that passes normal business case rules.

Secondly in producing the FTTC postcode level map last week it was difficult not to notice the sheer number of cabinets involved and the areas that BT needs to cover to accomplish the rollout.

Then also last week BT sent a digger to dig up 300 metres of road at the end of our office drive. Funnily enough it was

broadband Business

FTTC Availability Mapped Out by Postcode Shows True Nature of Digital Divide in UK

The haves and have nots mapped out for the first time by postcode

fttc availability by postcode - the haves and have nots

The launch today of the FTTC and FTTP interactive mapping service for the first time lets people check on a map whether they are winners or losers in the NGA broadband postcode lottery.

It is still relatively early days in a very long rollout plan that due to lack of a business case has no completion date. This mapping service shows clearly whether you are going to be able to get Next Generation Access broadband – also known as Fibre broadband.

broadband Business

Superfast Broadband Coming to Cornwall and Scilly Isles

BT announced today that Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly are set to become one of the best connected locations in the world under an ambitious £132 million BT and Cornwall Council project, supported by European funding. It will bring superfast broadband to the vast majority of businesses in this area by 2014. The project will benefit tens of thousands of local businesses, create 4,000 new local jobs and protect a further 2,000.

It is expected that other ISPs will be able to offer services using the infrastructure in the same way that they buy off BT Wholesale today. Operational details of this have yet to be announced. Rollout will be announced on a rolling basis, agreed by the project partners in consultation with internet service providers.

broadband Business

Phase 6 Exchanges for FTTC Announced by BT

Hot off the press this afternoon is the much awaited schedule for the BT FTTC Phase 6 rollout with exchanges being delivered up to December 2011.  I know this is a hot one for many readers so hopefully your exchange is on the list.

Mine isn’t. I’m thinking of putting a POP into my garage in Lincoln because I don’t like being left out myself 🙂

Anyone interested in hopping on the back of this should register their interest in a comment 🙂

broadband Business ofcom

How to Get BT to Deliver Superfast FTTC Broadband to Your local area – jfdi city style.

The answer to the question of how to get BT to deliver FTTC broadband is cash, though it doesn’t necessarily have to be your own cash.

As a grown up business BT only rolls out fibre to commercially viable areas. This is clear. There is no case for investment in areas where farmhouses are miles apart and it takes weeks to dig trenches to lay ducts to provide superfast broadband so that rural folks can provide details online of stock movements and check when the next market day is in town.

This is not a gripe. In fact I like to think that readers of this blog go away enriched, fortified and looking forward to the next time they need a reason to come back – perhaps the next cake baking competition results. They don’t want to read whinging prose. They need edification. Satisfaction.

Also BT business cases don’t just apply to rural areas. Only 500 or so exchanges are currently planned to be Superfast FTTC broadband enabled in the UK. My hometown of Lincoln isn’t one of them. It’s all about economics.

broadband Engineer internet

FTTC Broadband at 700Mbps? The Man from Huawei He Say Yes!

I don’t know whether it’s because I’m getting old but the pace of life seems so frenetic these days. Today I read about a 700Mbps DSL prototype showcased in Hong Kong by Chinese networking vendor Huawei.

Huawei’s SuperMIMO technology uses four twisted pairs to achieve a downstream rate of 700Mbps at a distance of 400 metres. This means it would likely fit into a Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC broadband) scenario. In the UK of course we are just rolling out “up to 40Mbps” FTTC and trialing 100Mbps Fibre to the Premises (FTTP).

broadband Business

FTTC Broadband Exchange Rollout Update

Just posted the most recent schedule for FTTC broadband exchanges. It’s a few weeks overdue and the next one seems likely to come out next month but it does add 46 exchanges to the previous list.  Otherwise it is mostly schedule updates.

broadband Business internet

Broadband Connectivity: Superfast IP Networks, 21CN and MPLS Mixing and Matching

Superfast all IP networks are not just around the corner they are here already, at least if you are a business. The big growth area in business networking is in Ethernet data circuits that are rapidly replacing ADSL as the business connectivity of choice.

In fact businesses are keeping their old ADSL connections as a backup to their new Ethernet circuit so whilst the market for broadband is relatively flat the general business of internet connectivity is seeing a boom.

At Timico we will see almost twice as many Ethernet circuits installed in 2010 as we did in the first five years of our existence. Next year we expect the number to at least double again.

Engineer internet voip

VONGA is dead – long live FVA? – Openreach

BT has killed off VoNGA. Bit of a shame really because I was kinda fonda VoNGA. Voice over Next Generation Access or VoNGA was BT Openreach’s initial stab at voice over fibre and initially at least notionally aimed at new developments where it didn’t make sense to put legacy voice infrastructure into an exchange.

Now BT has strangled VoNGA in the womb. We never really heard it’s first cry.

Don’t get me wrong. It was only the acronym I liked – I thought it sounded good. The product itself, a reduced feature

broadband Business internet

Broadband Local Architecture: FTTC and FTTP

FTTC and FTTP broadband local architectures? We’ve got the pictures!

FTTC broadband continues to be a popular subject on this blog. It gets linked to from all sorts of non-telecom forums.  There is clearly a hunger for information on faster broadband.

In the interest of adding to the body of information out there I’ve added some more info in this post.  Firstly pictures of both the FTTC broadband local architecture and the FTTP  broadband local architecture, and a link to the BT Openreach FTTC / FTTP product page. Note the larger cabinet for FTTC.

broadband Business internet

The BT Broadband Interviews – Part 5 – Future Capabilities

Final part of an interview recorded for BT for their FTTC launch.

broadband Business

The BT Broadband Interviews – Part 3 – Drivers

Part 3 of an interview recorded for BT for their FTTC launch

broadband Business

The BT Broadband Interviews – Part 2 – Directions

Part 2 of an interview recorded for BT as part of their FTTC launch.

broadband Business internet

The BT Broadband Interviews – Part 1 – Markets

First in a series of videos recorded by BT as part of their launch of FTTC.

broadband Business internet

ISPs Plunge Knife into Broadband Enabling Technology (BET) #digitalbritain #finalthirdfirst

A Digital Britain session at today’s BT ISP Forum at the BT Tower saw a vocal opposition to Broadband Enabling Technology (BET) as a prospective technology to meet the Government promise of a 2Mbps Universal Service Commitment by 2012.  Bit of a mouthful that.

Firm pricing is not yet available, but we are potentially looking at an installation cost of £850 for a single line with 1Mbps capability, £1,050 for two lines with up to 2Mbps.  Moreover, although the minimum demand per exchange has not yet been firmed up, it is likely to be 15 subscribers.

There was absolutely zero interest in this product from the 60 or so (guess) ISPs in the room. It is seen as too expensive, to the point where it is not dissimilar in price, if you need 15 users in an exchange to sign up, to the

broadband Business internet

Superfast Broadband and the FOURTH LAW OF THE INTERNET – It’s All Hype #digitalbritain

Some of you might remember the book “Masers and Lasers; How They Work, What They Do.” (1964, M. Brotherton. The McGraw-Hill Book Company). In my well thumbed copy page 5, talks about laser beams and uses the term “superhighways” for communication.

The January 3, 1983 issue of Newsweek: talked about “…information superhighways being built of fiber-optic cable will link Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, D. C. in a 776-mile system on the East Coast.”

In the December 19, 1991 issue of the Christian Science Monitor Senator Al Gore called NREN the “information superhighway” – a catalyst for what he hoped would one day become a national fiber-optic network. Clearly in 1991 normal channels (TheRegister et al) were not around to make these announcements so he had to make do with the Christian Science Monitor.

I’ve already blogged that by last year BT in the UK had 11 million kms of fibre in the ground. I would expect that Al Gore might consider the Information Superhighway to well and truly have arrived.

Actually he would be reasonably right for a good proportion of internet users. This post though is not a rave about the digital divide. It is actually about marketing hype.

The latest political buzz-phrase seems to be “superfast broadband”. I personally think these hyped up phrases have had their day. Politicians across the ages have obviously latched on to them in their own messaging and marketing campaigns.

I wish people would just stick to the facts. In this case max possible speed 40Mbps, min 15Mbps, probably 25Mbps on average, certainly if we are talking FTTC. Clearly I will never make it in the marketing game.

I have though invented two Laws of the Internet.

The THIRD LAW OF THE INTERNET says that cups of tea always go cold before you finish drinking them when surfing. It’s a proven fact with a lot of laboratory research to back it up.

The FOURTH LAW OF THE INTERNET says that marketing hype accelerates faster than Moores Law. They are completely unconnected – I know that his will be a difficult concept for some to grasp (bit like Einstein’s Theory of Relativity but different).

The practical implication of the FOURTH LAW is that we will soon have to invent new words to describe how fast a connection is.

Today it is superfast broadband. Tomorrow it is going to have to be “this broadband is so fast you won’t be able to touch your router because it is so hot”. It’s a fact. It’ll give politicos a problem though – not a quick soundbyte phrase.

Ah well. My thanks to the internet (phrase circa1996) for access to Wikipedia for the historical stuff. Marvellous.

PS the FIRST and SECOND LAWS OF THE INTERNET have yet to be discovered.  They might not even exist. Scientists tell me we will need better search engine technology than is available today to find them.

PPS if someone else already invented different third and fourth laws, for clarity these are trefor davies’ third and fourth laws of the internet.

broadband Business internet

Timico Sponsors Digital Dales Colloquium – Making the Final Third Happen

Iam pleased to announce sponsorship of the first Digital Dales Colloquium of 2010. Entitled “Making the Final Third Happen”, the meeting will take place at Timico’s Newark Headquarters on Friday February 26th.

Digital Dales events are key get-togethers for stakeholders in rural community broadband projects. They attract a wide range of participants including MPs, the media (including the BBC), equipment vendors, service providers, local authorities, community leaders and of course end users.

With the Digital Economy Bill currently very much in the news, and a March 1st meeting scheduled between the Broadband Stakeholders Group and the Valuation Office Agency to discuss Property Tax this February meeting is very timely. Rates on fibre connections are seen as a major obstacle to making rural broadband an economic proposition.

Also on the agenda will be a progress report on the FTTC Virgin Media trials in Cornwall, an overview of ongoing projects in the USA, a proposal by Dr Charles Trotman of the Countryside Landowners Association on collaborative approaches to the Rural Broadband problem, and feedback from Lindsey Annison on innovative funding options.

The sponsorship of the Digital Dales Colloquium is very much part of Timico as a service provider living up to our social responsibility.  No one organisation is going to solve the problem of the “Digital Divide” but if we can all make a contribution then it will make a difference.

Check out more details on the Colloquium including how to sign up here.

broadband Business internet

Line Up Here for FTTC

It slipped my mind when talking about FTTC last week that should anyone be interested in taking this service when we roll it out please let me know.  My phone number and email address can be found here. Otherwise mail to [email protected]

broadband End User internet

The National High Speed Broadband Lottery

I make no apologies for the nerdy nature of this post. It is basically a list of telephone exchanges and the approximate date by when they will be enabled for high speed broadband Fibre To The Cabinet (FTTC). No guarantees – planning permission etc.

Despite being “just a list” make no mistake it is a thing of beauty. Apart from there being poetry in the names it represents a big change for many of the people living within reach of cabinets hanging off these exchanges. It means that these lucky, lucky people will be downloading multiple HD video streams at 3.5Mbps each etc etc etc rather than grinding away on their existing ADSL which, if it is running at the national average speed, could be doing somewhere between 3 and 5Mbps.

When I say lucky I do mean it is a bit of a lottery because to get FTTC you have to be living in a densely populated area – so maybe not so lucky if that isn’t your thing.  Life is a bit of a trade off.

Sorry to my country dwelling friends who would give anything to get the national average ADSL speeds and happily settle for ordinary video quality instead of HD. For the moment they  have to stick to admiring the poetry, until the balance of trade-offs shifts.

“update 18th March – I now keep an up to date list of exchange availability on the fttp page here.

FTTC Exchange rollout plan:

Phase1 – trial sites and thus available now
Muswell Hill,
Glasgow Halfway

Phase2 – End Jan 2010
Calder Valley
Glasgow Western
Heaton Moor
Hemel Hempstead
Belfast Balmoral

Phase 3 – End April 2010
Waltham Cross
Lea Valley
Slade Green
New Southgate
Stamford Hill
Ponders End
Moss Side
Manchester East
Ashton Under Lyme
Edinburgh Corstorphine
Glasgow Giffnock
Edinburgh Craiglochart
Glasgow Bridgeton
Low Moor
Chester le Steet
Hetten le Hole
East Herrington
Bristol North
Bristol West
Fallings Park
Great Barr

Phase 4 – End July 2010

broadband Business

BT Launches Fibre to the Cabinet Broadband (FTTC)

Today BT launched Fibre to the Cabinet broadband (FTTC).  The trials as reported in were conducted during the later half of 2009. By the completion of the trial phase BT had finished 1,750 installations over three exchanges: Glasgow Half Way, Muswell Hill and Whitchurch, with a fairly high success rate considering this was a trial.  Well done to Lee Martin and the team at BT Wholesale for their work here.

The overall results, we hear, are a ringing endorsement of the technology. The average speed seen is around 25Mbps with the range being between 17Mbps and 39Mbps. Our trialists ran at around the average.

BT is now launching four flavours – two consumer and two business, the latter having the faster 10Mbps uplink. Timico will also be launching the product though we are waiting until there is a little more coverage.

Post trial there are 32 exchanges (2,000 cabinets) enabled in Q1. By May there should be 103 exchanges and a further 63 planned for adding by September. In terms of premises passed there will be 500k by the spring, 1.5 million by the summer and 4 million by the end of 2010.

There are a number of other developments coming down the jungle path of the connectivity world   ADSL2+ Annex M is about to start trialing at BT Wholesale. Annexe M offers the opportunity to trade some downstream speed in exchange for more upstream. We don’t yet have pricing or an indication of the speed improvements though this is not going to be dramatic – a few hundred kbps.

This product does overlap with FTTC but should, when released, be immediately available in all ADSL2+ enabled exchanges. The ADSL2+ rollout will cover 55% of homes by March 2010, and 75% by March 2011. The lag between ADSL2+ and FTTC means there will be quite some time before FTTC is a viable mass alternative.

You might ask what difference does a few hundred kbps make but if a business is looking to use SIP trunks this might mean the difference between making VoIP viable or not.

The one other development being discussed is true QoS over the 21CN network. BT has however been talking about this for a year and a half and whilst Q3 is mooted as a possible launch date don’t hold your breath.

By the way all this came out of the BT Wholesale ISP Forum that is periodically held at the Post Office Tower in London.  A great venue and a great chance for the industry to discuss all things internetty.

Business internet Regs

Review of 2009

If you have managed to keep a job in 2009 it has probably not been a bad year for you. For consumers, fuel apart, costs have by and large come down as vendors compete more aggressively in the tough market conditions. In the UK we haven’t started paying for it yet. If you have been out of work in 2009 I guess it will have been a different story.

At work Timico continued to grow both in sales and profitability. It hasn’t been easy but the year end looks as if it will be significantly up on last year.

Highlights in the year include decommissioning our last 155Mbps ATM connections to BT, followed later in the year by our 622Mbps pipes. They have been replaced by resilient Gigabit Ethernet Hostlinks.

We also set up our new Network Operations Centre in Newark and saw the successful move of the NetOps team up to Nottinghamshire from Ipswich.

One of the big success stories of the year is the growth in the high bandwidth leased line business. Uncontended (ie dedicated connectivity) leased lines are becoming more affordable and companies are increasing offloading (at least some) corporate resources into the ”cloud”. We have similarly seen a growth in our MPLS estate with some customers signing up for hundreds of connected sites.

2009 also saw some major technology introductions. ADSL2+ was introduced early in the year. The technology is capable of “up to 24Mbps” though we only quote 16Mbps to our customers – most users will not get the max performance and I think it is better to manage expectations in this way rather than have unhappy customers.

Timico was the second ISP in the country to sell Ethernet in the First Mile and have also been participants in the BT Fibre To The Cabinet  (FTTC) trials, the early stage of the much promoted £1.5Bn investment in Next Generation Access technology.

“Digital Britain” was also a much used “buzzword” during the year. It is easy for me to criticise and I realise it is a lot harder when you are making the actual decisions but I am afraid that we will look back and decide that the present Government did not do a good job on this one. The first 4 months of 2010 are going to be very important with laws being passed or not passed that will potentially adversely affect every internet user in the UK.

Don’t get me wrong though. 2010 is going to be an exciting year with lots happening. More tomorrow.

broadband End User internet voip

FTTC Broadband 10Meg Up Install

We did our first FTTC broadband 10Mbps uplink trial installation yesterday in Muswell Hill in North London. The customer is very happy with the performance. It will take 10 days to bed down but I’ll take a look after then and report back on speeds.

The installation itself, once the Openreach modem has been put in, is simplicity itself and takes only five minutes. We are using the Thomson Gateway TG789vn kit in our trials and have to say are very impressed with what you can get in a small piece of plastic these days.

I’ll be looking at productising some homeworker services using our VoIP platform, based potentially on the Thomson range. We have been very impressed with their responsiveness as a supplier.

broadband Business internet voip

Digital Britain FTTC Broadband – The Truth

I spent this afternoon at the Muswell Hill telephone exchange! I’d not been into one before and it must be said it felt like walking into an old high school. A pre-war building that echoed to my footsteps…The most noticeable thing walking in was a constant clicking sound. TDM switching still alive and kicking!! Eerie.

The purpose of my visit was to test the FTTC broadband line. I had a gaggle of BT engineers in tow to watch. I don’t think I was the first in but I was certainly an early adopter.

The results were exciting. We used a number of speed test engines and saw between 22Mbps and 42Mbps download speed. There was also a 172Mbps which was clearly an aberration. I’ll not name the website that gave us that one! The BT Wholesale line checker suggested that we should be able to get a speed of 38.5Mbps.

The uplink was a consistent 1.8Mbps or so – we were clearly not running off the 5Meg version.

I performed a number of tests including video streaming and Voice over IP. Both were stunningly successful. I didn’t expect any problems – the VoIP had plenty of bandwidth and was clear as a bell.

For the video I ran a couple of iPlayer sessions in parallel. The full screen performance was great. With hindsight I should have seen how many I could run to determine the maximum – a consumer household simulation.

The photos below show two video streams running plus a full screen shot of a BBC wildlife programme. Excuse the caption – I had some photos of me making VoIP calls over FTTC but they mucked up the formatting of the post so I deleted them.

Few points in finishing off:
The current BT Openreach strategy is to provide the VDSL2 modem for the Communications Provider to hook up to with an Ethernet Router. This should ensure better interoperability with the MSAN – an issue with different routers in the regular ADSL game.

Speeds will get better during the course of the 10 day training period. BT has seen 30 – 35Meg reasonably consistently after this period though there is not enough trial data to yet be able to quote a “typical” speed. It will be dependent on average distance from the exchange.

Note our range of 22 – 42 Mbps was based on being 4 feet from the cabinet – so there is definitely some bedding down to do there.

I make no apologies for the size of the images – they were just screenprints – I resized them but left them unoptimised for the web so if some of them take a little time to load that’s why.

Note also that whilst FTTC broadband is still a trial apparently the local BT shop in Muswell Hill is selling connections as if there was no tomorrow.  Hopefully they are making their customers aware that it is a trial 🙂

two video streams running off BBC iPlayer over FTTC
two video streams running off BBC iPlayer over FTTC

insect screenprint off BBC iPlayer over FTTC

broadband Business internet mobile connectivity

O2Be and the Ever-Growing Complexity of the Broadband Service Landscape

Met with O2/Be last week to discuss their LLU broadband play. O2 has been winning awards for their consumer broadband service. They have an ADSL2+ solution that already supports Annex M.

For the uninitiated Annex M allows a service provider to trade some downloading speed on a broadband service in exchange for a faster (up to 2.5Mpbs!?) upload.

O2/Be have unbundled around 1,240 exchanges and so have one of the largest LLU footprints in the UK. They also claim to have 500,000 customers so in understanding the options for the provision of broadband service in the UK they are one of the companies that need looking at.

A complex web is being woven in the UK broadband landscape. Clearly O2 is serious. When they bought Be the LLU estate numbered no more than 30 or so exchanges. A lot of cash has been expended to turn it into the figure it is today.

O2 is telling the world it wants a seat at the table and is willing to put up a stake. It does have a different approach to Carphone Warehouse, the leading LLU player in terms of size, in that it only offers the broadband connectivity. Currently O2 relies on Openreach for the underlying analogue line.

Having looked at the economics of LLU myself it makes a lot more sense if you are taking the voice path as well as the ADSL. There are other benefits with LLU in that an ISP can tailor its own services and thus offer a differentiation in a crowded market. It still needs subscriber numbers to make it pay and at the consumer end it is unlikely that the service provider will want to offer too many variants – simplicity of broadband service means lower costs to sell, provision and support.

This brings me on to another point and that is that BT is now introducing FTTC which at 40Mbps down and 5Mbps up blows all the LLU operators ADSL2+ offerings out of the water, at least in terms of speed. There are then only two players in the game – BT and Virgin with their cable proposition. Other players will have to line up behind one of these two as a wholesale customer and note that Virgin does not yet have a wholesale proposition.

Now FTTC is in its early days of rollout but the footprint is likely to be the same Market 3 footprint as the unbundled exchanges, ie the densely populated parts of the country that make business sense.

So I think for the moment that LLU players have a market window that is probably no more than two years for their unbundled services. Two years will scream past, if the past five at Timico are anything to go by.

Coming back to O2/Be their play thus far has been very much into the consumer market. They look to be a solid player and I have heard good things about them from peers in the ISP community. Their sortie into the business market is through an L2TP play with relative newcomer Fluidata. I have nothing to say against Fluidata, not having worked with them but they are small and O2, if it is serious at the wholesale, game will want to do it in-house.

What their long term strategy is though is a difficult one to call. Owned by Telefonica they should have the deep pockets to play. Play what though? When there are likely to be only two players and one of them is BT then you either have to be satisfied with being a reseller of BT or Virgin or you buy one of them. I can’t see the regulator letting O2 buy BT, it would be ironic if they did.

They might let them buy Virgin though.  And then where does that leave Vodafone, a business that is only dabbling in broadband at the moment…

The UK communications industry has never been as exciting a place to be as it is now. Any informed comment/feedback to this post will be read with interest.

broadband Business

Broadband Types: ADSL versus FTTC versus FTTP

As we begin to discuss the merits of broadband types — Fibre To The Cabinet and Fibre To The Premises compared with ADSL — there are a few points worth noting.

First of all there is the speed of the connection. ADSL2+ offers “up to 24Mbps”, FTTC “up to 40Mbps” and FTTP, which has no copper in the loop, is initially 100Mbps with an upgrade path to 1Gbps. I’m not predicting when any reader will have access to these services but those are the numbers. Also the 100M should not need the “up to” inverted commas.

Speed apart the biggest win for me is likely to be in the reliability of the service. Copper based broadband connections are very prone to service interruption due to water and electrical storms.

Believe it or not fault rates do actually go up during summer heatwaves and the thunderstorms that these unbearable periods of British summer weather tend to attract:-). Fibre does not care about water or electromagnetic interference.

Fibre bandwidth delivery is also not dependant on distance in the way that copper based ADSL is. So the overall customer experience is likely to be much improved as we move to FTTP.

BT are assuming that more of their NGA rollouts are going to be FTTC. I think that once FTTP is readily available it will supersede it’s partly copper based sibling. Uses for the bandwidth are going to come along in their droves.

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The Demise of Fixed Broadband

A lively time is being had today at the BT Wholesale ISP Forum. The ISP world is fast moving and with so many changes going on – the move from ADSL Max to 21CN, the introduction of Fibre To The Cabinet, Ethernet in the First Mile – there are always lots of things to talk about.

We had a market presentation given by John Kiernan of the BT Market Research department.  This was largely a regurgitation of this year’s Ofcom Market Report but he also spoke about the move away from fixed broadband to mobile broadband. During the debate from the floor someone mentioned that at the Broadband World Forum in Paris yesterday the talk (presumably by the wireless network operators) was that  wireless broadband was expected to kill off fixed broadband by 2012.

I can’t see this happening in the UK anytime soon although I’m sure that wireless broadband is going to have a big part to play – I use it myself on the move.  Consumers especially are getting more and more tied in to bundles that include their fixed line, TV and broadband. Also fibre brings the potential to provide much faster speeds than are being discussed with wireless broadband (and I know that someone will now tell me you can get Gigabit wireless).

What does concern me is the increase in the pollution of the airwaves which will come with more and more wireless.  I realise we are told it is safe but…

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Stephen Timms MP to Become the New Communications Minister

Stephen Timms brings significant telecommunications industry experience to his new Communications Minister role.

I understand that Rt Hon Stephen Timms MP is set to become the new Communications Minister, with responsibility for taking forward the recommendations of the Digital Britain broadband review. The position had been vacated when Lord Carter stepped down following the publication of the Review. It is likely that the role will change slightly, given that Mr Timms will sit jointly across the Department for Business and the Treasury, whereas Lord Carter’s position sat jointly across the Department for Business and the DCMS.

A former Internet Hero at the ISPAs, Stephen Timms brings significant experience to the role having worked in the telecommunications industry before entering Parliament and having previously served as a Minister with responsibility for e-Commerce at the DTI and BERR.

Whether the treasury connection will have any relevance remains to be seen.  I see one of the biggest challenges for this Government is going to be how it faces up to the need to invest massively in the Next Generation Access network (ie fibre).

Whilst I was on holiday I visited my in laws in Liverpool. Grandad had saved me an article from the local paper describing the outcry amongst Liverpudlian councillors when they found that BT’s initial £1,5m investment in Fibre To The Cabinet was not going to be gracing their fair city with it’s presence whilst favouring local rivals Manchester.  Nonsense I cried and reached for my BT FTTC broadband rollout map (never go anywhere without it).

To my surprise, he was right. All the dots identifying the initial (spring 2010) roll out sites come no closer than Altrincham. The good burghers of Liverpool should not feel that they have been singled out, because there will be huge swathes of the UK left out in the high speed broadband cold.  I don’t for a moment blame BT, although I’m sure that competition from Virgin will in due course give them a bit of a prod in the right direction.

This is why I say that the Government has a lot to do in this space, and why I wish Stephen Timms every success in his new role.

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Rural broadband on the BBC news this morning

The BBC has picked up a rural broadband news item this morning with another community rolling out fibre, this time with a 20Mbps broadband service, presumably with a bigger backhaul than the 2Mbps that serves Wennington and Wray (see posts from 2 weeks ago).

I suspect the media is building up for more coverage when the Digital Britain Report is released in mid June.  There seems to be some disagreement in Cumbria as to the efficacy of the investment already made in the area. Whether individual communities already get coverage or not is somewhat a moot point really.

I think the issue that is quickly going to overtake us is the adequacy of the  “up to 2Mbps” speed being bandied around as a target by Government as a Universal Service Obligation.  Many city dwellers already have access to 40 or 50Mbps and with BT’s Fibre To The Cabinet trials about to start this figure will become very much the standard to aim for, unless you live in a rural community that is.

Whilst BT CEO Ian Livingstone maintains that 2Mbps is good enough for most people’s uses, experience in the Far East, where high speed internet access isn the norm, have shown that people’s online behaviour does change as faster speeds become available. They are more likely, for example, to watch High Definition video online.

This is all going to add pressure to ISPs’ networks but I do believe that the UK is being shortsighted in not considering a ubiquitous Next Generation Access fibre network from the off.