broadband Business internet Regs

Digital Britain Broadband Implementation Plan

Digital Britain publishes 18 headline projects, evokes thoughts of Russian WWI mobilisation plan.

You will all be interested to know that the Government has published its Digital Britain broadband implementation plan.  It’s a headline set of actions that reminds me of why I am not a civil servant.  It makes me think of the Russian mobilisation plan of the first world war for some reason.

Anyway, the Digital Britain broadband implementation plan contains 18 headline projects including a catch all called “Other Relevant Activity”.  Two of them are ones I have been commenting on relating to Next Generation Broadband and Illegal File Sharing.

I just noticed that the timeframe given for 90% penetration of Next Gen broadband access in the UK is 2017.  This is so far into the future in in internet terms as to not matter. I imagine they will have invented teleporting by then which would be ideal for rural dwellers but of course it won’t be availabe to them!  Meanwhile I can envisage a Government celebration party being held to celebrate the 90th percent being hit for what will by then be ultra slow broadband.

Also of interest is the presence of Martha Lane Fox on the Programme Board.

End User Regs surveillance & privacy

Big Brother is watching you

Imagine a world where individual sales people could see how many customer contacts they take and make, be it mobile, desk phone or email. Then they compare their performance with their peers and can see how much sales revenue they each generate.

An underperforming sales person is going to either buck up their act or realise the writing is on the wall. That person’s manager can also see the same information, how much time is spent making personal calls, calls to colleagues or calls to customers.

Who’d be a salesman eh?  The fact is that this type of management information isn’t typically available, or at least not easily so and certainly not in real time. If it was then companies would be able to use the information save communications costs and to optimise the effectiveness of their commercial teams.

I just saw a demo of an online product called the “Comms Dashboard” which integrates with a company’s CRM package. Every time a registered user makes a call it is logged on the “dashboard” and a picture is built up of an individual’s spend and activity levels.

This might sound a bit Big Brotherish but I doubt that the owner of a business cares if it is going to improve the bottom line, especially in this day and age. The Comms Dashboard integrates with pretty much any CRM system as long as the company database is available and doesn’t care how many users are registered so it can be used by businesses small or large.

The demo I saw was provided by Terence Long, CEO of RTP Solutions. I have to hold my hand up here and tell you that Terry Long has been a successful business partner of Timico almost since we started the company. Notwithstanding that the Comms Dashboard does represent innovation that will make the difference when business is difficult to come by – both for RTP Solutions and for their customers.

Since the product went live their clients have seen a reduction of over 30% of minutes usage with very little management intervention. Once users are aware of the system they manage their own costs. Result!

Check out their website if you want to see more but in the meantime here is a screenshot.


Business internet ofcom Regs

Ofcom report indicates reduction in music downloading

The Communications Market Report published by Ofcom yesterday has thrown up some interesting stats in subject areas regularly commented on in this blog.

For example Ofcom says that there is an overall reduction in the number of people downloading music and videos.  This overall decrease is only 1% but the number is marked in certain age groups.  15 – 24 year olds are downloading 8% fewer files and the maturer 25 – 44 age group is at it 5% less.

Now there is nothing to say that all these downloads are against the law but this must surely point to an overall reduction in illegal P2P filesharing which must in large part be down to all the high profile activity in this space of Feargal Sharkey and UK music. Any comment Feargal?

There is an awful lot of work left to be done in this area and it is going to be the subject of discussion for some years to come.  Ofcom’s chart purloined below – click twice to get a better res view.


Note downloading has increased amongst older folks. One imagines this age group is less likelyto illegally fileshare. Also note increase in uploading content.  This is going to be a driver for Next Gen broadband as currently being rolled out by Virgin and trialled by BT.

Business internet net neutrality voip

Net neutrality, Skype and Commissioner Reding

Continuing with the theme of reports I’ve been reading the EuroISPA report that comes across my desk every month. Like it or not when the EC magisterially waves its authoritative hand we do feel the ripples in the UK.

This month in response to a parliamentary question on T-Mobile blocking Skype over broadband networks in Germany, Commissioner Reding, interestingly, referred to the provision of the Universal Directive, namely art. 2(3), whereby National Regulatory Authorities are empowered to intervene by setting minimum quality of service requirements for network transmission services, “as an additional safeguard in instances where competitive forces alone, are not enough to safeguard the openness of the Internet”.

If you’re like me your mind goes blank when you read all this regulatory jargon.  However with this one we need to note that in the pursuit of net neutrality, which as a consumer I’m all for, setting minimum quality of service levels requirements on ISPs is going to cost money. Skype should not be blocked by anyone but neither should ISPs be obliged to prioritise Skype traffic without someone footing the bill.

By the way you can use Skype to your heart’s content on the Timico network though most of our business VoIP customers chose to use our own VoIP service.

Business ofcom Regs voip

Ofcom today published its annual Communications Market Report

Ofcom today published its annual Communications Market Report. At 334 pages long it is a bit of a read but actually, at least if you are in the industry, it is very much worth ploughing through it.  It usually produces lots of interesting material to comment about so I’m probably going to pick and chose a few subjects dear to my heart over the next few days.

Last year the industry had cause to complain big time regarding Ofcom’s measurement of the growth of the VoIP market. In fact I met with the regulator to discuss this very subject earlier in the summer.

This year the report highlights the increasing popularity of VoIP, with evidence showing a growing awareness and take up of the service. According to the research, the number of UK adults using VoIP in Q1 2009 has risen to 12% and 60% of UK adults claim to know about VoIP.

The report does accept that most UK adults do not use the service citing reasons such as insufficient understanding on how it’s used, quality of service issues and competition from low-priced fixed and mobile telecoms services. However Ofcom stresses that many users are unlikely to realise that they are using VoIP technology, e.g. the BT home hub phone, and therefore usage is likely to be higher than the report suggests.

The reports also highlights a decline in the total number of UK fixed lines which is attributed to greater availability of alternative forms of communication including VoIP. The use of VoIP was also one reason attributed to the growth in business voice call volumes by 2.1% in 2008 to 89.1 billion minutes.

It is clear from the report that Ofcom are still unable to obtain genuine statistics of VoIP take-up from their current market research but at least it is progress over last year.

More when the day job allows.

broadband Business internet Regs

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.

broadband Business internet ofcom

Initial Take on Digital Britain Report

2Mbps Universal Service Obligation by 2012.
This is the minimum that people need to get into the game. In the report the government recognizes that whilst much of the country will shortly be getting access to faster broadband (aka BT 40Mbps Fibre To The Cabinet or 50Mbps Virgin cable) a significant chunk won’t, which will exacerbate the Digital Divide.

The Government is therefore looking to promote/fund the extension of this Next Generation Access network into these “excluded” areas. I have been saying that 2Mbps is not enough and it is good that the Government clearly recognizes this.

The funding for the rural Next Gen broadband access is likely to come from a complex variety of sources. It includes a new tax levied of 50 pence on every copper phone line. I assume it includes Virgin cable connections to keep the playing field level. This will have to be passed on to customers so the immediate effect is a rise in the cost of broadband. It will also add to the overheads of the ISP which has to collect it.

The funding collected will be available on a competitive tender basis. I would expect the Government to somehow identify specific projects for funding and make the moneys available for competitive bids. Otherwise someone with BT with the massive resources available to put specific projects together would cream all the cash.

Music Piracy
Two things to say here. The Government recognizes that access to legal means of downloading music needs to improve which reinforces what the ISP industry has been saying (note the many blog posts on this subject).

Secondly the Government also wants a more graduated approach to punishing illegal downloaders. The three strikes and you are out approach has been replaced much to everyone’s relief.

We now appear to be looking at a scenario whereby the ISP would send a letter to the end user informing them that they have been identified as offenders. The next step would be to throttle the bandwidth available to users indulging in this activity or block P2P. The final resort would be legal action.

A cautionary note here. Most ISPs cannot easily block P2P. Only those big consumer players typically have the kit that can do it. Are we looking at the same scenario as the Data Retention Act where the Government only expects an ISP to follow the law only if specifically asked. In this case the ISP would have to be funded to do it.

There is also a fairly significant onus on Ofcom to make all this happen which is going to be an interesting play. I imagine it will take no small level of resource which probably doesn’t currently exist.

All in all I think this is a good report.  There were always going to be difficulties with putting together a document with such a wide remit and I’m sure that as we get time to digest it other questions will arise.  However Lord Carter should be able to move on to his fresh challenges with a reasonable sense of satisfaction.

broadband Business Regs

Digital Britain Final Report Delayed a Few Days

BERR on Friday issued a statement to say that the Digital Britain Final Report will not now be released on Tuesday as planned. Instead it is being presented to the Cabinet tomorrow and will be released later in the week.

There is also a meeting between Lord Carter and a few industry representatives tomorrow afternoon.  ISPA is being represented at that meeting so I will report back later.

There is a huge amount of expectation surrounding the publication of the Digital Britain report.  We think we know what is going to be in it but can’t be sure. However it turns out I’m sure it is going to spark a huge amount of debate.  Let’s enjoy the last few days of peace before it hits the street 🙂

Note the BERR statement isn’t actually a BERR statement. It is a Joint statement from Departments for Business, Innovation and Skills and Culture Media and Sport. I’m not politicaslly motivated but this does seem ridiculous. BISCMS ?!!! I could only just get my tongue around BERRRRRR.

Hot off the press – apparently the report will now be available on the DCMS website at 3.30 pm tomorrow.

broadband Business internet ofcom

Broadband Internet Access. Ofcom says 1 in 5 of Households Without Will Get It Within 6 Months

Ofcom says Broadband Internet Access is coming to 1 in 5 currently without it.

An Ofcom study suggests that 2 in 10 people without broadband internet access at home intend to get it within the next six months.  They say that 70% of us already have it (68% broadband internet, 2% narrowband!). So the 20% of the remaining 30% suggests that 6% of the whole population will rush to sign up in the next 6 months.

That’s a fairly significant number of people signing up for broadband internet access.  Being a bit of a sceptic sometimes I did read the report (exec summary anyway, me being an exec and all) to see whether I could believe it.

Actually, there is one simple metric that does tend to support the number:  growth in people with PCs at home. The chart below shows the growth in fixed, mobile, internet and PC use at home.  You can see that a significant 4 percent of people have a PC but not an internet connection. That together with a continued growth trend does suggest credibility.

Note the flat mobile growth and the gradual decline in fixed line.

ofcom broadband internet access

Business ofcom voip

Ofcom market research

Had an interesting meeting with the Ofcom market research team.  This is the team responsible for the Annual Communications Market Report which is a must read if you are in our game.

The meeting was arranged by Ofcom’s Chris Rowsell because the VoIP service provider  industry, via trade body ITSPA, had expressed concern that the VoIP content of last year’s report showed a decline in consumer use of the technology.  This was not the actual experience of the ITSPA membership so this year we wanted to try and help make sure that the research that was conducted was more accurate.

After the meeting I did come away with a certain degree of sympathy for Ofcom.  It is very difficult to come up with an easy definition for VoIP that can be understood by the general public so that accurate research can be conducted. 

It didn’t really help that some of the example service providers used by Ofcom in the research questionnaire were of services that no one in the room had ever heard of. If industry experts could not answer what chance Joe Public?

Another interesting part of the mix is that the only bit of the Annual Report that Ofcom is required to cover under statute is the TV market. This means that the mobile/fixed line telephony/internet bit is optional and the regulator is only interested in covering bits that might affect the legislative decision making process. So consumer VoIP is of interest to them but not business VoIP.

As a Business to Business VoIP provider Timico, along with most ITSPs in the UK is only interested in the business market numbers. This is somewhat disappointing to the industry which is left without a particularly accurate metric of its size.

We left the meeting with a some positive actions. Ofcom is quite happy to take on board suggestions from ITSPA as to how the research can be improved and although there isn’t much time this year to get it done, this is something we will take onboard. Secondly, in the absence of their own data, Ofcom appears to be willing to publish the numbers collected by ITSPA member and Communications Consultancy Illume which gathers basic industry subscriber numbers on a quarterly basis.

Hopefully we will be able to help improve  the VoIP aspect of the report this year.

Business ofcom Regs

Ofcom 0870 statement

Ofcom has just published a statement regarding the charges that Communications Providers apply for calls to 0870 numbers.  This has been in the pipeline and in the news off and on for what seems like a couple of years and is in response to complaints that the public did not know that 0870 numbers were more expensive to call than 01,02,03 geographic numbers.

This will mean that calling the TV Licensing Authority to tell them you don’t have a TV should no longer cost as much as the license fee (depending in all fairness on how long you are on hold but the concept is a good one).

Reality is that businesses build in the revenue shares they get from using 0870 numbers into their business model.  The enforced reduction in pricing will undoubtedly bring “transparency”, as Ofcom likes to call it, into the game but industry will still need to recover the costs, notionally by charging more elsewhere.

The new Ofcom rules come into force on 1st August. The statement can be read here.

broadband Business internet ofcom

interview with Sebastien Lahtinen of

Hard as it may be to believe ADSL has been around in the UK for 10 years or so. In this time we have seen big changes in the industry. Market penetration has reached 58% of households (Ofcom 2008 review) and we are onto our third generation of technology.

Sebastien Lahtinen is known to many as the driving force behind and before that As such he has been at the heart of the UK broadband industry as both an observer and participant since its beginnings.

TD Seb, tell us a bit about how you got into the broadband industry and what inspired you to originally found

SL Back in the late nineties I was looking to get onto a cable broadband service but my cable operator Nynex (which became C&W, then NTL and now Virgin Media) wasn’t offering the service in my area. I then heard about this ‘ADSL’ technology and that Demon Internet was running trials in some areas. Whilst I couldn’t get onto a trial myself, John Hunt, a good friend of mine who started the site up with me was able to do so.

I felt that that there was a need for somewhere impartial for users to go, to find out about this new emerging technology. Of course these days, the providers have perfected their support and provisioning systems so our role has slightly changed. We now have to serve a far wider, less technical, user base.

TD morphed into This was mainly because adsl was no longer the only driving technology in this space. Has this made a difference to how the website is perceived/used.

SL There are still people that consider us as an ‘ADSL’ site but we’re working hard to cover other broadband technologies including cable and mobile broadband. Our staff obviously understand the development and background of ADSL technology far better, but we are trying to build relationships with non-ADSL providers so we can offer users the best advice no matter what technology they want to use.

TD What makes thinkbroadband different to all the other comparison sites that now exist?

SL We don’t regard our site as a ‘comparison’ site in that we set it up to provide users with information about broadband generally, not just as a way comparing service providers. You can see this by comparing our front page which is more about news than trying to get you to switch service provider. Obviously, the ability to find a suitable supplier is part of what we do, but it’s by no means the primary role of the site.

The majority of the broadband sites out there (with ourselves and being obvious exceptions), were set up when service providers started offering commission for websites which referred a customer to them. In fact, this is the business model on which they operate. Some of them even compare insurance, credit cards, etc. as well.

Obviously, we have costs too and we need to ensure we can pay for those big servers that run the speed tests and to employ staff who can help to improve our site, but the major difference between us and most other sites, is we set the site up for the community, rather than as a business, and most of us are still doing this part time alongside full time jobs which pay our salaries.

TD The site has become very popular and this must put strain on your infrastructure. How did you manage the growth?

SL Around the same sort of time in early summer of 2000, I co-founded a hosting business with Jeremy Ainsworth who also got involved in ADSLguide. In fact, our very first server dedicated to serving ADSLguide was a spare box Jeremy had available which we put into Telehouse. We kept throwing more resources at it as it grew.

Our forums too gained their own momentum and we started seeing load issues when Pipex users took over the forums following some heated discussions about their service. David Rickards of Pipex was kind enough to donate a new server to us which helped us grow the forums to the next phase.

We started providing speed tests, and much more and our infrastructure had to grow with that. This is still very important to us to ensure we can deliver the fastest and most reliable speed test services.

TD Since that time what are the milestones that stick in your mind that measure the development of broadband in the UK

SL I think the first key milestone was when BT introduced the ‘wires only’ install which meant you didn’t have to use the ‘Alcatel frog’ (or ‘stingray’ as some people call it) with drivers that didn’t always work and the setup fee dropped from £150 to £50 making the service more universally affordable.

The second milestone I believe was BT’s “Broadband Britain” campaign which encouraged communities to get involved in raising broadband take-up and getting virtually all the exchanged enabled.

The third was the introduction of rate-adaptive ADSL and what we now know as the ‘up to 8 meg’ services. Since then, many other providers have started pushing the speed boundaries with LLU and especially recently Virgin Media on its 50 meg service too.

I believe the next challenge will be bringing those who are currently outside of broadband coverage into the digital world.

TD We are now seeing the Government talking about Universal Service Obligation concerning the provision of 2Mbps broadband to all homes. Do you believe this is practical?

SL We do believe that a USO is absolutely necessary and that the level at which it is set should be reviewed regularly. Our current concern is more for those who cannot get any broadband service, than those who are stuck on say 1Mbps services, as this is a far more fundamental problem that needs to be dealt with as a matter of urgency. I could probably survive on a 1Mbps connection, but I can’t imagine living ‘without broadband’ at all.

We also have some doubts as to whether it is possible to simplify a USO as just “2Mbps downstream” service.  There are factors such as upstream speed, latency, jitter, etc. that could for example prevent access to next generation telephony service over the Internet which have the potential to revolutionise how we communicate. These don’t make as interesting a sound bite but they are still important.

TD As the internet becomes more important to our every day lives the Government is increasingly seen as becoming involved with decisions that affect the direction of the industry. Do you see this as good or bad and is it inevitable? What are your thoughts on the Digital Britain Report?

SL The Government has an important role in ensuring a regulatory environment which both fosters innovation and diversity of supply, but also protects those who may not have the resources or skills to protect themselves. However, it is important, that in achieving the latter, it does not stifle the former.

The Internet has developed in an environment with very minimal regulation and low barriers to entry, and it is these unique circumstances that have allowed it to develop so quickly. The Internet feeds on the concept of rapid innovation and improvement. One day you launch a brilliant new service; the next, your competitor has outdone you. It’s a bit like a car manufacturer being able to release a new updated model every week.

The way we think and use information since the evolution of the web has changed. We now combine information from different sources in new ways. This is only possible if those with an idea have the means and willingness to execute it. It does however mean re-thinking the way intellectual property rights are protected, both to preserve the incentive for those who work hard to benefit from their efforts, but also to allow for people to take advantage of new technologies without being criminalised.

In my view, the role of the Government is to encourage good practice and getting directly involved only where it is absolutely necessary to protect the interests of the country and its economy. So far, the UK Government has taken a ‘light touch’ approach which has helped us become a key capital at the heart of the Internet.

I suspect that Government will become more involved in the discussion about the future of the Internet as it is so fundamentally linked to the success of the country and the Digital Britain report is evidence of this. We also have to accept that there is a role for an entity to represent the interests of the minority who are unable to use the Internet for whatever reason. It is no longer sufficient for us to cover 99.9%; The Internet should be for everyone.

TD We now hear of talk of 1Gbps fibre to the home in Japan which doesn’t even appear on the long range radar here in the UK. How do you think the UK will fare in the international competitive stakes when it comes to internet technology.

SL The UK has a habit of comparing itself to other countries and being very negative about its position. The fact is, there is very little content on the Internet which can truly benefit from a 100Mbps let alone a 1Gbps connection today. Quite simply, the core Internet infrastructure can’t  cope with delivery this level of service on any scale at a price that most of us would be willing to pay.

I do however have concerns that we aren’t looking at a national fibre network more seriously. Whilst I accept that the needs of the next few years will be met by new ways to push more out of copper (both in ADSL and cable variants) and hybrid fibre-coax/copper solutions, sooner or later end-to-end fibre optic cabling will be needed and it is likely that this will require Government support by way of easing regulation or co-ordinating the efforts of communications providers to build an efficient and competitive network.

The reason fibre makes sense is because information travels along it at the speed of light so its capacity to deliver next generation services is far greater. The fibre optic cabling used to deliver 100Mbps or 1Gbps a decade ago is used to push multiple links of 10Gbps each today and 100Gbps in the not too distant future. It is a technology that is more future-proof than copper.

TD Finally would you care to make any predictions regarding the internet in the UK over the next year or two?

SL I think we will start seeing more new developments receiving next generation broadband services at up to 100Mbps in cities as the costs of linking these back to the data centres (the buildings where the ‘core’ of the Internet is based) is falling.

I also believe that the the much talked about convergence of technologies will start happening, initially with TV-on-demand services being delivered over the Internet to your set-top-box. Eventually (probably a few years later), I think Internet-connected fridges are likely to become more common.

TD Thanks very much for your time Seb.

Business ofcom voip

Update on 999 location information for VoIP

Ofcom is waiting to see what the forthcoming amendments to the European Universal Services Directive look like before deciding what to do about VoIP location information.  There has been some pressure to make VoIP providers provide the ability to record location information based on the IP address of the caller.

This, whilst technically doable, is very complex and likely to be hugely expensive. What’s more most VoIP providers are not ISPs and therefore do not have access to an ISP’s core network and customer database to be able to facilitate this.  Those ISPs providing services to customers wanting to run VoIP therefore have no incentive to spend the cash.

More on this in due course but probably not until towards the end of the year.

Business ofcom Regs

Regulators at odds with EU over number porting

EU Commissioner for Communications Vivian Reding has been in the news recently threatening to sue the UK over its stance on behavioural advertising. Her name came up again yesterday at my meeting with Ofcom during a discussion on Number Porting.

The coordinated effort to create a Number Porting system for fixed and mobile numbers ground to a halt last year following a law suit by Vodafone.

In the meantime there is activity going on behind the scenes at the regulators to try and rekindle the movement. Viviane Reding, I understand, is particularly keen to sort out the mobile market.

She apparently wants consumers to be able to walk into mobile retail stores and port their numbers on the spot. Do I hear some clapping coming from the back row?  The problem is that this is at odds with National Governments’ attempts at consumer protection.

Government doesn’t want to let operators and their agents push people into changing suppliers without giving them a cooling off period to reconsider their ways. Quite laudible actually.

I think we are going to have a fun time with Viviane Reding over the next year or two.

Business ofcom voip

Ofcom will point to huge VoIP growth in 2009 market review

What is the difference between VoIP and Voice over Broadband? In last year’s Review of the Communications Market in the UK Ofcom specified VoIP as largely PC to PC based services and VoB as a service that looked like a traditional phone line.

The regulator did this because it wanted to characterize the space and understand whether the likes of BT continues to wield Significant Market Power in a fixed line market that is rapidly being replaced by VoIP technology. Fair enough.

The biggest problem was that the market research wasn’t adequately specified and the results suggested that the VoIP market in the UK was going backwards. This is patently rubbish and helps nobody, especially when trying to justify capital expenditure budgets.

In all fairness to Ofcom they recognize that they got their specs wrong and are now keen to remedy this. Yesterday they suggested a get together with ITSPA next month to thrash out ways of better assessing the market size. In the first instance a direct survey of all ITSPA members should cover a large percentage of the numbers.

The next report should therefore suggest a huge, recession busting increase in the number of VoIP users. This is because in the first instance the market will have grown significantly but also the numbers will be compared with an artificially reduced figure the last time round.

In fact it is understandable that the VoIP market should grow in these uncertain economic times. One of the selling points of the technology is cost saving, whether that is by a direct reduction in costs or an improvement in productivity.

What is also interesting is that it is becoming increasingly difficult to differentiate between a service that is overtly not a traditional phone look alike service and one that is. Skype, for example, sells itself as an IP application and therefore claims to be beyond the law when it comes to having to support 999 access to the emergency services. However Skype can now be used from a handset which looks and feels like a normal phone.

How Ofcom determine which camp Skype fits into will be interesting to see.

Business ofcom voip

Meeting between ITSPA and Ofcom

Had a very interesting and constructive meeting with Chris Rowsell of Ofcom yesterday.  We covered 999 access for VoIP, the Ofcom Communications Market Review and Number Portability. A couple of posts will follow this morning.

Business internet mobile connectivity ofcom voip

Ofcom advice on use of mobiles abroad

Picked this up on my travels.  It’s a YouTube video posted by Ofcom giving advice on how to minimise your phone bills whilst abroad. You might wonder why, as a mobile service provider, I am pointing you towards a site that will help you to cut your mobile bills.

Actually the philosophy at Timico is that our relationship with customers is a long term one and is based on mutual trust.  This includes making sure that the customer gets the best value out of the services we provide.  Ad over – enjoy the video.

PS if anyone does want advice on cutting communications costs whilst travelling abroad please do get in touch.  Our customers also use their VoIP accounts from their hotel rooms which makes calling home cheap and allows them to keep in touch with their business (spouses permitting).

PPS it is good to see Ofcom embracing this modern internet/YouTube thing .

End User ofcom Regs

Telephone call charges – you never had it so good

Lots of interesting reading comes out of the European Union (sometimes).  On this occasion I continued to study the report that provided me with the VoIP league tables yesterday.

This time I noted the change in the cost of fixed line telephone calls over the last ten years or so.



The chart tells me that on average, and making it easy on myself by using a £>E exchange rate of 1 we in Europe were paying around two pounds for a ten minute long distance call ten years ago.  It doesn’t bear thinking about.

Of course it isn’t necessarily easy to figure out how much you are actually paying for a national call these days because for consumers it often comes as part of a bundle.  In fact the long term outlook has to be flat rate charge covering all calls.  It would certainly remove a lot of billing costs.

Business ofcom voip

EU report indicates UK is 22nd out of 26th in VoIP penetration!

According to the EU the UK is woefully behind the leaders in Europe in the adoption of managed VoIP with only a 1% penetration rate in terms of minutes. In contrast, Holland has 32% penetration , and France and Romania 27.34% and 24% respectively. The average penetration across the EU is 8.33%.

Managed VoIP is defined as PSTN replacement over managed IP networks and does not seem to include hosted Unified Communications services such as offered by the likes of Timico, pure play VoIP providers or P2P services such as Skype.

Click on the chart a couple of times to enlarge – the font is very small.

UK is 22nd in EU VoIP penetration table

One might conclude from this that VoIP is healthy in some countries but not in others and the UK performance in particular being woeful. In fact what the above chart tells me is that VoIP usage has certainly boomed in the aforementioned countries but also that the methodology for measuring in the UK at least is inadequate.

The EU data is for December 2007. Ofcom, with who I have a meeting on this subject next Thursday, is presumably the source of the UK numbers and they are missing a trick here.

The UK numbers, as far as I can see, are based on a survey that asked consumers whether they used VoIP or not. Many people will be unaware as to the fact that their telephone service is actually VoIP. BT Homehub for example is VoIP but not sold as such and this service is known to carry billions of minutes a month, although BT has not published specifics.

So good news in some countries which presumably will have got even better since the Dec07 datapoint and some work to be done in others. I will report back after my Ofcom meeting next week.

Business internet ofcom

EU threatens to sue UK over Phorm

EU Telecoms Commissioner Viviane Reding has issued a statement threatening to sue the UK over their stance concerning behavioural advertising and Phorm.  I covered this last October – Ofcom was saying it was OK for ISPs to use Phorm provided they were transparent about it despite the fact that the EU was saying it was illegal.

In the UK the use of Phorm is being driven by BT, other ISPs having stepped back, afraid of the negative publicity. The reality is that the whole industry would jump at the opportunity to make more money out of advertising, at least the consumer ISPs who have the volume subscriber bases.

Although there are huge privacy issues involved I think the momentum is beginning to gather to the extent that the use of behavioural advertising is bound to grow.  Facebook, for example, must already use this form of database mining because when I visit Facebook, as I am wont to do,  I often see adverts for golf and guitar related subjects – those being two of my stated interests.  Google is also talking about selling advertising based on a given user’s recorded web searching habits.

The UK Government has two months to respond.  The EU press release can be read here.

broadband Business internet ofcom

Cisco CEO John Chambers on Broadband

Hot on the trail of yesterday’s post on the Ofcom decision to waive regulations on the roll out of fibre to homes in the UK Cisco CEO John Chambers has written a guest post on Om Malik’s blog on a similar subject.

I had thought that the Obama stimulus package, which contains a substantial sum of money targeted at broadband roll out, was aimed at standard broadband speeds but it looks as if this is not correct.

It does make you wonder whether the government here in the UK will now look to subsidising the £29Bn it is estimated it will cost to get universal fibre coverage in this country.

Business internet ofcom

Ofcom gives BT green light for fibre investment

Ofcom effectively gave BT the go ahead today for a £1.5Bn investment in a fibre network to provide up to 100Mbps internet access to homes in certain areas. By removing any regulatory barriers that might constrain BT from charging free market pricing for the fibre services Ofcom has set an environment that makes the BT business case for the investment workable.

BT has been involved in a high profile lobbying excercise to get this decision since around the time of the Caio Report last year.

I welcome this move though many people in smaller metropolitan and rural areas unlikely to get access to the service will view it as another step towards widening the digital divide.

Business ofcom security voip

Skype Security Italian Style

The BBC today has reported that Italian crooks are using Skype to avoid detection by police who use traditional wiretapping to monitor phone calls. The Skype signaling and  media path is encrypted which makes it very difficult to tap into. Also because, as a Peer to Peer protocol Skype doesn’t use any centralised servers that might be able to be monitored it adds to the difficulty for law enforcement agencies.

The whole problem is then compounded by the fact that because VoIP/Skype is a very nomadic service, ie you can use it from any internet connection anywhere, it becomes difficult to track the location of a caller.

This is a problem being looked at by Ofcom as part of the process of caller location identification for the emergency services. Currently if someone makes a 999 call from an unknown address, it is difficult to pin down where that call is being made from, at least in a timely manner.

There was a high profile Canadian case where someone dialled for an ambulance and it went to a location three thousand miles from where the call was actually being made from because the address held by the operator was not the address from which the call was being made. 

When a VoIP call is made the details of the call logged by the Internet Telephony Service Provider include the IP address of the originating party. If you are an Internet Service Provider (note the distinction between ITSP and ISP – an ITSP often does not provide the underlying broadband service) you can correlate this IP address with a physical address (ie house number and street).

The problem is that this is a manual process and would likely take hours at best and potentially a couple of days. This is a process that could be automated but it is something that would probalby cost billons to implement universally in the UK.

I’m sure there will be more to say on this subject in 2009. As a final note it is often said that the security forces, aka GCHQ and CIA et al have not cracked the Skype encryption technology. I find this difficult to believe.

Business ofcom voip

LLU Lines On The Up

LLU, or Local Loop Unbundling continues to grow in the UK. The Office of the Telecommunications Adjudicator (OTA otherwise it’s a bit of a mouthful) has released it’s latest numbers which are for December.


It’s quite interesting to look at the curve. Can we see a classic product lifecycle curve here? Low initial growth then a steep incline followed by a tailing off that at this stage is barely perceptible. What concerns me somewhat is that I’m not sure that we should see a lifecycle curve for this product. It is a long term commodity play.

Also if you look at the Ofcom data for fixed line market penetration you can see that there is a long way to go before LLU should flatten out. It also means there is a long way to go before any other player’s market share is comparable to that of BT.


What is also interesting is that the fixed line market has stopped declining in terms of lines and indeed showed a small growth in 2007. We have to wait some time yet for the 2008 results. At 33.7 million fixed lines represents around 16% market share/penetration for LLU.

It would be interesting to understand why the number of fixed lines grew year on year. My guess is that it is the effect of more and more people working from home with companies paying for second analogue lines to carry a dedicated business broadband connection.

broadband Business internet ofcom

Ofcom Publishes Research on Broadband Speed

Ofcom has just announced the results of its research into consumer broadband speed in the UK. The report says that 93% of UK consumers are satisfied with their general broadband experience although levels of disatisfaction do vary depending on where they live.

Rural users are, unsurprisingly less satisfied than urban users. Also the satisfaction ratings drop to 67%  for those people watching online TV. This is a warning shot across the bows for UK ISPs as using ADSL for watching TV online is going to see a huge growth.

Ofcom used broadband monitoring company samknows to conduct the research which also found that the average UK consumer ADSL speed was 3.6Mbps which is only 45% of the typically adverstised speed of 8Mbps. This is lower than the theoretical average max possible speed across the UK of 4.3Mbps taking different distances from the exchange into account.

The testing seems to have been quite comprehensive with 1500 homes involved running 7,000 different tests, meaning that over 10 millions tests were conducted overall on a range of supplier services. Interestingly the peak usage was found to be between 5pm and 6pm on a Sunday afternoon. I guess everyone is watching Songs of Praise online – assuming they still broadcast it 🙂 .

What would be interesting is if Ofcom were to commission the same testing for business broadband connections. Unfortunately this is unlikely to happen because the original research was conducted as a result of a perceived level of consumer disatisfaction that is not there where businesses are concerned. Although businesses use the same fundamental ADSL technology they typically run with ISP networks such as Timico that are less congested.

Business internet ofcom

Growth In Internet Usage Since 1995

On a journey around cyberspace came across a very interesting website. It tracks the growth of the internet since 1995. Almost a quarter of the world’s population is now using the internet.

Interestingly what I think these statistics tell us is that the internet age is still only beginning. There are another 4.5 billions users yet to join the community.

Even if you use Ofcom’s UK penetrations statistics of 58% penetration for ADSL and assume that the UK being a fairly mature market, is approaching saturation point, it still leaves us with 2 billion more people yet to connect. That’s a massive market opportunity for online services somewhere.

I have graphed some of the statistics for easy reading:

growth in internet usage since 1995.
growth in internet usage since 1995.


PS – sorry about the quality of the graphics. I never was any good at art at school.
Business ofcom UC voip

ITSPA Awards Photos

I mentioned that I would get some photos up once they came back from the developers and here they are. The biggest shock for me is to see how much weight I have put on this year – something to sort out in January!! I also note that I need a haircut.

On the plus side having reflected of the Awards Evening it was a highly successful event from ITSPA’s perspective. Not only was the turnout high but in his speech Ofcom Board Member, Stuart McIntosh, was most complimentary regarding the work that ITSPA has been doing. This is ITSPA growing up.

This is a time of fast moving changes in the industry and it is good to be a part of it.

Tref accepts the ITSPA Award

I accept the ITSPA Unified Award from Dave Axam of BT.

The acceptance speech; erudite, informed, witty yet tempered with the appropriate level of gratitude and humility.

Business internet Regs

Data Protection

The European Court of Human Rights today ruled that South Yorkshire Police should not have retained the DNA of two men who had been convicted of no offence. Check the BBC report here.

This is an interesting one because in March 09 the Data Retention Act comes into play whereby ISPs will be required to store email habits of their customers. For “DNA” in this respect read “Data”… Is the European Court of Human rights going to rule on the Data Retention Act downstream?

I have a meeting with the Home Office at Timico in January so it will be interesting to report back on this issue.

broadband Business ofcom

Ofcom Broadband Code of Practice

Ofcom’s new code of practice in respect of how consumer ISPs sell broadband comes into force tomorrow. It has been brought about because up to 25% of consumers consider that they don’t get the speeds they expect from a broadband connection.

There has been a lot of controversy surrounding how ISPs sell broadband, specifically in the consumer space as they have been desperately trying to outdo each other with tales of superior performance, unlimited downloads, bigger, faster, better etc.

Whilst the code does not apply to business services it is a good code. Timico has always operated in a transparent way in respect to selling ADSL. For example our 21CN ADSL2+ service in theory will provide download speeds of up to 24Mbps. In reality users are unlikely to get this. I will be publishing the results of our trials after Christmas showing what speeds the trialists have been getting.

The ISPA is issuing a press release today supporting this Ofcom code of practice.

Business internet ofcom voip

999 Call Traceability

Had a very interesting discussion with Chris Rowsell, Ofcom Project Director, who clarified what obligations the ISP community were likely to have regarding the traceability of calls to the Emergency Services.

Location information requirements for Internet Telephony Service Providers have been covered in a previous post. Ofcom, together with the emergency services establishment, and for obvious reasons, is trying to understand how real time information regarding the location of a caller might be provided.

The only information available that might help pinpoint a location is the IP address from which the call is being made. There are, however, many problems to be over come, and I’m sorry about the technical nature of some of these points for those who just read this blog for the occasional light entertainment. 

  • The IP address might be behind a NAT
  • There might be multiple Internet Service Providers involved
  • The call might be made from a wifi mesh network
  • Many ITSPs are not ISPs  and cannot easily relate IP addresses to locations.

It is physically possible to imaging the process by which this tracing could be done. Timico, for example, has records of where calls are made to and from. These are kept for billing purposes and contain IP address information. Timico can also link the address of a broadband customer to the IP address of that connection.

The act of hooking up both sets of data is far from being real time and  the cost of developing a system to do so would be huge and disproportional to the value. Certainly it would be unlikely to get past a cost benefit analysis. Interestingly the establishment values a human life at £1.4 million for the purposes of these CBAs.

CR accepted that there was currently no practical way of quickly linking the two sets of data. He did intimate that Ofcom would be initiating a project sometime next year to discuss a way ahead. I suspect that this will be a long and arduous process.