Poor broadband service in Uplyme, Phase 1 progress, national and local voucher schemes, BT Openreach new ‘never say no’ strategy, strategic switch FTTC to FTTP, Phase 2 prospects for the area, am I in Dorset? and garden hoses..
Uplyme residents, disgruntled and frustrated by poor broadband service in rural areas away from the centre of the village, had a wide-ranging discussion with representatives of BT Openreach in Uplyme Village Hall on 28th October.
The meeting was organised by Uplyme resident Ed Blundell. Two petitions were presented to BT Openreach, by Ed and Sarah Hawkins, including 144 signatories from Uplyme and more than 60 from Harcombe.
The photograph above, courtesy of View News, shows Paul Coles, BT South West Regional Partnerships Director, Roy Clark – BT Senior Fibre Delivery Manager and Marion Bailey – BT Senior Operations Manager, receiving petitions from Ed and Sarah.
Connecting Devon and Somerset – Phase 1… 2013 to date
BT Openreach is responsible for delivery of Phase 1 of the Connecting Devon and Somerset Superfast Broadband project, as well as completing their own commercial network upgrades.
Upgrades have been completed primarily using FTTC (Fibre to the Cabinet) where a new green cabinet is located close to the existing BT green cabinet, in which individual copper lines to premises congregate, to be routed back to the exchange.
An optical fibre connection is added, between new cabinet and telephone exchange, to replace historic copper connections which transmit information much slower. This has the effect of bringing the exchange nearer to your home. Higher speeds are then available to those close to the green cabinet, as the transmission speed of service does not decrease over a fibre connection in the same way as it does over copper connections.
The Phase 1 Connecting Devon and Somerset programme had an ambition to reach 90% of premises by the end of 2016. BT Openreach reported that the target of 320k extra premises has been reached around three months early, with 280k of these premises to have service delivered at Superfast (24mbps plus) speeds, by the end of December 2016.
Connecting Devon and Somerset – Phase 2, 2016 to…
Connecting Devon and Somerset has secured further funds for Phase 2 of Superfast network upgrades. An Invitation to Tender (ITT) was issue in July, with the date for receipt of tenders now passed and an expected announcement of successful bidder in December. BT Openreach was the only supplier for Phase 1 contracts across the country, but is not the only potential supplier for Phase 2.
There is still work to complete on Phase 1, but until the results of Phase 2 are known, it is not clear where BT Openreach, or another successful supplier bid might tackle next.
The Uplyme situation…
Areas represented at the meeting included several distant from their BT Openreach cabinets and therefore not receiving Superfast Broadband, despite the upgrade of that cabinet.
BT Openreach explained that the older (ADSL) service would deliver an acceptable broadband service much further than the new (VDSL) system, up to 9-10klms from the exchange. When the connection between the local cabinet and exchange is changed to fibre, then much higher speeds are received by customers up to 500-800m away, but drop off much quicker with distance. By 1.2klm away, speed is only 50% of that at the cabinet, by 1.7klm superfast speed is lost.
Technology used by BT Openreach, in Phase 1 of the Connecting Devon and Somerset contract (Fibre to the Cabinet), was designed to achieve Superfast speeds for the greatest possible number of premises, at the minimum possible cost. When the cluster of premises in the immediate vicinity of the cabinet is left “that technology just does not work”.
Our Uplyme cabinet has 170 homes connected. Only 102, just 60%, can secure Superfast speed (defined as greater than 24mbs). BT Openreach said it receives payment from CDS, based on just the 102, not the full 170 connections.
It is however hard to see, however figures are massaged, that deployment of FTTC technology across Devon and Somerset, even if all possible cabinets are connected to fibre, could ever deliver Superfast Broadband to 90%+ of premises?
Is 4G a short-term option?...
Whilst 4G is a technology more usually associated with mobile phones than fixed internet, several Uplyme and Rousdon residents and businesses have already taken advantage of the Connecting Devon and Somerset voucher scheme, to install a 4G based fast broadband service to their homes and businesses.
This service is available to many now, requires no infrastructure upgrade and can often be surveyed and installed within a couple of weeks. The voucher scheme suggests that this is an interim choice, but Connecting Devon and Somerset has confirmed to me that take up of the voucher does NOT preclude those premises from being included in the Phase 2 of the CDS programme.
BT Openreach confirmed that 4G coverage is likely to significantly improve over the next few years, as the Home Office has concluded a contract with Police, Fire and Ambulance services. This agreement will mean police moving from their ‘Airwave’ network to the 4G network of EE.
The contract requires a 95% population and geography coverage, which will further support enhancement of the EE 4G network within a further £6bn to be spent on its fixed and mobile networks, over the next three years.
BT Openreach recognised that, ‘everyone wants a mobile phone service’ but ‘nobody wants the masts’. This is particularly sensitive in an AONB, which covers all of Trinity, although new designs of mast do help reduce impact and blend better into their environment. EE has already improved 4G services in our area.
Exmoor Technology has already completed successful 4G based installations in Trinity using the CDS vouchers. http://www.exmoor-tech.co.uk/
A representative of an alternate supplier, South West Mobile Broadband was present at the meeting; http://www.southwestmobilebroadband.com/
BT Openreach co-investment with communities, to extend Superfast Broadband…
BT Openreach expressed willingness to work with communities not currently receiving fast broadband services. The company would ‘never say no’ to co-investing, and has around 100 communities in the South West where it has confirmed that it will invest, if communities do so as well.
This was claimed to achieve the certainty of a fast-broadband service, with BT Openreach the only company which has promised to find an answer, across the whole of the country.
This is an important and welcome change in policy from the early stage of Phase 1, when BT Openreach could be argued to have been ‘less than helpful’ in identifying those not to receive a Superfast broadband service in their Phase 1 contract, resisting the supply of information to such communities.
In another fundamental strategic change, BT Openreach is now focussing on ‘individual solutions’ for small clusters of customers, or even individual premises.
A strategic switch? – FTTC to FTTP in rural areas…
BT Openreach confirmed that, as their focus moves toward lower concentrations of premises, there is a significant change in ‘technology of choice’ from FTTC to FTTP – fibre all the way from the exchange the customer premises.
The key difference this will deliver is that ‘distance’ will essentially be taken out of the equation as the full, rather than part, use of fibre rather than copper will mean that speeds from exchange to end customer can be maintained – effectively moving the exchange to the individual premises. There is a certain irony that this strategic change could result in more remote homes, excluded from Phase 1, ultimately receiving a better long term solution than those served first by FTTC!
BT Openreach will seek to cease service to remote customers from their current cabinet and have a range of technologies to target smaller communities. At the premise level, this would be FTTP, literally an individual fibre to each home. For a community, like Harcombe, BT Openreach might use a ‘splitter’. A single fibre would be run to the community. This could be split 32 ways, each with a single, dedicated fibre running from the splitter to the home. This would reduce the cost of serving some communities as a single, rather than 32 individual fibres, would need to be run to the cluster of homes.
Another alternative might be ‘Fibre to the Remote Node’ (FTTRn). Here, fibre would be run from the exchange to a remote node, a pole mounted, self-powered unit, which can serve up to 12 homes.
BT Openreach illustrated the individual nature of their new strategy;
If there are 68 premises in a community, no one solution will deliver to them all, but where it formerly based design at a community level, it now designs solutions at a premise level.
If, for example, there are 8 premises 500m apart, then it would use a FTTP approach, but where there are 12 houses together, it might use a remote node instead.
BT Openreach confirmed that each of these options are ‘on the table’ and are being delivered now in other parts of their network. It does not regard delivery to the last 10% as a ‘bulk’ delivery, as was the Phase 1 contract. Roy mused that he would never have a job to deliver 300,000 homes in two years again. Now it is 30 homes per month, for which they need to work much harder than they did for the 300,000.
BT Openreach, said that distance is the governing factor in terms of service, but that there isn’t a cost per kilometre, further that installation depends on the nature of the feed required. A kilometre of ‘hard dug’ new duct would cost around £80/metre, a ‘soft dig’ around £20/metre, with an overhead network which already exists much less.
Is the introduction of Superfast Broadband causing a further deterioration in service to those more remote?
BT Openreach confirmed that a customer getting 2mb on ‘normal’ ADSL, at the outer limits of a network, would be affected by three variables, distance, usage and capacity.
In a fibre enabled cabinet, usage inevitably increases. The increase in file sizes, faster speeds available, 4K TV and other streaming services, increases usage by those with a better service, i.e. those near to the cabinet, to the further detriment of those more remote.
The analogy of a garden hose was used. If, at the end of a long length, ten people switch on, then there is very little available at the end for anyone.
A Harcombe resident concluded “following your policy of Superfast Broadband, you have directly caused a further deterioration in my already poor ADSL service. Is there no contingency to keep my service at a decent level?”
BT Openreach offered to arrange a line and network check, but confirmed that, if the copper network is a good as it can be, then there is little which can be done.
Am I in Dorset?
Concern was expressed that CDS has advised some Devon residents that they are in the Superfast Dorset scheme, rather than Connecting Devon and Somerset. Residents were assured that, despite having a Dorset postcode and paying Council Tax in East Devon, premises were at no disadvantage as ‘cross border’ arrangements are in place to cover such situations.
Conclusion – a personal view.
Our thanks to Ed Blundell for organising the meeting. To he and Sarah Hawkins for their petitions and to Paul, Roy and Marion of BT Openreach, for their time and explanation of not only why our current broadband service is ‘patchy’, but also how BT Openreach could help improve service through co-investment.
In the short term, it is important that residents with a poor service of less than 2mbps apply for the Connecting Devon and Somerset voucher system without delay, if they want to have the possibility of joining other local households who have already used the £500 grant to achieve massively faster service now, through a 4G based fixed service.
To confirm, if you take advantage of this offer, it does NOT exclude you from benefiting through the Phase 2 programme.
The closing date for this voucher offer is 30th November 2016.
In the medium term, the results from the Phase 2 Connecting Devon & Somerset programme tender are expected within the next few weeks. I understand that all of us, with current maximum speeds less than a ‘Superfast’ 24mbps are included in the ‘Exmoor to sea’ tender package.
This does not guarantee we will see our service improve, as this will depend on the scope of the successful tender. Unlike Phase 1, BT Openreach is NOT the only potential successful tenderer. In any event, it will be some months, potentially years, before benefit from the tender is achieved. This further demonstrates the potential benefit in the interim of the CDS Voucher Scheme.
In the medium to longer term, co-funding by communities with BT Openreach, or other potential suppliers, may be the approach individuals or clusters of homes and businesses decide to take.
Further to suggestions made at the meeting, I have discussed possibilities further with BT Openreach. It has offered to undertake a full trial survey, without obligation, of a cluster of between 10 and 20 Uplyme premises in the same or adjacent postcodes.
If you are part of such a cluster of properties and are interested, please let me know.
Cllr Ian Thomas
Trinity Ward, East Devon District Council