Gigaclear, which specialises in deploying ultrafast 1Gbps capable fibre optic (FTTP) networks into rural areas around the United Kingdom, has told ISPreview.co.uk as part of our exclusive interview that the Government needs to create a more “predictable and useful” Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) scheme that allows more than just BT to bid for contracts.
The ISP also criticised BT and local authorities for failing to publish useful details about expected service speeds and coverage under the BDUK roll-out, which it claims has left communities to “pretty much guess what the impact will be” and whether or not “they get an FTTC enabled cabinet” from BT.
The culture secretary, Maria Miller, recently threatened to withhold £250m of extra rural superfast broadband funding from local authorities unless they published the data, which would help smaller ISPs (altnets) to access £20m of RCBF funding (here). But so far most have only published vague information that often lacks the necessary detail or is too ambiguous to be of much use.
Never the less Gigaclear, which is also the parent company of Rutland Telecom (here), believes that its alternative model of a privately funded rural fibre optic broadband deployment is working and claims that 400 communities have now requested its service; though they acknowledge that this figure could fall once BDUK/BT’s roll-out plan becomes clearer.
Naturally ISPreview.co.uk wanted to know more about how Gigaclear has been able to deploy its FTTP network into sparse rural areas and their wider viewpoint on the Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) scheme. Luckily we’ve been able to extract a few answers from the providers Sales and Marketing Director, Joe Frost.
Q1. Gigaclear is one of the very few ISPs (altnets) to be rolling out a true ultrafast Fibre-to-the-Home (FTTH/P) style fibre optic broadband network into rural areas. How has Gigaclear been able to achieve this, especially when many others appear to struggle with the economics and technical challenges?
Gigaclear has created a business model that works for us, our investors and our customers. We have now proven with the networks already in place that it’s possible to install a new ultrafast fibre to the premises network in rural communities and make that network deliver a positive return on investment after just 5 years.
Our network being pure fibre is extremely reliable, its performance does not vary with distance or the weather. It does not touching or rely on any of the existing copper infrastructure, but has direct connectivity to the national fibre backbone provided by other major UK carriers.
The fibres we install underground are designed to last for 50 years and are capable of almost unlimited bandwidth by just changing the equipment in our cabinet and at the customer premises delivering a future proofed network to the community. Gigaclear works directly with its contractors who have significant experience at performing these installations and so we minimise our overheads in building these networks.
Q2. The government’s Broadband Delivery UK office recently confirmed that its original target, which aimed to make fixed line superfast broadband (25-30Mbps+) services available to 90% of the country by the end of 2015, would be missed; albeit only by a couple of percentage points.
General administrative slowness, legal challenges from BT/Virgin Media and complex competition delays with EU approval are often listed as being among the key reasons for this hold-up. What are your thoughts on these delays and how significant are they for the overall project?
The key issue for residents and businesses based in rural locations are that they know they need better broadband that is faster and more reliable, yet they still do not know what they may receive or when. The lack of knowledge is holding up investment, customer recruitment and progress in rural communities.
The Government’s goal of improving broadband is of course commendable and essential, but the BDUK program appears to have fundamental challenges: there is only one provider (BT) that is able to ‘win’ the contracts and the contract itself has some challenges in that here we are near the end of 2013 and almost no one is aware of what they will get or when. When county councils are asked, almost all of them are unable to provide any answers that have any detail in terms of coverage and speed.
The actual deliverable from this massive investment is also currently unquantifiable, with communities left to pretty much guess what the impact will be, when and if they get an FTTC enabled cabinet in their community. With BT still in the process of evaluating its infrastructure in each county before it can tell the county councils what it can do, where, and how much money they will need to perform the upgrade, then the delays appear likely to be set to increase.