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Mobile Operators Seek Slice of Superfast Broadband Delivery UK Fund

Monday, October 7th, 2013 (7:48 am) - Score 414

The Government’s Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) will today meet with the United Kingdom’s leading Mobile Network Operators (MNO), ISPs and altnets to discuss how its £1.2bn Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) scheme could be improved to reach the final 5-10% of the population with superfast broadband.

The Industry Information Day event, which we detailed at the end of last week (here), could be a golden opportunity for smaller (altnet) ISPs and will focus on how to spend the additional £250 million that was recently allocated (here) to help extend fixed line superfast broadband coverage to 95% by 2017.

However the extra £250m won’t just be open to fixed line broadband providers and indeed the original announcement in June 2013 made specific mention of Fixed Wireless Access and Mobile Broadband providers being used to extend superfast broadband to cover 99% by 2018. Needless to say that mobile operators also want in on the action and EE, Vodafone and Three UK will all be attending.

A Vodafone Spokesperson said last month:

The current BDUK process simply will not deliver value for money nor the rural connectivity that Britain needs. The government should urgently revise the process to encompass wireless 4G in order to make digital Britain a reality.”

Fotis Karonis, CTO of EE, said last month:

As a nation, we need to get over our fixation with fixed broadband as the best solution to rural connectivity challenges. The sooner we recognise that superfast 4G can, very efficiently, deliver internet access to places where there is none today, the sooner more people in rural Britain will enjoy the benefits of being online.”

But the on-going £150m Mobile Infrastructure Project (here) and recent 4G auction already contains a commitment that requires mobile operators to ensure that their services become available to “at least” 98% of UK people by the end of 2015 (the original target was 2017 but mobile operators now expect to beat that by two years), although this target does not specify a “superfast” speed.

Indeed one of the biggest problems for mobile operators is that their performance can often be considerably more variable than fixed line ISPs and even EE’s recent 4G “double speed” upgrade only promises “average speeds” of 24-30Mbps (the government’s definition of “superfast” is “greater than 24Mbps“). Future 4G and 5G upgrades might help but the latter is a long way off (2018 at the earliest).

The other issue is that mobile coverage claims frequently turn out to be a poor reflection of reality, which is an issue that would be very hard to overcome. Never the less the contribution of mobile operators should not be ignored and the Government are right to involve them in the discussions, which could result in an enhanced BDUK framework (see last week’s article for more detail on what form that could take).

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