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IET – Combining Tech and Mobile Spectrum Could Fix UK Rural Broadband

Friday, June 6th, 2014 (9:47 am) - Score 701

The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IEF) will next week host a Rural Broadband Debate that will look at current government policy and propose a solution for bringing “reasonable” broadband access to the most remote communities at a “reasonable” price, which could involve combining technologies and greater mobile spectrum sharing between network operators.

The debate, which is set to take place on Tuesday 10th June (from 9am – 12noon) at Broadway House (Tothill Street, London, SW1H 9NQ), is to be attended by various experts from the fibre optic, wireless and satellite industries, including representatives from BT (Gary Miller) and Vodafone (Matthew Braovac) as well as Shadow Cabinet Office Minister, Chi Onwurah MP.

Others making up the panel will include Kumar Singarajah of Avanti Communications, Giorgio Tarchi from Eutelsat and Matt Yardley of Analysys Mason.

Professor Will Stewart, from the IET, said:

There are a number of possible solutions to deal with the lack of broadband service in many rural areas. The IET has looked at this and argues that it is about a smart network being attentive to the customer’s needs and combining the technologies and end-to-end infrastructure together to meet them. In doing this we can reduce costs while extending the reach and speed of internet access to rural areas.

Examples could include mobile phone companies sharing phone masts and frequency spectrum, leading to significant cost reductions with improved service to customers. Such user-demand-attentive smart systems could improve reach in rural areas without excessive cost.”

The introduction for the event notes that fixed line “super-fast broadband” (24Mbps+) is already being rolled out across the country (aims to reach 95% by 2017 and 99% by 2018 with wireless/mobile), although it points out that this has so far mostly focused upon “those who already had a reasonable DSL service” (i.e. urban and suburban style areas).

In fairness, the Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) programme is now slowly starting to move into a growing number of rural communities and this will of course rise the closer we get to that 95% figure. As for solutions, the debate’s introduction doesn’t attempt to define what a “reasonable” broadband service might be and no doubt the Satellite reps will be keen to avoid tricky issues like usage allowances and latency.

It’s also unclear what the IET means by its very general description of a combined network (technically all Internet linked networks are already combined) and most mobile operators are already sharing spectrum networks to cut costs and improve coverage, although there may be scope for going further but ultimately somebody somewhere still has to build it.

Suffice to say that the debate should be interesting, although we would have liked to see representatives from some rural altnet providers and or related rural communities.

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Mark Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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43 Responses
  1. Avatar 3G Infinity says:

    …. just a note, the mobile operators share sites (eg towers, masts, roof tops, etc) but not spectrum. The terms of their license mean that each operator, even with shared infrastructure still uses its own spectrum and radios.

  2. Avatar Patrick Cosgrove says:

    I read “reasonable’ to mean second best. Our voltage isn’t 150v and our mains water doesn’t flow more slowly than towns. Fibre to the premises is feasible and affordable. It happens elsewhere in rural areas. It’s just that the government has blown the money it allocated on elderly technology, which at the moment is slightly more “reasonable’ for those who already had reasonable speeds. A better technology could have reached everyone if more care had been taken and BT hadn’t been permitted to get away with murder.

    1. Avatar Ignitionnet says:

      Where is FTTP feasible, affordable, and happens en masse elsewhere please, Patrick?

      Isolated pockets certainly. Widespread not so much.

      Given Openreach haven’t deigned to supply even generally far cheaper to serve urban areas with FTTP for economic reasons I’m not convinced as far as rural areas go.

    2. Avatar GNewton says:

      “It’s just that the government has blown the money it allocated on elderly technology”

      Agreed, the BDUK should be scrapped immediately!

    3. Avatar NGA for all says:

      If a cabinet is nearly full and an estate has duct, the handover point and head ends are in place and the spare fibres are in place then orchesrating the next 32 users on FTTP might be cheaper and easier than supplying a second cabinet. BT could test and begine removing some of the copper.

      BT switching FOB to be business only will need to change back to the £38pm it was when sold to BDUK and the LA’s.

  3. Avatar X66yh says:

    @ Ignitionnet
    Its just someone putting in another endless “FTTP is the only solution” to just about every news item on this and other boards wherever it can be made.
    I’d ignore them…..it really is getting boring.

    Rural areas don’t have mains gas
    Rural area don’t have all sorts of things urban area have like buses, shops, entertainment, eating out and the rest
    I know – I live in one and would not swap it for all the world.
    so no I would not expect rural areas to be having SFBB everywhere.

    …and yes my main water pressure is far less than some towns
    …….yes my electric supply is less reliable in general
    I really cannot be arrrrsed to go on.

    1. Avatar Ignitionnet says:

      The stats speak for themselves.

      We are above average in Europe in everything related apart from the speeds our urban areas can receive.

      We are good for coverage of both standard and SFBB, but way below par for urban UFBB, Openreach aren’t even attempting to keep up, Virgin are doing what they have to and nothing more because Openreach aren’t attempting to keep up.

    2. Avatar FibreFred says:

      Why would Openreach attempt to keep up with FTTP in Europe? It isn’t direct competition to the UK, they probably aren’t keeping up as they’ve chosen their path for now and are more interested in returns on what they are deploying (FTTC) over FTTP penetration willy waving / league tables 🙂

  4. Avatar NGA for all says:

    It would be good if the IET examined whether subsiding VDSL cabinets outside business parks is a reaonable solution where duct exists to support a direct transition to FTTP.

    There will be a point where it is a better use of public money to bring fibre onto poles and terminate on a manifold rather than paying what looks to be average of £47k subsidy per cabinet, including premiums for take up and USC, as far as know.

    It would be very healthy if BT submitted white papers on their designs to the IET so they could be subject to expert review and public comment.

    The cabinets will work for many many situations but we need a mix of solutions but we are not seeing a mix just a subsidy maximisation exercise around delivering cabinets as the premises past is easy and somewhat lazy count for coverage.

    1. Avatar TheFacts says:

      Do the 50 FTTC ISPs have an FTTP product?

    2. Avatar Gadget says:

      If you are talking about value for public money then you have to prioritise the spend. Which is better “value for money” spending to enable Superfast Broadband to a business park which already has the potential for fibre private circuit supply, or enabling a cabinet serving a generally much larger number of households which perhaps cynically, contain more voters?

    3. Avatar GNewton says:

      @NGA for all: The whole BDUK approach is wrong, and is a public waste of money. It focuses on the wrong yesterday’s copper technology, if focuses on the wrong areas, and there is no ROI, the money is just given away to a private company who certainly has no need for it.

      Some county councis heavily involved in the BDUK don’t even publish rollout postcode details, not even when using enquiries under the Freedom of Information Act. This makes it unnecessarily hard for businesses to plan for the fibre broadband, and for other telecoms to serve certain areas untouched by BT/BDUK cartell.

    4. Avatar FibreFred says:

      Clearly there is roi , been over this many times now

    5. Avatar GNewton says:

      There is no ROI, once the BDUK money is handed over to BT, the latter fully owns the infrastructure and resulting profits, and the taxpayer still pays the full price for the taxpayer-funded VDSL.

      The IET is right: Sharing some infrastructures, such as transmitter towers, could be of some useful help in rolling out better telecom services in harder to reach areas. VDSL is the wrong technology, and commercially unviable, for many areas.

    6. Avatar New_Londoner says:

      We’ve been over this already, there is ROI for our tax monies, it’s just you don’t appear to understand that you can measure it in more than just financial terms. And even on a narrow financial basis, the return can come from outside of the project itself.

      Suggest you re-read previous posts on also learn more about Social Return On Investment (SROI).

    7. Avatar FibreFred says:

      I’ve posted it in front on both your id’s in the past but.. once again


      £20 for every £1 spent



      I’m sure you’ll be saying the same crock in another few months and I’ll be posting the same links

    8. Amusing to see that there are at least a few bods that believe all that Government BS/propaganda! 🙂

    9. Avatar FibreFred says:

      Do you have any figures/independent studies to disprove what has been said?

    10. Avatar FibreFred says:

      wireless, if the government had come out and said, there’s no ROI then JNewtoff would have a point, but they have said there is ROI, you can debate the figure as much as you want, the point is they have said there is ROI.

    11. Avatar NGA for all says:

      @Gadget@Facts In many cases customers are being mis-sold private circuits to solve what is distance problem.

      Installing a Cabinet at the entrance to the business park is peculiar if the ducts are there to support a native FTTP service.

  5. Avatar Col says:

    In order to get to the most remote communities at a “reasonable” price, the only way forward is to use a combination of here and now copper technologies some of which at a fraction of the cost of fibre.

    new copper technologies

  6. Strikes me that the IET is just trying to get some free publicity about itself (and no doubt to give its bosses a nice warm cuddly feeling inside!) by stating the bleeding obvious!

    In any event, one could argue that “reasonable” broadband at a “reasonable” price already exists in those areas – it is called satellite broadband. Or have the ancient geeks at the IET not heard that modern satellites can actually provide broadband??

  7. Avatar DTMark says:

    None of this is rocket science, is it.

    However, in order to ensure that BT got the money, BDUK effectively excluded wireless broadband as an option by insisting that any such provider set out plans to upgrade to fibre later while making no such requirement of BT who could simply get away with VDSL.

    Undoubtedly there’s money to be made and consolidation might be sensible. After all we’ve paid > £100 a month most months for the last few years, first to Three and now to EE, landline remains unused.

    But getting companies to invest commercially in direct competition with the State telephony network isn’t going to be a starter, and as it stands with BDUK, mobile providers would have to wait until 2017 to see what crumbs remain which can be picked over just as BDUK2 then kicks in further locking out investment again.

    BDUK and the State are the barriers to rural broadband provision in the short term and to broadband development generally in the medium to longer term as they at best disincentivise or at worst prohibit commercial investment.

    Crowing about BT having invested 2.5bn in the last mile over a thirty year timeframe, which was a complete no-brainer given that the taxpayer would pay most of the money to drag it into this century, is not helpful. I’d bet if the government gave a billion pounds of our money to the mobile operators, stuff could be made to happen too.

    1. Avatar Henry says:

      DTMark: In fact satellite broadband is rocket science.

      Apart from capacity and cost questions, it suffers from the fact that the speed of light just is not fast enough when it comes to geostationary orbits, causing latency issues.

      Satellite broadband provides a comparator for wired and wireless broadband, which need to show they are better and cheaper for the hardest to reach customers.

  8. Avatar GNewton says:

    @FibreFred: “both your id’s” so anybody who disagress with you is the same person? JNeuhoff posted quite some strange thoughts I have to disagree with, but he was right about the no ROI issue. BT will not pay ther money back to the taxpayer, nor to the government.

    Measuring general social benefits simply because a minority happens to use VDSL is nearly impossible to quantify, the BDUK certainly was not value for money, nor did it promote market competition.

    1. Avatar FibreFred says:

      So the government is wrong , there is no roi . Is that wrong as in would stand up in a court of law or just wrong in your own solitary opinion ?

    2. Avatar FibreFred says:

      And this isn’t about you disagreeing with me it’s about you disagreeing with the government and if you want to be taken seriously I would advise that you provide some real substance to your argument , if you have a study to show no roi let’s see it, otherwise it just comes across as Bt bashing

  9. Avatar No Clue says:

    “And this isn’t about you disagreeing with me it’s about you disagreeing with the government and if you want to be taken seriously I would advise that you provide some real substance to your argument , if you have a study to show no roi let’s see it, otherwise it just comes across as Bt bashing”

    How the hell does bashing the government over spending millions equate to BT bashing?

    1. Avatar GNewton says:

      “How the hell does bashing the government over spending millions equate to BT bashing?”

      It doesn’t, you can’t blame a commercial company like BT for wanting money. IMHO there was no appropriate cost-benefits analysis (which some posters are referring to as being the same as ROI which it isn’t), nor is there a financial ROI (as e.g. defined in http://www.investopedia.com/articles/basics/10/guide-to-calculating-roi.asp).

    2. Avatar FibreFred says:

      Is that your peddles I can hear squeaking backwards?

      Just a reminder

      June 7, 2014 at 9:02 pm

      There is no ROI, ”

      To which I replied amongst others with:-


      “The UK Broadband Impact Study found that this programme will deliver excellent value for taxpayer money, returning £20 to the UK economy for every £1 of public investment.”

      Quite clearly, a return on the investment

    3. Avatar No Clue says:

      quote “The UK Broadband Impact Study found that this programme will deliver excellent value for taxpayer money, returning £20 to the UK economy for every £1 of public investment.”

      Quite clearly, a return on the investment”

      Quite clearly utter crap if that were true then based on just matching BTs 2.5 Billion this country should be more than 50 Billion pounds better off.

      That is just after after the “investing” as you quote remember, that means before anything is even up and running generating cash.

      Hows that work then i invest in something that is not fully up and running and i get 20x my money back.

      Are BT and the government now in the time share business of selling stuff that is not fully built?

    4. Avatar NGA for all says:

      @No Clue £1.6bn from Gov and let’s be generous £400m from BT, to get to £2bn x£20 is £40bn/5m homes passed will £8,000 each. Oddly enough that value alone popped up as the increase in property value in Cumbria if you had a reasonable broadband connection. If you increase homeworking, reduce travel costs, get a uplift in lettings and allow a few more people to live in rural areas, the case for economic re-generation of this 20:1 level will be more believable than most numbers of this type.

    5. Avatar No Clue says:

      I thought BT were investing 2.5 Billion of their own cash and the government in one form or another with various half baked schemes were to match it?

  10. Avatar GNewton says:

    There will always be people who actually believe what the government tells them, however strange the stories may be. If there was really a 20:1 ROI there’d be loads of public and/or private investors lining up to put in their money. This of course is not the case. At the most, there might be some minor social benefits, the same as when you improve the NHS, schools, ambulances setvices etc. This has nothing to do with commercial-style ROI, except for BT who, acting like it was so poor it can’t afford anything, got pretty much all the BDUK-money. Clearly, the government does NOT see telecom services, especially fibre broadband, as a vital utility.

    1. Avatar FibreFred says:

      Still waiting for you to disprove what the Government have said

    2. Avatar Gadget says:

      The Government believes it could see a 20:1 ROI, which is for the country as a whole – public or private investors are not lining up because they don’t see the return FOR THEM.

      It should also be remembered that BT is also investing some of its own money into the BDUK areas as well as the other contributors, in addition to the whole of the money for the areas in its commercial rollout. So its not acting as if it were poor, but choosing to invest where it will see a return for BT in a timeframe that it and its investors are comfortable with.

    3. Avatar No Clue says:

      “…returning £20 to the UK economy for every £1 of public investment…”

      Where is this 50+ Billion pure profit the country should be rolling in???????

  11. Avatar GNewton says:

    In case any reader wants a real picture on the ROI: These bold 20:1 ROI claims, mostly unsubstantiated, have been often repeated in the media, and is usally based on the so-called ‘The UK Broadband Impact Study’ which is available as a PDF file.

    Neither the taxpayer, nor the government will ever see the 20:1 income boost from this.

    1. Avatar FibreFred says:

      So come on, show us why its not true? It’s not much of an ask?

      You are saying its not true, prove it

    2. Avatar GNewton says:

      I am not arguing with you, anybody is welcome to read above mentioned PDF document which lists some previous studies. The reader can easily discern for himself how inflated some of the claims are. BT will not pay ther money back to the taxpayer, nor to the government. The BDUK process has been flawed from the beginning!

      In fact, you show us why you actually believe that you will see any of your taxpayer’s money back anytime soon. Or why your local business and family economy now experience a twenty-fold boost after you switched to your VDSL service, and after BT invested a few hundred quids in your line, possibly with some taxpayer’s money? Dream on! The government will now become very rich from your boosted taxes paid to them 🙂

      Welcome to the land of social science and statistics where almost anything is possible.

    3. Avatar FibreFred says:

      “In fact, you show us why you actually believe that you will see any of your taxpayer’s money back anytime soon”

      That’s not for me to do. I’m looking at what they are saying, I’m not saying its 100% true, I’m not agreeing with the figures quoted. I’m saying that they have said there is ROI

      You have said there will be no ROI

      As you have the disagreement it is for you to prove the government are wrong, currently you are failing very miserably. 😐

    4. Avatar No Clue says:

      “…returning £20 to the UK economy for every £1 of public investment…”

      Where is this 50+ Billion pure profit the country should be rolling in???????

  12. Avatar Andy says:

    As so much taxpayer money has been handed out for this shouldn’t it have been implemented by a nationalised body rather than a profit driven private entity?

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