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UK Government Unveils Bidders for £10m Broadband Innovation Fund

Thursday, June 19th, 2014 (10:29 am) - Score 1,878

The Government’s £10 million Innovation Fund, which aims to “test innovative solutions to deliver superfast broadband services to the most difficult to reach areas” (i.e. the final rural 5% of the United Kingdom), has today announced a list of the successful bidders and the nature of the pilot schemes they have proposed.

The fund, which unlike the national Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) scheme has also made itself open to bids from fixed wireless, mobile broadband and satellite broadband providers, is often viewed as a more accessible alternative to the troubled £20m Rural Community Broadband Fund (RCBF).

So far 8 different projects have been shortlisted to progress to the “feasibility stage“, ahead of deployments starting later this year. Each will not only experiment with different technologies but will also explore a “social investment financial model” and an operating model that “aggregates small rural networks, to ensure no-one is left behind in the digital slow lane“.

Each proposal can only be used to cover “basic broadband white areas, instead of all NGA white areas” and there appears to be a £3.3m funding cap on individual tenders (i.e. the maximum amount any one supplier can win). However all of the bids (listed further below) appear to come in well below the cap.

Culture Secretary, Sajid Javid, said:

Our nationwide rollout is progressing at a terrific rate and each week superfast speeds are becoming a reality for tens of thousands of homes and businesses in rural areas across the UK. We know how important this has become which is why we are investing £10m in these pilots to explore how we can extend coverage beyond the 95% of the UK we are on track to deliver by 2017.”

Malcolm Corbett, CEO of INCA, said:

This is a very useful initiative and we are keen to help local authorities and INCA members learn from the trials. There is a huge amount of experience, professionalism and entrepreneurial enthusiasm in the independent sector that can play a big role in creating Britain’s future digital infrastructure.”

The £10m Innovation Fund Bids

1. AB Internet (Wales – Wireless) £847,650
A hybrid fixed line/fixed wireless superfast rural broadband network. All services on the proposed pilot network will be delivered via an end to end network and will deliver end user speeds of up to 50Mb.

2. Airwave (North Yorkshire – Wireless) £1,564,600
Demonstrating how four next-generation wireless systems will operate in the field. The four are: Wi-Fi at 2.4Ghz, point-to-multipoint broadband fixed wireless access at 2.4Ghz or 5.8Ghz, LTE small cells and TV white space.

3. Quickline (North Lincolnshire – Wireless) £2,054,000
Testing a range of line of sight, near line of sight and non-line of site technologies combined with a BDUK funded voucher scheme to maximise early uptake and avoid social exclusion. Strong focus on the Isle of Axholme, which is due to be ready to connect its first homes by January 2015 (the first businesses should benefit even earlier – Nov 2014).

4. Avanti (Northern Ireland and Scotland – Satellite) £885,640
Piloting a new superfast satellite broadband wholesale platform across the UK to deliver a 30Mbps service to the final 5% using its Ka-band satellites.

5. Satellite Internet (Devon and Somerset – Satellite) £175,125
Using KA-band satellite uplink/downlink as backhaul for local wireless networks and directly to customer premise equipment.

6. Call Flow (Hampshire – Mixed [Fibre, fixed wireless, sub-loop unbundling]) £1,194,145
Testing a range of innovative ‘hybrid’ engineering techniques/solutions to achieve NGA delivery such as: sub loop unbundling of cabinets, building a significant fibre network that connects as many of the deployed ‘SLU node areas’ together as possible, NGA delivery using fixed wireless access and fibre to the premise (FTTP).

7. Cybermoor (Northumberland – Financial model) £449,997
Developing a financing solution to leverage social investment into fibre to the premise and wireless networks in the last 5%.

8. MLL (Kent – Operating model) £957,900
Creating a common wholesale OSS/BSS platform for integrating / aggregating rural wireless networks. In addition integrate an existing rural network to allow it to be provided wholesale to other operators / ISPs and deploy a new Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) network.

Most of the solutions mentioned above have already been tried in different places around the country but it’s good to see that the list consists entirely of alternatives to BT’s approach and there are some interesting approaches, such as Airwave’s next-gen wireless plan and Quickline’s BDUK funded voucher scheme.

All of these efforts are good news but they still represent a drop in the ocean and it remains to be seen whether any of these approaches will in the future secure more funding for greater coverage.

UPDATE 30th June 2014

Added a little extra detail to Quickline’s project above.

Leave a Comment
33 Responses
  1. Avatar Andy says:

    ..and no bidders from Lancs?

    1. Mark Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      These are the “successful bidders”, not sure if any others were made from Lancs.

  2. Avatar Stephen says:

    One possible much cheaper & quicker option might be to help the mobile ISP’s deploy their 800MHZ 4G rollout to the whole of the UK as quickly as possible. Then once that has been completed, with the predicted 98-99% coverage across the UK, there will be far fewer rural users who still do not have access to fast broadband of some sort. Many, many rural users are on the outskirts of towns and cities and would be easily within reach of current masts.

    1. Mark Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      Definitively a good idea to focus mobile on true 100% coverage but the capacity limits, and associated usage restrictions, of such spectrum mean it may struggle to keep pace going forward. The best speeds required higher frequency spectrum but that isn’t so good for coverage.

    2. Avatar Stephen says:

      Hi Mark
      No I agree it wouldn’t be a total solution. it wouldn’t be so good for dowloading movies & maybe gaming but it would at least let us folks watch a Youtube clip without multiple buffering!!!
      Also as a photographer, trying to upload 1000+ photos on a 0.3 MB/s upload speed is a painful process. I’ve just fallen in love with Threes 4G rollout where in places I can get 18 MB/S upload. If I could get even a quarter of that at home I’d never use the landline again. I am hoping that although I am “rural”, being close to a main carriageway & several fibre connected tows that sometime in the not too distant future I will feel the benefits of 4G.

    3. Avatar 3G Infinity says:

      Stephen, there is already a Government GBP150m program that was awarded to Arqiva to rollout coverage sites (2, 3 and 4G) to areas without adequate mobile coverage. This was awarded in 2013 and it is up to Arqiva and the mobile operators to work out where best to locate the new towers. This is not a fast process as it relies on both identifying suitable locations and then going through the planning system for approval and then actually building the sites before installing the base stations.

    4. Avatar Stephen says:

      Hi Mark
      YEs I heard about that but it’s all very quiet. I spoke to the local authorities & was told that 14 local sites were identified & none made it past the planning stage. So I agree with you when you say it will not be quick.
      Having said that I went home last night & noticed a new mast in the hill across from me with what looks like mobile antennas at the top (will need to go for a closer look) so maybe something is happening after all. It’s in the middle of a wind farm though so I wouldn’t have thought that would be an ideal place for a mast!

    5. Avatar DTMark says:

      20Meg upload is nice.(4G) – you get used to it very quickly, and it makes a real difference. I have no idea how people get by with ADSL or VDSL at over about 1km… other than, “very slowly”.

    6. Avatar Stephen says:

      HI 3G Infinity. Sorry, it was your post I replied to the last time, just noticed my error!

  3. Avatar Jonathan Channon says:

    With regard to Devon&Somerset, do we know which areas will be covered?

  4. Avatar New_Londoner says:

    Not much innovation here that will actually deliver more coverage.

    1. Avatar NGA for all says:

      Unfortnately last 1% FTTP projects like Isles of Scilly (Cornwall project) and Fell End (Cumbria) which could feature (a little) in every county but have been replaced by the propensity to use public subsidy to overbuild and delay community efforts like BARN and Fibre Garden to name two. BT Group have also been advising LA’s that subsidy should be spent on FTTC outside business parks where duct is available for FTTP. The latter practice would not even pass Openreach’s own planning rules. FTTP (FOD) is now positioned as a business only product which neatly defines and limits BT’s ambition and by extension the UK’s rural ambition to FTTC and FTTdp.
      So yes, it is less than it could be, but needs must.

    2. Avatar No Clue says:

      Not to mention if it is broadband coverage he is worried about them schemes like number 4 in the list using his logic should of had all the government funding. Satellite like that company and others provide can reach and cover far more than BT, in fact it will cover the entire UK and a good portion of Europe. Then again he never has made much sense.

    3. Avatar James Harrison says:

      Of course not – this “innovation fund” is useless. Wireless R&D is well funded already and there are enormous WISPs out there already for case studies etc. Same goes for everything on this list, really. Sub loop unbundling being perhaps the only exception. Great that money is being given to altnets, not so great that it’s being done in such a limited manner and in a very risk-averse way, but that’s BDUK for you.

    4. Avatar James Harrison says:

      Oh, and satellite is practically useless for many modern applications. Hundreds of milliseconds latency mean two way communication with low latency is impossible. The total cost of ownership is sky-high compared to fixed line solutions or fixed wireless/mobile broadband. And the speeds and bandwidth caps are fairly terrible, too. As an absolute last ditch effort it might be a sensible option in some cases – but in reality, fixed wireless is far more likely to give a better service for lower cost in most cases.

      Government subsidy should be going to 100% coverage projects that ensure the hard-to-reach are connected. The commercial market can and should subsidize the rest.

    5. Avatar No Clue says:

      I think you will find satellite latency has improved quite a bit, its never going to be as good as a fixed line but unless you are a gamer its perfectly fine nowadys, it certainly is not hundred upon hundreds of milliseconds like it used to be. As to speeds it is never going to be hundreds of Megabits or faster either but you can get guaranteed 15-30Mbps services from satellite nowadays. Which when you consider 2Mb for all is the only guarantee with the current rollouts id consider that more than reasonable.

      It is not a perfect solution nothing we have in mass here currently is, but it does have some benefits including some satellite providers doing IPTV with your satellite broadband.

      There certainly is no reason alternative tech solutions have had a significant smaller slice of the financial pie.

    6. Avatar FibreFred says:

      “I think you will find satellite latency has improved quite a bit”

      lol, any figures to support that, has someone been able to bend/break the laws of physics?

    7. Avatar Gadget says:

      Previous systems did tend to use the geostationary sats, and as has been pointed out the propagation speed of radio waves up and down has a finite and inescapable delay. However the advent of MEO and LEO sats (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Satellite_Internet_access#Acceptable_latencies.2C_but_lower_speeds.2C_of_lower_orbits) have cut the latency at the expense of hand-off complications. Nevertheless it still has a unavoidable delay in the up-down link.

    8. Avatar FibreFred says:

      No breaking the laws of physics then, just bringing the sat’s closer

    9. Avatar No Clue says:

      Making latency lower as i said.

  5. Avatar Abby says:

    Congratulations to AB Internet on their award for Wales

    1. Avatar 3G Infinity says:

      Haven’t Xwavia just been loaned GBP1.45m by the Welsh Government to do just this – wireless in Wales

      ……… and adding to what is evident there would seem to be ‘no’ innovation with any of the projects here. Offering up to 50Mbps using fixed wireless has been around for years. Not sure I see the point of this funding, innovation and new would to me to point towards more creative approaches, eg providing a community 100Mbps pipe available at every exchange for the connectivity of a community sourced wireless or fibre solution.

    2. Mark Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      Note: Xwavia’s funding seems to be in the form of a loan, which means they have to pay it back.

    3. Avatar No Clue says:

      Yep Xwavia is a loan as i tried to explain to a certain individual before…
      http://www.ispreview.co.uk/index.php/2014/05/welsh-wireless-broadband-isp-xwavia-secures-1-2m-finance-wales-lone.html#comment-143680

      They for some reason seemed to think it was free money though LOL

  6. Avatar DTMark says:

    As per others’ comments, what is “innovative” about any of the solutions?

    Innovative != getting useful broadband to someone more than about 600m from a phone cabinet.

    1. Avatar FibreFred says:

      Totally agree, nothing innovative here, just existing products/solutions

    2. Avatar No Clue says:

      “just existing products/solutions”

      Much like anything and everything BT then?

    3. Avatar FibreFred says:

      You really are a muppet , this is an INNOVATION fund, the clue is in the name

      Your (current) name continues to serve you well

    4. Avatar No Clue says:

      LOL name calling from someone that clearly does not even know what the word innovation means.

      http://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/innovation?showCookiePolicy=true
      something NEWLY INTRODUCED, such as a new method or device

      Which of these areas had theses types of services already then?

    5. Avatar FibreFred says:

      Four people on here have commented these submissions are not innovative, seems like (as usual) your view is in the minority.

    6. Avatar No Clue says:

      One person used the word innovative in regards to coverage. The same person didnt even know what a loan company was.

      Another only with regards to wisp ISPs. A third in a technological sense. And then there is you that does not know what the word even means in any sense.

      Which is according to the English dictionary…
      “something NEWLY INTRODUCED, such as a NEW METHOD or device”

      Have these areas had any of these services mentioned before?

      I realise you maths skills (mr 12% LMAO) and your language skills are lacking but if you can not even understand what is new to these areas, or what a dictionary tells you a word means there is no hope for you. But we all know that already.

  7. Avatar GNewton says:

    There is no innovation in a technological sense for any of these bidders.

    If you want to see some examples for a technical innovation, with a new approach, take a look at

    http://www.6ginternet.com/fast-broadband-technology

    or

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DSL_Rings

    1. Avatar No Clue says:

      “There is no innovation in a technological sense for any of these bidders.”

      Indeed thats what our regular half wit thought it meant.

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