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UPDATE UK Government Targets 100% Superfast Broadband Coverage

Thursday, July 3rd, 2014 (3:44 pm) - Score 1,212

The Government’s Communications Minister, Edward Vaizey (MP), has today told the House of Commons that the money they’ve already allocated should “give us the figure we need to get to 100%” (coverage of superfast broadband connectivity). We remain to be convinced.

At present the £1.2bn Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) programme and related projects aim to make fixed line superfast broadband (24Mbps+) services available to 95% of the population by 2017, which should rise to 99% by 2018 when you include Mobile Broadband and other wireless solutions. Councils and private operators (e.g. BT) are also expected to match-fund with the central money pot.

But if today’s comments are anything to go by then those hoping for more funding to push fixed line “superfast” connectivity out to reach 100% of the United Kingdom may be left disappointed.

Thursday’s House of Commons Debate – Broadband

Question – Julie Hilling (Bolton West) (Labour):
This issue is not just a rural problem. At my recent business event, companies told me how lack of access to fast broadband is seriously hampering their businesses. How will the Minister ensure that areas on the edge of major urban centres also get superfast broadband?

Answer – Mr Vaizey:
The whole point of the rural broadband programme is to help the areas she speaks about. Local councils are in charge of the roll-out, so they should know best where the money should go first for the most impact. As I say, we have had phase 1 to get to 90%; we now have phase 2 to get to 95%; and the money we have allocated for new technologies will give us the figure we need to get to 100%.

Leaving aside the fact that BDUK has never been a rural specific programme (example), the response given my Mr Vaizey suggests that the Government will deliver 100% coverage of superfast broadband within their existing strategy. The implication of this is that those in the final 5% will probably not receive much in the way of improvement to their existing fixed line connectivity and might instead have to look more towards mobile, fixed wireless and satellite solutions for their future needs (note: the 5% is a national figure, but it can still vary from county to county).

It’s also unclear what Vaizey means by money for “new technologies“, although we suspect that’s a reference to the new £10m Innovation Fund. The fund is about to conduct eight different pilot schemes across the UK to “test innovative solutions to deliver superfast broadband services to the most difficult to reach areas“, but it could take more than this to ensure true 100% coverage is achieved.

At the same time it’s very important to remember that most of the targets are based on estimates of expected performance and, as most people will know by now, real-world speeds often differ dramatically from what ISPs predict. Issues with poor home wiring and network congestion, among many other things, often conspire to deliver a less capable connection than expected. So it’s possible that the Government might be able to fudge their way to 100% but in reality there will always be gaps.

Meanwhile the Conservative MP for Lancaster and Fleetwood, Eric Ollerenshaw, complained about BT’s “virtual monopoly in contracts for superfast broadband” and called for an inquiry into its performance. Vaizey responded by saying, “The National Audit Office conducted an inquiry. I am confident that BT is doing its job incredibly effectively. We are passing a total of 20,000 premises a week with broadband, and that figure will soon be up to 40,000 a week. More than £60 million has been allocated to Lancashire and more than 130,000 homes there will get superfast broadband as a result.” We recall the NAO report being somewhat mixed (here).

Separately Vaizey also confirmed that more than 160,000 premises in Wales have now been passed with BT’s “fibre broadband” network as part of the Superfast Cymru scheme, which is up from a figure of 135,000 reported in June 2014 (here).

UPDATE 11th July 2014

Chris Townsend, CEO of BDUK, has added to this by saying that he anticipates the last 5% to be filled with faster broadband within “three to five years“, which if taken literally would mean up to around mid-2019 and that’s just shy of the EU’s 2020 target for 100% to be within reach of a 30Mbps+ service.

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34 Responses
  1. Avatar adslmax says:

    Edward Vaizey haven’t got any clue! He should be sacked!

    1. But using that as a basis, we would end up with no politicians left at all! 🙂

  2. Avatar Ignitionnet says:

    ‘Local councils are in charge of the roll-out, so they should know best where the money should go first for the most impact.’

    Nonsense. Councils are told by BT that they must leave deployment decisions to BT to ensure maximum coverage.

    Where they try and micromanage the level of coverage BT contact to deliver drops.

    No idea what Vaizey’s source for his comments is – mine is 3 different BDUK contracts.

    1. Avatar DTMark says:

      We need to see the apparently confidential contract documents – those between the LAs and BT.

      BDUK goal – 90% @ s/f and 2 Meg for everyone, no exceptions.

      That is what the contract documents must therefore necessarily say, right?

      That the risk of delivery was with BT, not the tax-payer.

      I always suspected a gap between the stated goals and what the contracts said.

      The easiest way to clear that up would simply be to make all the contracts public.

    2. Avatar fastman2 says:

      igntion – councils determine what they want for the money — some will ask most coverage for money — other will have priority areas which wil lbe expensive so you get less coverage !!!!

  3. Avatar No Clue says:

    “The implication of this is that those in the final 5% will probably not receive much in the way of improvement to their existing fixed line connectivity and might instead have to look more towards mobile, fixed wireless and satellite solutions for their future needs (note: the 5% is a national figure, but it can still vary from county to county).”

    If Mr Vaizey is including Satellite in his 100% coverage figure then there was no need to give BT any money in the first place, as anyone and everyone can if they deem fit can purchase satellite broadband. So that would suggest 100% coverage already not in 2018 or later.

    “It’s also unclear what Vaizey means by money for “new technologies“, although we suspect that’s a reference to the new £10m Innovation Fund……..”

    Oh now it all makes sense why BT have scrapped their FTTP rollout. Why would they carry on spending on that when they will be able to come along like some mange ridden stray dog begging later on for another stupid amount of money. Though how they are going to claim FTTP is a “new technology” when they started but never finished it in the first place is anyones guess. Probably call it something new and pretend it is something different, some BS name like Infinity 2 probably.

    1. Avatar FibreFred says:

      As you know BT didn’t bid for the innovation fund, they have a dedicated R&D set-up already so there would be no need.

      Don’t let that stop you slagging em off tho 😉

    2. Avatar MikeW says:

      @NC
      “anyone” can indeed order satellite-based broadband (save oddities like inconvenient hills & trees) but it is a certainty that “everyone” cannot do that. Satellite capacity, for transponders pointing at the UK, is limited to around 2-3% of the UK at most – and that is based on usage figures from 2 years ago.

    3. Avatar No Clue says:

      @MikeW You are right with regards to capacity and probably not enough if everyone had satellite and wanted “super fast” speeds from it, however i doubt very much Mr Vaizey knows that, his hot air figures of “coverage” i also doubt take that in to account.

      In fact you could maybe argue the same issue applies to any ISP. I doubt even BT or Virgin would have the capacity to give 24Mb+ to between 25-30 Million homes all at the same time. (IE 100% coverage). Would not make sense for either of them with only around 5 Million users each to have the capacity to deliver to 5-6 times (actually more as many are still ADSL) their customer base.

    4. Avatar James Harrison says:

      If BT or VM need to upgrade some core routers or line cards to add capacity it might cost a few tens of thousands of pounds, maybe more, but they can do that at the drop of a hat and with ease. Sure maybe you need to pull some more fibre, but it’s generally easy and cheap.

      Now try launching a new satellite, clearing spectrum for it across wide swathes of Europe (not cost effective to cover just the UK), operating the teleports for the satellite. (Not that satellite should be considered superfast, anyway – superfast “must have characteristics (e.g. latency, jitter) that enable advanced services to be delivered e.g. video-conferencing and High Definition video streaming” – 200ms minimum latency isn’t going to cut it)

      These are not comparable.

      Now, BT/Virgin _don’t_ have the capacity to give superfast broadband to everyone at once. That’s normal – ISP infrastructure has this concept of contention. What they don’t have, though, and this is an issue, is a minimum committed information rate. The BDUK definition of superfast has a “definition” that covers contention:

      must be designed in anticipation of providing at least ~15Mbps download speed to end-users for 90% of the time during peak times in the target intervention area, as demonstrated by industry-standardised or reliable independent measurements

      This is of course grade-A bullshit, means precisely nothing and commits nobody to anything! “in anticipation of” “at least approximately 15Mbps” “90% of the time during [undefined] peak times”.

      There should not be one single network built in the UK with public funding that does not have a minimum committed information rate for 100% of subscribers 100% of the time. Yet as far as I am aware, only one network in the UK has ticked that box with public funding.

    5. Avatar GNewton says:

      “As you know BT didn’t bid for the innovation fund, they have a dedicated R&D set-up already so there would be no need.”

      While BT does indeed have its own research facilities, such as the one in Suffolk, BT hardly ever makes use of its innovations. This includes one of its dodgy patents for blowing fibre through the tubes or ducts. BT knows about VDSL rings, G.Fast, various fibre technologies, but mostly refrains from using any of its technologies. Instead, it acts like a poor beggar, asking for Millions of taxpayer’s money for no ROI, for yesterday’s twisted-pair copper wire’s technologies.

      Stop the BDUK madness, make OpenReach a completely independent company, and use investment funding with financial ROI, not half-hearted taxpayer’s gap funding, and the landscape would look completely different.

    6. Avatar MikeW says:

      Yup – it is the need to launch those pesky satellites that causes problems. They are b**** expensive, and tend to only get launched at 2-3 year intervals.

      IIRC, Eutelsat’s KA-SAT (launch 2011; carries Tooway) has 80-odd transponders, each with 1Gbps capacity. Only 4 transponders point at the UK – so we have 4Gbps of backhaul available.

      Rather than dimensioning backhaul by the headline speed, it is usually done by the looking at the average bandwidth used in peak hour (ie total backhaul averaged over many, many connections).

      The current figure for this average peak-hour bandwidth is around 150Kbps per connection**. Even using this figure, it only takes 30,000 subscribers in the UK saturate the satellite backhaul.

      Meanwhile a fully populated Huawei FTTC cabinet (288 users) can provide 20x that average speed with just a single solitary 1Gbps fibre backhaul.

      **: Plusnet currently peaks around 9pm at around 110Gbps for 740,000 subscribers.

    7. Avatar No Clue says:

      “If BT or VM need to upgrade some core routers or line cards to add capacity it might cost a few tens of thousands of pounds, maybe more, but they can do that at the drop of a hat and with ease. Sure maybe you need to pull some more fibre, but it’s generally easy and cheap.”

      If that is true then its a concern already with only around 5 Million users in total each why they have congestion issues already. There is no way tomorrow if the whole country signed up to either of them the capacity would be there, and there is no way to would be added at the “drop of a hat” right now people often have to wait months for congested areas to be fixed. With 25+ Million subs (or in other words 5 times the amount of customers) suddenly added i imagine it would not be “easy” or “cheap” to suddenly give enough bandwidth to them all.

    8. Avatar MikeW says:

      @NC: “With 25+ Million subs … suddenly added I imagine it would not be “easy” or “cheap” to suddenly give enough bandwidth to them all.”

      I’d agree. Responding to traffic growth tends to be based on statistical predictions, and they can factor in expected growth from a marketing campaign.

      However, while a five-fold growth overnight would be rather nice for *any* business, it just isn’t a realistic proposition for a mature-ish market. Back to the real world…

    9. Avatar No Clue says:

      Indeed MikeW 5x growth over night for any ISP is not likely to happen including for satellite ISPs, therefore technically we have 100% coverage availability already do we not?

    10. Avatar MikeW says:

      @NC
      Sure, satellite does indeed allow you to say we have 100% coverage, technically. Any umbrella tech allows you to say that – but it is never designed to have the capacity to support everyone in the coverage area.

      Once umbrella fill-in tech (satellite, fixed wireless, 4G, even Wifi) enters the equation, you need to make subtle changes to coverage statements and include capacity too.

      In the case of satellite, and the fact that it can only support 1-2% of subscribers (assuming more launches in the next few years), then you only have *real* 100% coverage when you have deployed something else to cover the other 98-99%

    11. Avatar No Clue says:

      Using that philosophy then surely even though BT may pass 90% (or will soon) they do not have the capacity to support that 90% (or around 20+ Million) subs all at once either.

      It is quite clear when talking covergae the government and others are only referring to where you can get a service and “capacity” does not enter the equation.

      100% coverage is thus technically already here, so why they continue to spend money i do not know.

    12. Avatar MikeW says:

      Again, you are right in the technical sense. But the reason they keep spending money is because being right in a technical sense isn’t good enough.

      The rollout of fixed broadband (FTTP, FTTC and HFC) is much more scalable, with cards, cabinets, DSLAMs, all relatively easily added – provided the underlying fibre, being put into the ground in the access network, is done in enough volume (ie enough dark fibre, or enough BFT sub-ducting). That appears to be happening – BT are putting a full distribution architecture in place.

      I guess the difference is where the bottlenecks are for future takeup – what is the cost delta for adding an extra connection? For satellites, at some point you need to repeat your biggest investment – a whole new launch costing £millions. With fixed FTTC you don’t need to repeat your biggest expense (the cost of the civils, getting fibre into the ground, and power to the site); the worst case is to add an elmost empty dslam to a site that already has power and fibre feeds – £3-4k?

    13. Avatar No Clue says:

      Some questions need to be asked then because if capacity is so easy to add why are BTs FTTC products as well as Virgins suffering congestion now and again in areas already?
      AAISP as an example a month or so back had issues with BTs fibre products. BTs forums as well as vigins are also full of complaints of congestion.
      If those 2 companies can not serve 5 million 100% reliably today i personally do not think they could/would be able to handle 20+ Million. In that regard although the figures with regards to available bandwidth etc may differ the situation is no different to satellite.
      Nobody as things stand are capable of delivering “superfast” (IE over 24Mb) to 20-30 Million users all at once.
      What can be delivered in reality and land mass covered are thus 2 different things and obviously satellite already covers (as good as) 100% of the UK. So if that is the only goal then it boggles the mind why Mr Vaizey and chums still think more money needs spending to reach the 100% coverage figure.

    14. Avatar FibreFred says:

      What sort of trolling nonsense is this then? We need a network that can deliver 24Mbps+ concurrently for 20-30 million user? Hahaha oh dear it’s one of your best yet.

    15. Avatar No Clue says:

      What percent of the country is meant to be “superfast” then?

  4. Avatar DTMark says:

    Perhaps you could ask BT if they agree with Mr. Vaizey?

    1. Avatar No Clue says:

      I think its the other way round the bloke is clueless so just believes whatever BT tells him.

    2. Avatar DTMark says:

      If Vaizey is correct, then this is the last of this type of article that we shall see:

      http://www.ispreview.co.uk/index.php/2014/06/1m-extra-extends-superfast-broadband-dorsets-marshwood-vale.html

      No more money is needed and no more “targets”, 100% will get superfast speeds.

    3. Avatar No Clue says:

      It appears you have seen the same flying pig as i have. 😉

    4. Avatar DTMark says:

      Indeed.

      It’s good to know that our village will see sufficient amounts of FTTP and/or sub-cabinets deployed.

      And there was I thinking that we might only get VDSL and no fibre, resulting in a service even slower than 3G unless you’re right next to the cabinet.

      😉

    5. Avatar No Clue says:

      Hopefully when BT realise FTTP is needed and go begging for money again it will be too late and other schemes will have taken off including further mobile developments and speed increases. Hopefully then the government will have no choice but to tell BT to clear off, or at the least they will have some serious explaining to do the second time round if they do not. BT are almost like cochroaches, disgusting creatures sniffing around for scraps, then devouring what they get like pigs and slop.

  5. Avatar MikeW says:

    @MarkJ
    When you say that Vaizey’s statement suggests that 100% coverage will be achieved within the existing strategy, are you implying that this means no more funding will be forthcoming? The other comments on here seem to have taken it that way.

    To me, the “will give us the figure we need to get to 100%” part suggests that the £10m innovation money will tell government what future funding figure they need to get to 100%, presumably by defining the strategy for the final 5% from the success (or otherwise) of the trials. That makes more sense than implying that the £10m will give give them the coverage figure needed.

    It seems TBB read the statement that way too.

    1. Avatar MikeW says:

      ^^^^

      Hmm. That seems to have lost a closing /i element somewhere.

    2. Avatar No Clue says:

      The 10M fund is for tech you can already have…
      http://www.ispreview.co.uk/index.php/2014/06/uk-government-unveils-bidders-10m-broadband-innovation-fund.html
      Again as mentioned anyone can have satellite already thus coverage is technically 100% already.
      I can not understand the goal of any funding now based on Mr Vaizeys remarks if it is just about 100% coverage.

  6. Avatar David says:

    Am I missing something here? How does satellite become part of the super fast solution? I wasn’t aware any of them supplied more than an “up to 20meg” service which certainly isn’t super fast. Are there faster satellite suppliers out there? That’s before you get in to the applications that don’t work with it.

    1. Avatar MikeW says:

      You aren’t missing anything.

      Satellite becomes the last remaining option when the politicians give up on spending more money chasing the law of diminishing returns. Whether it is superfast, or the basic USC target is immaterial.

      IIRC, the phase 1 BDUK project for North Yorkshire is allowed to leave around 3,000 “basic broadband” connections to satellite, rather than having to supply 2Mbps in a terrestrial manner.

    2. Avatar No Clue says:

      “Am I missing something here? How does satellite become part of the super fast solution? I wasn’t aware any of them supplied more than an “up to 20meg” service which certainly isn’t super fast.”

      I think you will find there are a few satellite services out there which do now offer 24Mb products.

      It must be a viable alternative otherwise why are they chucking part of the 10Million innovation fund at more than one satellite provider?

  7. Avatar four_eyes says:

    SUPERFAST its all a farce its bull suppose to be five time faster where the hell at ? openreach and there bodge jobs instead of replacing the cables .

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