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UPDATE2 Opposition to Swindon Fixed Wireless 4G Broadband Rollout Grows

Tuesday, March 24th, 2015 (10:47 am) - Score 1,569

The Swindon Borough Council’s recently approved a £1.9m project with UKB Networks Ltd., which will push “superfast broadband” (24Mbps+) coverage out to 99.4% of local premises by 2016 via a fixed wireless 4G (LTE) network instead of BT’s fixed line hybrid-fibre (FTTC/P) infrastructure, is facing a challenge from rival politicians.

At this point it’s important to clarify that part of Swindon is already home to a similar network, which is run by UK Broadband Ltd. (PCCW). Confusingly the similarly named UKB Networks Ltd. (HKT) does work with UK Broadband Ltd., although they’re technically separate.

Apparently UKB were the only one to table a formal bid, which is allegedly because BT could see no demand in the area for a town-wide upgrade of their fixed line infrastructure. On top of that UKB’s bid would also save a significant amount of money by virtue of not needing to dig up roads and footpaths etc.

But the Conservative run council, which voted to approve the plan last week, is one of only a tiny few Broadband Delivery UK based projects that have chosen to go with an alternative solution to the one that BT has been rolling out across the rest of the United Kingdom.

Now some of you might think that this would win Swindon kudos, not least with so many politicians raising concerns about BT’s dominance of the BDUK process and the perceived lack of transparency in related contracts. But instead a number of Conservative councillors, such as Emma Faramarzi and Justin Tomlinson, appear to have mirrored the opposition Labour group to voice their concerns.

Jim Grant, Swindon’s Labour Group Leader, said (Swindon Advertiser):

The Conservative Cabinet is embarking on a big mistake to not do what other local authorities have done and agree that fibre broadband be part of the superfast broadband rollout.

The cabinet has failed to learn from the mistakes made in the past where an alternative broadband provider to BT has been contracted to roll out broadband infrastructure and then residents get left with no choice over their internet provider, [which] is ultimately leading to higher cost internet.

When dealing with this matter, the council needs to think about what is best for the residents who will have the broadband.”

Meanwhile the North Swindon MP, Justin Tomlinson, said he welcomed the plan but still wanted to see the council “sit with BT, who I accept is not always the most pro-active and helpful … But it does have the edge in fibre technology, which is the most reliable long-term solution.” BT might have an edge in slower hybrid-fibre FTTC, although they’re arguably not as far ahead as their smaller competitors when it comes to pure fibre optic (FTTH/P) connectivity.

At the same time it should also be remembered that there are successful altnet operators, such as Gigaclear, VFast, B4RN and Hyperoptic, while the most notoriously unsuccessful one (e.g. Digital Region in South Yorkshire) was setup from scratch by politicians who clearly didn’t understand the market they were entering.

The new project is perhaps more focused on benefitting Swindon’s outlying rural areas, although much of the concern appears to be stemming from the towns urban areas, where connectivity can also be a bit on the flaky side.

The Labour Party has now put forward a motion for this week’s council meeting, which is calling for a halt to the plans. But it’s difficult to see that winning the vote given that such concerns were known beforehand and yet the plan still ended up being approved. The council claims that UKB is the best option, although right now it appears to be the only option.

UPDATE 1:10pm

BT has furnished us with an official statement.

A BT Spokesperson said:

We believe that our proven technology, open access network with wide choice of service providers, and ability to deliver large projects – combined with the BDUK framework – offer many unique benefits to local authorities.”

We understand that Swindon Borough Council has opted for a different solution, and wish them well. We look forward to working with them on future opportunities.”

UPDATE 30th March 2015

In an unsurprising development the council has dismissed the Labour motion that called for alternatives to be sought. However the dismissal, which came in the form of a Conservative Party amendment, does include a call for the council to “monitor the market and see whether a fibre-optic solution, which will benefit urban communities, comes available in the future“. But there will be no change to the recently agreed UKB deal.

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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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