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UPDATE UK Broadband’s 4G to Help Swindon Expand Superfast Broadband

Wednesday, March 11th, 2015 (8:30 am) - Score 1,557
4g mobile broadband uk wireless lte technology

The Swindon Borough Council, which is administratively independent of its parent county in Wiltshire (England), has announced that their Broadband Delivery UK based plan to improve the cover of superfast broadband (24Mbps+) could take a different approach by expanding UK Broadband‘s existing fixed wireless 4G network.

At present nearly all of the Government’s BDUK related contracts have been awarded to BT, which has been busy expanding its fixed line FTTC/P technology. So far the only major exception has been in West Oxfordshire, but it now looks like we’re going to add another exception to that list.

Swindon originally sat out BDUK’s first funding phase, although this changed in September 2014 when the local authority agreed to match a proposed investment of £1.5m from BDUK under the Superfast Extension Programme (here). But instead of using a fixed line broadband solution, Swindon has opted to go wireless.

Some readers might recall UK Broadband Ltd.’s announcement from 2012 in which they hailed a project that would make Swindon the “first local authority in the UK” to benefit from a borough-wide superfast 4G fixed wireless broadband service (Signal) using their 3.5GHz based Long Term Evolution (LTE) network (here). Funnily enough UKB only stepped in after the council had spent £400k on attempting to deploy a failed WiFi network.

The setup in Swindon was a precursor to the one now used by their central London ISP (Relish), which has incidentally suffered from a lot of connectivity problems (here). Never the less it looks like Swindon will now take a similar approach and in so doing push “superfast broadband” coverage out to 99.4% of local premises by 2016.

At this point it’s important to stress that the councils contract would be with UKB Networks Ltd. (HKT), which works closely with UK Broadband Ltd. but is technically a separate company. Frankly the name choices are extremely confusing and a search for UKB Networks always brings up UK Broadband Ltd. at the top, which doesn’t help.

Garry Perkins, Cabinet Member for the Economy and Regeneration, said:

I will be encouraging my cabinet colleagues to back this proposal as it is an important step in our ambition to make Superfast Broadband available across the whole of the borough.

We know some of our rural communities have had a raw deal in terms of fast broadband provision and we want to change that. By making this investment, in conjunction with the Government, this project will bring significant benefits to both residents and businesses.

The fact that we should be able to achieve so much without using all the money available gives me confidence that we can make 100% coverage a reality in the not too distant future.”

A vote in support of building the 4G LTE network has a number of advantages, not least with regards to the fact that it would cost under £2m to deploy, be fast to roll-out and create significantly less disruption because you wouldn’t need to conduct anything like the level of street works required by BT’s fixed line alternative. The funding also includes a provision for future technology and performance upgrades.

The result would leave a nice pot of money over, which will be used to explore alternative ways for connecting the final 0.6% to superfast broadband. However only council investment will be left to tackle the 0.6% and some BDUK funding may need to be returned. A vote on this plan is due to be taken next week.

At this stage there are plenty of unanswered questions, not least with regards to whether Swindon will ensure that the network is made open access for other ISPs to use. In addition, BDUK’s framework has generally required that wireless solutions should include scope for a future upgrade to fibre optic connectivity, although phase two schemes appear to have more flexibility in this regard.

Certainly it’s an interesting approach, although we must hope that UKB has sorted out the rampant connection drops that have plagued their deployment in London because we wouldn’t want to see the same thing happen in Swindon. Readers might also wish to check out the result of Swindon’s recent Open Market Review (here).

In theory, if all goes according to plan, then a deal could be signed as soon as this Easter and the roll-out would then begin during the summer.

NOTE: UKB’s fixed wireless 4G network is a lot more akin to home broadband and should not be compared with that of the 4G solutions from the big mobile operators.

UPDATE 19th March 2015

The Swindon Advertiser reports that the local authority has voted to approve the UKB (Relish) deployment of a 4G fixed wireless network, which will install 16 new mast across the area. Meanwhile a trial involving 40 homes is already underway and speeds of up to 40Mbps have been experienced.

Apparently UKB were the only one to table a formal bid, although discussions were held with BT about a town-wide deployment but this did not result in anything. The rollout of UKB’s network is expected to begin this summer and will complete by the end of 2016, while none of the councils money is to be used until the network starts to deliver.

However not everybody is happy and the local Conservative councillor, Coun Faramarzi, said: “I do have reservations about the coverage in the area I represent which is currently dreadful. A lot of people have mentioned about how trees won’t impact the signal in rural areas but big buildings are very different. But I hope I am wrong on this occasion and we get good coverage.

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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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