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Airband Consortium to Bid for Full Devon and Somerset Broadband Contract

Thursday, Jul 2nd, 2015 (8:13 am) - Score 1,007

Worcester-based fixed wireless ISP Airband, which yesterday won a separate open market contract to deploy superfast broadband to 5,800 premises across the Dartmoor and Exmoor National Parks in England (here), could form part of a consortium that will bid for the full Devon and Somerset contract after it failed to reach a deal with BT.

The Connecting Devon and Somerset project, which is working alongside BT to deploy “superfast” broadband speeds of 24Mbps+ to over 90% of local homes and businesses by the end of 2016, had hoped to put another £35m towards a contract extension that would have targeted 95% coverage by 2017/18.

Unfortunately the local plans were thrown into turmoil at the end of last week when it was announced that the project had not been able to reach a deal with BT (here). According to the CDS scheme, BT was unable to commit to a target of 95% by the aforementioned date and nor could they offer “any reassurances that the 95% target could be reached by 2021/22” (CDS Statement).

By contrast BT said that their offer would have delivered the superfast capable FTTC/P service to another 34,400 premises (this would get them to around 95%) on top of the current contract, but it could have taken until the middle of 2020 to complete and “would take more than 15 years for BT to get a return on its investment.” A window that big could easily be open to complications and possible delay, which may explain BT’s struggle to commit.

Since then the related Superfast Extension Programme (SEP) contract has been put back into an open market tender (ironically this option was abandoned once before after BT said they wouldn’t bid on an open market one), which has left many to wonder who might bid and we now have the first indications.

According to BBC Somerset, Airband will probably bid to meet the 95% coverage target with its fixed wireless network alongside another provider. We understand that the other provider specialises in Fibre-to-the-Cabinet (FTTC) solutions, which suggests a Sub-Loop Unbundled (SLU) approach and there are only a few ISPs that do this (e.g. Spectrum Internet [Wales], CallFlow, WarwickNet etc.).

Mind you there may be other bidders too and we wouldn’t be surprised if Gigaclear or an alternative mixed solution similar to the one being used in West Oxfordshire (here) get involved. But we suspect that Gigaclear’s pure FTTP approach might struggle with the strict timescale and funding set down by CDS.

Admittedly BT previously said they wouldn’t bid on an open CDS contract, although last week they also indicated that “we will continue to work to try to find a solution” and the growing political pressure might prompt a change of heart. In the meantime we can expect a lengthy delay as a new tender is issued and project partner sought.

On the bright side it’s nice to finally see some actual competition in the bidding process for the Government’s Broadband Delivery UK programme; even if this is clearly not the way it should be happening.

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 X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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