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More Doubts Cast on Swindon’s 4G Fixed Wireless Broadband Rollout

Monday, September 28th, 2015 (8:05 am) - Score 974

Local residents and the North Swindon MP have raised concerns about the general feasibility and size of masts being used as part of a £1.9m project with UKB Networks, which will push “superfast broadband” (24Mbps+) coverage to 99.4% of premises by 2016 via a fixed wireless 4G (LTE) network.

The project, which is funded by a mix of state aid from the Government’s Broadband Delivery UK scheme (Phase 2) and the Swindon Borough Council, was originally agreed in March 2015 (here) after BT allegedly showed no interest in expanding their fixed-line “fibre broadband” (FTTC) services out across the rest of the borough (UKBN were the only ones to table a formal bid).

But not everybody was pleased with the contract, with several cross-party councillors and local MPs raising concerns and questioning why a “fibre broadband” solution wasn’t adopted (here). The opposition Labour Party also put forward a motion that attempted to halt the deal, although this was ultimately dismissed.

The contract’s proponents have said that it would be cheaper and quicker to deploy, not least because there would be significantly less need to dig up streets and pavements. However UKBN would still need to install 16 new masts across the borough and the original plan suggested that this would begin during the summer.

However in a repeat of earlier this year the North Swindon MP, Justin Tomlinson, has once again spoken out against the deal and warned that, “No one has asked for 4G broadband, an outdated and expensive scheme that will simply fail, resulting in hard-working tax-payers’ money being wasted” (here).

On top of that local residents have also highlighted their concerns about the planning sites for some of the new masts, which in some cases will be built only a few metres away from their homes (e.g. one is planned for the outskirts of Swindon on Torun Way, which is quite a dense urban area).

Pete Taylor, Local Doctor (Torun Way), said:

There is a strong feeling from a lot of people here about this. We do not want this mast near us. There are still health concerns about these masts and it detracts from the whole area. One of the reasons I, and many others, moved here was because of the green space.

We thought they would not build one here and then without any public consultation we’re told the masts are going here. We do not need this scheme here. It is something which is designed for rural areas. It feels we are being sacrificed for the rural areas.”

Admittedly it would be all too easy to dismiss this as the usual Not In My Back Yard (NIMBY) commentary, although a large mast being built next to your home is rather more of a problem than a comparatively small street cabinet and such things may have an impact on property values (note: BT suffers plenty of gripes about their cabinet positioning too). But we’re less clear on the “health concerns“, which have a tendency to lack evidence.

Taylor also makes some valid points about the lack of public consultation and why such a mast is being built in a dense part of Swindon’s urban outskirts, although we suspect that the latter point is primarily because it’s nearest to the necessary local backhaul infrastructure and will then be beamed outwards to rural areas. Some parts of the town itself do also suffer from a few slowspots.

However the local council have no plans to stop the deployment, which is now part of a “legally binding contract“. The governing authority also reiterated that they did speak with both BT and Virgin Media, but both “told us unequivocally they had no plans to install fibre optic cables.

The service has already delivered speeds of up to 40Mbps to some 40 trial homes and there’s no reason why a properly deployed 4G Fixed Wireless network can’t deliver that again for an affordable price, assuming it can get any masts built after public opposition has been considered.

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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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15 Responses
  1. “4G broadband, an outdated and expensive scheme that will simply fail”

    Only an MP could go public stating that the latest mobile technology is outdated! 🙂

    1. Avatar Matt says:

      In fairness the MP is right if they are offering 40Mbps speeds then they are only rolling out LTE and not LTE-Advanced so it is outdated technology.

    2. Avatar New_Londoner says:

      If the experience of the similar Relish operation in London is anything to go by, 40Mbps would be an unobtainable dream for most. The last Think Broadband speedtest results I saw showed average speeds of around 12Mbps, so in the ADSL rather than VDSL range. A lot of masts will be needed to sustain decent speeds for the number of properties that are to be covered, unless of course there are very few users….

      This is the third venture by Swindon council into wireless, the last two having failed dismally. As Einstein said, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results!

    3. Mark Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      Relish also has problems with connection stability, most likely for the same reason.

      Mind you a deployment in the dense City of London area is perhaps somewhat more challenging than predominantly tackling rural and a few sub-urban locations around Swindon.

    4. Avatar Matt says:

      Feel sorry for the people in this area if it is anything like the London rollout hopefully with it being rural they can at least get a higher stable speed.

    5. Relish is also serving indoor units, whereas for Swindon it will be outdoor units pointing to the relevant mast.

    6. Avatar TheManStan says:

      Does the MP understand what outdated is?

      4G is a current technology,as Matt says LTE advanced is the cutting edge version, but it is hardly outdated.

      2G is outdated/obsolete and 3G could be classified as obsolecent… but still useful!

    7. Perhaps said MP should look in the mirror for a clue!

  2. But in that case, rolling out FTTC would be outdated too. 🙂

    1. Avatar Matt says:

      Haha I don’t think anyone has ever said apart from Openreach/BT has said that when the FTTC rollout began that it wasn’t a outdated tech.

  3. Avatar Steve Jones says:

    There is only one sense in which health concerns with wireless masts are real, and that’s the psychosomatic one. There have been several studies which have shown that there is no health impact from electro-magnetic waves in this part of the spectrum at the sort of power densities to be expected. Further, it has been unambiguously that so-called electro-sensitives cannot detect if they are being subject to low level wireless signals or not.

    However, it is also clear that some people are adversely affected by the the knowledge that they have a source of EM radiation nearby and that causes stress which really does have physical affects.

    So there is this bizarre phenomena that something which actually causes no direct health issues does have one due to the belief by some people that it actually does.

    Of course, people near radar stations and TV transmitters can be exposed to much higher power densities than any 4G mast is likely to generate.

  4. “So there is this bizarre phenomena…”

    It is the placebo effect 🙂

    1. Avatar Steve Jones says:

      Nope, it’s called the nocebo effect, which is the placebo effect’s malign cousin.

      http://www.smithsonianmag.com/ist/?next=/science-nature/what-is-the-nocebo-effect-5451823/

    2. Whatever, it is hardly bizarre.

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