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Wireless ISP Promises Fibre Broadband for Swindon UK.. Maybe

Friday, November 27th, 2015 (11:30 am) - Score 759

The CMO of UKB Networks, Will Harnden, has moved to reassure North Swindon (Wiltshire, England) locals that their plan to roll-out superfast broadband in the area, using a fixed wireless network, is ultimately just a stepping stone to the deployment of fixed line “fibre” connectivity. Maybe.

The project relates to a new £1.9 million contract that was signed between the Swindon Borough Council, Broadband Delivery UK and UKB Networks earlier this year (here), which aims to deploy a “superfast broadband” (24Mbps+) network to reach 99.4% of local premises by 2016 via a fixed wireless 4G (LTE) platform. It will benefit around 20,000 extra homes that are presently unable to receive superfast speeds.

The setup in Swindon would be similar to the one now being used by London focused ISP Relish, which has incidentally suffered from a lot of connectivity woes (here). The move occurred because BT and Virgin Media allegedly showed no interest in expanding their fixed-line “fibre broadband” (FTTC) service across the rest of the borough (UKBN were the only ones to table a formal bid).

On top of that the deal marked one of the very first Government (BDUK) supported contracts to support a fixed wireless technology. However some local politicians were less than pleased and North Swindon MP, Justin Tomlinson, warned that it was an “outdated and expensive scheme that will simply fail” (here). Needless to say they wanted a fibre based solution, not wireless. Some locals have also raised concerns about the related construction of 16 new masts.

But in a curious twist Will Harnden has now suggested that UKB Networks could eventually install a fibre optic network across their coverage footprint, although he duly added a crucial caveat that this might cost £7.5 million and would only happen once they hit a take-up rate of between 40-50%.

Will Harnden, Chief Marketing Officer of UKB Networks, said (here):

I have a very simple message for the people of North Swindon. I agree that in the long term they will need fibre. Fibre will cost somewhere north of £7.5 million to install so we need the commitment that is a commercial entity and it will also take a lot of time.

My proposal is that we have to first build wireless from Q2 next year and then once we hit a take-up rate of between 40 and 50 per cent it becomes economic to build fibre so we will remove the wireless equipment to replace it with fibre because that is a justifiable business.

That way people will have everything they need rather than having to wait.”

At this point it’s worth noting that UKB Networks are dedicated towards wireless provision and have very little, if any, known experience in delivering fibre optic based broadband connections to domestic properties in the United Kingdom.

In that sense it’s difficult to take Harnden at his word, but time will tell and first they have to make a success of the wireless service. One big advantage of wireless connectivity is of course the fact that they can roll it out very quickly, which means that by the end of 2016 we should be able to get an idea of how fast uptake is progressing.

Otherwise we do recall that the 2013 BDUK Framework did allow for wireless providers to be used, albeit only as an “interim solution chosen where a fibre-based solution is not yet economically viable, and there shall be a commitment to replace non-wired connections with fibre at a later stage” (here). This may give context to Harnden’s comment.

The first properties are likely to benefit during the later stages of H2 2016 and ISPreview.co.uk separately understands that the new network will use 6 channels of 20MHz in the 3480 – 3500, 3580 – 3600 and 3605 – 3689MHz radio spectrum bands.

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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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