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BT to Finish Original Wales Superfast Broadband Roll-out This Week

Monday, June 27th, 2016 (8:49 am) - Score 2,836

The Welsh Government and BT have confirmed that the original Superfast Cymru contract, which is supported by well over £200m of public funding and aims to push “fibre broadband” services out to 96% of the country by spring 2016, should complete by the end of June 2016. But the roll-out will continue.

The contract itself was officially awarded to BT in 2012 and back then the 96% coverage target (this reflects an additional 691,000 premises passed) was discussed as being set for completion by the end of 2015 (here). This was later tweaked to spring 2016 and we note that most of the scheme’s recent PR has tended to prefer the safer “end of 2016” date.

Mind you plenty of other Broadband Delivery UK (note: the first Welsh scheme secured £56,930,000 from BDUK) supported projects have suffered similar shifts to their original timetable, which shouldn’t distract too much from the huge amount of progress still being made.

Joint BT and Welsh Government Statement (BBC):

“The original Superfast Cymru contract target is anticipated to be completed by BT by end of June 2016, followed by robust Welsh Government testing and verification taking it to summer 2016.

We are currently exploring the geographical and technical aspects of extending coverage of superfast broadband to the final few premises in Wales.

This means that every premises in Wales has the ability to request faster broadband, helping make sure that no communities are left behind.”

Regular readers will know that the Superfast Cymru project has historically been very evasive when it comes to confirming what speed those in the 96% area can actually expect to receive, with the project generally preferring to use vague terms like “world class broadband speeds” or “high-speed fibre” instead of clarifying the expected figure (we explored that here). Alternatively they’d sometimes tout the top speed of BT’s dominant FTTC technology (up to 80Mbps), although “up to” covers a very wide performance range (from around 2Mbps to nearly 80Mbps).

Thankfully a Freedom of Information (FoI) request in 2013 resulted in some of the original contract details leaking out, which clarified a set of tiered performance targets for the “intervention area” (i.e. those locations that would be upgraded by the scheme via a mix of public and private funding).

Take note, in the following illustration the term PPIR stands for Premises Peak Information Rate (downstream), while CIR means Committed Information Rate (i.e. the minimum design bandwidth each Premises may receive).

wales superfast broadband commitment

According to independent tracking from Thinkbroadband, some 88% of Wales can now order a 24Mbps+ service and this drops to about 87% for 30Mbps+ speeds. TB’s data does tend to air a bit on the pessimistic side in order to weight in favour of reliability, thus the Welsh Government’s own tally may add around 1-3% to the total and that could deliver 90% coverage of “superfast” speeds at the 24Mbps+ level.

However to reach 96% you’d still have to adopt the raw “fibre broadband” footprint, which includes slower sub-24Mbps areas. In addition, TB notes that the coverage of 100Mbps capable solutions is well below the 40% target and sits at about 29% across the whole of Wales (mostly thanks to Virgin Media’s cable network, with less than 1% coming from BT’s pure fibre optic FTTP).

The Project Continues

It’s interesting to note that the original Superfast Cymru project website, which included lots of useful data and history, has just been deleted and replaced by an incredibly vague batch of pages on the Welsh Government’s own website. We we’ll leave any speculation over this decision to our readers.

The good news is that the Welsh Government has already signed an extension contract, which aims to push the coverage of faster broadband services (they still haven’t clarified a target speed) to a further 42,000 premises in Wales by June 2017 (here). Mind you, some reports have indicated that this might not complete until around October 2017 (here).

Wales is of course home to large swathes of rural landscape, where communities can be both small and sparse. As such the country presents a significant technical and economic challenge for operators like BT, which is not unlike the situation in parts of Scotland. As such it’s important to recognise that the roll-out pace will slow and become a little harder to predict.

As part of that deal BT are also expected to ramp up their 330Mbps capable FTTP broadband deployments in Wales. But we suspect that BT may also be quietly thankful of the fact that Virgin Media are separately helping via the on-going extension of their 300Mbps capable cable (DOCSIS) network.

Meanwhile the Welsh Government are preparing for further contracts in the future, which should benefit from a clawback linked reinvestment (i.e. public funding that gets returned due to strong take-up in the intervention area) and the possibility of some saving coming back from BT, which will all go back into the scheme.

Leave a Comment
2 Responses
  1. Avatar Ken says:

    BT never fills there agreement 40%infill with 100mbps or faster yes they gave the option for FTTPOD but we can’t order it!!!!

    1. Avatar gerarda says:

      if the 40% is supposed to be in the intervention area I suspect the target has been missed by 39% points as little or none of the Virgin coverage will be in that area.

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