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Gov Ponders Broadband Satellites on Churches to Fix UK Rural Coverage

Sunday, January 8th, 2017 (6:07 pm) - Score 1,240

A new report claims that the Government is considering the installation of broadband Satellite dishes on church spires, which could be used to help expand faster broadband connectivity into the most remote rural communities around the United Kingdom.

The idea of using church spires to expand broadband connectivity is nothing new and a number of ISPs, such as WiSpire in Norfolk, have been doing something similar for a fair few years’ by installing discreet WiFi style Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) technology on top of churches.

However most of the ISPs that do this tend to supply the service via either a fixed line link or point-to-point Microwave (Radio) connection, while the Telegraph claims that the Government are pondering the cheaper approach of using a Satellite link (we assume for supplying capacity to a fixed wireless network). But this can result in an inferior service that suffers from restrictive data allowances and very high latency times, which is far from ideal.

On top of that people can already order Satellite broadband connections of their own via a large number of ISPs (here), many of which can now be subsidised by various voucher schemes to help remove the hefty installation / setup cost.

Matt Hancock, UK Digital Minister, said:

“Getting to the hardest to reach places requires an innovative approach and a mix of technologies. We’re working with the church to explore how spires might form part of the mix and I am meeting with bishops later this month to discuss this.”

The newspaper claims that the Church of England has offered use of its 16,000 churches to help the Government deliver on its promise to bring “superfast broadband” (24Mbps+) to 95% of properties by 2017/18, although we already know that the existing contracts should ultimately reach 97% of the country by 2020.

In other words, it’s more likely that the latest discussions are intended to help with the final 3% of UK premises (these are usually disproportionately expensive to upgrade via fixed lines) instead of the next 95% coverage goal or the later 97% aspiration, as those are already being tackled.

Apparently part of the idea is agree a standard contract for the new Satellite based approach and thus Matt Hancock intends to meet with a number of religious figures later this month to discuss the idea.

This is probably just one of a series of options that the Government are considering, which will no doubt play into their tentative plans for a new rural broadband voucher scheme (here) and / or the proposed 10Mbps Universal Service Obligation (details).

BT has previously offered to help deliver most or all of the new USO (here), such as via new fixed line solutions like Long Range VDSL / FTTC. However even BT would struggle to connect those in the final 0.5-1% of UK premises via fixed line solutions and, without more public funding, a Satellite quick-fix would appear to be very likely.

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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.
Leave a Comment
8 Responses
  1. Steve Jones says:

    Would this actually help? It suffers all the issues of latency which plague satellite broadband (at least the geostationary sort – low Earth orbit satellite BB could solve that but as huge cost and complexity). Then the downlink would be shared and it would still hit the line-of-sight issues inherent in wireless BB. At least with individual satellite dishes there is no line of sight issue.

    Using wireless on Church Spires makes sense in some circumstance, but feeding it via satellite surely does not.

  2. Chris says:

    My thoughts are that the Telegraph are dumbing down again, and using terms like satellite dishes when they are actually referring to FWA fed by fibre or similar. Communal satellite connections seem like a terrible idea.

  3. 3G infinity says:

    Agree, difficult to do a USO commitment let alone a guaranteed 24/30Mbps when the satellite bandwidth is shared and the FWA bandwidth is also shared.

    Unless the satellite is using L-Band or C-Band, and typically most don’t then it will also suffer from rain fade.

  4. MikeW says:

    Community satellite was one option in the MTP pilots, but I agree with @chris that it might be just lazy journalism missing out the option of FWA backhaul.

    However, I wonder if it is of much use. Churches are probably found in communities that are large enough to be caught within the 97% targets (the 95% targets likely include clusters of around 40-50 properties), so catching the other 3% may require having LOS to a church spire over 1km away.

    1. Mark Jackson says:

      The Telegraph and other newspapers often get broadband technologies and related policies confused, so that does seem very plausible. Still we can’t completely shun it as the community approach was indeed piloted, although some were far from happy.

      http://www.ispreview.co.uk/index.php/2015/03/somerset-villagers-unhappy-with-government-satellite-broadband-pilot.html

      I also recall how one of the systems that BDUK were looking at was called BATS (Broadband Access via integrated Terrestrial & Satellite systems), which was kind of a hybrid fixed line and Satellite solution (i.e. use the low latency of rural fixed lines and then the speed of Satellite etc.).

      http://www.batsproject.eu

      But this didn’t exactly seem like the cheapest approach and was perhaps a bit too overcomplicated / imperfect (combine two flawed connections to make a slightly better one). Interesting approach though, but not heard anything about it for a year.

    2. Chris says:

      Being one of the Somerset villagers Mark is referring to I was definitely far from happy with the prospect of satellite. It would not meet my needs at all and I am better served with my 3Mbs ADSL. Still there is hope that Voneus will deploy a fiber backhaul, fixed wireless solution in the near future in Priddy. And of course we are in the Gigaclear CD&S catchment area. Can you imagine the disparity – some villages of FTTH & the next village on shared satellite?

      Chris

    3. MikeW says:

      @Mark
      BAT has some interesting project aims – in particular to get over some of the problems (and scepticism) shown by users (where @Chris’ post is probably typical).

      I found a page with documents, which has had some updates in the first half of 2016.
      http://www.batsproject.eu/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=83&Itemid=488

      In particular, document 7.1 shows results of lab and field trials, saying:

      In Germany 75% of the users considered BAT’s quality to be superior to normal DSL connection and also 50% of the users indicated higher QoE with streaming, content rich application and normal web browsing.

      While in Spain 80 – 90% of the users considered BAT’s system to have a higher quality as compared to previous DSL connection.

      Over all in both the field trials users were more satisfied with the quality provided by BAT’s as compared to previous DSL only services.

      It does seem like it needs to get rid of the “overcomplicated” part to move onwards.

  5. Ignition says:

    I really hope this is actually FWA. Redistributing satellite via FWA would be horrible.

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