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UPDATE Shropshire Pick Wireless ISP to Extend 30Mbps Rural Broadband

Monday, July 10th, 2017 (10:01 am) - Score 854

A further 14,000+ premises in the county of Shropshire (England) look set to gain access to a “superfast broadband” (30Mbps+) connection over the next 3 years after the local authority selected fixed wireless ISP Airband to deliver the extra coverage under a new £11.2m contract.

So far the West Midlands county of Shropshire, which is a very challenging rural region (i.e. difficult / expensive to upgrade with new infrastructure), has struggled to deliver on the promise of its original Broadband Delivery UK contracts (Phase 1 and Phase 2a) with Openreach (BT); otherwise known as the Connecting Shropshire project.

Under Phase 1 an additional 59,000 homes and businesses were supposed to gain access to an FTTC/P based “fibre broadband” service by the end of winter 2016 (i.e. 93% “fibre” coverage, with 87% within reach of “superfast” 24Mbps+ speeds). So far 61,453 premises have been completed, although local “fibre” coverage stands at about 90% (80% for 24Mbps+ coverage), with the project’s March 2017 newsletter confirming that Phase 1 has completed (here).

On top of that a smaller £5.6m extension contract (Phase 2a) was signed with BT in June 2015 (£4.7m from BDUK and £900,000 from BT), which aims to add another 4,000 premises to the total by winter 2017 and should help to push “fibre broadband” coverage up a little bit. Take note that this excludes any work conducted under the separate Superfast Telford contract.

Since last year the local authority has also been working on a Phase 2b contract (here), which adopts the 30Mbps+ definition for “superfast broadband” and set aside £11.7 million of public funding from Broadband Delivery UK programme and Marches Local Enterprise Partnership. NOTE: This excludes the £2.2m from Phase 1 that will be returned by BT due to high take-up (clawback), which is said to have been “ring-fenced” for future broadband investment.

Back in April 2017 we heard that the Phase 2b contract had finally been awarded, which we were told would benefit an additional 16,000+ premises (i.e. 13,259 premises in the east of the county and 2,756 in the west). Unfortunately the council has since adopted a wall of silence and until today we didn’t know who had actually won.

The good news is that Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) provider Airband has won the contract, which will aim to reach “over 14,000 homes and businesses in the Shropshire Council area over the next three years” (i.e. by mid-2020).

Nic Laurens, Shropshire Council’s Cabinet Member for Broadband, said:

“I am delighted that we have secured a technology partner that can deliver superfast broadband to some of the most rural parts of the county. When this contract is completed, we expect 98% of premises in the council area to have access to superfast broadband. This means that even more people living, working and visiting Shropshire will be able to benefit from access to faster Internet connection speeds, enhancing their quality of life.

The Connecting Shropshire programme runs until 2020 and will continue to work towards providing superfast broadband to all premises without access to it, and we remain confident in being able to achieve this aspiration.”

Redmond Peel, Managing Director of Airband, added:

“We are delighted to have won the contract to deploy our fixed wireless network in Shropshire. Knowing how essential high-speed broadband is, we are looking forward to working with local residents and businesses to provide fast and reliable Internet connections.

Our experience of building masts to deploy wireless broadband services in the Midlands, Wales, Dartmoor and Exmoor has given us extensive insight into dealing with the geographical challenges that we will come across in Shropshire. Our solution uses state-of-the-art radio technology, ensuring high-speed connections where fibre broadband is not available.

Using wireless overcomes many of the speed and reliability issues that are experienced with long copper cable lengths, meaning that many who have long suffered from poor broadband due to their locality will soon be able to access speeds comparable to those of their urban counterparts.”

Regular readers will no doubt note that Airband also holds a similar state aid supported contract for the joint Devon and Somerset project (here), although hopefully their roll-out in Shropshire won’t suffer from the same delays as their deployment in the Dartmoor and Exmoor National Parks. Clearly the council, which took a fair bit of time to do some extra checking on Airband before making today’s announcement, felt as if they were able to do the job.

In terms of funding, it’s noted that today’s contract has a value of £11.2m, which is less than the allocated £11.7m of public funding. Sadly the announcement makes no mention of what will happen to the missing £500,000 or whether any private investment was contributed (we are checking to find out more info. on coverage and funding).

UPDATE 11th July 2017

According to Airband, once the contract has completed it is expected that 98% of premises in the Council area will have access to superfast broadband. The ISP also informed ISPreview.co.uk of the exact funding split, which is as follows:

Airband – £1.4m
Shropshire Council – £2.24m
BDUK – £5.29m
Marches LEP – £2.27m

Leave a Comment
16 Responses
  1. Avatar NGA for all says:

    Is it reasonable to interpret that Airband will assume the B-USO for these post codes, while BT returns the associated proportion of clawback from the £446m and any increments to it?

    1. Mark Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      As the article above states, BT’s clawback is supposed to have been “ring fenced” for another (separate) broadband contract / project.

    2. Avatar NGA for all says:

      I doubt the finances will be made clear or BT’s obligtaions to support fibre extensions, but does this mean Airband will be a B-USO provider? I guess Shropshire will default to saying this is an Ofcom issue!

    3. Mark Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      The Government has yet to set out their final decisions on the USO (expected imminently), so for now there’s no solid answer for how the balance would be achieved.

    4. Avatar NGA for all says:

      Your suggesting the procurement is a dumbed down process. If your Airband now I assume you want ‘need’ B-USO provider status for these postcodes, if not you will be overbuilt by another form of subsidised provider, possibly with the Capital Deferral which does not look to have been fully considered.

    5. Mark Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      One of the problems highlighted by Ofcom during the USO consultation process was that no smaller ISPs wanted to take on the legal and financial responsibility of supplying it.

      Ofcom notes that “no mobile or fixed wireless providers have come forward for designation as a USP to date” and “there is unlikely to be competition to deliver a broadband USO across the whole of the UK”.

      http://www.ispreview.co.uk/index.php/2016/12/ofcom-reveals-options-uk-10mbps-broadband-uso.html

      But let’s stop taking this off-topic until we know what solution the Government have actually developed. Remember also that the USO will only mandate 10Mbps+, while the above contract is aiming for 30Mbps+.

  2. Avatar MikeW says:

    If CDS had to wait 6 months for central BDUK to check Airband’s credentials for their Lot-4 win (even though their Exmoor/Dartmoor bid was rolling out), I’d guess that Shropshire’s pause was for similar reasons.

    1. Avatar NGA for all says:

      The bit I am failing to understand is this. BT owe £446m and this will increase. Shropshire IA is 137,000 or 3% of a 4.5m national intervention area. 3% of £446m means BT indicatively owes Shropshire £13m.
      Clearly only a proportion of the Capital Deferral is being considered in these bids. This is odd if it is depriving rural UK of a deeper fibre roll out.
      ..and what of the fibre extension activity BT is providing elsewhere.
      Congrats to Airband but the question remains.

    2. Avatar TheFacts says:

      @NGA – please remind us where £446m and 4.5m come from with actual links.

    3. Avatar TheManStan says:

      @NGA

      More mickey mouse financials and lack of effort to research… each region had matched funding based on what they were prepared to commit. So taking all the deferred funds from all the regions and trying to interpolate is worthless, as funding commitment varied quite a bit.

      Of course you could have taken a moment to look at the connecting Shropshire website and see what they expect, which is £2.2M in clawback, so only a mere £10M off…

      http://connectingshropshire.co.uk/blog/

    4. Avatar NGA for all says:

      @FACTS – £446m go to capital section of BT’d latest notes from their end of year results. £121m was added to the Capital Deferral in the last quarter.
      4.5m – check the BDUK latest superfast passed no.

    5. Avatar NGA for all says:

      @TheMANStan SCC number is a function of the £129m – perhaps using a smaller Phase1 for SCC, so they do align and there is a large amount of money not re-being replanned.

    6. Avatar MikeW says:

      @NGA

      It kinda feels inappropriate for you to jump in here, on an article about Airband’s contract win, and moan about BT’s funding.

      BTW: I like the approach of dividing a county’s targeted premises by the total BDUK target. That’s a reasonable statistical approach.

      However, it is wrong to use Shropshire’s complete IA size related to BDUK’s 4.5m target.

      BDUK had a phase 1 “passed” target of 4.1m, and a phase 1+2 “passed” target of 5.3m

      Better to use Shropshire’s “passed” total compared to BDUK’s “passed total. Phase 1 calculation would be 59,000 in Shropshire, 4.1m in UK: about 1.4%.
      I don’t have phase 2 to hand.

      But still, this article isn’t the place.

    7. Avatar NGA for all says:

      MikeW These 14,000 premises are scattered throughout most of the county and include premises attached to BT commercial and subsidised cabs but too far away to reach the speed threshold.
      This is very challenging for Airband so it would be interesting if the contract has some demand aggregation triggers before additional masts are built.
      It looks a little bizarre and sub-optimal in so far as funds intended to extend fibre (£446m BT accrual and any capital owed) did not seem fully available to be used in the procurement to extend fibre as deep as possible into rural, the original objective.
      We can salute Airband endeavours and success but that should not prevent highlighting that for these 14,000 customers, their connectivity options will be different to others.

  3. Avatar adslmax Real says:

    Wireless is useless cos of dangerous public WiFi

  4. Avatar Mike says:

    We have created a map so you can see Airbands current planning applications – http://j.mp/2gu1t09 with links to the planning details

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