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Uncertainty Grips Wireless Broadband Project in Swindon AGAIN

Tuesday, February 20th, 2018 (3:39 pm) - Score 1,567
swindon_wireless_mast_ukb_networks

The Swindon Borough Council‘s £1.9m contract with UKB Networks, which has been building an LTE (4G) based Fixed Wireless Access network that can bring “superfast broadband” (24Mbps+) to 19,500 premises (99.4% total coverage), is facing a fresh challenge over changes to its deployment.

The project in North Swindon UK (Superfast Swindon) is a complicated one, not least due to some historic political divisions over the scheme. Until recently most premises in the northern half of the town suffered from a lack of access to superfast broadband, which the council claims is because neither BT (Openreach) nor Virgin Media had been able to make a solid commitment toward extending their local networks (this was several years ago).

Instead the council ended up contracting UKB Networks to build a wireless network (the 19,500 contracted premises passed included 13,000 in outlying rural areas). Meanwhile a number of locals and opposition politicians continued to campaign for “fibre” connectivity and some were even able to disrupt the plans (example) but the build continued.

At around the same time (spring 2016) it emerged that Virgin Media planned to extend their ultrafast broadband network to cover 7,000 premises in the area (here). This was followed just two weeks later by a similar commercial announcement from Openreach, which pledged to reach 6,500 premises with ultrafast FTTP (here) and they’ve separately been piloting G.fast with 19,800 premises in the town (here).

Both ISPs have now completed most or all of their network extensions in the area and as a result the calls to scrap UKBN have been reignited. Last week a meeting of the council’s Scrutiny Committee added fuel to the fire by referring back to cabinet a decision on their UKBN extension programme.

Superfast Broadband Extension Programme

Councillor Toby Elliott, the Cabinet Member for Strategic Planning and Sustainability, and the Corporate Director, Resources and Growth, submitted a joint report informing Cabinet about the work being undertaken to provide superfast broadband to rural parts of the Borough and to update Cabinet on securing ultrafast broadband to support the local economy.

It was noted that the report was a response to Council’s resolution of 13th July 2017, set out in paragraph 3.3 of the report, and also provided an opportunity to report progress towards achieving part of the Council’s Vision, Priorities, and pledges.

Resolved –
(1) That the report and the progress being made towards achieving the Vision Pledge be noted.

(2) That the Corporate Director, Resources and Growth, in consultation with the Cabinet Member for Strategic Planning and Sustainability be authorised to:

a) Facilitate the deployment of the 20th base station to complete the coverage of the 4GLTE network.
b) Issue a letter of variation to BDUK that will encompass the contract change concerning the reduction in the number of base stations to be used in North Swindon and the associated reduction in the value of the contract.

(3) That the Cabinet Member for Strategic Planning and Sustainability be authorised to inform Council about the response to its resolution as soon as is practicable.

The Swindon Advertiser separately clarifies that the cabinet report in question had recommended removing 5 of the 6 base stations in North Swindon, which would leave only one on Cassini Drive (Oakhurst) to provide coverage across the whole area (i.e. a 15m high monopole base station that already has planning permission).

Tom Smith, Labour Council Candidate for Priory Vale, said:

“Having got signatures from Oakhurst residents objecting to this microwave base station in their local area, I am delighted to hear the delay of this scheme due to the scrutiny committee’s decision.

With planning permission for this base station already being granted the only way this can be stopped is if the council scraps the Superfast Broadband scheme in North Swindon. A pole 15 metres high will tower above the Oakhurst skyline and will be a massive eyesore to the area.”

In fairness the pole itself is of a fairly slender design and the council are already in the process of removing several other base stations (as above), although clearly the concerns have not gone away. The deployment may suffer a delay but at the time of writing it appears as if the cabinet will probably approve the new pole, rather than abandon it. Conservative Councillor Toby Elliott said it adds an additional choice for local residents.

At this point it might be helpful to know how many people have actually subscribed to the wireless service in North Swindon, but so far the local authority has not revealed any take-up data.

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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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4 Responses
  1. Avatar Sam

    You can put a 90000 foot pole outside my window if it means I get better signal.

    It a shame people still don’t know what non-ionising radiation is, well it’s either that or rampant nimbyism.

    • Avatar MrWhite

      @Sam – I think the residents are just fed up! Having seen this story over the years, it even started with residents not able to get a basic phone line due to the exchange being oversubscribed. When a new one was finally built, BT put in 20CN equipment. The story has just gone on from there.

  2. Avatar Steve Jones

    I’m not sure what it is about local authorities and their reluctance to give out take-up information with their pet local broadband projects. There was much the same paucity of information regarding the stats of the Aylesbury Vale Broadband FTTH roll-out. In that case, it was for a company almost entirely financed by the local authority yet withheld information due to commercial confidentiality.

  3. Avatar Michael

    This is stupid. They get the chance of LTE speeds and trash all over it. These are the people who will probably complain again when Openreach & Virgin start digging up roads & pavements to install new infrastructure, but yet will continue to complain about having poor speeds.
    I’d fully welcome a cell site in my street for better coverage in my village.

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