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BT Claim Broadband Investment to Boost Northern Ireland by £1.2bn

Monday, June 4th, 2018 (11:26 am) - Score 999
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A new “independent” DotEcon study, which was commissioned by BT, has predicted that last year’s agreement to invest an additional £150m of state aid into improving the availability of “ultrafast broadband” (100Mbps+) across Northern Ireland could result in economic, social and environmental benefits worth £1.2bn.

Back in 2017 the Conservative UK government agreed to hand £75m per year (over two years) to “help provide ultra-fast broadband” (100Mbps+) across Northern Ireland, which formed part of a political deal with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) in order to secure the support of their 10 MPs.

Progress has been slow since last year, which is partly due to the on-going political deadlock, but N.Ireland’s Department for the Economy (DfE) are at least preparing to start a new consultation on the investment (here). Naturally BT will be keen to grab a slice of the action and so it doesn’t hurt to be associated with another optimistic economic forecast.

The report itself claims to assess the potential benefits that could result from an “investment focused in rural areas” and estimates that, for every £1 invested, there would be a benefit of around £8 to the local economy over 15 years. Key beneficiaries would be the disadvantaged Fermanagh and Omagh District and Mid-Ulster District Council areas.

Apparently increased employment would be the “largest source of benefit“, amounting to £890 million by 2033 (roughly £6 for every £1 invested).

Mairead Meyer, MD of BT’s N.Ireland Networks, said:

“We welcome the proposed investment and expansion of fibre broadband across Northern Ireland.

We await the publication of government plans for the proposed investment and acknowledge that, once they are announced, there will be a public and competitive procurement process. However, we wanted to investigate and share the economic impact such an investment would have, particularly within challenging, harder to reach rural areas across Northern Ireland.

This report highlights the huge potential of an expansion of ultrafast fibre broadband in rural areas and how it could open a wealth of opportunities, futureproofing our infrastructure and enabling Northern Ireland to compete alongside the best fibre networks in Europe.”

As it stands N.I already has universal coverage of so-called “fibre broadband” based networks (mostly FTTC with some FTTP or Cable DOCSIS) but only around 86% of premises can actually access “superfast broadband” speeds of 24Mbps+ via those. This drops to a little over 30% for those within reach of an “ultrafast” connection and at present the latter is mostly thanks to Virgin Media.

However we do have a few bones to pick with the report, such as the fact that on page 4 and 9 it appears to confuse the definitions of “superfast broadband” (usually either 24Mbps+ or 30Mbps+) with “ultrafast broadband” (100Mbps+).

BT’s Roll-out Plan for the Investment

BT is supportive of the proposed investment in ultrafast broadband, outlined under the DUP and Conservative Confidence & Supply Arrangement, which will see £150m of public funds allocated to a public procurement. This would extend the availability of ultrafast broadband with at least 30Mb/s download speed to about 140,000 additional households and business premises in rural areas of Northern Ireland.

BT’s roll out plans for the investment would see approximately 140,000 additional households and business premises provided with ultrafast broadband with download speeds of at least 30 Mb/s. The roll-out is phased but would be largely complete by 2021.

We estimate that roughly 6,900 business premises would benefit. Given the rural focus, we can expect these to mainly be small and micro businesses, plus some agriculture.

Later on the report then switches back to the normal definition and states, “We expect speeds in the order of 100Mb/s to be offered, with future upgrade paths to higher speeds being enabled.” We’re confused but the “target speed for each of the premises” does still seem to be 100Mbps+, despite the awkward language.

Another oddity is that the report title (‘Deployment of FTTP in rural Northern Ireland‘) clearly mentions “full fibreFTTP broadband technology, although the entire rest of the report is more neutral in its language and only ever seems to use the now generic word “fibre” to describe its plan (this could conceivably also include hybrid fibre G.fast in some areas).

The figure of 140,000 is also interesting because BT has separately already begun to invest a further £20m across N.I in order to expand their coverage of “ultrafast broadband” services to a further 140k homes and businesses by March 2019 (here); reflecting 25% of the country, albeit mostly in urban rather than rural areas.

As we always say, it’s wise to take such predictions with a pinch of salt as gauging the economic impact of faster broadband connectivity is notoriously difficult.

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Mark Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he is also the founder of ISPreview since 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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20 Responses
  1. Davy

    My parents live in the Mid Ulster area and are currently sitting on around 2mbps. They did have a new cabinet installed 3 miles away, which was right in the middle of houses that were already getting superfast broadband from a cabinet half a mile away. So the planning of these cabinets haven’t been thought through as moving the cabinet about a mile further towards my parents area would have added around 60-80 houses into the 10mbps+ bracket.

    I spoke to the person in charge of broadband development for Mid Ulster and he said BT doesn’t want to work with the local councils or tells them where next for upgrades. So I find it funny how BT are creating a report like this. The council was even willing to pay for to get rural homes upgraded but BT apparently wouldn’t give them a figure about how much it would cost.

    On the flip side I live in the surrounding areas of Belfast and contractors have just laid fibre for FTTP, which should be live in the coming months. However the November 2017 news story that said they would publish all details of rollouts on the nibroadband.com website as usual never happened. So it shows that some of BT’s promises are moving forward, however slowly.

    • Gadget

      Houses can only be served from a single cabinet, so in your parents case a) they were on a different cabinet and b) the fibre electronics cabinet can only be a maximum of around 50m (from memory) from the copper cabinet it serves. Adding an extra cabinet is very costly especially if it would only serve 60-80 extra premises which is why it probably was not done either as part of the commercial rollout, or any BDUK one.
      As part of the State aided deployment the onus is absolutely on the authority to undertake an Open Market review before letting any more contracts, and as the issuer of the BDUK contract it is for them to ask for additional premises to be covered and not for BT to tell them.

    • NGA for all

      Gadget – BT has invested very little in Northern Ireland, relying on £66m in public subsidies to fund more than 2/3 of all cabinets deployed and all the FTTP in rural so far. This £150m could deliver all FTTP to all the rural notspots.

      The notion that it is up to someone else to tell BT how it is to deliver Broadband is a bit strange given the potential to kick start an all province fibre access network. This is an amazing opportunity for BT NI to show how this could be used to meet the 2033 all fibre ambition, and use it as template for the rest of UK.

    • Gadget

      NGA – I think we’ve been through this many times.

      There is a contract let by NI authorities for a specific sum for a specific number of premises AFAIK.

      These premises have to be white from the Authority OMR and specified by the authority.

      Without agreement and contractual amendment BT has no authority to spend under the contract to build where it pleases. There are many instances where additional build has been agreed with the local authority, but where it has not there is no contractual authority from the authority to BT to spend more.

    • Davy

      Gadget: Yea I understood the 50m from a cooper cabinet as well. But there is no cooper cabinet near this new fibre one. Which is a bit confusing. There is a cooper cabinet closer to the bypass road but thats nearly half a mile away from the cabinet that my parents are connected to according to Magenta system website. The new cabinet installed only serves around 120 houses anyway, this is a very rural area.

      The nearest neighbour to my parents is 0.3 miles away and they seem to be the last one on their road to be able to get FTTC however at 9mbps. So just bad luck for my parents.

      Just correction to my original post should of said 3km my parents are from the cabinet not 3 miles.

      The £150m from the DUP/Tories deal has been reported over here to be aimed at these areas. So will wait and see, problem is no government here!

    • Gadget

      Davy, there is something known as an AIO (or All-in-One) which is a copper and fibre cabinet combined, which may explain the single cabinet. This would have been added to provide service to a reasonable sized cluster of premises that were unable to be reached when the original copper cabinet was given its fibre twin. Where it would get complicated (ie expensive)is if there were multiple copper cables going from the original copper cabinet, each serving a small number of premises, as the AIO gets “inserted” into a feed from the original, so if you imagine a radiating “star” from your original cabinet each serving a small number of premises and each with its own cable that would require multiple AIOs or a massive re-orgainsation of the cabling – what seems likely is that there a a reasonable cluster of premises out of reach from the original, but enough on the cable to justify the smaller AIO.

    • NGA for all

      Gadget, The remaining NI rural premises have all appeared in previous procurement rounds, only excluded because BT Commercial investment was reduced and replaced by subsidy. Such behaviour has contributed to the further separation of Openreach.

      The question only changes to reflect what BT failed to do last time out. The answer, more fibre is always the same. Given the opportunity exists to begin a transition plan to all fibre for the province the current approach, where public officials become hostages within a commercial confidentiality agreement and there is zero reporting on BT’s capital contributions and their timings suggests BT customers and shareholders will continue to suffer.

  2. Lyncol

    For fixed lines what does the future really hold ….?

    G.fast will only make the fast go faster!

    BT Ireland can push more VDSL cabinets into rural areas but we still

    end up with more VDSL customers on long lines with below 24Mb/s service.

    So…… Is this as good as it’s going to get for these people as L/R VDSL appears to be a lost cause.

    • Andrew Ferguson

      It is not fast to do, and the dispersed nature of many parts of Northern Ireland mean its going to be slow, but FTTP is appearing in increasing amounts.

  3. Robert

    Still on 2Mbps here in Co. Down, no sign of any upgrade in sight as OR just tell me to sign up to the Community Fibre Partnership and pay for it myself, that was last week.
    They installed two new fibre cabinets 1km away from me and within 600m of each other but unfortunately the pole runs end 450m short of me so I am connected to the cabinet 3km away.

    • Stuart

      Robert, I live in rural Mid Ulster and until recently my maximum speed was around 1.6Mbps (3km or so from the nearest cabinet) shared between a family of 6!!! I ended up having to supplement it with a second line and several 3G/4G MIFI devices.

      Last December a BT engineer called round out of the blue to inform us that our area was in line for FTTP. Until then I wan’t expecting anything to happen for years.

      My 330/30 Mbps connection went live on 9th May but to speed things up on my side I had already installed 250m of underground duct which BT supplied free of charge.

      The internet just works now…fast…all the time…for all users.

      Hopefully my experience gives you some hope.

    • NGA for all

      Stuart, Congrats, could you provide a postcode. If we can unpick the BT decision making process, BT’s planning rules, others can benefit. The more transparency on the budgets the more FTTP can be delivered in rural. There are some great examples emerging but it is difficult to see a pattern in BT’s planning. Fibre extensions beyond the cabinet should be the norm by now, but there is still only selective examples.

    • Stuart

      I’m in the BT45 8 postcode area.

      Like I said, I wasn’t expecting FTTP to come to my area for another few years.

      Coincidently, BT contractors are working in my area this week and have dug a trench up the road. The mix of fibre on the poles and underground was installed in my area in March but they literally stopped at the end of my lane.

      So they are either extending the network to the other houses on my road or just connecting up a neighbour via ducting to one of the poles. Hopefully the former.

    • NGA for all

      Stuart, thank you. I will try and locate handover point and cabinet and the these connectors – a good case. Indeed, budgets nationally were set to support 12% FTTP in the intervention area, to allow for the distance limitations of the copper reliant solution. There should be a whole lot more if the gaming of costs and mis-use of commercial confidentiality continue to be tackled. You track this £150m through NI MPs at the EFRA select committee last year (March 2017) trying to discover how the BT monies would get distributed back to rural. A lot of good cross party work by Mid-Ulster and Fermanagh/Omagh councillors has allowed some pressure to be maintained, at a time Stormont appeared to lose interest. They deserve some praise.

    • NGA for all

      Stuart, Are you close to Bellaghy or an FTTP cluster being built adjacent to the A6? Businesses in Magherafelt Town Centre were struggling with the upload limits of FTTC and could not get BT/DfE to move, so it good that near Magherafelt is now seeing some FTTP. I think the businesses in the Town Centre were being offered private circuits. More to do on establishing the right to order service from subsidised infrastructure.

    • Stuart

      I’m between Magherafelt and Toome. I also heard the Creagh area where there are a lot of manufacturing businesses was to be FTTP enabled but not 100% sure of that. It would make a lot of sense if it was.

    • NGA for all

      Stuart, thanks, were your able to order a service off a cabinet adjacent to Hillhead road? Cab 1 off Castledawson exchange? FTTP at Creagh Industrial Park would also be a new precedent. No FTTP references on CodeLook database, but there is often a lag. It is all possible, the money is there, just a matter of BT being held to account.

    • Stuart

      I thought FTTP didn’t use cabinets? If it does then I’m cabinet 5 I believe though a BT engineer told be that all the cabinets in this area were pretty much saturated.

    • NGA for all

      Stuart – FTTP does not use cabinets, but the fibre path established to create FTTP can share duct, over head where used, will use the same handover point, aggregation node, and could if BT choose even use the spare fibre than connected the nearest cabinet. BT wholesale have a line checker and it should inform you of options and estimated service levels.

  4. Robert

    Stuart, funny you should say that but the last time an engineer came out to repair the line, happens about four or five times a year, he said the only way I could get upgraded was FTTP.

    I am also using 4G, getting 100Mps down and 30Mbps up but limited to 100GB/mnth
    If Three offered the same package as they do down south, Unlimted 4G for €30/mnth , I would be sorted.

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