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No Solution Yet for Gigaclear’s FTTP Rollout in Devon and Somerset

Saturday, November 10th, 2018 (11:31 am) - Score 3,396
gigaclear fibre optic trench digging

The Connecting Devon and Somerset (CDS) project and UK ISP Gigaclear have issued a new joint statement, which states that the provider has yet to “demonstrate a credible approach” for each area in their revised roll-out plan. As a result their state aid supported deployment of 1Gbps FTTP broadband remains on hold.

At present the CDS project is working with Openreach (BT), Gigaclear and wireless ISP Airband to extend the reach of “superfast broadband” (30Mbps+) connectivity the two rural counties and overall they aimed to cover 96% of premises by 2020 (currently around 86%). A mix of FTTC, FTTPfull fibre” and wireless based broadband technologies are being used (see here and here).

Unfortunately it was last month revealed (here) that Gigaclear’s part of this project (i.e. a roll-out of “full fibre” to cover nearly 50,000 premises) had fallen “significantly behind schedule” (around 2 years by the looks of it) due to “fundamental issues … including management of subcontractors, build methodology and capacity within the team.” In response the ISP promised to produce a new roll-out plan and to resolve the problems.

Reasons for the Delays (CDS)

There are five main reasons for Gigaclear’s delayed roll-out in the CDS programme, exposed by the collapse of Carillion telent:

• Poor operational capacity and decision-making within Gigaclear.
• Lack of contractor capacity
• Slow deployment by contractors.
• Lack of detailed planning.
• Failure to redesign the build methodology.

One month has now passed and the CDS team recently received a copy of the provider’s new plan, but they are far from satisfied. According to the latest statement from CDS, Gigaclear has “not yet provided enough detail and clarity for each Lot area to demonstrate a credible approach” and they are thus continuing to “withhold payment” (i.e. the ISP remains on notice of default while more work is undertaken to fully develop a final plan).

We’ve posted a summary of the latest statement below, which focuses upon on what has happened since the announcement of a significant delay and what needs to happen next in order for the project to continue.

CDS & Gigaclear Statement (Extract)

On October 31st Gigaclear presented CDS officers and BDUK with a broad plan on how the company can address its shortcomings and provide a firm completion date for 100% coverage against its contract.

Gigaclear advanced the view that progress is being made in addressing the need for improved capacity and resources. The company proposed a new build methodology that it believes will provide a robust plan whilst reducing traffic disruption to Devon and Somerset communities.

In broad terms, and based on the above, Gigaclear has proposed the following:

• A commitment to continuing its investment of £127.8 million in the CDS region. This comprises £60.5 million in the CDS contracts and £67.3 million in the company’s commercial build. NB The total public subsidy is £31 million of which only £537,200 has been paid to Gigaclear to date.

• It will continue to provide full fibre-to-the-premise technology.

• There will be no reduction in the broadband speed made available to homes and businesses. Gigaclear is contracted to deliver superfast broadband of at least 30mbps download. The company says its service can deliver symmetrical ultrafast speeds up to 900mbps.

• It will continue to deliver the full coverage agreed in the contracts with CDS. That is 47,810 homes and businesses across the region. • There will be no reduction in the company’s commercially-funded network. That is around 43,000 homes and businesses in the region.

• The proposed build methodology is based on “a spine and spurs” approach that will reduce disruption to communities and deliver superfast broadband access to between 40% and 50% of the CDS contracted premises by June 2020 with the remaining coverage completed by June 2022.

However, the company has not yet provided enough detail and clarity for each Lot area to demonstrate a credible approach is in place. Whilst coverage and a full fibre solution remain firm commitments, the proposal indicates significant delays will be felt across the CDS region.

CDS therefore continues to withhold payment to Gigaclear and the company remains on notice of default while more work is undertaken to fully develop a final set of plans. Gigaclear and CDS are maintaining a dialogue and are committed to work as quickly as possible to get the best outcome for residents and businesses.

A key issue to address will be whether the Government and other partners are willing to extend the time in which their funding can be used to subsidise the current contracts with Gigaclear. Currently, Government funding must be spent by March 2020. If the deadline cannot be extended it is unlikely the current contracts with Gigaclear will continue.

CDS is continuing to explore with BDUK the potential for finding a solution to this issue. Similar discussions may also be required with the Heart of the South West LEP, which is being kept informed of developments, and other funders.

In the meantime, CDS and Gigaclear will continue to meet in an effort to make progress on the required level of detail and clarity for each Lot area. When this work is completed CDS and BDUK will need to consider the remedial plans in detail.

Separately CDS said they were also working with Openreach (BT) to extend superfast broadband coverage to those areas not included within current publicly-subsidised or commercially-funded roll-out plans. “This extension of broadband coverage will be financed by a £4.7m investment, the first of a series of repayments from BT [phase 1 clawback / gainshare],” said the CDS team.

Apparently the plan for Openreach’s extension will be announced sometime in the New Year and options are also being considered to increase the level of funding, which could support an even larger extension. Meanwhile Gigaclear said they would focus on “making good its current commitments to CDS before bidding for further new BDUK contract areas, though the company and its backers reserve the right to do so” (this might rule them out of the Scotland R100 contract).

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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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38 Responses
  1. Avatar John Doe

    By awarding the bulk of this contract to Carillon Telent (now Telent) GC has shot themselves in the foot.
    Telent is the most incompetent company out there.

  2. Avatar CarlT

    Thought only altnets were capable of handling builds like this one? Looks like these guys are struggling.

  3. Avatar AnotherTim

    That is disappointing. Not just for people in the CDS area awaiting decent broadband, but also in the other Gigaclear areas facing substantial delays. Gigaclear are due to produce a new plan in the Fastershire area by the end of November – if they haven’t been able to produce a credible plan for CDS there seems little hope of one in the Fastershire area.
    In fact Gigaclear have removed the rollout plan for Fastershire from their website altogether, and it is now just a link to the Fastershire website. At least the CDS rollout is still there, albeit with TBC for a lot of the dates.

  4. Avatar Fastman

    this is not a good — The total public subsidy is £31 million of which only £537,200 has been paid to Gigaclear to date.

    • Avatar CarlT

      This isn’t good.

      ‘A key issue to address will be whether the Government and other partners are willing to extend the time in which their funding can be used to subsidise the current contracts with Gigaclear. Currently, Government funding must be spent by March 2020. If the deadline cannot be extended it is unlikely the current contracts with Gigaclear will continue.’

      There’s a non-trivial chance people in this intervention area end up with nothing until another contract has been signed with another supplier and they have had the opportunity to build.

    • Avatar AnotherTim

      The March 2020 deadline is quite important – quite a few of the planned rollout areas had completion dates well after that. As BDUK doesn’t pay out until people are connected, I think the whole project in several areas is looking very dubious. I know Gigaclear have been successful in some areas, but in two years they have made no progress at all in Fastershire area 3c, and the most recent (now abandoned) plans wouldn’t have seen some areas completed until 2022. I can’t see how they can recover from that and get it all done in 18 months from now. Especially when they are behind in other BDUK areas too, so they haven’t got any spare capacity that they can move to focus on one area.

  5. Avatar FibreBubble

    Badly installed and burning money.

    • Avatar CarlT

      Seemed to be under the impression they were a B4RN and could avoid hard digs way more than they actually could. To have assumed there was verge available and not to have checked is inexcusable.

  6. Avatar Fastman

    they micro trench as well not easy once you get into the rural , these BDUk contracts are not simple and the milestones are relentless, once you start missing them and not getting paid for what your supposed to have done its like pushing a snowball up a hill while its still snowing a blizzard the snowball gets bigger, the build gets slower and eventually gravity takes over. this one going to run and run and run for a number of months yet

    • Avatar CarlT

      Microtrenching seems to be working well in various places around the world, including here in the UK.

      Any particular reason Openreach don’t use it other than momentum? A bunch of incumbents seem to be happily deploying it though of course it does mean no copper which might be a problem.

    • Avatar Joe

      OR do seem to be very slow to change to new techniques…(I guess the retraining must be an issue)

  7. Avatar A_Builder

    @CarlT

    Micro trenching is quite a broad terms. If you are using a Ditch-Witch the trench width depends on the width of the fitting you put on it the back of it.

    To a certain extent the excavation width is predicated by the depth and stability of the materials you are digging through. If it is very stable you can go very narrow as the amount of manual clean out is minimal. If the ground is gravels and sands then you need a wider trench as it will tend to collapse inwards, the sides may need to be battered (angled for stability) and you will almost certainly need bloke with shovel to tidy things up.

    There is a version of a similar machine that allows the use of two angled cutters to produce battered trenches in one pass.

    Digging trenches through varying ground conditions is not easy stuff. What works in field A won’t work in field B. So kit and strategy needs to change and that needs experienced people who can and are allowed to think on their feet on the ground.

    @Fastman

    BT/OR’s antics caused the BDUK contracts to be the way that they are. And they have got progressively tighter and more restrictive to prevent certain behaviours……

    But at the end of it all it is not good news that there is a hard deadline for money to be claimed for stuff done and it doesn’t really look too doable. These are the problems of a rapidly expanding market and trying to scale up a cottage industry and localised series of templates to generality.

    Before we get too BT orientated here the BT/OR rollout was previously pretty cottage industry scale based. Hence why some of the build costs didn’t really make too much sense.

    Very experienced people can go in look at a project, sniff the air, and come up with remarkably accurate estimates of costs and time. Personally I will go and look at a new project and look round it kick the tyres look at the access and spend a few hours driving the locality to get a feel for it. Then write my view of costs down in my log book. Then we get the team to cost it properly. And after that compare the two sets of numbers.

    If my numbers are miles out then I know there is a problem.

    The problem is when you don’t have a template driven system and you try and recruit mid level people to ‘sniff the air’ you then end up with disastrous nonsense for plans and costs.

    Prices that are ‘too good to be true’ are as dangerous as ‘sky high’ prices and in both case the one thing you are certain of Is that the proposer hasn’t good a clue.

    • Avatar Fastman

      abuilders

      the framework was eonorous and deliberately so as a most government specs I read and been involved in in during my working life

      think you better define what you “Quote as Antics”

    • Avatar John Doe

      Narrow trenching has not been approved by the Devon and Somerset councils. Every carriageway is cut at 150mm width or more. Devon and Somerset councils are very stubborn, that’s why this takes so long.

    • Avatar Graham Long

      @JohnDoe Not only are the County Councils not providing blanket approval for the use of narrow trenching (which allows Gigaclear to lay cable 5 times faster than with conventional methods), but also Land Agents in Devon & Somerset have been advertising in local newspapers this summer asking landowners to contact them if they are approached by Gigaclear for a wayleave, on the pretence that they can negotiate more compensation (and their fee of course) from Gigaclear. The Scottish government are planning to revise the 1991 Roads and Streetworks Act to set standards for narrow trenching and encourage it’s use for the R100 programme as reported by ISPreview. It’s a pity DCMS/BDUK and the UK Government did not think of doing this before putting the Phase 2 programme in place with the correctly stated preference for future proof fibre. See https://www.ispreview.co.uk/index.php/2018/10/scotland-seek-narrow-trenching-standard-for-broadband-rollout.html

    • Avatar Highwayman Rob

      @GrahamLong

      Where in the SROH regulations is Narrow Trenching permitted? I cant believe that Gigaclear would plan to use unapproved methods without gaining prior consent?

      As for Wayleaves – I wonder if these land agents are responding to justified concerns – who is the ISP in this article I wonder? Is it Gigaclear?

      https://www.ispreview.co.uk/index.php/2018/10/uk-digital-minister-rages-against-telcos-over-ultra-cheap-wayleaves.html

  8. Avatar Bill

    Does anyone understand how this will affect the Universal Service Obligation? I thought you could request a faster broadband connection if you didn’t get 10Mb from some point in 2020, but if Gigaclears contract here in somerset isn’t going to be completed until 2022, what happens in between? Who is going to provide the connection? Thanks

    • At present if an area is still due to get FTTP via Gigaclear’s forthcoming plan then the USO would most likely NOT be available to that area, which is necessary in order to minimise the risk of overbuild, market distortion and the cost to industry.

    • Avatar Bill

      Thank you for your reply Mark but that is where I am confused. Ofcom say that:

      ” premises will not be eligible for a USO connection if they are included in a publicly funded broadband rollout plan within the next 12 months”

      But also say:

      “the maximum time that consumers should have to wait to receive a connection is one year from the request date. However, a shorter timeframe would be preferable if it does not result in disproportionate costs being incurred.”

      So if the USO comes into force in April 2020(?), but Gigaclear are not due to build until 2022 that is more than 12 months? Which is why I am confused!

    • Avatar AnotherTim

      “Does anyone understand how this will affect the Universal Service Obligation?”

      I think the short answer is no. Although I think Mark is correct in saying being in a “plan” will block any other form of help with broadband. Being in a plan has certainly blocked any help in my area, even though being in a plan for 5 years now has produced no other effect.

    • Ah I see what you mean and yes there does appear to be some room for conflict on that point. IMO 12 months is too short but if we read the rules as stated than you might be able to request a USO, but if you’re in a plan then it would still seem unlikely.

    • Avatar Bill

      I guess its just a wait and see! Having read some more its not clear who is going to provide the USO yet or using what kind of tech. Does strike me that these kind of delays are not compatible with the proposals that ofcom have published.

      What is depressing is that the only supplier response on Ofcom’s webpage that calls for a longer USO delivery time is… Gigaclear

    • Indeed but Ofcom are due to provide an update on their USO design and supplier choice by around the end of this year, so hopefully that will provide some answers.

    • Avatar Joe

      Its no joy for people who want USO but frankly it would be wasteful to provide a stopgap USO (sat) to bridge between the minimum 12 months and a potential fttp solution due in say 18 months. I hope Ofcom will have the sense to increase the 12 month minimum as I don’t think its helpful…

  9. Avatar AnotherTim

    I suspect that for most of the USO candidate premises that either they will be sorted out before 2020 (e.g. by EO line changes BT are gradually making), or the only viable option will be 4G. Satellite is not suitable for a number of reasons, and the cost limits will be exceeded for other technologies (after all, that’s why those properties have not been upgraded yet). When the nearest BT connection point for FFTPoD is 11 miles away, and the nearest Gigaclear network is 22 miles away, there’s no way for anyone to provide USO to me within the cost limits (even though fibre trunk cables run within 20 metres of my house).

    • Avatar Joe

      11 miles from nearest fibre joint seems very far unless you are super rural…

    • Avatar AnotherTim

      I think so too. However, that’s what BT Business told me – they refused to even quote. They went back several times to check, as they didn’t believe it either – and the plans showed a planned fibre aggregation node (of some description) just outside my house. It turns out that was in the plans that Fastershire vetoed, so it will never happen. The best they could come up with was either bonded ADSL lines, or 4G. I’m using 4G but from Three as it is rather a lot cheaper, but not terribly satisfactory for various reasons.

    • Avatar Joe

      Sounds like you must be one of those freaky anomalies then. As an effective circle of 11 miles in all directions is just huge! If you like in snowdonia I could believe it but…!

      I’d still expect that as the rollout progresses that there just has to end up being something built close to you in then end…

    • Avatar AnotherTim

      I’m not in not Snowdonia, but the bottom end of the Forest of Dean. I assume that the fibre point must be in Cinderford, as BT have done some FTTP there and that looks as if it is plausibly 11 miles as the cable flies. The remainder of the area has been left to Gigaclear, but as they are building out from the Cotswolds and have so far only got to the edge of Gloucester as they head in my direction, the nearest Gigaclear network is still 22 miles from me. The rollout plan has now been withdrawn, so there are currently no dates (the previous completion date for my area was 2020). As with the CDS area they are way behind, so I expect the date to be further in the future when they finally make a new plan. However I am still “in plan” so can’t get a voucher etc.

    • Avatar Joe

      Looking on map view I can see there really is a dead spot there! Certainly looks more giga’s natural territory rather than OR – verge trenching looks ideal. I guess its AONB like my own backdoor so masts for wireless aren’t welcome/practical. Just have to hope the G route makes those 22 miles a quick route to build.

    • Avatar Guy Cashmore

      USO delivered by 4G will almost certainly have the 100GB a month limit applied to it, which the government foolishly included in the USO legislation. By 2020, most people will be consuming 100GB a week, making USO by 4G ‘unfit for purpose’. Sadly I think we are all going to have a very long wait yet.

    • Avatar AnotherTim

      @Joe, masts aren’t a problem. There are a few 4G masts around, so a few more wouldn’t really matter. The problem is there’s no backhaul. I’ve spoken to a number of wireless ISPs, but none are willing to cover my area. I talked to one the other side of the Severn (I have a clear view, and it is only 10 miles to the top of the hills opposite me) but although they were enthusiastic at first they just stopped responding to me so I guess that’s a no. Voneous were advertised as offering wireless broadband until Gigaclear get to an area, but they can’t cover my area until Gigaclear get here, as they have no backhaul.
      @Guy, yes 100GB is quite a limit – I did use my 100GB allowance in a week last month so had 3 weeks of just ADSL. No good.

  10. Avatar Guy Cashmore

    @AnotherTim

    The only glimmer of hope I can see currently is EE Hybrid Broadband, we have ADSL at 2 to 3 Mbps down available and good EE signal, due ro launch in the new year apparently, but as ever the devil will be in the detail of the EE offer.

    • Avatar AnotherTim

      Isn’t the Hybrid broadband planned to be available for fibre connections only? I did ask about whether BT/EE would offer this for ADSL/ADSL2+ when it was first announced but was told it was just a FTTC failover solution.
      I do think this type of solution could be a way to meet the USO if done right.

    • Avatar Jim Weir

      @Guy tbh I wonder if the EE Hybrid product will ever arrive… its something that is available today from alternative suppliers but is very much designed for resilience + bandwidth – ie premium users / businesses.

      For EE, it is surely simpler to introduce higher data limits and ensure the mast backhaul is robust, rather than launching a new product with new hardware etc.

      What benefit do you see from the Hybrid concept? if the data limit on 4G was higher / unlimited what does it gain you having a fixed line component mixed in?

      When this was announced as a concept the data limit was 200GB/mth now its 500GB/mth

      The 4G Assure product is a different beast and that plays to the resilience aspect.

    • Avatar Guy Cashmore

      @AnotherTim

      The marketing material does say ‘for areas with traditionally low speeds’ which I took as ADSL but you could be right.

      @Jim Weir

      Yes, you could well be right. I’d assumed they would route all the ‘base load’ data flow via ADSL and only use the 4G during the (typically short duration) peak load periods, freeing up a lot of 4G capacity and maximising the capacity of the existing infrastructure. I also very much like the idea of having fallback in the event of a fault with either service. The marketing materiel and video is still live on their website for hybrid, I doubt it would still be there if they had dropped the idea.

  11. Avatar Meadmodj

    Not up to Ofcom. Its in UK legislation – The Electronic Communications (Universal Service) (Broadband) Order 2018 where it states:
    (c)a broadband connection and service with all the characteristics specified in paragraph 1—
    (i) is not available to that location; and
    (ii) will not be made available to that location through a publicly-funded intervention within the period of one year
    beginning with the date on which the request is made;

    I assume Ofcom would have to refer back to parliament if it needs changing.

    Remember all our broadband prices will increase to pay for this. In addition USO is NOT a social digital inclusion mechanism. USO or the derived low cost products (strangled) will not be available to those live where higher specification services exist even if they cannot afford them. So we could end up with two pensioners where one gets a modest cost 10Mbps data limited service with the reliability of FTTP and the other has no broadband because he can’t afford £40 per month and if he did he would get copper. So much for the safety net announced by Cameron (yes the one that started the big B) and as usual politicians not knowing what they are voting for.

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