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BT Win £9.25m Wales LOT 2 Full Fibre Broadband Rollout Deal UPDATE2

Thursday, January 17th, 2019 (8:44 am) - Score 2,335
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The Welsh Government has quietly chosen BT (Openreach) to supply the final LOT 2 of their Phase 2 “superfast broadband” (30Mbps+) roll-out contract, which uses £9.256m of public money and aims to bring FTTPfull fibre” coverage to around 10,000 more premises across East Wales (rural areas).

The original Superfast Cymru contract – partly funded by a public investment of £225m (including some from the Broadband Delivery UK programme) – completed earlier this year. Overall this helped to extend the coverage of Fibre-to-the-Cabinet (FTTC / VDSL2) and ultrafast Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) based broadband technologies to an additional 733,000 premises (drops to 717K if only counting 30Mbps+ capable premises).

As it stands today nearly 95% of premises in Wales should now be able to access a 30Mbps+ capable broadband connection (93%+ if using Ofcom’s late 2018 figure), although most of this has been delivered by commercial projects rather than the above scheme (Superfast Cymru was aimed at areas that commercial investment alone would have found too difficult or expensive to reach).

Since last year the Welsh Government has also been busy developing a new follow-on Phase 2 scheme to tackle c.88,000 premises in the final 5%+ (here and here), which originally aspired to make “fast reliable broadband” (defined as 30Mbps+) available to “every property” and aims to focus on “full fibre” (FTTP/H) connectivity. The potential value of this project is up to £200m, with around £62m already confirmed.

As part of all this the WG invited potential suppliers to bid on three regional deployment lots in January 2018, which are as follows.

NOTE: The figures below seem to have been revised by the WG in Nov 2018 to add an additional 5,376 premises (intervention area), taking the total from c.88,000 to c.93,500. This “is a consequence of the resubmission of OMR data from Openreach following the identification of incorrect service data” (credits to Steve for spotting this).

LOT 1 – North West Wales (Est. value: £14.858m)
Areas: Ceredigion; Conwy; Denbighshire; Gwynedd; Isle of Anglesey
Intervention Area of 23,355 NGA white premises [revised] has been identified with an additional 27,590 premises potentially available pending further info.
Contracted Supplier: BT (£6,583,064 – 5,740 premises out of 23,355)

LOT 2 – East Wales (Est. value: £21.706m)
Areas: Cardiff; Flintshire; Monmouthshire; Newport; Powys; Vale of Glamorgan; Wrexham
Intervention Area of 32,356 NGA white premises has been identified with an additional 19,689 premises potentially available pending further info.
Contracted Supplier: BT (£9,256,012 – 10,098 premises out of 32,356)

LOT 3 – South West Wales (Est. value: £25.436m)
Areas: Blaenau Gwent; Bridgend; Caerphilly; Carmarthenshire; Merthyr Tydfil; Neath Port Talbot; Pembrokeshire; Rhondda Cynon Taf; Swansea; Torfaen
Intervention Area of 37,818 NGA white premises has been identified with an additional 15,900 premises potentially available pending further info.
Contracted Supplier: BT (£6,740,426 – 10,175 premises out of 37,818)

In October 2018 the WG announced that BT had secured the contract for both LOT 1 and LOT 3 (here), although many were more than a little displeased to learn that this would only harness £13 million of the allocated public funding and aimed to deliver just 16,000 extra premises by the end of March 2021 (albeit 90% via FTTP). The same completion date will apply to LOT 2.

Julie James AM had previously admitted that the available funding was “unlikely to deliver fast broadband to every premises that we have identified,” although people had hoped the first deal would be much bigger. Nevertheless the first homes and businesses to benefit under this phase should begin to go live by the end of 2019.

At the time Julie hinted that the WG was effectively holding back making all of their public money available until LOT 2 had been confirmed. “I want to see how much the final lot that’s left actually costs and then all the rest of it will be put into the community pot. So, we are determined to spend all the money on the table on fast broadband connection,” said Julie.

The Final LOT 2 Contract

Curiously the WG have not yet openly announced that the LOT 2 contract has been awarded, although one of our eagle eyed readers (Steve) spotted the related contract notice when it was published this week. Sadly the notice itself doesn’t contain much in the way of new information, except to confirm that the total value of this contract is £9,256,012.00 and was awarded to BT on 11th January 2019.

If the prior contracts are any indication then this will extend coverage of a predominantly FTTP network to around 10,000 premises, which as with LOT 1 and LOT 3 would be well below what the WG originally hoped to achieve. This suggest that the WG will have quite a bit of money left over for the aforementioned “community pot” (it’s still unclear precisely how that will be used).

As before there’s also no mention of how much private investment, if any, BT will contribute to this and the WG have previously refused to say. Today’s deal is unlikely to be the last deployment contract we see being signed in Wales. But so far it seems clear that the WG’s ambition has not been matched by its ability to deliver, which in part reflects the inherently high cost and complexity of expanding such services into remote rural communities.

In fairness Julie James AM has previously gone on record to say she is “convinced that even this level of funding will not reach all remaining premises” and we’d agree. We also applaud the WG’s focus on “full fibre“, not least because it fits with the UK Government’s new aspiration to cover the entire country in Gigabit capable FTTP by the end of 2033 (here and here). On the other hand we saw plenty of delays with Openreach’s FTTP roll-outs during the original contract and it remains to be seen whether some of these will return.

On the other hand some of the changes being proposed by the UK government to help make FTTP available to 100% of premises by 2033 (here), as well as a related commitment from landowners (here), does perhaps suggest that there may be fewer obstructions for operators to worry about in the future.

UPDATE 18th January 2019

The WG has today issued their official press release, which confirms that around 10,000 premises will benefit from the LOT 2 contract. In total, along with the two other lots announced in the Autumn last year, Openreach will provide 26,000 premises with access to “fast reliable broadband” by March 2021 at a cost of nearly £22.5m (to be met by the Welsh Government and EU funding).

Lee Waters, Deputy Minister for Economy and Transport, said:

“These premises would have no access to faster broadband without government intervention.

While our Superfast Cymru programme has transformed the digital landscape in Wales, with over nine out of 10 premises now able to access faster broadband, there remain premises with no access.

There is no one size fits all solution to reach all of these premises and a variety of measures will need to be used, including today’s contract which will reach 10,000 of those without. The other elements are individual support through our ABC and ultrafast connectivity voucher schemes, and support for communities through our vouchers schemes and community led interventions.

It is a challenging and complex process but we are working hard on ensuring the final premises will have access.”

Kim Mears, Openreach MD for Strategic Infrastructure, said:

“We’re delighted to be working once again with the Welsh Government in widening access to superfast fibre broadband across Wales.

Our engineers have already delivered an enormous engineering project that has brought access to fast reliable connectivity to nearly 95 per cent of Welsh homes and businesses which is helping to enable a digital revolution in the country.

But we also appreciate that there are those that didn’t benefit from Superfast Cymru and this latest intervention working alongside the Welsh Government will be one part of a suite of measures to bring faster broadband to those that missed out.”

In terms of the two voucher schemes mentioned above. Wales is home to two native voucher schemes – Access Broadband Cymru and Ultrafast Connectivity Vouchers (UCV is for businesses). The ABC scheme in particular offers vouchers to homes in areas that aren’t currently planned to benefit from the Superfast Cymru project with BT (Openreach) and which don’t currently have access to a 30Mbps+ connection.

New connections delivered via ABC are typically required to deliver a step change in speed (i.e. at least double your current download speeds) and the amount of funding you could receive depends on the speed of the new connection (e.g. £400 for 10Mbps+ or £800 for 30Mbps+).

UPDATE 19th Jan 2019

The WG has confirmed to us that all 10,000 premises in the LOT 2 contract will be delivered with FTTP broadband, with no FTTC in the mix. We also queried what now happens to the rest of the funding, since most of the £62m confirmed (out of £200m possible) has not yet been allocated, and were told the following:

The funding allocated so far reflects what the contractor outlined initially it can achieve with the remaining premises in the timeframe of the grant agreement. The three lots announced are part of a suite of measures to reach the remaining premises and are only part of the solution. More details on further schemes will follow in due course,” said the WG.

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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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13 Responses
  1. Avatar AdamH

    It seems that the availability checker for the follow-on Phase 2 (for LOTS 1 & 3 at least, presumably it hasn’t yet been updated for LOT 2) is now up & running:

    https://beta.gov.wales/go-superfast/what-are-my-options

    Unfortunately my address isn’t included in Phase 2 (and the same goes for other people in my area of southern Ceredigion I know who are interested) – so it’s either some sort of community scheme (Community Fibre, Fixed Wireless Access [FWA], or TV Whitespace), or 4G, for us! Community schemes are harder for tiny hamlets (<= 30 properties) which are sandwiched between FTTC / FTTP areas – this "fragmentation" makes such community schemes less viable (DIY B4RN-style "dig your own" full fibre schemes are not possible for such small areas, at least I doubt it – plus a large % of households in hamlet would need to commit to make FWA or similar options viable too). I will have to investigate options carefully. In the meantime, it's load-balancing 2Mbps ADSL with 4G (but not telling too many people in locality to use 4G otherwise speeds will suffer?! Argh!).
    I wish Three had 4G availability here, only EE gives reasonable speeds. Oh well..

    Roll-on Phase 3 or the USO (and the USO is also probably just 4G in our area anyway)! 🙂

    Good luck for everyone else in the Welsh Phase 2, I hope those of you who are really wanting the upgrades are included.

    • Noticed that and at this point I don’t think they’ve actually added the Phase 2 coverage plan to the checker, at least not all of it.

      The checker itself is also appallingly designed. For example, the search box only shows when you click the drop down and then it hovers awkwardly above an endless list of replenishing postcodes.

      The results you get back are also painfully vague. I assume this can’t be the final design as it’s crud.

    • Avatar AdamH

      Hi Mark,

      I know – the current design is terrible!

      I did manage to hit on a few postcodes which gave a message about being upgraded in 2019 / 2020, but most postcodes (including mine, and those for a few other interested people I know) simply said to refer to Step 3 (i.e. Access Broadband Cymru).

      The wording at the bottom (“Please check back regularly for more information if your premises is in one of the following areas; Cardiff, Flintshire, Monmouthshire, Newport, Powys, Vale Of Glamorgan, Wrexham”) seems to indicate to me that LOT 2 premises haven’t yet been included in their database.

      But yes, the design is horrible – I also hope it’s only temporary, not the final version!

      I think a lot of people waiting in LOTS 1, 2 and 3 will be disappointed, as so few premises are included in Phase 2.

    • Avatar Guy Cashmore

      @ AdamH

      Three 3G on an AYCE plan is giving us very good service here in West Devon, typically 18 down and 3 up, which compared to the only real alternative (ADSL) is almost 10x faster.

    • Avatar Joe

      “The results you get back are also painfully vague. I assume this can’t be the final design as it’s crud.”

      Bless you and your sunny optimism!

    • Avatar Joe

      “Roll-on Phase 3 or the USO (and the USO is also probably just 4G in our area anyway)! ”

      Prob right. Although 4g is not bad at all. In the longer term even the data caps/cost will get better.

    • Avatar AdamH

      @Guy Cashmore:
      Thanks – I may try that again, a friend locally is getting up to 7Mbps on Three 4G (using a different 4G router, Huawei B525, seems a bit better than my TP-Link MR200, as it’s a Cat6 router plus the built-in antennae may be better), but when I tried a Three SIM (could only get 3G) in my router, the speeds were slower than my 2Mbps ADSL.
      I may try again though, and borrow the B525 to test coverage! Other than that, the only option here (in terms of coverage) is EE (or EE-based MNVO’s, e.g. Virgin Mobile) – especially since Vodafone & O2 don’t currently seem to have decent data offerings (max 50Gb).

      @Joe:
      Yes, 4G isn’t bad, I currently load-balance a 4G connection with my 2Mbps ADSL link, currently only have a 32Gb per month EE Data SIM (for “proof of concept” purposes!), but I’m tempted by some of the current offers (120Gb from Virgin Mobile, I’ve heard EE may match it with 100Gb, for £20 per month).
      Yes the data caps will hopefully increase and the prices decrease. The only other issue is capacity – due to sharing spectrum, if everyone in the hamlet or village switches to 4G for home internet, then speeds will decrease, unless the mobile providers monitor & upgrade back-haul to cell masts as & when needed. But yes, I think 4G (& eventually 5G, although I’m not optimistic about that yet for rural areas) will provide a decent broadband solution for now, until the whole of the UK is upgraded to full fibre (IF that ever happens…!).

    • Avatar Joe

      Adam if your using an standard antenna on your router (and the signal is weak/average) then an external antenna might see a good boost. Plenty of brands out there.

    • Avatar Guy Cashmore

      @ AdamH

      Using an MR200 here, but with a decent external antenna connected, can’t get anything here using the little supplied antennas.

      Lookup the Poynting 4G-XPOL-A0002.

    • Avatar AdamH

      @Joe
      @Guy Cashmore:

      Thanks for the advice re: external LTE antennae.
      I’ve actually got a Poynting 4G-XPOL-A0001 (omni-directional) external antenna, although I haven’t installed it properly yet, as am still experimenting with it, both here at home and for friends who also want to use 4G as a solution for rural “superfast” broadband.

      I did notice though, that at my fiend’s place, the one with a Huawei B525 4G router, the Huawei on its own (using just its built-in internal antennae) using the same EE SIM gave a much faster connection than my TP-Link MR200 with 4G-XPOL-A0001 antenna connected, at the same location – maybe as the Huawei is an LTE Category 6 device than can utilise CA (Carrier Aggregation)?

      Anyway – thanks again for the advice, I have lots more experimenting to do (with both EE and Three SIMs) with the 2 different routers (both with & without external antennae) at different locations around my home, before I can decide on a final option. It’s good to know at least that 4G is starting to become a viable option for rural superfast broadband for those of us who are fibre-less! 🙂

  2. Avatar Jane

    Well our cab has not been upgraded but all the ones around us on another exchange have – seems our exchange was missed – might it now happen? We are in Lot 2 near Newport

    • Avatar Joe

      If your whole exchange has not been upgraded then you have a good chance – if its 1 cab on an exchange then its more difficult to say.

  3. Avatar Clive Price

    Have managed to find 3 addresses in Lot1 which are on the map as white premises so eligible for an upgrade under this phase. According to the checker, they are due to be upgraded in this phase but if you check the Openreach availability checker, they are already enabled and BT shows that they can order fibre with all three able to get speeds of at least 30mbps down.
    Not sure if this is just teething problems or BT pulling a fast one and will include these in their figures of premises connected. Presumably there are many more than these so they will add up.

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