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One of the Last – 5000th FTTC Broadband Cabinet Built in Scotland

Monday, September 23rd, 2019 (8:10 am) - Score 2,626

The £442m (public and private investment) Digital Scotland (DSSB) project has announced that Openreach (BT) have just built their 5000th FTTC (VDSL2) broadband ISP cabinet under the project, which will also be one of the “last for the programme” as they switch to focus on Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) technology.

The DSSB project has already helped to extend the availability of “fibre broadband” (i.e. a mix of mostly slower hybrid Fibre-to-the-Cabinet (FTTC) and a little ultrafast full fibre FTTP) services to a total of 936,000 premises (up from 931K in August) – covering 97.5% of Scotland or nearly 95% with access to a “superfast broadband” speed of 24Mbps+ (NOTE: this is not an automatic upgrade, you have to order it from an ISP).

At present this programme is expected to run for a little longer, into 2020, after confirming that it would reinvest £17.8m via gainshare (i.e. public investment returned by BT due to high take-up) to help a further 6,000 premises in remote rural areas gain access to FTTP technology (here). Meanwhile the original rollout plan is drawing to a close and that means an end to hybrid fibre FTTC deployments.

Now one of the last FTTC cabinets to go live – the 5000th in fact (total fibre cable used = 13,000km) – has just been built in Borthwickbrae, near Hawick. From here on out the focus will be on full fibre.

NOTE: DSSB estimates that, without the programme, only around 66% of premises would have access via commercial upgrades.

Ben Campbell, Scotland Partnership Manager for Openreach, said:

“Our hard-working engineers and contractors have played a massive part in bringing better broadband to the people of Scotland through these 5000 cabinets.

Our focus now is on reaching the places where a cabinet isn’t the answer, by building full fibre networks capable of gigabit speeds.”

Connectivity Minister, Paul Wheelhouse, said:

“The deployment of more than 5000 street cabinets shows the extent and scale of this nation-wide engineering programme.

In the five years that it’s been operational, more than 936,000 homes and business have been reached across Scotland. Hundreds of small towns and communities, just like Borthwickbrae, have seen the boost which fibre broadband brings and the benefits it generates for businesses, community groups, organisations and individuals.”

Some people despise the flaky speeds and short-term thinking of FTTC technology, although it’s also true to say that superfast broadband would have taken many years longer to reach this level of coverage, and cost billions more, had the project focused upon FTTP instead (at the time the political appetite and funding for full fibre simply didn’t exist). Likewise it has also helped to bring fibre optic cables closer to a lot of rural communities than they ever were before, which may assist the move to FTTP.

In any case we can now wave farewell to FTTC because the remaining contract is laser focused upon building full fibre networks. Similarly the follow-on £600m Reaching 100% (R100) programme is also expected to extend the reach of FTTP even further into remote rural communities.

Originally the R100 project aspired to bring superfast broadband to every home in Scotland by the end of 2021 (March 2022 financial), although that target seems unlikely to be met after the programme suffered around a year’s worth of delays (the supplier announcement is expected very soon).

The Scottish Government‘s Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy, Fergus Ewing, has staked his job on completing the R100 roll-out on time (here). “If I don’t deliver this by 2021, I think it will be time for [me] to depart and do something else, and leave the job to somebody else. But I can assure you, we’re on the case,” said Fergus in May 2018.

Leave a Comment
27 Responses
  1. craski says:

    Living at the edge of the Openreach copper network I am really hoping that BDUK/R100 don’t
    now upgrade our area using FTTC!

    1. Meadmodj says:

      I would hope that “Our focus now is on reaching the places where a cabinet isn’t the answer, by building full fibre networks capable of gigabit speeds” provides some comfort. What I can’t understand is why the project cannot be clear now what premises are involved, what will be FTTP and those that will be covered from previously planned/ordered FTTC.

      Nothing wrong with celebrating more people on an “superfast” broadband but it simply highlights the number of premises that will require a second round of further subsidy (direct or otherwise) to move forward. The Government/Ofcom should be clearly outlining in detail how they are going to do that.

      This for me also raises a wider point why going forward Ofcom cannot insist on clear visibility of new network proposals (OR, Alnets, VM etc) at Post Code level and consolidate the data so that consumers have an indication of when they can look forward to Ultra or seek other arrangements in the interim (4G, WISP, community, voucher etc).

    2. Brian says:

      The whole project has been marred by the lack of good information provision to the public. There has just been years of woolly promises (and false information), not having decent broadband has been made worse by the lack of decent information.

    3. A_Builder says:

      @Meadmodj

      You hit the nail in the head.

      The lack of transparency has hampered efforts and derailed efforts of smaller Alt Nets

      Also it has lead, rightly or wrongly, to accusations of OR abusing its position to run competitors out of town.

    4. CarlT says:

      In the real world when building new civils specific post codes can be selected with a matter of weeks of notice for deployments. Demand operators publish post codes well in advance they simply avoid anything that looks even remotely difficult.

      Broad deployments are selected via plans and maps but at some point each and every street that isn’t very obvious gets walked and before any digging is done streets are walked and marked.

      This is the same nonsense that led to BT providing ridiculously long estimates for FTTC/P availability or simply none – they provide realistic estimates and anything goes wrong people complain.

      I’m aware, meadmodj, that you’d be happier with an NBN but we are where we are and if you want these things built constantly placing more and more conditions on private companies already looking at many years to see returns on their investments isn’t going to help.

      If you would like some idea of where publishing data when extensive civils was required has gotten people check out Gigaclear. That went well.

  2. Optimist says:

    I wonder how much demand there will be for landline connections of any kind in a few years as wireless technologies and LEO satellites continue to improve and become cheaper? There is a risk of losing a colossal amount of money.

    In the 1950s British Railways thought they needed new marshalling yards for wagonload traffic but the investment was wasted when the traffic vanished very shortly after.

    1. Meadmodj says:

      We currently differentiate between landline and mobile. Going forward these will simply be the same and new products will consolidate these whether the actual call uses VOIP, WIFI Calling or other. I also see products combining a home number and a mobile number with call transfer etc. These are likely very soon before the PSTN closure as we entice customers from copper.

      Your analogy with Rail investment is correct. Their forecasts were based on economic growth and that all bulk transport would still be via train. Then along came the proliferation of car, van and more powerful HGV. But now our roads and our lungs are choked and we do not have rail infrastructure where it is needed (expansion capacity/lost local lines/electrification). Same for broadband, we knew we needed full fibre in the 80s but instead we made do using short term solutions and we are still doing it with proposing 4G/5G/LEO as solutions. Unfortunately these are finite in their capacity (practical) we will return to the need for full fibre (or better) again. Whilst we look for expedients we need to keep the objective of giga capacity per individual/premise by 2030 in mind.

    2. A_Builder says:

      @Meadmodj

      I’d be more positive.

      Yes there is 5G LEO etc but the bandwidth as you say is finite.

      I’m more positive because of the pace and scale of commercial FTTP rollout OR, now stung into action are doing a huge amount. Add that to what the Alt Nets are doing and things do not look so dark. 10% able to get FTTP is now close to reality and it won’t be long before the numbers are coming up to 20% at the rate of increase of pace.

      I am also positive because of the decent rate of erosion of sub USO (10/1) connections at 43k -> FTTP.

      OR’s own data demand graphs show that domestic demand from families will exceed FTTC capabilities in the next few years. This alone with continue to spur them to invest and the alternative is giving up market share forever to VM and the Alt Nets.

      Now all that needs to be solved in making sure that there are not areas 4/5x overbuilt leaving patches that have no FTTP.

      Whilst, given the pace of commercial investment, I am against heavy handed interference by OFCOM – I am all for barrier reduction strategies both financial and legal to increase the solution set that can be done under commercial steam.

  3. Ogilvie Jackson says:

    Well it wont be long now ( within weeks I hope ) , when the big R100 announcement of who gets what and when regarding FTTP. Fibre technology has moved on quite a lot since this Scottish Government scheme was hatched. Scotland’s pole infrastructure is good in our valleys and glens and aerial fibre can be rolled out easily and cheaply. It may be these remote postcodes end up with the fastest speeds. Come on R100 , put us out our misery !!

    1. craski says:

      All digits are crossed for R100 success but I’ll be amazed if they publicly announce the award prior to contract signature which according to last article on it was planned for the end of the year.

  4. NGA for all says:

    This is just a little strange, but it is progress. 5,000th subsidised FTTC cabinet when BT only invested in 3,500 cabinets commercially suggests a mugging. 936,000 premises passed is ok as long as the 214,000 over above those BDUK contracted were all in rural, but thus is unlikely. On twitter superfast scotland announced 21,000 FTTP in-fill, which is really poor.

    So how much was spent on 5k cabinets, 21k FTTP, 18-19 submarine cables, and HOPs for the Highlands? It is unlikely to be the total public funding of £284m. So what is the balance and what exactly has BT paid or not paid and when was it paid? The third Audit Scotland report got it wrong as the numbers it used said BT had paid all the operational costs in advance – 11 years, not possible, but any payment then became ‘expected’. These things should be reported upon, on an intervention of 936k, the budget assumed 11% fttp in-fill. Is this money in the process? Much of it should be, but with this PR nonsense we are no wiser!

    1. Andrew Ferguson says:

      30 seconds of google and calc

      BT sub contracted £26.9 million for subsea cable – so lets be kind and take that as total cost.

      21,000 FTTP at £1,000 each

      Leaving 5,107 cabs so £46,000 each if they have spent all the money and distance of fibre runs even for just a VDSL2 cabinet will have been higher in highlands

      How much do you think they’ve spent? You must have a figure as you are so sure there is a lot left lying around?

    2. NGA for all says:

      Perhaps more than 30 secs is needed. There should be a direct contribution of £79m to allowable costs.
      The number of urban cabinets suggests the £46k per cab is little OTT and £61k on average if BT contribution is paid. The BT submitted numbers to the DCMS inquiry into Broadband for Phase 2 is £28k. H&I will be high but that is c1,600 cabs. You have many in Glasgow at £10-15k.

      The question is legitimate to ask and should not be unreasonable to get an answer. A full statement on the status of clawback should also be possible.

      What I think does not matter. 7 Parliamentary inquiries and supporting audits all help in squeezing out the excesses identified in 2012 and confirmed by the NAO in 2015. Some of the evidence relied upon has to be challenged but that is consistent where high levels of normalised deviancy is tolerated. The latter is a sociological not a legal matter.

    3. NGA for all says:

      Andrew .. I hope it will not be needed, but the evidence published in the chapter on Broadband in the EFRA committee report last week, when combined with what has been documented in previous inquiries and audits, should be sufficient to launch a public inquiry. The best way to remove the need for such an eventuality is to ensure the funds within the process are used to secure 99% superfast by contracting for another 500k rural premises using mostly FTTP.

      The lack of FTT in-fill so far (21,000 only) highlights the nature of the work that need to done. Why it was not programmed and planned in the first place is not clear.

    4. Andrew Ferguson says:

      All you want is yours on these projects if you are happy with contract winners having a year or two to fully plan its works and for any external quotes obtained at that time to be fixed and no changes in workforce costs.

      The rush for projects to be seen delivering meant hitting the ground running was important.

      IF the existing Digital Scotland has enough funds to goto 99% superfast then I’d be shocked and this very much makes the R100 £600 million spending look like a gravy train where funding of £2,000 to £3,000 per premises is on the cards.

      Has BT run off the £100’s of millions? No, largely things have been delivered, a rare thing, could more be done yes, but then that is possible of anything.

      Is a rural home worth more than an urban home? Should each build be means tested for who it passes?

    5. CarlT says:

      5,000th subsidised FTTC cabinet when BT only invested in 3,500 cabinets commercially suggests a mugging. – No. It just suggests, accurately, that the population density in Scotland is lower, fewer premises per cabinet, cabinets harder to reach via fibre, hence fewer immediately commercially viable.

      936,000 premises passed is ok as long as the 214,000 over above those BDUK contracted were all in rural, but thus is unlikely. – What do you have against urban areas? Don’t the people there in areas where PCPs serve relatively few people or they’re difficult to reach via fibre deserve higher speeds too?

      On twitter superfast scotland announced 21,000 FTTP in-fill, which is really poor. – Why? The contract was to cover xx% via superfast. They could’ve done more via FTTP at the expense of a lot more via FTTC. This is supposed to be gap funding. As in funding on top of what Openreach would spend on a commercial project. The cost of the R100 programme is a guide to how expensive the most rural premises are to reach. I’m sure you’ve seen the research – the last 10% or so are in the 2-3k+ range to cover via FTTP and that’s a fair bit of Scotland.

      I’m not sure what miracles you’re expecting of this public funding. You seem to mistake it for a comprehensive NBN programme.

      Are you aware that Singapore, that famously rural area, subsidised its next-generation network to the tune of, give or take, £450 per premises passed?

      These seem to be the kind of numbers you’re expecting FTTP in the Highlands to cost – they’re closer to the cost to pass premises via FTTC in some areas.

    6. NGA for all says:

      Carl T Andrew; The NAO found a 38% inflation of costs in 2015 which was denied in 2013. Executives claimed capital was paid in a 2016 inquiry when this was not the case.

      Why is lying to Parliamentary inquiries acceptable?

      How can engineering teams give their best in such circumstances?

    7. NGA for all says:

      CarT and Andrew. Your points deserve an answer.
      A mixed economy solution was originally offered, which included FTTP in-fill. This was budgeted for. C£800m was budgeted for cabs, the rest for as much in-fill as could be done. Over building Virgin media or concluding works in Glasgow, Edinburgh was not.
      We do not know what budgets sit where.
      On 3,500 cabinets – Commercial premises per cab are close to double in Scotland than elsewhere, c800-900 were breakeven is not far above 200, a good deal lower in urban areas.
      Why is 21,000 FTTP so poor? It is relatively tiny, it suggests a plan to exclude those beyond 1200m reach of a cabinet, where the budget permitted planning more FTTP in-fill. If you combine the inflated costs with the lack of a plan to conduct FTTP in-fill then you can see why there has been a need for 7 Parliamentary inquiries so far.
      The resource issue was known from 2010-11 but BT did not begin recruiting until 2016-17. This suggests FTTP-in fill was not being considered or planned until the impact of the scrutiny began to kick in. The begun in summer 2015 and is not yet complete.

    8. TheFacts says:

      @NGA – please provide examples of overbuilding VM, other than just part of a FTTC cabinet area.

      In the past it is you that have proposed a court case, nobody else has.

    9. NGA for all says:

      Facts, 7 inquiries and counting, each delivers a bit..only a little more is needed to reverse what was reported in 2012. What is wrong with asking for a further 500-600k rural premises to contracted for upgrades using existing funds? Most of this should be done by Openreach. Is there a problem with that?
      Think Broadband reported on the 1.1m overbuild of Virginmedia sometime ago. All we need to see is about an £85m payment from BT so more rural areas can benefit.

    10. Andrew Ferguson says:

      How can there be reports of what BDUK delivered in 2012 when the first cabinet did not go live until December 2012?

      On thinkbroadband reporting a 1.1 million overbuild, overbuild was always gong to happen but contracts were meant to take this into account in pricing and area choices, so how you arrive at £85 million is a big question.

      To be blunt you take so many high level figures and extrapolate them beyond sense and reason that it is difficult to take anything you say seriously.

      A full audit of who arrived first in an area, when decisions were made to go to an area and how much to pay and was paid are not quick things to arrive at, you do not have the resources to do that, even NAO is probably going to be stretched as there are so many variables involved including time and at end of the day what is the cost benefit of paying teams to sift the data.

    11. TheFacts says:

      Maybe worth contacting the committee to point out that some of the submissions do not stand up to detailed analysis.

    12. NGA for all says:

      Andrew ..because the basics are not that hard. The elements of BT’s network are finite, customers are finite. You have stated your not interested in the detail of the costs but wish to dismiss those who have tried. The escalation of costs was reported in 2012 within the programme and then leaked by parties unknown. That then triggered the firs PAC inquiry in 2013.

      Facts – Committees have been contacted which is why there has been 7 inquiries so far and each one results in some progress. This latest EFRA report if acted upon should nudge some more contracts which should result in more work for engineers, which I hope you can agree is a good thing.

      The low levels of FTTP in-fill in Scotland does suggest some additional attention is needed as more funds should be available to do more. This may well be reflected in the R100 budget. It may assume balances are being transferred in this project from this phase but that has not been made clear. BT capital contribution to direct costs is not yet recorded. The partial references or claims when challenged are then amended from paid to ‘contracted'(DCMS), ‘expected'(Audit Scotland) or some other such word. No doubt some have been paid as there has been references in BT’s accounts which then disappear the following quarter.

  5. Andrew Ferguson says:

    I look forward to the court case.

    1. NGA for all says:

      We do not need a court case, but you should read he ex-Ministers Margot James evidence to EFRA. Her late realisation about the gaps in rural seemed a surprise to her.

      We may (or may not) need a public inquiry to peel away another layer of normalised deviancy. The B-USO is no substitute for completing BDUK rural activity. The Ofcom consultation on who pays for the B-USO will also allow these matters to be raised and dealt with.

    2. Andrew Ferguson says:

      Cannot comment on a Minster and their briefing as was not involved in that, if they had not been told about the actual figures then that is down to those who brief a minister.

    3. NGA for all says:

      Andrew .. it remains a free country, you can comment on the knowledge displayed in the submission. It is a public record and if she stated the gaps left in rural after achieving 95% were ‘unacceptable’ it is surely of interest to ThinkBroadband’.
      If she stated this in 2019, it might suggest that any outstanding work that could be contracted ought to take precedence over any B-USO work, where the funding process has yet to be consulted upon and agreed by industry.

      It is a very positive uplifting story, showing a Government intervention becoming ever more successful in delivering full fibre to the edge of the network in rural areas.

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