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Welsh Government Publish Review of Superfast Broadband Project

Thursday, October 17th, 2019 (10:29 am) - Score 920
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The Welsh Government has quietly published an evaluation report into their Superfast Cymru project with BT (Openreach), which put around £225m of public funding toward an extended roll-out of “fibre broadband” (FTTC/P) in order to help cover poorly served parts of the country. Overall it’s a positive outcome.

The contract itself completed last year and it’s officially known to have helped extend the coverage of superfast-capable Fibre-to-the-Cabinet (FTTC / VDSL2) and ultrafast-capable Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) based broadband technologies to an additional 733,000 premises.

As it stands today around 95% of premises in Wales should now be able to access a 30Mbps+ capable broadband connection and consumer take-up in intervention areas is currently 51.8%, although this figure also includes a majority of work from commercial deployments – not only the aforementioned scheme (Superfast Cymru was aimed at areas where commercial rollouts alone would have found too difficult / slow or expensive to reach).

The new evaluation report into this project, which we only spotted thanks to an eagle eyed reader (Steve) as it was tucked away on the WG website, uses data up to September 2018 and as such its statistics for coverage and take-up are over a year old. On top of that it makes for a bit of a laborious read, with precious few illustrations and a lot of repetition on key points and statistics. Equally the language often makes claims without providing useful data (e.g. it vaguely talks about the average cost per premises but doesn’t give figures).

Overall the assessment is a positive ones and we didn’t find too many surprises in the text. We’ve published a summary from some of the key points below, which is followed by three vague recommendations that are made at the very end of the report.

Summary of Key Details

As of September 2018, 93% of all premises in Wales had access to superfast broadband (30Mbps+) or 1,352,193 premises, and whilst superfast availability remains lower in rural areas at 77%, it is the highest “rural coverage” amongst the UK nations. Plus full-fibre (FTTP) coverage of rural premises stands at 16%, the highest proportion across the UK nations.

The number of premises in Wales with access to broadband with download speeds of 24Mbps+ (old definition of “superfast”) reached 1,370,973 in September 2018 and some 53% (733,000) of all these premises were enabled to access these speeds as a result of the NGBW Programme’s activity between 2013 and 2018.

Ofcom data suggests that 87% of businesses in Wales now have access to superfast broadband, though at 66%, this figure is lower amongst rural businesses.

The level of overall take-up of superfast or faster services in Wales remains the lowest across the UK nations at 38% (45% in Northern Ireland, 44% in England, and 40% in Scotland), but it is substantially higher amongst premises connected through the Programme, at around 50%. A greater proportion of urban premises across Wales have also adopted superfast broadband than rural (41% versus 26%).

Existing evidence suggests that the enabling infrastructure provided by the Programme and its operations will deliver a range of benefits to Wales. In terms of economic benefits, modelling suggests that the Programme will deliver net annual Gross Value Added impact of £162 million a year by 2026, and the activity between 2015 and 2018 will deliver a return in impact of £12.99 for every £1 invested.

wales_gva_economic_broadband_impact

Stakeholders reported that, despite more connections being made via FTTC than FTTP, the scale of the FTTP rollout in Wales through the Programme was unique at the time for BT, and it caused them to develop and improve significantly how they deployed the technology—best-practice that is now being used across the UK.

Across Wales, coverage of ultrafast broadband (100Mbps+) stands at 29% – whilst this is the lowest proportion of coverage amongst the UK nations, it represents a large increase of 19 percentage points since 2017. Some 7% of all premises in Wales are connected by full-fibre.

The Programme provided an additional 56,696 premises in the total intervention area with access to next generation broadband infrastructure that enables them to achieve download speeds of at least 100Mbps (e.g. FTTP). Using a calculation of three people per premises, the Programme therefore provided approximately 178,818 people with access to ultrafast broadband speeds — 113,478 in the West Wales and the Valleys region and 65,340 in the East Wales region. These figures mean that the Programme significantly surpassed its targets for this indicator.

The Programme provided a total of 1,275 enterprises with access to next generation broadband infrastructure that enables them to achieve download speeds of at least 100Mbps. The Programme greatly surpassed both of its targets for this indicator.

Across the whole Programme, 91% of premises were connected by FTTC. Modelling contained in the Programme monitoring data indicates that the average maximum download speed for these premises is 61 Mbps (whether the consumer will achieve this depends on a number of factors including the package purchased from their ISP and local traffic on the network).

The Programme narrowly failed to achieve its targets for the additional premises with broadband access of at least 30 Mbps in both the ERDF superfast operations, but this was the result of a greater proportion of premises in the intervention area being provided with ultrafast access through the more future-proofed FTTP technology than initially anticipated when the targets were calculated.

The report very broadly suggests that some of the learnings from the aforementioned programme should be adopted into future projects, although it’s unclear how much of this has occurred as a result of the new Phase 2 sucessor contract that was recently agreed with BT (here). The Phase 2 contract aims to provide an additional 26,000 premises across Wales with access to FTTP by March 2021.

Recommendations

Recommendation 1:
The internal monitoring approach developed for the Programme is an example of best practice that could be adopted by other interventions that generate a large quantity of monitoring data. The Programme delivery team should work to share this approach with others in Welsh Government and with public sector organisations.

Recommendation 2:
In any future public sector programme to deliver next generation broadband infrastructure, the monitoring, management and governance systems used in the Next Generation Broadband Wales Programme should be replicated to encourage continuity and the application of lessons learnt.

Recommendation 3:
Any future public sector programme around next generation broadband should continue to provide support to the remaining communities in Wales without access to superfast or faster broadband; address the remaining difference in availability between urban and rural premises, and, where viable, use Fibre to the Premises technology to future-proof developments as much as possible

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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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5 Responses
  1. Avatar NGA for all

    It is interesting that without knowing what BT has contributed (para 4.4, 4.5) they write such a report. Defrayment costs not yet reconciled after 6 years.

    If they chase it down and secure a uniform capital contribution they will be able to conclude all works and not need the B-USO.

  2. Avatar Jeremy Steventon-Barnes

    “the scale of the FTTP rollout in Wales through the Programme was unique at the time for BT”

    I recall that, at its completion in June 2015, Superfast Cornwall claimed 80k+ premises passed with FRTP, while the figure quoted for Wales here is 56,696. Maybe not quite unique then?

    • Avatar NGA for all

      It is difficult to work out from this piece of work. It is anywhere up to 178,000 depending upon which number you read. 19% of intervention is 145k but there are two numbers for the IA area.

      Cornwall still proportionally bigger but still has bigger gaps.

      BT monies yet to be reported upon in both cases.

    • Avatar Andrew Ferguson

      If they want to work with September figures then I’d tracked 64,000 FTTP premises back then that looked attributable to a BDUK project.

      The comparisons with Cornwall need to be interpreted in light of the original Cornwall roll-out was NOT a BDUK project.

    • Avatar NGA for all

      Andrew, -only 64k ouch. While BDUK was hoping to learn and build upon the NI contract – £18m for c1168 cabinets, they ended up closer to the Cornwall contract where BT had separated out the subsidies to be billed against and any proof of their investment.

      The latter is still with us (see papas 4.4 and 4.5) but mitigated by the clawback clauses strenghtened in the autumn of 2012 and needed to be.

      Here as in Scotland over £200m of subsidies to be billed against with as yet no published record of BT funds, only claims and subsequent shift from paid to ‘contracted’ ‘anticipated’, expected bla bla.

      IMHO Cornwall proved a good place to rehearse this process where only EU money was at stake.

      One more round of scrutiny to permit 99% coverage.

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