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Oldham Council Says – Bring Forward Gigabit Broadband to 2023

Thursday, April 30th, 2020 (9:03 am) - Score 1,270

The Leader of Oldham Council, Sean Fielding, yesterday told watchers of the Mayor of Greater Manchester’s (Andy Burnham) weekly press conference on the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic that the UK Government’s aim of making “gigabit broadband” available to every home by 2025 “should be brought forward to 2023.” Ok.. how?

We should point out that Andy Burnham was being flanked by Oldham Council Leader, Sean Fielding, and Stockport Council Leader, Elise Wilson. A full transcript of this meeting isn’t available, but we have taken the time to transcribe what was said by Sean from the hour long YouTube video of this event below.

Sadly, every once in awhile, a politician will appear to exhibit magical powers by claiming that they can achieve or think the Government can achieve something significant and often in a fundamentally unrealistic time-scale; albeit usually without actually conducting any prior feasibility research or providing much solid detail.

Boris Johnson’s (PM) pre-Election pledge to cover every home with “full fibre” (FTTP) broadband by the end of 2025 is one such example (here), which was predictably later watered down post-Election to include other technologies and under the more generalised “gigabit-capable broadband” banner (here); but even this softer target remains an extremely difficult one to hit.

The latest politician to join this group (not that there’s a shortage or anything) is Sean Fielding, who appeared to be expressing a position that was tacitly supported by both Andy Burnham and Elise Wilson. But what may work in Oldham, won’t work for the rest of the UK.

Sean Fielding, Leader of Oldham Council, said:

“Fibre connectivity is really really key to ensuring that there is the bandwidth and the capacity for more people to be able to work at home. The benefits that we’ve realised as a council, and that the combined authority have realised from having more people working at home, can be realised by other organisations right across GM.

So we really want to lobby now for gigabit capable broadband to be brought forward to 2023. The government’s targets around that are currently based on a delivery period of 2025 and we know that we will work to get 45% of Greater Manchester connected up to gigabit broadband and we want to go much further.”

Perhaps Manchester’s leaders have somehow developed a magical way to deploy gigabit broadband via fixed connections across the UK that nobody else has managed to figure out yet? Perhaps he’s hoping to do it all with LEO Satellites, 5G mobile or fixed wireless broadband instead (the only plausible ways to potentially achieve a target of 2023 and, even then, getting “gigabit” speeds from those to every home doesn’t seem viable)? In any case he doesn’t say.

Sadly just setting an even more unrealistic target, and then telling the UK government to go and deliver on that, isn’t equal to an effective or properly researched and funded deployment strategy. This is of course before we tackle the as yet uncertain, albeit almost definitely negative, impact of COVID-19 on the existing roll-out pace of such technologies (an ironically overlooked point given the topic of the press conference).

Certainly we have yet to see any positive impact on the pace of deployment due to the on-going disruption of COVID-19 on areas like complex supply chains and the available workforce. Social distancing rules also tend to slow down the deployment itself as working in close proximity is made much more challenging.

The framework for the Government’s gigabit policy isn’t even expected to be ready until 2021 and then you have to allow time for contracts to be agreed, which takes us toward the end of 2021 before real build can begin (given how such tenders often suffer delays then late 2021 may even be overly optimistic for some projects).

In short, you’d probably get roughly 2 years to make gigabit broadband universally available and that’s not even remotely realistic for the UK. Building new networks takes a lot of time, even with the Government’s watering down of language and technology choice. The work is highly unlikely to be done by 2025 (it’ll probably need a few more years to plug any remaining gaps), unless the target is watered down further, and so we can’t see how it can seriously be brought forward to 2023.

However, if Oldham Council has indeed found a way to do this for the whole of the UK, and modelled that with proof, then please do share. We can guarantee that an entire industry would love to know how to achieve what otherwise seems more or less impossible. We should point out that Oldham itself might stand a fair chance of achieving a 2023 target, but the rest of the UK wouldn’t.

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22 Responses
  1. Avatar joe

    (given how such tenders often suffer delays then late 2021 may even be overly optimistic for some projects).

    Depends if the UK is outside Eu rules. A lot of the contract delays have been caused by the state aid side.

  2. Avatar Gary

    R100 was announced in 2016 to provide ‘Superfast’ to all in Scotland, it’s 2020 and only 2 of the three Areas have a contract in place.

    Scale that speed up and to the whole UK and as we all know 2025 was an unrealistic timescale.

    Typical political waffle, Either these people are morons or as I fear, they honestly believe We are.

    • Avatar Ken Watmough

      In case you didn’t know Gigaclear are partially responsible for delays to R100 in Scotland, due to them taking legal action against the winning bidders or bidding process (can’t remember which). Not content with just delaying rollout in England, they want to add Scotland to that list as well. Fairly sure more than 2 areas would have R100 builds started by now if it wasn’t for Gigaclear’s shenanigans.

  3. @joe. A few, but maybe not a lot. The real delays usually occur due to disagreements over the details, funding, time-scales, technology choices and disputes between rival bidders etc.

  4. Avatar joe

    Given the whole UK scheme needed Eu approval (and that was twice yearly so if you missed it you waited 6 months for the next slot – as happened) Disputes between providers had an easy state aid route for legal challenges outside the defined scheme. It all added time and cost.

  5. Avatar joe

    Instead of being able to agree a deal locally they had to use a complex SA compliant process, which had to be approved at EU level then approved at national level. Thats substantial time/money and lawyers

  6. Avatar dissatisfied

    As a Oldham resident, lets just put it this way, It will be a half baked, half financed and half completed project as is the norm with OMBC unless it directly benefits a councillor.

    If they actually manage it I will happily eat my hat.

  7. Avatar Gavin

    I live in the Oldham area. I think its important to note Sean Fielding as been one of the main people encouraging future broadband in Greater Manchester. Oldham Council was the only one to comment during the GMCA decision to award VM the contract for GM Businesses.

    I agree there is a lot of questions still to be answered in how this is achievable, especially because we don’t know the full impact that covid-19 as had yet.

  8. Avatar tim

    I think the LEO satellites (StarLink) is the most promising way of getting 100Mbps+ to a lot of users in rural locations. This could be operational in 2021 with the minimum amount of satellites launched to provide global coverage.

    We’re a long way off having significant 5G coverage and the conspiracy theories are not helping here. You have to also remember that 4G coverage is still poor, this is mostly due to the lack of carrier aggregation (especially on O2 and Vodafone). ~7.5 years it has taken to get 4G coverage to the point it is at now. Also 5G is still only on band n78 with little available spectrum and poor in-building penetration.

    If your location isn’t already planned for fibre now then you’re likely more then 3 years away from a live service.

    • Avatar Gary

      Personally, I really don’t support the mass use of LEO Sat. It’s a massive amount of space clutter to feed our obsession with Youtube and twitter. Are these LEO fly tippers compensating the Observatories and research projects that they are affecting ?

    • Avatar John

      “If your location isn’t already planned for fibre now then you’re likely more then 3 years away from a live service”

      I disagree with that comment.
      Much of OpenReach’s Fibre First FTTP rollout (the majority of what they do) is done in half that time.

      My area just went live with OpenReach FTTP.
      It was less than 6 months from being in their plans to build completion.

  9. Avatar Andrew Campling

    @Tim
    “I think the LEO satellites (StarLink) is the most promising way of getting 100Mbps+ to a lot of users in rural locations”

    In reality LEO satellites still suffer from relatively limited capacity so could not offer packages with high bandwidth and high / unlimited data caps at the sort of price points available over fixed or mobile connections. Something has to give, generally the data cap and/or price.

    “If your location isn’t already planned for fibre now then you’re likely more then 3 years away from a live service”

    This doesn’t reflect the greatly accelerating pace of FTTP deployment. From memory Openreach doesn’t typically announce plans more that around 18 months out, I suspect this is broadly true of others too.

  10. Avatar JamesW

    I would hazard to say that all the ISP’s with infrastructure (VM, Openreach, Hyperoptic etc).

    Should agree NOT to overbuild an area. London for instance can get multiple FTTP providers. While areas were only FTTC is available are having to wait.

    If a FTTP provider is looking at area G where VM has it’s Docsis system in place but area H only has FTTC. That operator should move to area H to increase there presence in the non “Gigabit” area and build there. Rather than build on top of a network that is already in place.

    This would in theory increase the roll out speed as they would not be overlaying multiple fibre lines to the same building. Which is already being served by another operator.

    • A tough ask for commercially competitive urban markets. I absolutely see viability in providing greater protection to operators in rural areas, but in urban ones I think it’s a tall order and not one that the Government seems likely to green light (the FTIR review shunned the issue of overbuild). Virgin alone would basically be left as the only operator for 55%+ of premises (yay.. monopoly on gigabit), which at present is still a closed network, but I’m sure they’d love your plan 🙂 . You’d also screw the investment plans of Hyperoptic, G.Network, Cityfibre and many others.

      Not that they couldn’t find another way, but simply saying to an operator who is keen to invest that they can’t do so isn’t going to hold much water. The problem remains in suburban areas and rural ones, while dense urban areas will largely be solved on their own and with little need for public investment.

    • Avatar Andrew Campling

      @James W
      The problem with the approach that you suggest is that it would fall foul of competition law which is very clear about the consequences of collusion between companies in what are meant to be competitive markets.

    • Avatar 125us

      Actually illegal James under the Competition Act. Signing a non-compete agreement means you’re participating in a cartel. We have multiple providers and service choices because of competition, not despite it.

    • Avatar JamesW

      Fair enough that it would be illegal regarding non competition.
      I just don’t see the need to constantly over build where there is a need for services elsewhere.
      VM would be the main issue. Maybe if it was just no multiple FTTP providers to over build but I would guess it would come under the competition laws again.

      I guess it’s more frustration that many of the companies are jumping over each other to build in London when properties further out and multiple other cities are in need of the upgrade.

    • Avatar 125us

      The operators are building out where their analysis shows them they have the best chance of making a return for their investors. That analysis will look at the cost to serve buildings, the density of those buildings and the propensity of the people and businesses occupying them to buy the services that become available.

      Multiple operators are building in the same areas because their analyses are telling them the same thing. Unlike the cable tv days where franchises were awarded, FTTP is a bit of a land grab. The analysis must be showing that the towns and cities getting the attention are valuable, even with overbuilding.

      The exception to this is the community fibre schemes where the only aim is to cover costs rather than make a return.

  11. Avatar Justin Leese

    Oldham has 73.1% coverage by Virgin Media so will be Gigabit capable during 2021 so it’s not impossible that commercial build will infill the rest within 2 years of that date – I.e. 2023. Most of Oldham is Urban so it would be expected that the market builds this without State Intervention. As you go East into the Pennines it becomes increasingly rural and will require state aid gap funding and that is likely to take beyond 2023. https://labs.thinkbroadband.com/local/E08000004

    • Oldham yes, but he seems to be talking about lobbying the government to bring forward their 2025 UK target to 2023, which is a different kettle of fish.

  12. Avatar A_Builder

    Well at least everyone, in this conversation, sees accelerating FTTP rollout as a good thing for the general population.

    I have no idea how the necessary extra civils capacity could be generated without bussing people in from Eastern Europe. And that is stopped by BREXITitis.

    I don’t really see VM old network as part of the long term solution as the service quality and capability of the network is so all over the place. We used to have VM connections into some of our offices and hated them. It would require a lot of investment to bring VM HFC up to a standard and you do have to pose the question is it actually commercially worthwhile – leaving the technical side out of it for now? Whereas the Project Litening I do see as being a valuable part of the future because they are easily upgradable in the future to full FTTP.

  13. Avatar James

    This comes off as more of a hit piece than the usual factual information on here. Articles like this seem out of place on here. Yes it may well be an impossible request, but this article just seems to try and find as many ways as possible to belittle the people involved rather than just stating the facts of why it’s impossible.

    I guess in theory you could do it if you threw mad amounts of money at Openreach so they could scale operations?

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