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Wales Hints at £70m Broadband Upgrade for 84,000 Premises

Thursday, May 11th, 2023 (9:49 am) - Score 3,072
Wales-2023-Map-of-Broadband-Slowspots-Sub-30Mbps

The Welsh Government has put out a Prior Information Notice (PIN) on a future project for “Extending High Speed Broadband Reach in Wales“, which indicates that they’re preparing to procure a contract worth around £70m (state aid) to upgrade broadband for 84,000 premises (i.e. those that can’t yet get “superfast” speeds of 30Mbps+).

The new PIN, which ISPreview spotted was published yesterday (here), is currently formed as an “early market engagement notice” that is intended to share the WG’s intentions and evoke discussions with potential suppliers in relation to extending the reach of “high speed broadband” in Wales (i.e. exploring possible delivery options). Various one-to-one meetings on this are expected to take place in May and June 2023.

NOTE: Around 10,000 out of the 84,000 stated premises (map) also do not yet have access to download speeds of at least 10Mbps (USO level).

Just to be clear, the WG seems to be positioning this potential procurement as a complement to run alongside other UK Government interventions, such as the £5bn Project Gigabit programme. “While there are existing interventions scheduled by the telecommunications industry and UK Government public funded interventions, these remote and hard-to-reach areas are not likely to be addressed commercially, and it is not certain that they will be addressed by further publicly funded interventions,” said the PIN.

However, this makes it unclear where the funding for the Welsh Government’s potential project would come from, particularly as it appears to be positioning itself as separate from Project Gigabit. But the PIN itself “does not commit [the] Welsh Government to publishing a procurement“, thus only time will tell how it evolves.

The detail suggests that this is more focused upon the same sort of areas as the final 0.3% of “Very Hard to Reach Premises” across the United Kingdom, which the Building Digital UK (BDUK) agency in the UK Government has previously identified as being too expensive for even Project Gigabit. The UK is already trialling alternative solutions for such locations, such as via Starlink and Oneweb based LEO broadband satellites (here and here).

But the problem area for rural Wales is much bigger, proportionally speaking. At present, around 3-4% of premises in Wales still don’t have access to speeds of 30Mbps+, although we’d expect that to fall to around 2-3% in the near future.

Meanwhile, it’s worth noting that last year’s Public Review of coverage in Wales also identified that a total of 327,174 premises might ultimately need state aid help in order to access gigabit-capable broadband connections in the future, which rises to 984,806 premises (i.e. an additional 657,632) if you include “Under Review” areas into the total (i.e. planned commercial builds that are potentially at risk of not being completed).

Finally, the seemingly separate Project Gigabit rollout for Wales has already completed its initial market engagement exercise and final intervention areas are now being developed with the aim of launching procurements by this summer. But we note that are large part of Wales (i.e. North West and Mid Wales – Lot 43C) may only end up being served by a single supplier under a new Cross-Regional Supplier Framework (here and here).

In terms of fixed line suppliers, the main players in Wales are currently Openreach (BT), Virgin Media (VMO2), Ogi and Netomnia (YouFibre).

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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 X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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Comments
11 Responses
  1. Avatar photo Richard Branston says:

    Instead of wasting money on incentivising network operators to expand gigabit capable networks a cheaper / quicker alternative would be to make it easier for operators to extend existing 4/5G networks.

    All of the MNO operators are losing £mms a month preparing detailed planning applications for taller or new masts – most of which get rejected.

    The planning failure rate for some operators is as high as 80% – adding years to deployment plans and incurring huge cost along the way.

    1. Mark-Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      To be fair, there are already changes going on to facilitate that, but there are also a lot of caveats with variable mobile signals and spectrum capacity that make it tricky to sell as a solution for all of the country’s various gigabit broadband woes.

      Lest we forget that mobile masts also need to be fed by high-capacity fibre lines and doing dense deployments to deliver coverage in rural areas would face its own set of economic challenges, much like FTTP builds.

      So there’s a place for mobile broadband to help fill the gaps, but to be truly viable we’d need to hold the performance it delivers to a much higher minimum standard, and I can’t see that happening any time soon.

    2. Avatar photo MilesT says:

      Can 5G masts also use wareless backhaul (traditionally line of sight microwave to nearby tower) as an alternative to fibre connection? or is that no longer big enough/reliable enough/just not done in the UK for other reasons?

    3. Mark-Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      Microwave backhaul for mobile sites is already a thing, but it doesn’t work everywhere (getting LoS in remote rural areas can be a problem) and modern networks need much more capacity, which can be hard to feed via radio over distance. Radio spectrum remains a finite resource.

    4. Avatar photo Gary says:

      Cheaper quicker but nowhere near as good and in no way driving infra towards the stated aim of Gb connectivity across the UK, While improved 4G/G5 and less planning failures would be great , its not really the aim or purpose of this.

  2. Avatar photo Justin says:

    It’s also limited to c10Gbps on current backhaul technologies. For a mast with a relatively low density of users this is fine but if you’re aggregating a large number of concurrent users then less so. Fibre is the preferred backhaul, where available or economically viable.

    https://www.ericsson.com/4a81b8/assets/local/reports-papers/microwave-outlook/2022/ericsson-microwave-outlook-report-2022.pdf

  3. Avatar photo Justin says:

    Probably with adding that I think we are still awaiting the Policy Outcome of this call for evidence https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/improving-broadband-for-very-hard-to-reach-premises/call-for-evidence-improving-connectivity-for-very-hard-to-reach-premises

    Project Gigabit specifically excludes these areas, so there would need to be a different delivery vehicle for this once a policy is agreed.

    My personal guess is that the outcome will likely be some means to subsidise a hybrid of fibre, terrestrial radio and Low Earth Orbit Satellite.

    Whether that is a supply side intervention (operator subsidy) or a demand side intervention (e.g. consumer vouchers) remains to be seen.

  4. Avatar photo Aden Brill says:

    I live in one of those very hard to reach locations in Wales, with a fixed line broadband download of 1.2mbps. I sourced Starlink with a grant from the Welsh government for all the upfront costs. I now have consistent 100/20 speeds. So Starlink works very well, and I suspect would work for almost all those 84,000 premises. Starlink currently offers hardware to the UK for £300 so that means £25M for all the up front costs and £38M to subsidies 50% of the first years monthly charges. That leaves £7M operating profit for me.

    1. Avatar photo David MW0DCM says:

      Starlink or any other Satellite broadband is way OTT in price for some of us in Rural South Wales, I just don’t like RF for networks full stop. I see Ogi are aiming for Tonypandy and Ynyshir, both are just a little distance from where I live, so I’m pinning my hopes on FTTP.

  5. Avatar photo JP says:

    This doesn’t exactly say its going to provide gigabit fibre networks too all these premises, its saying it will uplift people beyond 30mbps!

    At £833 per property, I think someone is having a giraffe.

  6. Avatar photo Daniel Kelly says:

    We were due to have fttp delivered by end of year under the gigabit voucher scheme, we had funding approved in 2022 so were well underway in planning the roll out to find out even though funding had been approved and secure, funding has been withdrawn. Schemes like this are delaying roll out of fttp to properties as we are not the only community affected by this. We were supposed to be under the original superfast cymru scheme and had confirmation we were due fttp by September 2016 with openreach which while fibre was rolled out it was never lit up. We worked with Broadway on this latest scheme but DCMS pulled the rug from underneath them. This is extending the digital divide not closing it.

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