Tag: Thinkbroadband

UK worst in Europe for superfast FTTH broadband

The UK has failed to catch up with other European countries for roll out of high speed fibre to the home broadband, according to a new report.

The FTTH Council Europe has released figures showing the 22 countries with more than 1 percent of households accessing FTTH broadband, with a 16.4 percent increase in subscribers across Europe.  By mid 2012 there were more than 32 million homes in Europe with FTTH, and 5.95 million subscribers.

The UK was absent from the rankings however, due to its low FTTH penetration.  According to the report, the UK has just 0.05 percent of subscribers accessing despite the government aiming to have the fastest broadband in Europe by 2015.

According to the FTTH Council the UK has “missed the opportunity” offered by the Broadband Delivery (BDUK) project.

As well as increases to speed, FTTH would also mean a more stable connection, as radio interference would no longer present a problem, while latency would be less of a problem with just an extension of fibre all the way from the datacentre to the home. This will mean benefits for cloud services for example.

One of the biggest benefits would be for content creators, with uploading times significantly improved.

“Key countries absent from the ranking may miss out on their chance to build a sustainable future for their citizens”, said Hartwig Tauber, Director General of FTTH Council Europe.

“The decision to invest in FTTH – the only future-proof solution – needs to be made today.”
Andrew Ferguson at Thinkbroadband agrees that the UK is “late to the party”, though it is not totally off the radar for FTTH uptake, and has at least some FTTH 175,000 homes passed as of June, and 13,000 subscriptions. 

“The problem has been that most developments so far are small scale,” Ferguson says, “so while high in numbers, their impact on the national picture is small.

One of the major problems with rollout in the UK is that broadband operators such as BT Openreach have been concentrating on getting fibre to the cabinet networks, rather than fibre to the premise or house.

“Openreach has talked about getting its FTTP service to perhaps 10 percent of UK homes, but at present many areas are only partially built, with them concentrating on the headline-grabbing figures of 11 million homes able to get the FTTC service.” 

“We are assured that this figure is still a target, but priorities in the roll-out have shifted.”
Ferguson also says that the government meanwhile has been slowed by a desire to provide more comprehensive FTTH coverage than in other European nations.

“The UK has also focused on ubiquity of access, where as there are many countries in Europe with better FTTH deployments now tackling the same sort of digital divide.” 

“It is very likely that the desire for ubiquitous access has held back some projects that could have made the UK look better.

British government cuts broadband "red tape"

The government has announced plans to fast track high speed broadband rollout, while UK citizens express a lack of confidence in promises to offer Europe’s fastest broadband by 2015.

Newly appointed culture secretary Maria Miller made promises today to cut red tape in order to enable the swift rollout of high speed broadband. 

“Superfast broadband is vital to secure our country’s future – to kick start economic growth and create jobs,” Miller said of the government’s plans to invest £680 million in broadband infrastructure. 

“We are putting in the essential infrastructure that will make UK businesses competitive, and sweeping away the red tape that is a barrier to economic recovery,” shesaid.

Measures to aid faster deployment of high speed broadband include the ability to install broadband cabinets in streets without the need for council approval, as well as reduced bureaucracy in laying street cables and under private land.

Prime Minister David Cameron stated that superfast broadband is “an essential building block of a growing economy, so we are cutting the red tape”.

In a Coalition cabinet reshuffle earlier this week Conservative Maria Miller was appointed at the helm of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, and received backing from the prime minister to prioritise the roll out of high speed broadband. 

“I want the culture department rolling out broadband…This is a Government who mean business, and we have got the team to deliver it,” the Cameron said in parliament earlier this week.

The drive to attain the best broadband speeds marks a departure from earlier plans by former culture secretary Jeremy Hunt to deliver the “best” broadband network in Europe, formerly stating that “Our goal is simple: within this parliament we want Britain to have the best superfast broadband network in Europe”. 

Hunt said last month that the onus would now be on supplying the “fastest” broadband instead, claiming that “to be the best you need to be the fastest”.

Plans to upgrade broadband infrastructure involve increasing the rollout of fibre to the cabinet broadband, aiming for “headline access speed of greater than 24 Mbps, with no upper limit”, according to Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) minister Ed Vaizey.

However, according to a survey from thinkbroadband.com, 83 percent of 1,100 survey respondents in the UK think that plans to rollout the fastest broadband in Europe are unlikely to be achieved, with only five percent having faith in the government delivering on promises to achieve this.

Andrew Ferguson, editor of thinkbroadband.com, said that there is little optimism that the government can achieve its aims.

“The results illustrate that broadband users seek higher speeds but are not optimistic, with confidence in the government’s plans at an all time low,” Ferguson said. “The new culture secretary should take note of this and ensure they keep on track with the ambitious plans or risk lowering public confidence even further.”

Ferguson said that with Hunt out of the frame, the question now is whether his replacement, Maria Miller, will support his “bold goal”. 

He added that, with current UK broadband speeds lagging behind the rest of Europe, the government will need to propel the UK from the bottom of the pile “to the top of the broadband charts”.

Shadow Minister slams costly 4G delays

The government’s handling of the 4G auction debacle has been attacked by Shadow Minister Helen Goodman, with claims that delays are costing the economy up £1 million per day in revenues.

Labour MP Goodman roundly criticised a lack of support for Ofcom to deliver an auction back in 2010.  In a statement released today, she claimed the government “decided not to give Ofcom the back up to go ahead with the sale of 4G”.

Highlighting “disappointment” at the further 18 months it has taken to get to the auction process, which is expected to take place at the end of this year, Goodman said the decision was hitting the country in the pocket.

With the country counting the pennies, losing the sum of “almost £1 million in revenue a day” is inexcusable, she said in a statement seen by Computing.

Furthermore she remarked on the “shameful situation” of being one of the last to rollout high speed 4G, which many countries such as Sweden already have.

She certainly has a point. With Britain home to ARM, whose chips power so many mobile devices, it is a shame that we will not see high speed mobile internet on a large scale until roughly 2015.

Indeed, a report released last year by the Open Digital Policy group claimed that the cost of delaying 4G would amount to £732 million each year.

According to Andrew Ferguson at Thinkbroadband, the government has a lot to answer for with the delays. “Questioning of why the auctions have been so delayed, and why we continue to have a slow style consultation processes, rather than simply getting on with the auction and actual network implementation is something that must be done,” he told TechEye.

“We are told by the current Government that the e-economy is important to the UK, but the level of investment and political pressure applied to firms and regulators to ensure infrastructure projects such as the 4G roll-out do not seem to carry the same level of importance as road and rail infrastructure projects.”

While some have given estimates of the cost for delaying 4G auctions, Ferguson says that it is difficult to assign a specific price tag, but there is no denying the impact.

“Pinning an actual amount per day on something like this is very difficult,” Ferguson said. “The delays in 4G roll-out mean that people coming to the UK, both competitors, media, visitors and business people with 4G dongles and phones will find the lack of network surprising I am sure.

“This may then impact on the impression of the UK as a place to do e-commerce, leading to less investment and businesses locating elsewhere.

“Another less mentioned problem with the 4G roll-out delay, is that we are in the process of improving broadband for all via BDUK projects, and the lack of actual 4G roll-out means that it is hard for local authorities to actually use it as part of their roll-outs.”

Ferguson continued: “Evidence of some of the problems are the way that firms like O2 are embracing Wi-Fi for off loading data from its 3G network in the most crowded areas. 3G does not have the capacity per mast to cope with large masses of people, such as you already get in London and other urban centres.

“The mobile providers are engaging in trial roll-outs to learn about the performance of 4G networks, for example its use in Cornwall as part of their broadband improvements, but being trials the impact will be limited.”

UK cities expected to go it alone for better broadband

The full list of cities which will be eligible to bid for ‘super-connected’ broadband funding has been announced, though experts believe the cash could make little difference to many UK cities.

Following an announcement that the four capital cities in the UK will be awarded part of a £100 million high speed broadband fund, a further list of cities has revealed who will scrap it out for broadband cash.

Birmingham, Bradford, Bristol, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, Newcastle, Nottingham, Manchester and Sheffield have all been given the green light to put a bid in to grab the remaining funds and become part of the ‘super-connected’ project.

As part of a drive to kickstart the flailing UK economy, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport is now taking bids from cities which can plead the best case for getting the funds.   This will involve explaining how they will use the 80-100 Mbps speeds to push growth.  The internet will be supplied by BT and Virgin.

The competition means that some will lose out on the cash, but it does seem to make it easier to allocate the funding more prudently.  Industry experts believe that question marks remain over the ability to make a difference to ten cities considering the amount on the table.

 “When the original announcement was made, we did wonder how the scheme would work,” said Andrew Ferguson at thinkbroadband.com.   “By limiting it to four pre-selected capital cities, and six out of the ten cities only going to win, then we do at least have an idea of how far the fund will have to spread.”

He points out that many cities are already approaching existing targets for 2015, such as Cardiff, though it could be that such steps were made prior to any knowledge of further funding.

“Most cities were working towards improving broadband,” Ferguson told TechEye, “though it is unclear whether some of these projects were going ahead with the prior information that some government funding may be available.”

Ferguson thinks the amount on offer is scant compared to the scale of the task in upgrading broadband systems. On its own, it’s not enough, he thinks. “But with careful targeting to the worst served areas of each city, it will make a difference.”

Nor will it create a super connected city, like the visions inspired by South Korea and Japan. “The best we can expect,” Ferguson says, “is that it will ensure that inside the ten cities broadband at speeds well above the 2 Mbps USC will be available everywhere.”

He believes that with scant funding available to support broadband, with other infrastructure sectors such as rail and roads gaining priority, cities may well be better off going it alone.

“One key aspect is that the cities are expected to raise their own funds, and as such there is nothing stopping any city in the UK going it alone, and ignoring this fund,” Ferguson says. “In terms of speed of roll-out of the actual improvements this may be a better approach, and the Superfast Cornwall project is a prime example – they started well before the BDUK scheme was underway.”

IEEE publishes long range wireless standards

New standards for long range wireless networks have been published today by the IEEE.

The 802.22 standard for Wireless Regional Area Networks (WRANs) means that broadband access can be provided over long distances, up to 100 kilometres.

This will mean that rural areas could more easily benefit from broadband access, with developing countries targeted by the IEEE.

Of course, as Ofcom has been reminded of lately, even in little old England there are many areas which cannot be reached.

The engineers at the IEEE have very cleverly managed to use the VHF and UHF bandwidths usually used for TV, accessing the “white-spaces between TV channels” at the 54 MHz to 862 MHz spectru,.

This is possible by using cognitive radio capabilities. These include dynamic spectrum access, incumbent database access, accurate geolocation techniques, spectrum sensing, regulatory domain dependent policies, spectrum etiquette, and “coexistence for optimal use of the available spectrum”.

Essentially this means that it will be possible to send wireless broadband access without interfering with TV signals, achieving delivery of up to 22 Mbps per channel.

According to Andrew Ferguson at Thinkbroadband.com such wireless networks could potentially be for connecting areas that are without access.

“Wireless would certainly be easier than fibre connections to areas where ground would actually be dug up to provide a connection,” he told TechEye.

“But whether the speeds would be high enough is unclear, with many looking above the 25 Mbps mark.”

Virgin Media told us that while it was looking to support access in rural communities, it places more emphasis on the higher speeds of cable broadband, with the IEE spec not necessarilty high enough for a full range of services.

According to Alex Buttle, marketing director at uSwtich telecoms, the publishing of the standards is a positive step for net equality.

“It is a hugely positive new technology, and it is good for equality of connectivity across the world,” he told us.

“The standard across the world has been quite poor so far so this would certainly be raising the bar of what is available, so is definitely a positive step.”

“Wireless networks are good way to bridge the gap where it is difficult to cable broadband.”

“So in terms of bringing rural communities up to speed it would definitely be worth Ofcom’s investment to help roll out the technology.”

Broadband operators won't tell people lies any more

Major broadband operators in the UK have agreed to sign up to a code which will aim to “provide customers with greater clarity” over the way that data traffic is managed.

BSkyB, BT, O2, TalkTalk, Three, Virgin Media and Vodafone will all supply information to the Broadband Stakeholder Group, which is spearheading the initiative, so that traffic management techniques can easily be read and compared by users of both fixed line and mobile broadband.

Although the information is already provided by many of the firms, it will soon be available in one format to enable greater clarity via a Key Facts Indicator table which will be available in June 2011.

The call for greater clarity comes not long after UK internet watchdog Ofcom demanded that ISPs give more clarity over the way that they sell broadband speeds, aiming to clear up the rather murky system which allowed operators to claim speeds of double what is actually on offer.

“Broadband has been clouded with unclear technical terms for years, with some vital information often hidden behind unclear ‘fair-usage policies’,” said thinkbroadband co-founder John Hunt.

“This move by major broadband providers to adopt a standardised approach to describing traffic management should help demystify this area, allowing consumers to compare their options easily and make a more informed choice about which broadband product is best for them.”

Speaking to TechEye, Hunt said the move essentially gives the go-ahead to ISPs to create a two tiered system.

“You could say that it is an amber light rather than a green light as it means that the government doesn’t want to step in and stop such a move, and is not clearly saying ‘go ahead’, but is seeking for the ISPs to be more open with what they are doing.”

He believes that it is certainly within the major ISP brand’s interests to publish the code, despite many objectors to the traffic management plans.

“By pushing it from the start means that they are able to control what is happening,” Hunt said.

“So self regulation is certainly preferential than regulation from Ofcom over the matter, and it gives off a good impression of clarity to the customer straight away, which is also in their interest.”

And with growing concern over the way that traffic is managed by ISPs it appears that the BSG hopes the new code will be welcomed by customers still getting to grips with the way that data traffic can be handled depending on time, usage and other factors.

According to Antony Walker, BSG Chief Executive, the code will help curb animosity towards traffic management by critics, and help customers make more informed decision on subscriptions, with calls from certain quarters for a more considered approach to the way that traffic is managed.

“There has been more heat than light in the debate about traffic management over recent years,” he said. “This commitment to provide clear and comparable information in a common format is very important.”

Of course it may come as a slight surprise with tensions rising over net neutrality, both here and in America, that the UK government and ISPs seem so happy to parade the potential division of the internet in the face of grave concerns that it could become a two-tiered environment where those who pay more money are prioritised.

According to Walker the code does not mean a green light to proceed with such schemes, as it merely provides greater clarity over how traffic management works, stating that “It is not yet clear” if prioritising of – say, video streaming – will happen.

However it may seem to the public that the move has already been okayed with the publication of statistics, even before an EC investigation into best approaches is concluded.

In fact, considering that the BSG is sponsors include a number of the those  involved, such as BSkyB and Virgin Media, and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills,  it could be questioned how much involvement the ISPs themselves had in the rules, and whether this was indeed a truly independent initiative.

Many in the industry believe that it is inevitable that a tiered approach will happen to some extent.

“The debate between net neutrality and tiered access is hinged on the issue that tiered access is going to impact net neutrality,” says Frederic Huet, managing director of Greenwich Consulting.

“But at the same time, consumers and businesses alike must recognise that some content is harder to transport than others.

“Services such as streamed video are incredibly bandwidth-hungry and can negatively impact service speed, meaning that browsing, email and messaging, which are much lighter and also generate revenues are slower to access.”

Ultimately, Huet contends, the only alternative is Ofcom regulation, which he believes will stifle competition, innovation and consumer choice as only the large ISP brands will have the resources to adapt, as well as “setting a precendent for internet regualtion which will lead down a more complex, more regualted path.” Which is interesting considering how fit for the cull Ofcom is in the eyes of this Coalition government’s austerity age.



UK ISPs only supply half broadband speeds they promise

Internet watchdog Ofcom has announced the results of its investigation into broadband in the UK, showing that consumers have been getting miss-sold internet packages, with only speeds reaching only half of that advertised.

The Ofcom research showed that internet service providers (ISPs) were offering an average broadband speed of 13.8Mbits/s, though the actual download speeds that customers received were a mere 45 percent of this, at an average of 6.2Mbit/s.

Furthermore it was noted that ADSL which appeared to wildly vary in its reliability, leading to recommendations that a Typical Speed Range should be advertised prominently.

Ofcom results showed that ADSL internet provided through phone lines was incredibly varied, with claims for up to 20 or 24Mbit/s were found to reach just 6.2Mbit/s, a rather embarrassing 29 percent of what customers are paying for in good faith.

For up to 8Mbit/s an average ADSL service reached 3.4Mbit/s.

Two of the worst ISP in this sense were BT and Orange which regularly offered way above what their customers actually received.

However it seems that the faster the broadband speed the more likely the consumer is going to get a fair deal.

Those using Fibre-to-the-cabinet connections, around fifteen percent of the population, found that their actual connections were reached 78 percent of what they expected.

Meanwhile broadband via fibre optic cables were even closer to what was advertised, with the highest speed connections delivering around 90 to 96 percent of the advertised speeds.

For example Virgin Media’s highest speed 50Mbit/s deal, gave an average download speed of 46Mbit/s.

While Virgin should not be applauded for basically doing what it said it would, and indeed demanded good money for, the firm has certainly highlighted that it is possible to deliver at least a good portion of what it has promised, unlike BT.

However BT Infinity did manage to keep some face by offering by far the best upload speeds, obviously highly useful for those wishing to send large files on a regular basis.

While the average upload speed for all ISPs was 1.5Mbit/s, with Virgin’s 50Mbit/s package still only offering 2.5Mbit/s upload, BT infinity offered a much more impressive 8Mbit/s.

One of the ways in which Ofcom plans to rectify the service being provided to UK consumer is to attempt to implement the TSR, which it recommends should be shown at least as prominently as the ‘up to’ speed that firms are rather liberal with.

However according to industry experts not enough is being done:

“This research shows the need for consumers not to rely solely on advertised speeds in making decisions about which broadband provider to use,” Sebastien Lahtinen, co-founder, thinkbroadband.

“Whilst we welcome Ofcom’s proposal that broadband providers should give users more information on typical speeds, they do not as yet address how consumers should be made aware of traffic management practices, and Ofcom’s current position appears to suggest broadband providers can for example restrict certain types of applications whilst labelling their product as ‘unlimited’ and quoting fast typical speeds, even though this may not apply to applications users are seeking to use.”