The current broadband landscape

  • Connection to the internet is now considered by most to be a basic utility alongside the provision of water, electricity, gas and telephone.
  • Nielsen’s law of internet bandwidth demand demonstrates that “a high-end user’s broadband speed grows by 50% every year”.  This suggests that “mass residential demand will hit a requirement for 1000Mbps (or 1Gbps) speeds by 2020.”
  • Even if you’re not a high end user yourself, as more and more services are delivered online (including medical monitoring, video telephony and cloud based computing), existing bandwidth will become increasingly squeezed, so by ‘standing still’ we will effectively be going backwards.
  • Broadband industry blogger Neil Fairbrother says:
  • “In the same way that the pioneers of the electricity industry couldn’t have foreseen the plethora of devices connected to their new energy distribution networks, we can’t envisage what applications and uses a true optical fibre network will enable, what changes to our lives such a thing would make.”

grown in application of electicity

  • Remember using a dial up internet connection (which BT discontinued recently), just a few years ago?  Could you imagine going back to it now?   If we don’t improve our broadband speeds in Long Hamborough soon, then it will feel just like that has happened within a few years.
  • If you had a sufficiently fast and reliable connection (which Long Hamborough doesn’t), you would be able to stream HD films and TV programmes with services such as BBC iPlayer or Netflix, play computer games online in real time against people from across the globe and of course make video telephone calls using programmes like Skype, without the connection dropping out and the person at the other end sounding like a dalek.
  • And instead of typically taking 4 hours or more to download an HD movie, you could have it in the time it takes to make a cup of tea (between 3 and 6 minutes).
  • Fast broadband also opens up the potential to save money on things like internet telephony / VOIP (Voice over IP), which offers telephone calls for significantly lower rates than BT and includes extras such as 1471, caller id, voicemail and call barring as standard.  There’s no need to keep your BT line rental and you can even keep your existing telephone number free of charge.
  • Or you could cancel your Sky Movies package and take out film streaming subscriptions with the likes of LoveFilm for around £5.99 per month.  In addition to having far more choice with no long terms contracts, you can still watch the same movies on demand from Sky or another operator if you wish.
  • For the time being however, internet connections in Long Hamborough are delivered via the existing BT copper or aluminium telephone wires alone, a service called ADSL.
  • Average broadband speeds in Long Hamborough (around 2Mbps), are significantly lower than the UK national average of 14.7 Mbps, which in itself places the UK in a very poor 18th place in Europe.
  • This is because we are at the ‘end of the line’ from the Cumnor Exchange (which is situated near Matthew Arnold School) and signals over copper wire degrade significantly the further you get from the exchange & cabinet.  This is called attenuation.
  • In addition, as a small community of just a few hundred properties and a handful of businesses, we represent an insignificant commercial opportunity for BT, which would, perhaps understandably, rather spend its infrastructure capital reaching many more customers in densely populated urban areas, than in sparsely populated, rural Long Hamborough .
  • As such, in many areas of the UK (not Long Hamborough of course), BT continues to roll out its BT Infinity fibre network.
  • BT Infinity requires the connection of a fibre optic ‘trunk’ cable from the nearest telephone exchange, to the local telephone cabinet, but importantly, still utilises the existing copper / aluminium wires for the ‘tail’ section from the cabinet to individual properties.  This solution is called Fibre to the Cabinet (or FTTC) and currently uses VDSL technology (Very High Speed Digital Subscriber Line).
  • Constrained as it is by the old copper / aluminium telephone wires, the speed and reliability of BT Infinity is not only affected by your distance from the cabinet, but also by things such as the weather and electronic interference.  Fibre optic cables meanwhile, remain completely unaffected by such things.
  • With Infinity, any properties over 800 metres away from the cabinet would therefore see little or no improvement in speeds, even if the local cabinet was upgraded (which is by no means guaranteed).  Properties over 1.3km away from the cabinet will definitely see no imrpovement at all.
  • This would suggest that houses at the west end of Long Hamborough village, in Filchampstead and near Oakenholt House would see little or no improvement on current speeds, even if BT Infinity was installed.
  • Despite significant advances in recent years in pushing more data along the existing copper wires, most experts agree that little or no further gains can be made beyond one final proposed (and massively expensive) upgrade called G-Fast, without replacing all the copper wires with fibre optic cable.   There are currently no plans to do this in rural communities and if that were ever to change, Long Hamborough would almost certainly be at the back of the queue once again.
  • As industry expert blogger Neil Fairbrother says:
  • “But because G.Fast is as fast as it gets on copper, and the telegraph pole is as close as it gets, it’s the last possible hoorah for copper, the end of the road. MIllions of pounds will be spent deploying it, but it has no future. It’s a pointless deviation, a technological cul-de-sac.”
  • Operators such as Gigaclear and Virgin already install such all-fibre networks, which run fibre optic cables underground from the ‘core internet’ direct into your home (although Virgin actually uses Coaxial copper cable).  This is called Fibre to the Premises – FTTP, or sometimes Fibre To The Home – FTTH).
  • Gigaclear recently installed just such a network in Appleton and Eaton, in addition to 5 other rural communities’ to-date.  The company estimates that 9 or 10 networks will be live by Spring 2014 (including Long Hamborough hopefully).
  • If you need convincing about the speeds, why not visit the Plough in Appleton with a lap top and ask them for their wi-fi code.  And ask the locals what they think about Gigaclear while you’re at it.
  • Signals along fibre optic cables run at the speed of light and are consequently highly reliable and not affected by weather conditions or distance from the cabinet.
  • Incidentally, the existing BT copper wire network will not be affected by the installation of Gigaclear in the area.  In fact, you can run your existing BT broadband & phone system alongside it if you really want to.
  • If BT Infinity FTTC did come to Long Hamborough , then for a few select properties prepared to pay a premium (mainly businesses), it would be possible to run a fibre cable from the nearest ‘node’ (near the cabinet), into your premises, creating a sort of hybrid FTTP called Fibre on Demand (FoD).
  • BT FoD was only launched in April 2013 and has consequently been rolled out in very few UK areas to-date.
  • The current installation cost for FoD is between £700 & £4,000 – compared to £100 for Gigaclear.  That’s between 7 and 40 times more expensive than Gigaclear.
  • FoD – BTs flagship service, delivers maximum download speeds at least 3 times slower than Gigaclear, maximum upload speeds at least 33 times slower and costs close to double Gigaclear’s monthly rates.  FoD data usage is also likely to be capped, whereas all Gigaclear packages are unlimited.
  • The only other operator in the area, Virgin Media, does have ‘fibre’ installed in parts of Eynsham, Botley and Cumnor, but it currently has no plans to invest in extending its UK network, even in high density urban areas that would be far more commercially attractive than sparsely populated, rural Long Hamborough .
  • Meanwhile, the government, in association with local authorities across the UK (including Oxfordshire County Council),  is aiming to improve broadband speeds in rural areas which might otherwise be left behind because they are not perceived as commercially viable by telecoms operators such as BT.
  • In Oxfordshire, the so-called BDUK initiative (Broadband Delivery UK) has a combined £13.86 million of government / OCC money to invest in faster rural broadband.
  • BT recently won the contract to implement the BDUK rural broadband plan in Oxfordshire.
  • As a result, BT will also invest around £11 million in the scheme, but stands to reap 100% of the wholesale profits and the vast majority of retail profits from the expanded customer base.   The £11m is also an internal, unaudited estimate provided by BT themselves.
  • In fact, as the only remaining bidder, BT has won the BDUK contract for every single UK local authority to-date, In effect handing a £1.2 billion public subsidy to a private sector company.  Remember, BT has not been a taxpayer ‘owned’ public utility for many years.
  • This called into question European Union anti-competition laws and for this reason, among many others, the BDUK initiative is already at least 22 months behind schedule and has recently been severely criticised by a National Audit Office (NAO) report.  One source quoted in the Telegraph described the initiative as a “train crash waiting to happen”.
  • BDUKs stated mission, to deliver broadband speeds of 24Mbps to at least 90% of properties in the UK population by the end of 2015, has consequently been downgraded to delivering 24Mbps to 95% of the UK population by the end of 2017 – around 4.5 years from now if all goes to plan, which to-date it hasn’t.
  • Meanwhile, Oxfordshire County Council has claimed that it can bring speeds of 24 Mbps to 90% of the county and a minimum of 2 Mbps to 100% of the county by the end of 2015, despite entering the BDUK process relatively late in the day.
  • As such, In July 2013, BT published a sparsely detailed initial map showing which Oxfordshire rural communities would theoretically be covered under the initiative.
  • While the upgrade map appears to cover most of the properties on the Cumnor Exchange (albeit excluding the properties at the west end of the village on the Eynsham Exchange and possibly some near Oakenholt), BT has so far refused to confirm when or even if it will upgrade the Long Hamborough cabinet.
  • BT will only say that it assesses “every cabinet on a case by case business basis & some villages are not economically viable for a FTTC upgrade.”
  • Maria Miller, secretary of state for culture, media and sport has demanded that BT publishes a more detailed theoretical national coverage / speed map, but again, BT has so far refused to do this.
  • Either way, BT estimates that it will be between 6 and 9 months before it has surveyed all the areas in question and is ready to publish a definitive cabinet upgrade & speed map. (i.e. probably between Jan – April 2014).
  • It is perhaps not surprising therefore, that most commentators, including the BBC, believe the BDUK solution to be too little too late:
  • So in summary, although we may be lucky and BT may one day install Infinity in Long Hamborough, it is clear that :
  1. We cannot be certain of this fact.
  2. That it could take up to 2 years to arrive, possibly more.
  3. That if installed, a proportion of the properties in the area will experience little or no improvement to their current speed or reliability.
  4. That even those close enough to the cabinet to benefit, will have been lumbered with a service that will already be well on its way to becoming obsolete.
  • Or, we can have Gigaclear’s faster, more reliable, future proofed fibre network this year.