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Friday, 2 September 2011

The First Mile

Thanks to Lindsey for letting me contribute - as a consultant I feel I'm intruding, but I've a question about The First Mile (Last Mile for UK telecoms traditionalists - the one closest to the customer, though)...

This blog post can be read at

I recently came upon a problem with wanting to define The First Mile. The problem is going to arise more over the next few months since broadband projects seek funding beyond BDUK. Some of these (like ERDF and probably DEFRA) want to fund the community networks, but not sink even more money into backhaul that never gets to benefit end users.

The definition that had been suggested was "from customer to cabinet".

This presents some obvious problems - it suggests FTTC (which I hear not everyone favours?) and anyway, not all line use cabinets, particularly in rural areas.

So the question is - what should the definition be?

At the moment I'm proposing "from the customer to the exchange".

Admitedly this does suppose some telecoms involvement, and probably BT involvement, but that is probably just a reality. It has the advantages (I think) of being flexible to ensure the feeder connection from exchange to community network can also be funded, and in being technology neutral.

But any other ideas?


wireless pacman said...

I am responding both as a WISP and also as a consultant myself (having done a lot of regulatory work for European regulators over the years).

I feel you are in danger of falling into a common "trap" in believing that the problem is solely one of the final connection to the house. In my view, the real problem is one of backhaul provision - that is getting a high bandwidth connection from where the "internet" is cheap (eg the centre of a major city) out to a point (or rather a set of points) from where it can then be fed to individual properties.

To illustrate with an example of FTTC. The cost (and thus risk) is not the copper connection from the cabinet to the house, or even the DSLAM/MSAN located at or next to the cabinet, it is getting a decent bandwidth connection (a) back to the exchange and then (b) from the exchange back to a major city (which may or may not be London).

Lindsey (and others) talk in terms of the provision of the digital village pump as the real challenge in getting very high speed broadband out to the final third which is another way of saying that the issue is the backhaul. Once the "pump" has been sorted, the final connection is pretty easy to sort out, whether via a localised wireless distribution system, a community built fibre network, or a numbe of other alternatives.

PhilT said...

BDUK's spreadsheet includes an element for building a cabinet where there isn't one, in order to provide "fibre in every community". I'm taking this from the notes on the model which are on the DCMS site, I don't have access to the model itself.

I think you should cover more than one scenario - Telephone Exchange, PCP Cabinet, Local Authority owned premises with connectivity, VM cabinet, adjacent community network - etc.

So perhaps "from the consumer to the nearest practical available fibre optic connection" ?

BT's long term plans will have a lot less exchanges, for example FTTC data can be connected to a different exchange to the voice, so a wider basis is called for.

Somerset said...

James, you need to explain why you need a definition for a term that does not define what it is...

With lines in FOX exchange areas actually connecting back to handover points it becomes more complex...

NGA UK said...

Local loop is the other term frequently used but also very difficult to quantify. Connection to the exchange is very valid and does not have to imply existing telecom involvement - even community networks will need to converge into some form of hub (or exchange) where they will connect the the backhaul.

A further suggestion for you might be the connection from the consumer to the next piece of powered telecom equipment (i.e. not passive optical components). This should rule in pretty much any first mile delivery including FTTC and FTTH.

Carlos Bock said...

I agree with you two. I also define "The First Mile" as the network segment between the local exchange and the end user.

Note that this is also called "The Last Mile".

Actually, most of the traditional operators call it like that.

Carlos Bock said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
PhilT said...

Previous comment got lost

How about "from the consumer to the nearest available high bandwidth aggregation point". FTTC cabinet, telephone exchange, VM cabinet, fibre interconnection point, parish pump, school, etc etc.

High bandwidth could be defined as "at least 100 Mbits/s with capability to expand 10 fold in the next 3 years".

Somerset said...

Clearly the first or last mile is a term that should not be used as it does not mean what it says.

Cybersavvy UK said...

1. Apology for sloth in approving comments. There are some major spammers out there who were trashing the blog so I had to turn on moderation. If you need a response approving urgently, please DM me on Twitter or text me. Thx, and sorry again.

2. Lindsey would like to point out her non-wavering belief in Erol's Middle Mile document from about 10 years ago. And hence her support for all efforts in solving the problem. I hope that Cumbria County Council, from recent public and private statements, are solving that problem with the procurement. Three cheers if so.

3. I would like to add that I believe there is an alternative solution to the common backhaul problems but I hear someone is about to trial it so I am going to await the results of that before posting more.

4.Location of PCPs, exchanges, access points has now been subjected to an academic mapping process that applies hardcore maths to a problem we must solve if we are to design the "new" network properly. Thanks to the still great institutions that are British Universities, more of this work will shortly become available. Watch this space in October. (And if you love this application of maths to the 4th utility, plus academia and community working together, let me know and we'll get you all together). So, PhilT's comment would be less about 'what' and more about 'where'.....

Keep calm and carry on.....