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Friday 29 August 2008

FTTC and first mile theory

Read more! Ofcom have published some research by Sagentia of an assessment of the theoretical limits of copper in the first mile.

Ofcom state in the report, "We found that if the DSL transmission system is hosted in the exchange, households within 2km of the exchange (approximately 18% of the total number of households) could, in theory, receive data rates above 50Mbit/s. If the DSL transmission system is moved closer to the customer premises and into the street cabinet, then almost 100% of households are within 2km of the street cabinet and could, theoretically, expect a data rate of 50Mbit/s."

Now, much of this is substantially theoretical, and not necessarily technically or economically feasible, or practical. And it raises the questions about who is planning to FTTC? And what regulatory environment would then be required for competition in the first mile, sub-loop unbundling etc?

As an aside, the idea of "worst is first" to work on eliminating the digital divide (particularly in rural areas) should not just be the preference of the regulator, but should also start to be enforced through regulation asap, as per Ashley Highfield and others' comments at the BSG event.
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Stop claiming you are all about fibre

Read more! Geoff at App-Rising (see blogroll on the right) has posted about his feelings over the potentially false advertising claims being made by ISPs over the Pond about fibre in their networks.

We have blogged about this issue before too, and it really is time it is stamped on throughout the EU. (Vivien, are you listening?)

As consumers, we ought to be protected from such advertising (mal)practices by the ASA and the likes of Trading Standards, let alone Ofcom. However, this does not appear to be happening - see the comment on the previous post about BT attempting to deal with VM's ads and how they were allowed to stand ... But worse, it is lulling those in government and so on into a false sense of belief about what is actually on offer, and therefore continuing this mistaken opinion that UK is competitive in the broadband arena.

Education of those both in government and consumers should be reinforced by ISPs and telcos' advertising, not entirely undone by it. And let's not forget, this level of protection of the consumer (and the government is also a consumer) is Ofcom's statutory duty.
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Thursday 28 August 2008

Telco 2.0 Event

Read more! The one event not to miss this autumn!! The Telco 2.0 event "Reducing Friction in the Digital Economy - exploiting latent telco assets" is on 4th and 5th November in London and if you grab your ticket NOW you get a 20% discount. JFDI!

Telco 2.0 thinking has been contributing to the paradigm shift within telecoms, and this event is one to seriously make an effort to get to. If you have ever read the Telco 2.0 research or blog, including the write up on the BSG event in July, then you know that there is a whole new world of thinking within Telco 2.0 that you can't afford to miss.

As Martin Geddes (well-known globally through his Telepocalypse blog) just told me, "We've a quite different perspective to the rest of the telecoms/analysts out there as to where the money comes from in future." Now, doesn't that just heighten your desire to know more?! Book NOW and we'll see you there!
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Local for Local

Read more! Interesting article here showing how, in the US, legal and regulatory issues about municipalities retailing services from their self-funded FTTH networks are being overcome. And why those open networks which retail directly to their consumers more often succeed than those who are strapped trying to attract service providers.

We have seen this as a major issue in the EU where State Aid and anti-competitive regulations often cause the failure of projects rather than guaranteeing their success, or even achievement (and not just in telecoms).

An interesting point to note is the benefits of a public and local utility type company where the benefits can spread across from one sector to another viz from fibre comms through to electricity supply. All of these save the public purse, ie our money, from being spent unwisely, and it is this level of joined-up thinking which often seems to be missing in the public sector at present in the UK. Civil servants can be far too precious about their department, or budgets, or careers, to think out of the box and look at the big picture which inevitably FTTH must be. It is not just about health care, or education, or home users - it is about connecting all of these sectors together and operating co-operatively.

The main point for me though of the article is the fact that many communities, large and small, urban and rural, are seeking to solve the problem themselves locally (JFDI), where incumbents and telcos do not wish to tread, for multiple reasons, but usually involving profit margins. This really is what we need to do in the UK but perhaps with a level of standardisation that is not implied in this US article - where each municipality is making its own call on tech, business model etc adopted. There is no reason not to adopt different models to suit the demographics, topology or other differences in our municipalities, but each community needs to interconnect seamlessly with others, or it will become an island within an island.

I have some thoughts about how to ensure that the right advice gets to the right decision makers and purse string holders to ensure a cohesive FTTH deployment in the UK, but I'll save that for another day!

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Saturday 23 August 2008

Mobile broadband to beat FTTH to 100Mbps?

Read more! Are they serious? Surely not. At the BSG conference back in June the view seemed to be that 4G mobile technology (lamely labelled LTE, or Long Term Evolution - yeuch! See the Wikipedia reference to learn about what it really means, and to revel in further acronymic jargon-hell) would reach maybe 50Mbps, but not much more. But this report at suggests that the powers that be in the mobile world are touting 100Mbps. Not just this, but they are saying they will deliver this sort of performance before FTTH networks can do so on a "commercial basis" (whatever that might mean).

Of course all this needs to be taken with the usual shovelful of salt. As most users of mobile broadband in the UK will probably tell you currently, real performance falls far short of the quoted bandwidth. Having said this, they report that they have achieved 186Mbps in the lab already. So maybe a real world figure of 50 megabits might actually be more realistic.

Could prove interesting as the posturing over headline performance figures begins to heat up. More interestingly, the ability to get this sort of performance out of wireless technologies bodes well for rural/remote next-gen networks, which can become increasingly cost effective when a mix of FTTH and wireless is used in order to reach the most outlying properties.
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Thursday 21 August 2008

Guest bloggers welcome!

Read more! Just a reminder that if you wish to guest blog here, please just ask. UKFibrevolution at

We know that there are readers from all over the EU, who may wish to post links and opinion from outside the UK, as well as those who reside and work within the UK. Have your say! Read more!

BT FTTx interview .... one month on

Read more! One month after the initial announcement by BT about its FTTx plans, (which did not stun the majority of industry observers, except in the recurrent failure to achieve what BT ought to be able to in the first decade of the 21st century!), an unnamed BT spokesman offers answers to some questions from ISPreview about the plans.

It is almost too tempting to take the entire article to pieces and not congratulate BT on at least taking some hesitant steps forward into FTTx.... but one feels that the items of note should be:

1) The assumption that FTTC should cost more to the consumer - the savings on opex over the coming years should prevent this entirely. FTTC should not be a premium product, nor priced as such. It is, again, an interim technology, as was ADSL, until the end game is reached - FTTH/P and hence true next generation access. (Interestingly, BT seem to have noted the outcry about their use of the acronym 'NGA' for ADSL2+ and FTTC, and avoid it altogether in this interview)

2) The admission that this (FTTC) is merely copper overlay, and thereby further sweating of the copper asset, as many industry observers were quick to point out. However, it should be mentioned that VDSL is touted as the tech to be used. This would seem to imply that focus on sub-loop unbundling regulation is now urgent.

3) The trial location will be announced during the autumn. This does not quite hold true with previous announcements that government and regional development agencies etc would have a say. It does however seem to imply that BT are in a rush to begin the deployment and are willing to do so without needing to seek public funds at this point. This does NOT bode well for digitally excluded areas, including rural and remote, who should be in the first wave of FTTx deployment, as well as (possibly) the likes of Milton Keynes etc (unless the demand there suddenly makes it seem more attractive than it has in the past).

4) Will we now see BT start to apply rigorous pressure to Ofcom about opening up Virgin's network?

5) More bluff about ADSL2+. It will not address the digital divide for far too many people and ADSL2+ is a first mile technology (a poor relative of VDSL) and is nothing to do with 21CN which is a middle mile solution to opex costs and network paucity in the core network.

6) And that old bugbear - The failure by ISPreview to use the correct terminology.... it is 'first mile' not last.

This is obviously just my opinion so your thoughts? Please post.
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Tuesday 19 August 2008

Apply this to bandwidth?

Read more! The announcement yesterday that Scotland intend to aggregate the government and public sector demands for electricity to get better value for public money should start to raise questions about why governments and public sector across England and the UK are not doing exactly the same for bandwidth. And not just for public sector use.

It has long been an issue, particularly since the kerfuffle about Learning Stream contracts etc, that public sector uses public money to purchase access services eg to the internet, and provide connectivity to councils, schools (in the case of the Learning Stream contracts) and so on, but is unable to use/share the spare capacity on those networks to connect the local communities. It is a well-known fact that many public sector buildings have plentiful connections, provided through expensive leased lines and fibre, which lie dormant evenings and weekends (and in August judging by the number of out of office messages coming back from public sector at present!), whilst the local communities often suffer impoverished IP connectivity.

This is often down to a failure by those negotiating the contracts for public sector to get the best deal, red herrings about security, or failing to understand that these organisations and agencies are there to serve the community in all ways. In fact, there is a statutory duty to do so. In other words the resources they buy with our money should be there to serve all of us.

Communities (businesses and consumers) struggled in the first phase of broadband to get connected, and are going to struggle now, whilst existing infrastructure is in place, which, if demand were aggregated across all sectors, could prove the catalyst to encourage the necessary investment in best value networks.

Bandwidth costs are now approaching zero, (although you would never believe it from the costs apparently associated with overstepping your 'unlimited' cap), and demand aggregation for such, if the Scottish electricity model were applied, would lead to the UK having best value networks. Yes, the ISPs, incumbents etc would see a drop in profit per MB but overall we would see far more MB accessible, affordable, and hence used.
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FTTH article holds good

Read more! Despite being 2 years old, and written from a US perspective, this article To Overbuild or Underbuild? by Dr Merrion Edwards of Corning, covers some interesting points for anyone interested in FTTH deployment.
The article includes open access vs closed networks, opex and capex costs, business models, and penetration rates for profitability, particularly in municipalities.

Opex and capex are complex to model as each network will invariably be different, but until we start seeing real FTTH in the UK (not some watered down FTTX ADSL2 type service), it will be difficult to know how costs will pan out. Just dealing with UK agencies (Highways, planning departments etc) is going to hinder progress until the message about the importance of FTTH reaches all areas of the public sector. Many of these agencies have not yet got the climate change models adopted into their policies, so FTTH may take some doing; although the fact that it clearly impacts health, education, e-gov, environment and energy usage, and many other areas of daily life may help!

Perhaps the most interesting comment in the article is that 2 years ago it was felt that 35Mbps of bandwidth would be required per consumer. This was before Youtube, iPlayer etc so it would be not unfair to assume that this may have doubled in the intervening time. This leaves services of 50Mbps-100Mbps planned for 2010 - 2012 already appearing impoverished and potentially insufficient.

Municipalities and others looking at FTTH network build need to consider the effect on not just the economy, but also on consumers if the all new Mother of all broadband services are potentially going to be insufficient, even at launch, particularly in the run up to general and local elections, the Olympics etc.

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Thursday 14 August 2008

Dutch fibre co-op gives its members free HD upgrade

Read more! The seminal cooperative Dutch fibre network Ons Net is providing free HD TV to all of its members that subscribe to its basic digital TV package, which offers some 50 or so channels. The story, posted here at Broadband TV News states that subscribers pay €7.50 per month for the TV package, on top of their basic connection fee. In addition a one-off charge is made for the set-top box. Read more!

Tuesday 12 August 2008

Come in, Hull.....

Read more! When a town as historically important as Hull falls off the internet for a weekend, you realise how badly wrong we have it in the UK.

Let's do a little bit of history.

Once upon a time, communities across the UK set up their own utilities. In fact, galvanised individuals and innovators set up utilities. Not large corporates. They came much later.

My village, which is tiny, is the subject of a book by Ted Short I Knew My Place (wireless experimenter, Marconi, Postmaster General, then Secretary of State for Education and Science, Leader of the House of Commons and now Lord Glenamara) and he tells of the village digging a route for water to provide electricity to the village in 1918-20, before Manchester had such a service as I understand it, amongst many other fascinating tales.

Each house had one light bulb (hell, that was a major luxury), and this is a tale from a man who did wireless comms experiments in the house 2 doors down from me in 1920ish. We had a full mill race dug and mill wheel built and set up by the village craftsmen. Then these amazing folk sourced and dug in the piping for a sweet water supply after a smallpox epidemic killed too many local people, especially children. This amazing local service was sadly absorbed into the national water board in the 60s (I think), and the water in our village has been nowhere near as good since because it isn't local.

Every village I have lived in has similar tales. Once upon a time, rural (and urban) Britain was fairly self-sufficient in basic utilities. And one feels that given half a chance, these villages would be now too, in 21st century utilities.

Hull was a ground breaking city. If you only know a couple of facts about Hull, it is probably that they had unlimited local calls for a long time (which put them way ahead of FRIACO on cheapy internet access) and on a par with the US who had free local calls. Or that they have grey/white phone boxes. Either way, Hull was the envy of many for a very long time for its telecoms services.

No longer. I was there a fortnight ago. Ask for a costing on a 10Mbps leased line type service (£8-10k a year in London) and you are looking at something like £84k. No wonder businesses don't locate there. In fact, businesses are leaving, in droves, as the comms costs drive them away.

Worse though are the consumer problems of getting on the Net. If Karoo goes down, as it did this weekend, there is no alternative ISP. Anyone who runs a small business elsewhere in the country will (should!) have 2 broadband ISPs. None of us understand why one ISP can keep going through a BT exchange when another can't, but occasionally one network can fall over when another doesn't. Or you can use 3G, or mobile data access (ouch!!), but even having an ancient dial up modem can keep you online these days.

But, let's face it, that is pretty extreme and crap. In Hull though, you can't even take those precautions. Kcom. Or nowt.

This weekend even the hospitals comms in Hull fell over. And to me, this signals the problems loud and clear that we have in Britain. If BT's network fell over (and it really shouldn't, but has in the past - burning wheelie bins down manholes in Manchester etc), then we have all our eggs in one (copper) basket, we have no resilience.

We have allowed monopolies to dictate how we communicate. Where is freedom of speech when you have no phone line or internet, as happened this weekend in Hull? This time, so they say, it was down to some major issues whilst they upgrade the network to adsl 2 (sweating the copper asset rather than upgrading). This will probably not be a one off, but I can't see the Hull Daily Mail reporting it every time a borough gets knocked off over the coming months, so assume this is going to be an(other) hidden issue of disconnected folk.

We need to see more alt nets springing up. SYMsip, 3G and other services need to be widely promoted so that consumers understand they have CHOICE.

Ofcom need to take their statutory duties more clearly. Stop the telcos from lying for starters.

Co-ax is not fibre.

ADSL is not broadband.

FTTC is not NGA or FTTH.

And let's see some real competition out there. I know we have fibre less than 1km on one side of our village, and about 4km on the other down the Settle-Carlisle railway. Get me off the monopoly network, allow this village (and many others) to return to the edge of the network independence that saw the start of ALL these utilities, and then let's see some real competition. Not in the ownership of the network infrastructure, but in providing services. Let the community run the network.

Because in this village, we ran exceptional water and electrics services without central involvement, way before Manchester or other cities had electricity and sweet running water. We can do the same now. But you, who want to play on our networks, and take money from our residents, you can offer services: IPTV, HDTV, e-gov, access to telemedicine etc etc. But let us supply our connectivity, because I hate to say it, but we really do know best and have proven it, nationwide for years.

There are two fine examples of community -provisioned networks, beyond those already given from my village, that no longer deliver even close to their original intentions, to the detriment of their consumers I BELIEVE. And this is a very personal opinion. One is local to Hull, and the other is national. It is time to give the power back to the communities, and -provide what is required by those communities, and let it be owned by those communities.


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Monday 11 August 2008

Bandwidth for Businesses

Read more! After the disappointing (read: irritating as hell!) DBERR comments at the BSG conference that there was no indication that UK businesses require more bandwidth, this CMA report about business bandwidth requirements makes interesting reading!
Although many of the members are large corporates, which shows in the figures using fibre for comms currently, the number who are only able to get under 2Mbps is telling, as are the figures about latent demand within those surveyed. As the Telco 2.0 report from the BSG conference points out, there is currently no SOHO FTTH access yet in the UK, and yet there are hundreds of thousands of small businesses.
What may be used (and has been) against providing this decent first mile onwards connectivity, is the unwillingness for those surveyed to pay extra for FTTP connectivity. And that should come as no surprise. Many of those who responded are undoubtedly already being screwed for their comms requirements (especially if they live in Hull) by somewhat greedy telcos. But the real point that should be used against this is that there is as yet no proof that FTTH/P SHOULD cost more than current telco products. In fact, much of the evidence is beginning to point to the fact that such massive opex savings will be made once fibre is deployed throughout the whole of the UK comms infrastructure, that we may well see a drop in tariffs, but only if there is a truly competitive marketplace.
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Thursday 7 August 2008

netherlands Overview of FTTx

Read more! Research and markets has published a report giving an overview of Netherlands FTTx developments.

The most interesting point to me is that of the independent competition /open (community) networks needing to aggregate in order to become interesting to service providers etc. This is the same issue we are likely to face in the UK, and one which needs resolving - creation of a commodity exchange or similar?
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Wednesday 6 August 2008

Vint Cerf calls for Internet speed limits

Read more! Judging by the comments, Vint's suggestion is not going to be wholly welcomed! I doubt it would be here in the UK either, and certainly not by consumers who are fed up with being ripped off, lied to, and served up an unappetising, barely fit for purpose, product. After all, let's face it the network is congested because it is not fit for 21st century purpose.... This sort of thinking can only prevent innovation, which is a BAD THING! Precisely because it "could end up creating the wrong incentives for consumers to scale back their use of Internet applications over broadband networks."

Although it would be nice to have some honesty in broadband marketing - it really is a 4Mbps connection Madam, it is what you pay for - one can see that the idea of having to give a QOS on broadband would fill the telcos with dread. We all know that they actually need to get their acts together and invest in what is required.

The reality is that data costs are approaching zero now, and the telcos have got accustomed to far too high profits, and resisted investing in the infrastructure for far too long. As Bill Thompson said recently, there are many who will be watching the Olympics with interest, not for the sport, but how the networks cope.

In the meantime, how does anyone stop the telcos from applying whatever pricing structure, data caps, unlimited downloads (subject to AUP of course!) suits their shareholders' whims? Well, it won't be Ofcom for sure controlling tariffs as Vivien has done more to sort out both the telcos and the mobile operators than they have, so it'll have to be the competitive marketplace with customers voting with their wallets to go to companies who do invest in the right infrastructure - future-proofed for starters, and who can deliver what it says on the tin. For that we need new entrants it would seem though....

And maybe a starting point would be the "honesty in advertising" approach? If anyone made a claim that their car could get you from Point A to Point B in x minutes, regardless of road conditions, they would be strung up by ASA, OFT, Trading Standards etc. But we let the telcos do it all the time. If we could stop that rot, the consumer might make better use of the network by actually understanding what is available.
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Sunday 3 August 2008

How good is UK broadband today?

Read more! Samknows will beat Ofcom to conducting the most comprehensive review of broadband in the UK, and has already put out the first report. Available hereInteresting results, need to consider some of what is revealed here before posting more, would welcome comments. Initial reaction though is about the fact that Samknows (not an over-funded Government agency) has found a way to overcome the problems caused by many speedtests which are whitelisted by the ISPs to 'falsify' the results, using hardware run by consumers, and hence this report makes for far more interesting reading than the majority of reports about UK broadband speed. Well done, Sam!! Read more!

Saturday 2 August 2008

Home owned fibre drops

Read more! There is a pilot underway in Ottawa installing FTTH to 400 homes. The twist in this one is that the intention is to sell the fibre drops to the end user so they own their own fibre. More details here. What is not mentioned is whether the residents are going to set up a buying co-op or similar to attract the interest of service providers. Read more!

100gbps network demonstrated

Read more! BBC get in on the act, showing how a new bit of tech can deliver 100 Gbps VT!The video link is here. Only two in the world, but I want one of those!! I guess we all do ;o) Read more!

GPON FTTH greener than DSL

Read more! This interesting post from the Techslpoder blog indicates that FTTH using GPON (Gigabit Passive Optical Network) technology is substantially better in terms of carbon emissions than current ADSL or VDSL.

Although the article is not as clear or comprehensive as it might be, it also appears that the Active Ethernet option for FTTH, which offers significantly better performance for the end user, but which requires powered switching in the street cabinet, uses more energy and therefore creates more carbon emissions that DSL. This of course assumes that the required power is generated from conventional fossil fuel sources. If solar, wind, or hydro generated power were used as a source then presumably the carbon emissions would drop right back.

The article does not cover the option of running direct fibres straight from the central office right to the home avoiding any sort of splitting or switching at the cabinet, as used in the often-cited Nuenen cooperatively owned network in Holland. So another argument, if it were needed, in favour of FTTH over DSL. However the use of renewable energy for any major ICT project must surely be an obvious feature for any community planning its own fibre roll-out, thereby further reducing carbon emissions.
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Friday 1 August 2008

Despair not...

Read more! Ofcom is undertaking.... ".... the UK's most authoritative and comprehensive broadband speed survey to identify actual broadband performance across the country and its relationship to advertised headline speeds". 2000 homes.

Oh goody. That is truly comprehensive and will give a really clear picture of what is required now and in the future. Not. Despair!
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Taylor Review calls for urgent solution to rural broadband speed problem

Read more! The Taylor Review of the Rural Economy and Affordable Housing, commissioned by the Prime Minister and published late July 2008, states that while "Growth in the proportion of knowledge intensive business services between 1998 and 2005 – largely reliant on ICT infrastructure – has increased by 46 per cent in rural areas compared to 21 per cent in urban areas" the performance of broadband in rural areas is markedly poorer than that in urban locations: "recent research also suggests connection speeds are slower in rural areas because existing broadband technology is less efficient in sparsely populated areas." This BBC report from June 2008 covers the issue of the rural/urban split well.

Matthew Taylor MP goes on to state that solutions to the problem are "urgently needed".

The reason for the poor performance is simple. ADSL technologies don't like distance: the further one is from the exchange, the slower the connection. Whilst poor ADSL performance is by no means exclusive to rural users, it does seem to be more prevalent, and there are still numerous rural communities that lack any sort of broadband connection.

So it appears that while the Government-commissioned Taylor Review is calling for urgent action to resolve the rural broadband performance issues, and while the clear solution to this problem is for a rural deployment of fibre-to-the-home/premises, BT seems clear in its announcement that the only way this will happen is through public sector financial intervention. At the same time the folks at BERR (DTI as was) seemed to make it pretty clear at the June 2008 BSG conference that they could not see the case for public sector intervention, at least from a central government perspective.

The innovation does seem to be going on at community and local authority level, with some RDA support. For the near term at least it seems clear to those of us looking to avoid the next digital divide (rather than attempt to close the stable door after the horse has bolted) that working and campaigning at a local level id probably our best option. Read more!