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Friday, 31 July 2009

Newgen new entrants profile: Rutland Telecom

Rutland Telecom have hit the news recently with their projects in Rutland, UK's smallest county. As more and more communities endeavour to drag themselves into the 21st century comms world, we thought it would be interesting to see how this latest community project started...

Dr David Lewis is the driving force behind Rutland Telecom, and he left teaching (Biology) 8 years ago. During the dotcom boom, he established examboost, and then went on to work on a government scheme which went into schools to help teachers nervous about working with ICT amongst pupils who were far more IT savvy. This led to him being asked to help out two big schools whose networks were "in a mess".

His experience in teaching has undoubtedly given him the ability to communicate easily with customers and consumers, and being self-taught in all aspects of IT and telecoms means that, although he speaks the language, he understands how important it is not to burden nor confuse customers with all the jargon.

Although he claims to not to be a ruthless business person, he is certainly tenacious. When he started his own ICT support company, which offers help to homes and businesses, he began to receive increasing numbers of requests for assistance in improving broadband connections. This led him to ask questions about IPStream etc to improve broadband and then to investigate the idea of LLU (Local Loop Unbundling) - he discovered there was nothing to stop a 1 or 2 man band unbundling an exchange. Little did he realise this would lead to two years of hand to hand combat with Open Reach, who seemed utterly incapable of dealing with anybody other than the 5 major ISPS. One suspects OR may now have far more experience in this field, having dealt with Rutland Telecom, and it looks like they are going to need it as others seek to take control and connect their own communities!

So far, he and his colleague, Mark Melluish, who has worked within the telcoms industry extensively, have unbundled two local exchanges and are now due to go live in a matter of weeks with a sub-loop unbundling project in Lyddington. In addition, using 5.8Ghz wireless, they have managed to connect another village, taking residents from the 300kbps side of the digital chasm to 20Mbps.

He sees a positive future for the company, and says he is inundated with enquiries from around the country - not just communities, but also new build housing estates, whose developers were short-sighted enough to put in copper. (Just like Milton Keynes, then!)

The project in Lyddington is interesting, in that Rutland Telecom are the first operator in the UK to sub-loop unbundle and independently connect a community with FTTC. The plan is to work towards FTTH in the future, but of course the issue, as always, is raising the capex. However, David believes that this can come within the community, including local businesses, whilst waiting to see what occurs with the 50p line tax and the NGA Fund. With figures such as £200 per household, it is likely that solutions such as those being pioneered by Rutland may well be one of the stepping stones in the roadmap to the eNdGAme.

However, for those of us who always have to see a downside to everything that may prevent us achieving the eNdGAme of FTTH, the one concern here is that if communities seek to sup-loop unbundle without a financially sustainable model to upgrade to FTTH, they may be stuck with that solution far into the future when funds are diverted elsewhere to FTTH. Whilst FTTC is far better than what many are hindered with at present, it is by no means what is required to create a Digital Britain and should only be viewed as an interim step to the eNdGAme.

In the meantime, the more communities who take control of their next gen infrastructure, and own it on a mutual model, the better! Power to the people!

Have a good weekend.

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1 comment:

NGA UK said...

Great innovation & solution from Rutland Telecom!

IMO sub-loop unbundling offers a great way for larger communities (possibly upwards of 500 premises) who will not be adequately served by BT to upgrade their broadband today and put in place the potential to move to FTTH once funds are available. Sub-loop unbundling offers far less up front CAPEX while bringing great leaps forward and, if the business model is correctly structured, the company formed should be able to generate sufficient income to move to FTTH in a short space of time.

Either way, it's great to see innovation & initiative and I would love to see more!