Tuesday, 27 July 2010

SamKnows Now Knows What We Already Knew

It has been widely reported today that Ofcom have released the results of tests conducted by SamKnows into the discrepancy between the marketing led "up to" figures by which our broadband is sold and the actual throughput that is delivered.

One such article: http://www.lightreading.com/document.asp?doc_id=194932&site=lr_cable&f_src=lrdailynewsletter

Congratulations to SamKnows for producing the empirical evidence to highlight a problem that many of us have known has existed for some time.

Now, Ofcom... you've highlighted the issue... what do you intend to do about it? Your remit as regulator of this industry is to ensure that we, the consumer, are not misled by false advertising.

Allow me to suggest that you outlaw the use of the words "up to" and force ISPs to publish details of their own line tests and contention ratios so we can make a more informed decision. While you are at it please also work with BDUK on their USO definition and make sure that both the phrases "up to" and "a line capable of" are removed from their parlance.

One final note to Virgin Media, well done! You are at least closer to your "up to" rates than those copper-based ISPs! Sadly I just don't have the choice.

Friday, 19 February 2010

This damn USC

I attended an Intellect run meeting, on behalf of BIS, this week to discuss the 2MBit/s Universal Service Commitment or USC. At least I had thought that was what the meeting was for - actually it was a "Concept Viability Workshop" to discuss the options to deliver on the USC in certain fabricated scenarios where it was perceived by the organisers that service may not currently be available.

The key issue we faced, however, was that the organisers of the meeting were unwilling to define the USC for us. Indeed we were openly told that the definition of the USC would not be considered. Therefore we were left to discuss how to deliver something we couldn't define which took less time than they had expected!

We did push back quite a bit on this and I heard two statements about the USC that could combine to form a definition:

1. It is a line that is capable of delivering up to...
2. It is asymmetric

I have since received an email thanking me for my attendance and confirming that the organisers did indeed note that we need to have clarity on that definition. I have written a response to that email that I wish to share (all names removed) and get your comment on as I believe we are starting on the path to failure when we can see the path to success right next to us and this makes no sense to me at all.


Dear xxx,

I would like to raise one point from your email below. The consensus was that a definition of a USC is required not (necessarily) what a 2MBit/s USC is. I make the distinction because I wrote down two particular things that member of BIS had to say about the definition:

1. It is a line capable of up to...
2. It is asymmetric

Now there are a variety of other factors that could make up your definition but I believe you must first consider what the USC is trying to achieve. If all you require is to have some form of broadband service available to 100% of the country then you have your definition from the above. However, if your mandate is to consider a USC that can both deliver on today's broadband requirements and meet those of the next generations then, i.e. more aspirational, then you must reconsider the above statements.

As we heard from our colleagues in the satellite industry at the meeting, they can deliver a service to 100% of the country that will meet the USC based on the above (loose) definition. However that is not, in my view, a broadband service that can be anything but stop gap. Indeed in my breakout session that very fact was admitted to by a member of the satellite industry: "It will do until something better comes along..."

Technology is already very capable of delivering something better and people are already wanting to consume far more than such a connection would offer. Therefore I would urge you and your colleagues to reconsider your position on the USC and to make it far more aspirational than it appears it is going to be.

I have two initial suggestions that would mean you could still progress with the 2MBit/s headline figure that everyone is so familiar with:

1. It is a line that will deliver a minimum of 2MBit/s at peak hours
2. The 2MBit/s rate is the upstream rate (therefore if it is an asymmetric connection the downstream rate will be far in excess of this)

In truth I and my colleagues who look to deliver true next generation broadband to Britain's communities would like to see a USC (or perhaps a USA - aspiration) of 100MBit/s symmetric but I am not going to push you on that!

Good luck with your report.

Best Regards,


Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Rural Broadband Colloquium

If you have any interest in progressing the poor state of our rural broadband then you should consider attending this upcoming colloquium: http://www.webpr.co.uk/digitaldales/colloquium/

It is organised by people with a huge amount of experience in the issues associated with rural broadband and sponsored by groups who can provide great insight into how it can be delivered and what potential it can bring to your community.

You can register to attend at the above link - it will be a highly worthwhile event which could make the biggest difference to your community in recent years.

Please pass on the word if you know of others who may be interested.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

BT's FTTC Plans

Just an update- no more rants for today!

A couple of weeks ago BT announced some more locations for the FTTC rollout, said to be available towards the end of 2010. They have been added to my map should you wish to see how close you may be to an exchange to be upgraded: http://www.nextgenerationaccess.com/How/BTFTTC/btfttc.html.

You may also be interested to know that BT has announced pricing for the service, to be branded Infinity (note: perhaps they should consult a dictionary before coming up with these names): http://www.btplc.com/News/Articles/Showarticle.cfm?ArticleID=F9F6F1AD-C4F6-442D-BF7E-FFCC7847631C. £20 a month for up to 40 meg? I would if I could!

BT has even launched an Infinity website now if you want any more info: http://www.productsandservices.bt.com/consumerProducts/displayTopic.do?topicId=28987&s_cid=con_FURL_infinity

Britain's Madness

I've just been reading and commenting on this post on the Fibrevolution blog: http://spedr.com/5ube9 and it has prompted me to write a little more.

There are many challenges in trying to establish a community broadband project - not least of them convincing the community that such high speeds are something they will greatly benefit from. But let's assume I had got over that hurdle (I haven't BTW but let's assume nonetheless) what would my next steps be? Well I would need to start to consider the network topology, the services, the prices and I would need to source the funding. Simple really. Or at least it would be if everyone I had to engage with were committed to helping build a Digital Britain rather than cover their own asses and become the biggest roadblock they can be. But they are not and I have to keep asking myself why not? Are they ignorant and unwilling to learn or just arrogant and unwilling to help?

I have tried to educate, I have tried to inform, I have tried to understand what motivates these people (no names but Councils, Government departments and large industry can generally consider yourselves covered) but to no avail. It would seem that other than a very select few of us there is little desire to bring a pervasive broadband network to the UK.

This is Britain's Madness. There are so many benefits to the people, the communities, the businesses and the economy that not doing it is negligent.

Right now I am at a loss. We are governed by people who have little insight into what will allow this country to take its position at the forefront of the growing digital economy and I believe this must change. I have even got to the point where I am prepared to give BT credit for expanding and accelerating its FTTC rollout and to Virin Media for upgrading its cable networks as at least this means a significant number of people across the UK will have access to a high-speed network. However there is still a very large percentage (40% or so I believe) who will remain stuck with little hope of getting any improvement.

Which actually raises another question I am struggling with, based on my experience of dealing with my own community: of this 40% or so who will not have access to high speed broadband, how many would actually want it? I don't have the answer but suspect it is a lower number than you may think.

The Digital Britain Report established for us that Broadband is a right (why else would you implement a 2MBit/s USO?), in which case surely high-speed broadband must be a right? I don't get less electricity than the city dwellers just because I choose to live in the country and I don't want less from my broadband. In fact I could present a convincing argument that I (and many others in rural areas) would actually do more with my broadband as I work at home and therefore use it all day long.

I did have a point to this rant but it's got lost in there somewhere! Essentially I want us to tear down these artificial barriers that bureaucrats have errected. I want people to embrace the cause and create some genuine momentum because at the moment I feel like there are just too few of us to really make a difference.

Please spread the word... broadband is a very important issue, perhaps not for you but then you didn't grow up with the Internet, did you? The Internet is growing in its uses and applications every day and our children will find even more innovations to deliver digitally. If we give them the tools to do it with, that is.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

TV Spectrum to Deliver Rural Broadband?

Ofcom are looking into use of so called white spaces in the TV spectrum that could be used for other purposes such as delivery of broadband into rural areas.

For more detail on this see the Ofcom website: http://www.ofcom.org.uk/media/news/2009/11/nr_20091117a

On the surface of it this is good news - this could bring fairly high bandwidth over long distances and be relatively unaffected by buildings, trees or weather. However the key comment in the Ofcom article is "this technology remains largely unproven and a significant amount of work needs to be done..." in other words, don't get your hopes up!

The trouble is this 'new' technology will require new equipment both at the transmitter and receiver ends of the communication path. As with any new technology it will have technical challenges before it can be relied on. In addition in its early days it is likely to be expensive (volume drives down price but cannot be achieved until the technology is mature - the classic Catch 22 of tech companies!).

Nonetheless we should welcome such innovation and hope that some UK companies can be the ones to bring this to market thereby benefiting both themselves, the rural communities and the economy at large as they will need to employ staff to manage their growth!