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Report with recommendations for Digital Infrastructure in Wales published

Back in January 2017 we attended the Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee in Cardiff to give evidence on the state of broadband coverage across Wales and answer various questions the committee posed. Now in September the final report has been published1 and includes some 12 recommendations. This news article is a little long, so we’d like to make one recommendation in public to the Welsh Government: There is no doubt that if future proofing broadband for those in the 8.5% who cannot get superfast broadband today is at all important that full fibre (FTTP) solutions should be delivered. Several areas of Wales now have such large amounts of FTTP that the benefits should be measureable in terms of connection reliability and benefits this brings to business and home workers particularly.

We raised concerns over confusion about what the Superfast Cymru project was delivering and unfortunately this confusion still exists in the report, in short the confusion over what the 96% target is Wales actually is continues. For those that don’t know, the target is usually referred to as 96% fibre based broadband coverage across Wales, which would thus include VDSL2 lines at lengths where speeds of only 1 to 2 Mbps (or even less) were possible and this woolly definition may explain some of the public anger. We said that references to the final 4% back in January were misleading but still there is talk of connecting the final 4% across Wales when if the goal is to deliver superfast there is still more than 4% that needs delivering.

As the topic of where Wales is in terms of roll-out is so important we have included our usual analysis table with a few changes to the columns, and at 95.9% fibre based coverage Wales is actually only 1,600 premises away from meeting the fibre based target on our tracking. If the 96% target is a stricter one, e.g. only lines with speeds of 10 Mbps or faster are available then they are just 0.5% shy of the goal (another 6,700 premises). With a goal stated a couple of years ago of delivering 80,000 premises of native GEA-FTTP across Wales and lots of FTTP areas showing as in build both of these targets look achievable and before December 2017. The end of 2017 is important as any grace period for delays in the build ends and penalty clauses are believed to kick in for BT, so we can expect an all hands on deck invasion of Wales by Openreach in the next couple of months. Of course no-one can be 100% accurate on such large and dynamic datasets, so if Welsh politicians want to say the 96% target has been reached it is so close that we will not fight that – the issues we have is that the superfast coverage levels are still down at 91.5% and the majority of the public when they hear 96% target reached for SuperfastCyrmu project will immediately think that this is incorrectly 96% coverage at superfast speeds, and we include journalists in this, as all too often once press releases are re-hashed for publication the wrong labels are used.

If you want to read our summary of the recommendations from the report, scroll past the coverage table.

thinkbroadband analysis of Superfast, USC, USO and Fibre Broadband Coverage across the Wales and delivery via the BDUK project.
data 20th September 2017Area% fibre based
VDSL2 or
FTTP or
Cable% Openreach VDSL2/FTTP% superfast
30 Mbps or faster% Ultrafast
100 Mbps or faster

% Full Fibre
(Openreach FTTP)

% Under 2 Mbps download% Under 10 Mbps downloadWales 95.9% 94.1% 91.5% 32.6%

3.01%

(2.79%)

1% 4.5%

Total Premises

1,323,059

1,268.494 1,245,351 1,210,532 431,079

39,874

(36,921)

12,586 59,171 BDUK Project
Excludes FTTP (*) 99% 98.6% 90.8% 6.7% 0% 2% 4.3% Wales in January 2013 45.4% 45.4% 44.1% 28.7% 0.25% 6% 22.5% Abertawe – Swansea 98.4% 93.9% 97.1% 72.8%

1.91%

(1.91%)

0.1% 1% Blaenau Gwent 99.9% 99.9% 98.3% 1.1%

1.05%

(1.05%)

0.2% 0.4% Bro Morgannwg – the Vale of Glamorgan 96.7% 95.6% 93.7% 52.4%

2.07%

(2.07%)

0.6% 3.2% Caerdydd – Cardiff 99% 94.2% 98.2% 79.7%

2%

(0.08%)

0% 0.3% Caerffili – Caerphilly 99% 99% 96.1% 0.3%

0.25%

(0.25%)

0.1% 0.8% Casnewydd – Newport 97.4% 90.2% 96.1% 68.5%

1.49%

(1.49%)

0.1% 1.3% Castell-nedd Port Talbot – Neath Port Talbot 98.6% 96.7% 96% 60.7%

1.42%

(1.42%)

0.5% 1% Conwy 95.1% 95.1% 90.5% 1.8%

1.76%

(1.76%)

1.2% 5.6% Gwynedd 93% 63% 82.9% 11.4%

11.36%

(11.36%)

1.9% 9.8% Merthyr Tudful – Merthyr Tydfil 99.5% 99.5% 96.9% 3.1%

3.07%

(3.07%)

0.3% 0.6% Pen-y-bont ar Ogwr – Bridgend 97.3% 97.3% 95.5% 0.8%

0.80%

(0.80%)

0.2% 1% Powys 84.5% 84.5% 71.3% 12%

11.96%

(11.96%)

4.2% 19% Rhondda Cynon Taf 99.2% 98.3% 96.8% 9.1%

0.50%

(0.50%)

0.1% 0.7% Sir Benfro – Pembrokeshire 92.5% 92.5% 82.5% 3.6%

3.46%

(3.46%)

2.7% 10.7% Sir Ddinbych – Denbighshire 86.9% 86.9% 82.8% 1.3%

1.30%

(1.30%)

0.7% 10.4% Sir Fynwy – Monmouthshire 95.7% 95.7% 84.3% 4.5%

4.54%

(4.54%)

3.4% 9.5% Sir Gaerfyrddin – Carmarthenshire 91.1% 91.1% 81.2% 4%

3.98%

(3.98%)

2.8% 11.4% Sir y Fflint – Flintshire 95.8% 95.8% 91.1% 5.9%

5.84%

(5.84%)

0.4% 3.9% Sir Ynys Mon – Isle of Anglesey 93.5% 93.5% 84.6% 11.8%

11.81%

(11.81%)

1.6% 9% Tor-faen – Torfaen 97.9% 97.7% 95.9% 30.2%

2.05%

(2.05%)

0.2% 1% Wrecsam – Wrexham 95.8% 95.8% 90.7% 3%

3.01%

(3.01%)

0.7% 3.8%

(*) In Wales the vast majority of Openreach GEA-FTTP is via the BDUK project, but indentifying new build estate commercial FTTP versus the BDUK areas is too time consuming to resolve, so we have included the BDUK footprint excluding FTTP. The full fibre column features two figures and any other coverage reports from now on will follow the same pattern, the first figure is full fibre irrespective of who the operator is and the figure in brackets is the contribution from Openreach, this change will hopefully highlight the contribution from operators such as Hyperoptic in Cardiff.

  1. Problems with communication have hampered the project and any future contract should include a communication performance target.
  2. A grant or equity scheme should be established to help small operators fill in the gaps in the network. Public ownership or partnerships should also be explored.
  3. Future schemes should build on the success of the Access Broadband Cymru and Ultrafast Connectivity Voucher schemes.
  4. It is vital that the hardest to reach communities and individuals are now engaged in the process to ensure that potential solutions can be tailored to their needs. Connecting the final 4% is will (typo in report)be more expensive and it is vital that communities buy in to to the solutions being proposed.
  5. As assessment of future needs is needed to inform the next stages. Connectivity needs to be suitable for now and the future.
  6. Welsh Government should consider making future public subsidy conditional on supporting government policy to improve digital infrastructure and to ensure that it meets the needs of consumers in the future.
  7. The planning regime should be reformed to support investment in digital connectivity.
  8. Welsh Government does not have the powers to force mobile operators to share infrastructure, but should encourage this.
  9. Work with Ofcom and Mobile Network Operators to offer non-domestic rates relief on new mobile masts in non-commercial areas.
  10. Work more closely with stakeholders over forthcoming Mobile Action Plan
  11. Ofcom needs to use all its regulatory powers to ensure its 100% geographic coverage target is met.
  12. Welsh Government and planning authorities should a toolkit to make acecss to grant and and community funding for those that want to enhance mobile connectivity in their area.

For those living in Wales who have checked their postcode on the Openreach site2 we estimate that something like 20,000 to 40,000 premises are pencilled in for FTTP to be delivered by end of December 2017, and as such this will tip the project past its original goals.

The real question now is what will Wales actually do in terms of additional contracts and how will the gainshare be used, ?56m which has been announced as available to extend coverage, this could deliver 30,000 to 40,000 premises of full fibre coverage that is thus fully future proofed. Voucher schemes while appealing and a good way of dealing with those in most need who find out about the scheme but carry the risk of explotation in the form of prices rising to maximise income for operators from the vouchers, the bigger issue is that vouchers tend to pass much of the public with out them noticing simply because for most people their family and job occupy most of their time rather than chasing better broadband – yes poor and slow broadband is a real pain but other aspects of life often mean the majority only learn about better broadband options when its pointed out to them individually. This is actually a major problem with FTTP roll-outs where the choice of provider is limited, both for the Openreach and other alternate operators – this issue does vanish once you reach the community led efforts of B4RN and its clones since community spirit takes over.

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References

  1. ^ final report has been published (www.assembly.wales)
  2. ^ Openreach site (www.openreach.co.uk)
  3. ^ Login (www.thinkbroadband.com)
  4. ^ Register (www.thinkbroadband.com)

Can I give up my landline and use 4G broadband?

‘I am wondering about signing up for Three’s 40GB HomeFi. It has to cover our home internet needs – two computers, two mobile phones … Would this be feasible?’ Photograph: Maskot/Getty Images/Maskot

When we went travelling, we gave up our Virgin contract for an internet and TV package. We have been using Three’s “Feel at home” for mobile phone internet access on data roaming quite successfully. Now, going home, I am wondering about signing up for Three’s 40GB HomeFi. It has to cover our home internet needs – two computers, two mobile phones – in central Edinburgh. I’m not bothered about internet TV because we can get a new DVD player/Freeview HD recorder. Would this be feasible? Paul123

The general answer is no. Today, most people are better off paying for a wired internet connection.

The specific answer is: it depends.

Millions of people have replaced wired with mobile broadband for a variety of reasons. These include the (low) quality of the wired broadband available, their online needs, and their personal situation – like you, they might be travelling, either for business or pleasure. Consider a family with two teenagers who watch lots of movies on Netflix, stream music on Spotify and play online games. They will probably use well over 100GB a month, and would benefit from having the fastest unlimited broadband they can get. By contrast, singletons who only use broadband for email and social networking can probably manage with a 4G service, though it may not save them any money.

Of course, the final decision will depend on what’s available. Type your post code or phone number into the UK Broadband Availability Checker4 at Sam Knows to find out which companies offer broadband services in your area. Click the Wireless button for wireless services such as Blaze, Lothian Broadband and Urban Wimax. There are dozens of these FWA (Fixed Wireless Access) systems in the UK, using wireless systems such as Wimax5, which are not 3G/4G networks. Check reviews at ISP Review6 and similar websites before you sign up. Sam doesn’t know about 3G/4G services, but you can check those with Ofcom’s free broadband and mobile checker app7 for Android and Apple’s iOS.

If you live in central Edinburgh, you should have plenty of options. Virgin does not appear to offer cable in the city centre, but Virgin, BT and CityFibre (sold to business users by Commsworld8) all have fibre networks.

Cellular broadband

The 3G networks launched in the UK in 20039 were too slow to replace wired broadband. However, in 2012, we got the first 4G networks10, offering speeds of 8-12Mbps, and current versions generally offer 18-24Mbps. In theory these are fast enough. The main drawbacks are the availability of 4G services, the variability of download speeds, and the high prices. Cellular networks are expensive to build and run, and being designed originally for voice calls, they have limited bandwidth.

This is reflected in the high prices they now charge for data, and the even higher prices they charge once you go over your data cap. If you sign up for Three’s HomeFi11, you get 40GB for ?24 per month, which is a fairly reasonable ?1.67 per gigabyte. However, once you have used your allowance, you have to buy an add-on12. These appear to cost either ?10 for 1GB, or ?15 for 3GB. Cellular networks also prioritise voice calls, which means they may limit “tethering” (using a mobile phone to connect a PC to the internet) or block it altogether.

Either way, “contention” – too many users competing for a limited resource – is more of a problem with cellular than with landline networks. One operator, Giffgaff, explains why it uses Traffic Flow13 to maintain services. It says that “as few as 1% of members were using around 30% of the total network resource. This unfair distribution causes an inconsistent experience for the majority of members”. In fact, “there are examples of members using double the average monthly network resource within a single day, during peak hours.” As a result, it now limits people who use its Always On service to 6GB of data at full speed, after which it caps the speed at 384kbps between 8am and midnight.

Contention problems are more likely in big cities, but your 4G performance may be perfectly acceptable in the evenings when fewer people are making phone calls. You may be able to find test results for your local area at Broadbandspeedchecker.co.uk14 or uSwitch15 etc, though most of the tests are of wired not wireless broadband.

According to Netflix16, a standard definition movies consume about 0.7GB per hour, high-definition movies about 3GB per hour, and Ultra HD movies 7GB per hour. You won’t want to do much of that if you are paying Three ?1.67 per gigabyte, let alone ?5 or ?10 per gigabyte. Photograph: Ryan Anson/AFP/Getty Images

5G cometh

The next generation of mobile broadband is already being tested in the UK17, and 5G FWA18 broadband should be a viable substitute for landlines, depending on how it is priced. It might be available in 2020. Arqiva has negotiated the rights to install small cells on tens of thousands of lampposts in a dozen London boroughs, and a few cities including Manchester, Southampton and Colchester.

Also, Ofcom is about to auction 190MHz of spectrum for 5G19 in the 2.3GHz and 3.4GHz bands. These are similar to the 2.4GHz and 5GHz used for wifi. It’s not clear how much speed 5G will actually deliver, but more than 100Mbps should be practicable, given that 1Gbps is theoretically possible. However, like fibre and cable broadband, I expect 5G FWA will mainly be available in town centres and rich suburbs.

DIY options

Three’s HomeFi system includes a Huawei B310 router, which costs ?59.99 but is free if you sign a 12-month contract. Alternatively, you could buy your own 4G router and shop around for cheap sim-only data deals. Huawei E5577C (?69.99)?232.3724). Note that performance will depend on how close you are to the 4G mast, and whether there are any walls or buildings in the way.

If you choose a router that can take two or more antennaeinternal26 or external LTE aerial27, you should be able to get a faster connection. Unfortunately, you may also have to learn about SMA, CRC9, TS9 and TS7 connectors.

Catch-up TV

Your suggested Panasonic DMR-EX97EB DVD/Freeview recorder looks like a good choice, though you might consider opting for Blu-ray instead of DVD. One advantage is that you can use the EPG (electronic programme guide) to record whole series rather than individual programmes. The disadvantage is that you can’t watch catch-up TV without an internet connection. If you have an unlimited connection, you can happily use services such as BBC iPlayer, and if your broadband isn’t fast enough to watch them live, you can download them to watch later.

According to Netflix28, a standard definition movies consume about 0.7GB per hour, high-definition movies about 3GB per hour, and Ultra HD movies 7GB per hour. You won’t want to do much of that if you are paying Three ?1.67 per gigabyte, let alone ?5 or ?10 per gigabyte. However, if your broadband consumption is light, you may find you have spare bandwidth that you can use up at the end of each month.

No landline?

Standard broadband services are usually delivered over a landline, which can cost roughly ?15 to ?20 per month. The wholesale price of these connections, supervised by Ofcom, pays BT’s Openreach division to operate and maintain the network. If you have an alternative connection, such as Virgin cable or 4G broadband, then you might save money by not having a landline.

However, bear in mind that BT has a standard reconnection charge of ?13029.

Also, the ASA (Advertising Standards Authority) changed the rules last October30, so now broadband prices include both broadband and line rental, and sometimes evening and weekend calls as well. As a result, you can get unlimited broadband and line rental for less than the cost of HomeFi, with prices starting at less than ?20 per month. This makes 4G services much less attractive.

Have you got a question?

Email it to [email protected]

References

  1. ^ Feel at home (www.three.co.uk)
  2. ^ HomeFi (www.three.co.uk)
  3. ^ DVD player/Freeview HD recorder (m.johnlewis.com)
  4. ^ UK Broadband Availability Checker (availability.samknows.com)
  5. ^ Wimax (en.wikipedia.org)
  6. ^ ISP Review (www.ispreview.co.uk)
  7. ^ Ofcom’s free broadband and mobile checker app (www.ofcom.org.uk)
  8. ^ Commsworld (www.commsworld.com)
  9. ^ launched in the UK in 2003 (news.bbc.co.uk)
  10. ^ the first 4G networks (www.theguardian.com)
  11. ^ Three’s HomeFi (www.three.co.uk)
  12. ^ buy an add-on (www.three.co.uk)
  13. ^ Traffic Flow (community.giffgaff.com)
  14. ^ Broadbandspeedchecker.co.uk (www.broadbandspeedchecker.co.uk)
  15. ^ uSwitch (www.uswitch.com)
  16. ^ Netflix (help.netflix.com)
  17. ^ already being tested in the UK (www.zdnet.com)
  18. ^ 5G FWA (www.arqiva.com)
  19. ^ 190MHz of spectrum for 5G (www.ofcom.org.uk)
  20. ^ TP-Link’s M7350 (uk.tp-link.com)
  21. ^ Scan (www.scan.co.uk)
  22. Huawei E5577C (?69.99) (www.amazon.co.uk)
  23. ^ Asus 4G-AC55U (www.asus.com)
  24. ?232.37 (www.amazon.co.uk)
  25. antennae (www.amazon.co.uk)
  26. internal (www.amazon.co.uk)
  27. ^ external LTE aerial (www.solwise.co.uk)
  28. ^ Netflix (help.netflix.com)
  29. ^ standard reconnection charge of ?130 (bt.custhelp.com)
  30. ^ the ASA (Advertising Standards Authority) changed the rules last October (www.asa.org.uk)

Free business broadband for 12 months with TalkTalk Business

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That deal does not include phone calls, but TalkTalk Complete Business Broadband2 adds unlimited calls to UK landlines and mobiles, plus an extra three static IP addresses. There are also no costs for moving to new office premises. This package is currently reduced to ?28.95 + VAT for 12 months, which includes both the broadband and line rental.

All TalkTalk Business deals also include free online security tools and seven day support from TalkTalk’s dedicated business team.

Offer expires on 29 Sep 2017 – ends in 9 days

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References

  1. ^ TalkTalk Simply Business Broadband (www.broadbandgenie.co.uk)
  2. ^ TalkTalk Complete Business Broadband (www.broadbandgenie.co.uk)
  3. ^ See full details of this deal >> (www.broadbandgenie.co.uk)