The manufacturer of the DSLAM within the VDSL2 cabinet is not something any of us get to choose and our forums have had people reporting the success of various initiatives on Huawei cabinets such as G.INP and the xdB roll-out that have boosted their speeds particularly the download speed. The last few days has seen Openreach announce1 that xdB noise margins are to be run through a proof of concept trial on ECI cabinets (oddly one or two claim to have already seen this in their modem stats, but the wider data set suggests that nothing major has taken place yet). xdB for those not aware means that rather than the VDSL2 modem syncing at a 6dB noise margin, if the Dynamic Line Management system believes the line is stable at a 6dB target noise margin a setting of 5dB will be applied giving you a little more speed, and then after a while if that is stable a target of 4dB is tested and then 3dB. This can give people a few more Meg of speed, but for those at the maximum sync speed e.g.
39999Kbps for 40/2 and 40/10 products, and 79999 Kbps for 80/20 nothing will change. The reduction in target noise margin is not permanent and if the DLM sees enough errrors it will return you to a higher target noise margin. The result of the xDB and G.INP improvements (note ECI is not getting G.INP yet – this impulse noise protection algorithm can boost speeds too) is pretty obvious when you look at how the speeds of FTTC users on ECI and Huawei cabinets has changed since 2015. While a gap of 3 Mbps may not sound much, for users in the 20 to 25 Mbps region it can be the difference between ultra HD video streaming smoothly or seeing the buffer symbol of doom every few minutes.
For users with sub superfast speeds in the 5 to 8 Mbps, even an extra 1 Mbps might be enough to make HD video streaming smooth and while the obsessive may not the change in large file download times the quality and speed of broadband is very often judged by the majority based on how well video streaming performs. The chart plots the median speed, but the mean average shows a similar pattern and has a 2.1 Mbps difference in Q2 2017. ECI cabinets represent around 30% of the 82,000 VDSL2 cabinets (this figure does not include additional second cabinets added to increase capacity) and were largely rolled due the earlier commercial phases, almost all the BDUK project cabinets are Huawei based and with the longer line lengths you would expect as your edge into the peri-urban and rural areas the difference between the two sets of median speeds is even more suprising.
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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
Cable% Openreach VDSL2/FTTP% superfast
30 Mbps or faster% Ultrafast
100 Mbps or faster
% Full Fibre
% Under 2 Mbps download% Under 10 Mbps downloadWales 95.9% 94.1% 91.5% 32.6%
1,268.494 1,245,351 1,210,532 431,079
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%
0.1% 1% Blaenau Gwent 99.9% 99.9% 98.3% 1.1%
0.2% 0.4% Bro Morgannwg – the Vale of Glamorgan 96.7% 95.6% 93.7% 52.4%
0.6% 3.2% Caerdydd – Cardiff 99% 94.2% 98.2% 79.7%
0% 0.3% Caerffili – Caerphilly 99% 99% 96.1% 0.3%
0.1% 0.8% Casnewydd – Newport 97.4% 90.2% 96.1% 68.5%
0.1% 1.3% Castell-nedd Port Talbot – Neath Port Talbot 98.6% 96.7% 96% 60.7%
0.5% 1% Conwy 95.1% 95.1% 90.5% 1.8%
1.2% 5.6% Gwynedd 93% 63% 82.9% 11.4%
1.9% 9.8% Merthyr Tudful – Merthyr Tydfil 99.5% 99.5% 96.9% 3.1%
0.3% 0.6% Pen-y-bont ar Ogwr – Bridgend 97.3% 97.3% 95.5% 0.8%
0.2% 1% Powys 84.5% 84.5% 71.3% 12%
4.2% 19% Rhondda Cynon Taf 99.2% 98.3% 96.8% 9.1%
0.1% 0.7% Sir Benfro – Pembrokeshire 92.5% 92.5% 82.5% 3.6%
2.7% 10.7% Sir Ddinbych – Denbighshire 86.9% 86.9% 82.8% 1.3%
0.7% 10.4% Sir Fynwy – Monmouthshire 95.7% 95.7% 84.3% 4.5%
3.4% 9.5% Sir Gaerfyrddin – Carmarthenshire 91.1% 91.1% 81.2% 4%
2.8% 11.4% Sir y Fflint – Flintshire 95.8% 95.8% 91.1% 5.9%
0.4% 3.9% Sir Ynys Mon – Isle of Anglesey 93.5% 93.5% 84.6% 11.8%
1.6% 9% Tor-faen – Torfaen 97.9% 97.7% 95.9% 30.2%
0.2% 1% Wrecsam – Wrexham 95.8% 95.8% 90.7% 3%
(*) 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.
- Problems with communication have hampered the project and any future contract should include a communication performance target.
- 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.
- Future schemes should build on the success of the Access Broadband Cymru and Ultrafast Connectivity Voucher schemes.
- 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.
- As assessment of future needs is needed to inform the next stages. Connectivity needs to be suitable for now and the future.
- 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.
- The planning regime should be reformed to support investment in digital connectivity.
- Welsh Government does not have the powers to force mobile operators to share infrastructure, but should encourage this.
- Work with Ofcom and Mobile Network Operators to offer non-domestic rates relief on new mobile masts in non-commercial areas.
- Work more closely with stakeholders over forthcoming Mobile Action Plan
- Ofcom needs to use all its regulatory powers to ensure its 100% geographic coverage target is met.
- 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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Landline providers will be banned from charging for caller display facilities from 1 October 2018. The change is one of a number being made by Ofcom as it tweaks some of its regulations in order to provide more protection for consumers. Ofcom said caller display features can help people screen nuisance calls.
Some providers, such as TalkTalk and Sky, offer the service to their landline customers at no extra cost but BT charges ?1.75 a month and Virgin Media ?2.25 a month.
As well as having to provide the service free of charge, providers will also need to ensure that the numbers being displayed are valid, dialable and uniquely identify the caller.
They will also be required to identify and block calls with invalid or non-dialable numbers.
Other changes being introduced by Ofcom next year include the requirement for all communications providers to offer disabled customers access to priority fault repair, third party bill management and accessible bills.
These facilities are already in place for landline and mobile services but will be extended to cover broadband.
Firms must also have clear policies in place for identifying vulnerable customers to ensure they are treated fairly and appropriately.
Ofcom’s examples of vulnerable customers include people with learning or communication difficulties and those suffering physical or mental illness or bereavement.
Rules on billing accuracy, which currently cover voice call services, are being extended to include broadband and complaints handling rules are being strengthened in a bid to speed up the complaints process for consumers.
Separately, Ofcom is consulting on its powers to withdraw telephone numbers if they are misused, for example to cause harm or nuisance, or to engage in fraud.
It is also looking at which public bodies can request communications services to be restored in the event of a disaster and how providers should handle cancellation requests from customers.
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