Northern Ireland

Reference Library – Northern Ireland

Scotland’s Broadband: Scottish Minister Responds to UK Government Criticism

In a Parliamentary Q&A session held last Thursday1 (14 September), Digital Minister Matt Hancock blamed the Scottish Government2 for Scotland’s alleged lack of accessibility to super-fast broadband. His comments came in response to a query raised by Alistair Carmichael, Liberal Democrat MP to Orkney and Shetland, concerning poor broadband speeds in his constituency. Hancock said: “The Scottish Government have been the slowest of all of the different organisations around the country to contract the broadband that we so desperately need. That is why Scotland is behind. We are offering technical support, but they are behind every English county and behind both the Welsh Government and Northern Ireland Government, and they need to get a move on.” Connectivity Minister to the Scottish Government, Fergus Ewing, issued a response to the accusations, claiming that they were “inaccurate,” and “wildly without any basis in fact.”

“The Digital Scotland Super-fast Broadband3 (DSSB) is, and always has been, due to complete its initial phase by the end of 2017, with extended build through Gainshare to be delivered during 2018,” he said. “It would quite simply have been inconceivable for us to have launched subsequent broadband procurements before the DSSB coverage footprint was nearing completion. This is a position that has been discussed and agreed with BDUK4 (Broadband Delivery UK) officials. “Alongside our partners, we have invested over ?400 million in Scotland’s Digital Super-fast Broadband programme, resulting in over 780,000 premises having access to fibre broadband and despite the unique geographical challenges Scotland contends with, the vast majority of those premises are capable of receiving super-fast speeds.” He added: “Ofcom’s5 Connected Nations Report 20166 highlighted that super-fast broadband coverage in Scotland had seen the largest increase across any of the UK nations in the previous 12 months. Indeed, without the investment in the DSSB programme, access across the country would only be at 66%, access in the Highlands would only be at 21%, and Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles would have no access to fibre broadband at all.

“The Scottish Government has chosen to act, and our commitment to deliver 100% super-fast broadband access by the end of 2021 is a unique commitment across the UK.

We are firmly of the view that our ambitious plan is the right one for Scotland’s economy and we will continue to urge the UK Government to match our ambition.”

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References

  1. ^ Parliamentary Q&A session held last Thursday (www.theyworkforyou.com)
  2. ^ Scottish Government (www.gov.scot)
  3. ^ Digital Scotland Super-fast Broadband (www.scotlandsuperfast.com)
  4. ^ BDUK (www.gov.uk)
  5. ^ Ofcom’s (www.ofcom.org.uk)
  6. ^ Connected Nations Report 2016 (www.ofcom.org.uk)

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)

Fresh row blazes over cost of lighting up Ireland’s rural fibre network

Eir responds to telcos’ threat to boycott its rural FTTH network. Ireland’s incumbent telecoms operator Eir has defended charges it places on other licensed operators accessing its rural fibre network, comparing it as significantly less than the cost of accessing corresponding electricity infrastructure. Members of the Alternative Licensed Telecoms Operators (ALTO) group Vodafone, Sky and BT are engaged in a row with Eir over cost of rural broadband connections and are threatening to boycott Eir’s network in parts of rural Ireland.

‘Eir is the only operator investing in rural Ireland, spending EUR200m to provide fibre to the home to 300,000 homes and businesses’
– EIR

The operators are up in arms over the EUR270 Eir’s wholesale arm Open Eir charges to connect broadband customers if they are located more than 50 metres from Eir’s network. Readers will also recall how a recent Government memo1 signalled that costs of accessing broadband in rural Ireland as part of the National Broadband could be 60pc higher than envisaged based on regulated prices agreed with ComReg. That memo, which emerged as part of a response to a Freedom of Information (FOI)2 request (which is mysteriously no longer online), indicated that at cost price such access would have been 10pc to 15pc higher than envisaged.

The FOI request sought more information about Eir’s deal with the Irish Government in April3 to connect 300,000 homes in rural Ireland to fibre as part of a EUR200m investment, reducing the intervention area of the National Broadband Plan from 840,000 down to 540,000. To access the remaining 540,000, winning bidders of the National Broadband Plan would still have to transmit over Eir’s network.

Row over FTTH is start of a bigger debate about infrastructure access

The nexus of the argument is ultimately down to infrastructure in general and how much utility operators from electricity to telecom, roads and gas charge to access one another’s infrastructure. Sources indicate that while Eir charges EUR270 to access fibre, the cost of accessing electricity infrastructure on a similar basis can run to thousands of euros.

In a statement Eir defended the charge: “Providing best in class technologies such as fibre to the home carries significantly higher costs in rural locations than in urban and suburban locations. In fact, in many cases the actual cost of providing an FTTH connection in rural Ireland is higher than the regulated price we charge.

“In order to compare the connection charges for fibre to home, the comparison must accurately reflect the geographical differences where these services are offered. It is not a like for like comparison between Eir’s commercial fibre to the home rollout in rural Ireland with SIRO’s rollout to suburban towns in Ireland, or with BT’s urban FTTH rollout in the UK.”

Eir said that the cost of connections charges to deliver electricity or gas services in rural environments is significantly higher than the connection charge for the delivery of fibre to the home.

“Eir is the only operator investing in rural Ireland, spending EUR200m to provide fibre to the home to 300,000 homes and businesses that previously had minimal or no broadband availability. Close to one third of the 300,000 homes and businesses can already order best in class broadband speeds of up to 1Gbps.

“We operate the largest open access wholesale network in Ireland, providing more than 40 operators with an unrivalled footprint of homes and businesses throughout Ireland. Operators including ALTO members sell a range of products and bundles directly to end users.

“Our wholesale prices are all regulated and the wholesale prices we charge for fibre to the home including the connection charges were approved by the regulator less than 12 months ago.

Operators such as SIRO do not have regulated pricing,” Eir said.

References

  1. ^ a recent Government memo (www.siliconrepublic.com)
  2. ^ Freedom of Information (FOI) (www.dccae.gov.ie)
  3. ^ Eir’s deal with the Irish Government in April (www.siliconrepublic.com)