Broadband to get better for Suffolk with another BT contract

The Rt Hon Matt Hancock MP who is the Minister of State for Digital and the MP for the West Suffolk Constituency has over the last few days been celebrating the hitting of the 90% superfast broadband milestone for Suffolk[1], plus the prospect of another 50,000 premises benefiting from a new contract signed with BT to extend coverage. Details are sparse on what the new contract will deliver and its funding, and as is often the case the wording which may be precise in any contract signed gets muddier the further away from the actual signatures and sometimes fibre is talked about, other times high speed broadband and sometimes superfast broadband. As a reminder here is what those three phrases usually mean and thus why picking the right one is important.

  • Fibre broadband, generally means premises are passed by a technology such as VDSL2(FTTC) or Fibre to the Premises, but in the case of VDSL2 it will include those premises at very long distances from the actual cabinet e.g.

    2.5km where VDSL2 is likely to perform worse than ADSL.

  • High speed broadband, no formal definition exists, but in terms of the BDUK projects most commonly used when talking about a speed threshold of 10 Mbps or 15 Mbps and faster. Thus premises at 2.5km from their cabinet are not counted, but those closer than around 1.5km are most likely included.
  • Superfast broadband, this means connection speed options of over 24 Mbps or if you prefer the EU definition 30 Mbps and faster.
thinkbroadband analysis of Superfast Broadband Coverage for Suffolk and its component councils as of 22nd July 2017

% fibre based

% superfast
Over 24 Mbps

% superfast
30 Mbps or faster

% Ultrafast

% Openreach FTTP

% Under 2 Mbps

% Under 10 Mbps

334,114 Premises

101,014 Premises

22,185 Premises

40,049 Premises

28,933 Premises

61,475 Premises

43,437 Premises

48,952 Premises

57,603 Premises

53,665 Premises

Suffolk 96.1% 89.5% 88.4% 23.5% 1.13% 1.6% 5.8%
321,083 299,032 295,356 78,516 3,775 5,345 19,378
Better Broadband for Suffolk Phase I 100% 84.4% 81.9% 2.5% N/A 3.6% 8.9%
101,014 85,255 82,730 2,525 N/A 3,636 8,990
Better Broadband for Suffolk Phase II 85.6% 70.7% 68.3% 12.3% N/A 3.9% 19.9%
18,990 15,684 15,152 2,729 N/A 865 4,415
Babergh District Council 96% 85.6% 83.5% 7.4% 2.85% 2.7% 8.1%
38,447 34,282 33,440 2,963 1,141 1,081 3,244
Forest Heath District Council 98.2% 93.9% 92.8% 27.7% 0.2% 0.5 2.6%
28,412 27,168 26,850 8,014 58 145 752
Ipswich Borough Council 99.3% 99.1% 99% 90% 0.74% 0% 0.3%
61,045 60,922 60,860 55,326 455 0 184
Mid Suffolk District Council 90.2% 74.4% 72.8% 1.3% 1.3% 4.5% 16%
39,180 32,317 31,622 565 565 1,955 6,949
St Edmundsbury Borough Council 97.5% 90.7% 89.3% 0.2% 0.22% 1.7% 5%
47,728 44,399 43,714 108 108 832 2,448
Suffolk Coastal District Council 94.6% 86.1% 84.8% 17.5% 0.95% 1.7% 7%
54,492 49,596 48,847 10,080 547 979 4,032
Waveney Council 96.8% 93.8% 93% 1.8% 1.7% 0.5% 3.2%
51,948 50,338 49,908 966 912 268 1,717

We will likely be updating this table in the next 48 hours, as we are in the midst of our weekly coverage update cycle, but we have any reason to suspect Suffolk has seen an explosive roll-out in the week since our last check, but it may make a small difference to figures. The N/A figures for FTTP in the two BDUK phases is because we have not identified commercial versus gap funded Openreach FTTP in the county, so a large chunk of the FTTP in the county can be added if attempting to compare our premise figures with the projects own figures.

The overlap with Virgin Media while small does impact on the premise counts, and where Virgin Media was already available gap funding will not have been paid for those premises, but with the new Project Lightning roll-outs from Virgin Media some premises are now getting cable broadband options that may have had BDUK funding, making splitting them out increasingly time consuming. The phase II project with a lower than 100% fibre coverage means that we have identified a number of cabinets expected to be benefit in that project phase but services are not available yet. Suffolk overall is close enough to the 90% figure that with the variations caused by new build activity across a County and error margins we would not dispute the 90% figure, but even with rounding we would not ourselves call this as 90% reached.

For residents and business users in the Mid Suffolk council area it is very likely that many will feel the project has passed them by, as it seems for many the speed drop of VDSL2 over distance means a big gap between those counting as ‘fibre’ passed and actually able to order a superfast service. As with other counties we are seeing a infill cabinets or native GEA-FTTP deployed as infill, and for those on exchange only lines as with the rest of the country some are getting VDSL2 made available but still a way to go to say everyone has ben helped. For those who are yet to benefit from any of the superfast roll-outs, be that commercial or gap funded the ever increasing coverage figures will always look ridiculous and that is why we including premise counts now, so that people can get a feel for what the 90% actually means, and the variation across council areas also helps to highlight that this is not a consistent coverage but there can be patches with whole villages missing out, or just a couple of streets in a town.

One of the changes we made when we launched the new look thinkbroadband website was to integrate our knowledge of product availability into our package search[2], so that those in full fibre (FTTH/FTTP) areas will only see packages available to them with similar happening for FTTC and a number of other providers. Some may have noticed that our number of premises with access to superfast broadband is only 40,000 below the number of premises in the county of Suffolk, and a similar disparity for this new extension exists in the council release, where they say adding fibre access to another 50,000 premises will take the county to 98%. If the 315,000 with access to fibre based services is 90%, this means the county council believes the premise count is 350,000 which still does not line up with a 98% target needing another 50,000 premises.

The confusion over fibre and superfast terminology is not helping, one variable that may account for this difference is the council may be aware of planning applications for the extra premises, but only after they are built will we be able to include them in our data.


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