Posted: Tuesday, May 14th, 2013
BT’s latest move forward in the deployment of infrastructure to underpin high-speed connections is Fibre to the Premises on Demand (FTTPoD). Unlike BT’s current FTTP offering, where fibre is run along pylons directly to the house, FTTPoD uses existing FTTC infrastructure as much as possible. Fibre optic cable is laid up to cabinets that are FTTC enabled in order to reach speeds of up to 330 Mb/s down and 30 Mb/s up. A pilot has already been launched, with results to follow shortly.
If this services was easily accessible to the general public, FTTPoD could be a big step towards competing with the likes of Hong Kong and South Korea in terms of average speeds. However, the number of the general population that will be able to access this service may be limited. FTTPoD runs off BT’s existing FTTC cabinets, which are still out of reach of large sections of the country, and in many areas may never be rolled out. BT has generally targeted highly populated residential areas for this infrastructure, leaving business areas out of reach. FTTPoD also cannot be installed into multi-tenanted premises, which further shows that this is not designed as a business service.
From what information we currently have available, the on-demand product will have a high install cost, but without contention or uptime guarantees normally associated with EAD services. This will raise interesting questions on how this service will be marketed – will home users be prepared to pay hundreds for the install in order to get speeds that arguably are not required by the majority? Will small business owners jump at the chance to access speeds previously only available through leased lines or bonded FTTC. While the install costs may well fall in line with the work that needs to be carried out, FTTPoD is offering BT a chance to begin the replacement last-mile copper lines with cheaper, faster and easier to manage fibre optic cable. No doubt over the next few decades copper will be phased out and fibre will be the main choice for last-mile connectivity, so this is a chance for BT customers to foot the bill for them.
While the lack of contention guarantees and SLAs will put off businesses that are more reliant on their connectivity, this technology could be very appealing to prosumers and start ups. It will be interesting to see if BT’s restrictions will impede businesses putting this to use once it is roll out across the country.
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Posted: Wednesday, May 1st, 2013
In death, as in life, Margaret Thatcher divided opinion. Obituaries penned celebrating the ‘savior of the nation’, while others celebrated the demise of a merciless class war commander. What we can perhaps all agree on is she was fundamental to shaping the world we live in now; as citizens, as workers, as business’s – our lives, for better or for worse, owe much to her actions. Of course in some quarters her legacy is more marked than in others, unbeknown to some the telecommunications industry is one such place.
The privitisation of BT in 1984 represents both a watershed moment for Thatcher and her government as well for our industry. Whist it also reveals much about how the ‘Thatcher Revolution’ gathered pace. Before 1981, all telecoms services in Britain were provided through the Post Office Telecommunications (known as BT from 1980). Widely considered a ‘natural monopoly industry’ ( due to the high infrastructure costs associated with it) liberalisation of the market had been given little consideration up until the late ‘70s. However against the backdrop of public dissatisfaction with increasing delays for telephone line installation and with new technologies reducing capex costs required to enter the industry, this was soon to change under the first Thatcher government.
The 1981 Telecommunications Act removed BT from the Post Office and this was followed in 1982 by BP, Cable and Wireless and Barclays setting up Mercury – injecting competition into the market place. However at neither of these junctures is there evidence that privatisation was the ultimate vision of Thatcher or her government. Denationalisation was still viewed as a radical and risky policy against the backdrop of 30 plus years of state ownership consensus and state sales prior to ’84 reflected this tentativeness; in that they were small and discreet. The reasons for the sale coming to fruition were on the most part pragmatic; responses to the problems of the time formed gradually through multi-stakeholder negotiation.
Modernising BT was a key objective under the move to separate it from the post office, however financing that moderinisation was a challenge; in 1983 the government’s finances were deep in the red, with a deficit of around 4% of GDP and nationalised industries were competing with key services (health, education etc) for the treasuries limited coppers. Transferring assets into the private sphere not only opened up the options to find investment via other sources (i.e the city) but also raised money for the public purse.
Whilst the primary motivation for the sale of BT was raising funds for future investment, public shared ownership was also attractive to Thatcher for both pragmatic and ideological reasons. Knowing that both Labour and the unions were likely to be opposed to privitisation, the government was able to offer BT employees pre-registered share options (of which 90% took them up on) as a populist bulwark to any attempts to reverse the trend. In tandem with the ‘Right to Buy’ policy, it also began to shape the neo liberalist narrative Thatcher was developing on ‘rolling back the frontiers of the state’ and empowering the people through private equity purchases.
The sale of BT encapsulates how Thatcher’s early pragmatically reasoned social and economic policies evolved into a political ideology. Arriving at the conclusion to privatise was a policy building process over a number of years, which always kept a firm eye on what was considered acceptable. When, in November 1984, more than 50 percent of BT was sold to the public through share option, it became the largest ever most successful SOE privatisation exercise in the history. It was also an almost immediate political success, popular with the millions who purchased shares, invigorating the UK stock exchange (very much the beginning of the ‘Big Bang’ in the City) and raising money for the government. The sale would pave the way for a further 40 mass market sell off’s during the Thatcher years and irrevocably altered the relationship between state and market. In many ways the embryo of ‘Thatcherism’ was also hatched during the process – setting a template that one could argue has been followed by all subsequent British governments, as well as many others internationally.
As for the impact on telecommunications, opening up the sector allowed for other operators to enter the market, challenge BT, and invest in new technologies (such as mobile and Internet services). Of course without regulation BT’s ‘natural monopoly’ ( i.e owning the underlying infrastructure) would have made for an uneven playing field so Oftel ( later Ofcom) was established at the point of denationalisation to introduce price caps and optimise BT’s levels of efficiency. Ofcom oversaw further moves to liberalise the market in 1991; when authorising independent companies to bulk-buy telecommunications and sell in packages to customers, and again in 2003 when opening up the telephone exchange for LLU operators.
As of 2012, there were over 200 fixed telecommunications providers, over 100 mobile service providers and over 1,000 Internet service providers operating in the UK. For most consumers there is a wide array of services and providers to choice from and value for money to be gained from doing so. But not for everyone. Many areas of Britain (mostly rural) are without access to fast broadband; for those the wrong side of the ‘Digital Divide’ , in an increasingly digital world, there are serious social and economic consequences, for communities and individuals. The reasons for this divide? It’s hard not to arrive at the conclusion that privatisation constitutes the root cause; given that historically operators have reframed from investing in areas where there are unable to identify significant ROI. The establishment of BDUK (Broadband Delivery Fund) in 2009 represents a move from the government to intervene in the market and initiate state led solutions to this problem.
When Margaret Thatcher set the wheels in motion for the liberalisation of the telecommunications, she did so with more modest than radial intentions. Just a few years later, she would find herself presiding over change which would not only revolutionise the telecommunications industry, but which constituted a seismic shift in the relationships between the state, individual and market and had both immediate and long lasting economic, political and social consequences across the UK.
When people now debate Thatcher’s legacy, they debate the merits of policies and philosophy’s which were sharpened, developed and ultimately given momentum, by those changes to our industry, over 30 years ago.
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Posted: Monday, March 4th, 2013
Within the telecommunication industry we are aware of some of the external problems that can affect our last mile access networks. During my 16 years working in these circles, I’ve witnessed everything from DSL slowing down due to frost, to a wireless networks poor performance being blamed on the heat.
Interestingly, it looks like researchers in the Netherlands have figured out a way to use weather associated network problems to monitor the weather itself! In this instance; using mobile phone signal power loss to map rainfall patterns. To me personally, I already monitor the rain in real time by stepping outside. However if it means the weather forecasters can watch a rain front travel across the country, and then give me a warning about it, all the better.
The system uses the attenuation (power) differences through the mobile networks. They cross referenced their information with weather stations across the country and realised there was a correlation. Off the back of that they can see the fronts; as they aim for the most inappropriate place on land to dump their contents.
We will see if O2, EE or Vodafone develop into weather forecasting companies in the near future. Further reading can be found here: http://environmentalresearchweb.org/cws/article/news/52322
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Posted: Wednesday, February 27th, 2013
At the end of a complex bidding process, the 4G auction has its victors and has raised £2.34bn for the public purse. About 90% less than the price paid at the 3G sale 13 years ago – at the height of the dot-com bubble. It’s also more than £1bn short of what the chancellor estimated in his autumn statement.
The relatively modest amounts raised by the auction may well be attributable to the limited success enjoyed by EE since launching the 4G service. Results published last week for EE’s financial end of year show contract net additions actually falling by over a third in 2012 Q4. It’s been suggested that this may be down to the way EE have been pricing their data bundles; offering only the same amount of data as on 3G platforms (resulting in customers running out of data early within the contracted month). The recent reduction in the price of EE’s most basic tariff (by £5 a month) may well be a move to remedy these perceived short comings.
There were no real surprises as to the companies who have succeeded in the auction with 3, EE, Vodafone and the new kid on the block Niche (well BT) all getting portions of the valuable spectrum.
It is interesting that BT, who left the mobile sector a decade ago when it sold off BT Cellnet (now O2), is now back in the market with a healthy chunk of the 2.6Mhz spectrum which is best suited to handling high data traffic in cities.
BT has stressed that it is not planning to operate a national mobile network, but it will be using its spectrum to boost its fixed and Wi-Fi networks for businesses and consumers.
Even if the Treasury is disappointed, the auction may be good news for the roll out. We can now expect plenty of competition to offer fast new mobile services across the UK. But those people in 3G “notspots” will be hoping that this time they will not be left out of the faster future. Ofcom CEO Ed Richards has said “we will be conducting research at the end of this year to show who is deploying services, in which areas and at what speeds. This will help consumers and businesses to choose their most suitable provider.”
Ofcom has attached a coverage obligation to one of the 800 MHz lots of spectrum. The winner of this lot is Telefónica who is obliged to provide a mobile broadband service for indoor reception to at least 98% of the UK population (expected to cover at least 99% when outdoors) and at least 95% of the population of the UK by the end of 2017. While the main part of the auction has concluded, there is a final stage in the process to determine where in the 800 MHz and 2.6 GHz bands each winning bidder’s new spectrum will be located. Bidding in this final stage, called the ‘assignment stage’, will take place shortly.
Following that stage, once bidders have paid their full licence fees, Ofcom will grant licences to the winners to use the spectrum. Operators will then be able to start roll out services.
By 2030, demand for mobile data could be 80 times higher than today. To help meet this demand and avert a possible ‘capacity crunch’, more mobile spectrum is needed over the long term, together with new technologies to make mobile broadband more efficient. Ofcom is planning now to support the release of further spectrum for possible future ‘5G’ mobile services.
As for Fluidata we expect to be able to launch our own 4G services in the not too distant future, if you would like further details please speak with your Account Manager.
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Posted: Tuesday, January 15th, 2013
Last year we got involved in a project to bring high-speed broadband to a rural community in Hampshire as part of a number of trials to evaluate what technology could be used to serve a number of residents in a remote pocket of the country. Interestingly the villages of Little London and Smannell were a stone’s throw from a new housing development which was being served with a fibre to the premises (FTTP) product from Independent Fibre Networks Ltd making it a good location test with.
What was interesting with this project was the use of fibre to the cabinet (FTTC) for Little London and a wireless solution for Smannell ensuring that all the houses and local businesses were served. The use of multiple technologies meant we were able to maximise the budget while ensuring nobody was left out. This along with our Service Exchange Platform meant that the solution also delivered choice to the residents so they had a number of ISPs to choose from to deliver internet their home.
While the final speeds still aren’t near FTTP they are faster than most urban areas and a huge increase over their previous ADSL service. This film was done as part of a look into broadband in the UK and was shown this month on BBC South.
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Posted: Thursday, December 20th, 2012
Fluidata are delighted to announce that we have completed a £2.5 million upgrade on our network on time and on budget. After months of work and planning, it’s fantastic to have concluded this project and we can now start to deliver the benefits of the new network to our clients.
Well the network now operates a hybrid core of Juniper MX and Cisco ASR hardware; providing a switching and routing platform capable of supporting 100 Gb/s wavelengths with true MPLS/VPLS support.
The network now also spans 10 UK data centres and supports 16 carriers – allowing us to offer an unrivalled choice of services to both our direct and wholesale clients. With our network expected to expand to incorporate more carriers in 2013 we a building a platform unique in the industry in its capacity and diversity. Already a number of PWAN customers have been migrated onto the new platform and new fibre services are making the most of the multipoint to multipoint functionality.
We believe this upgrade provides us an improved fabric to support our existing and future requirements; the network is more scalable, more resilient and easier to manage. Furthermore, we’re genuinely excited by the enhanced MPLS and VPLS capabilities; which allow us to offer next generation WAN infrastructures at an affordable price point.
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Posted: Thursday, November 29th, 2012
Digital Region have announced that it is carrying out a phased network upgrade in which they are upgrading the cards in certain exchanges. This will enable customers to potentially receive higher than the 70 Mb/s download that is currently achievable using FTTC technology.
This will differ per customer/copper connection as the usual copper caveats apply and it will all depend on what the individual line is capable of achieving at a stable sync rate. It will also only be achievable if the customer is served by an exchange that is part of the network upgrade.
This network upgrade will only impact existing/new connections at the higher end allowing the line to achieve higher speeds if capable. Digital Region is planning phase 1 of the network upgrade next month.
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Posted: Wednesday, October 3rd, 2012
As a company who has keen interest in BDUK developments, via our involvement (alongside Magdalene and NetAdmin) in finding alternative rural and urban broadband solutions – our Service Exchange Platform (SEP), it was intriguing to read the comments of Rob Gallagher (The Director of Informa Telecoms & Media’s Global Broadband and TV Research) explaining why ‘UK Cities Must Pick BT for Superfast Broadband or Risk Failure’ in last week’s ISPreview.
As a headline argument it won’t sit very easily with the EU’s view on how public money should be assigned for these deployments, with the commission over in Brussels favouring a model “ that both incentivises further investment in fibre broadband and delivers vibrant competition in broadband services” i.e. opposing any monopoly.
I’m the first to the criticise the EU when I feel they needlessly meddle in our affairs, however I understand their approach on this subject, notwithstanding the ethical implications of monopoly, without competition we run the risk of compromising both choice of service and service delivery. And are BT always best placed to deliver?
On privately funded projects competitors have often built better performing networks, on smaller budgets, and in quicker time, than BT might have done. In respect to some of the rural projects undertaken in the last few years, companies like Rutland and B4RN have also proved themselves more than capable and in doing so have highlighted the value of local providers in solving rural broadband problems. In short there are several more innovative, agile and efficient providers than BT.
I’m sure Gallagher’s is aware of the merits of alternative providers, he says as much by noting that they are likely “to bid with more flexibility in speeds, costs and other features than BT”, the foundations of his argument rest more on the fact that “many alternative superfast broadband network operators elsewhere in the world have struggled to attract major service providers, which see working with these outfits as an unnecessary source of cost and complexity compared to working with incumbents like BT.” The point Gallagher makes here is a salient one, yet I think the success of not just these future developments, but the very future of our industry rest on us rejecting the conclusion that we should resign ourselves to a BT monopoly.
Would it not be better to work on attempting to remove, or at least lessen, in Gallagher’s words ‘cost and complexity’ of working with these outfits?
In my view that should be the aim of network carriers, ISP’s, infrastructures partners, the BDUK and the government. That’s what we should collectively strive for. Allow alternative provider’s access to lease BT’s dark fibre networks, place trust in smaller local providers, work on intelligent platforms that make open access to all these networks easier.
Fluidata are attempting do just this with the Service Exchange Platform that allows ISP’s to make just one investment and have access to all these disparate networks. The platform is mature, the cost and complications minimal. There are alternatives.
Our campaign is called stop@nothing and we plan to do just that in helping play our part in not only bringing Britain’s connectivity infrastructure in line with the rest of world, but in eschewing monopoly and encouraging competition.
We don’t agree with Rob Gallagher’s conclusion. We just hope that the rest of our industry and those in positions of power in councils, central government and the EU share our views.
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Posted: Wednesday, August 1st, 2012
The topic of net neutrality has been hot in the press in recent years and more so in the past few; not only have there been legislations put in place to block illegal websites, such as pirate bay. But, last week saw the release of a new voluntary Open Internet Code of Practice (OICP); its presence is designed to tackle the concerns surrounding net neutrality. Members are to ensure that the internet is ‘full and open’. The code, however, has received a mixed response from UK ISP’s.
As well as the code requesting ISP’s to be more transparent with any restrictions, it also outlines commitments to stop the ISP’s from blocking any legal content or targeting any content from a specific provider. Consumers should be the beneficiary of this new code as the internet will hopefully remain more open. Although the code is voluntary multiple ISP’s, including BT, O2, TalkTalk and Sky (to name a few), have signed the code. However Virgin and Vodafone have yet to do so, with Virgin claiming the code is ‘too vague’ and Vodafone citing ‘impracticality’.
With more providers delivering content as well as connectivity there is a fear that services such as video, which is a high user of bandwidth, would be prioritised in different ways. This would mean a video service from one provider would look worse on a competing network than on its own. This obviously comes back to the issue of walled gardens and protecting the quality of a service, but with something as universal as internet connectivity any kind of restriction or interference needs to be disclosed prior to purchase.
There is no issue in ISPs putting these restrictions in place, as others will offer the alternative of not having them in place, but without full upfront disclosure customers will be unable to make an informed decision. Fluidata does no kind of traffic shaping or restriction for any of our customers, so luckily it’s not something we have to give too much thought to ourselves.
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Posted: Monday, July 30th, 2012
4G connectivity will be available to 98% of the UK by the end of 2013, it was revealed earlier this week.
The auction process for the frequencies has been protracted, but it’s now likely to come to a close at the beginning of next year; and the official rollout of the 4G network is expected to be completed by the middle of 2013. Whilst later than expected, it is a welcome development. 4G is a big step forward in the evolution of mobile technology, and major markets like the United States, Japan, Germany and Canada have already benefitted from the increased speeds it affords.
The multi million pound investments required to set up the network nationwide should enhance spending within the country, and also ensure that Britain does not fall any further behind in terms of technology improvements. The service should allow smart phone/tablet and mobile workers access HD quality video streaming services without being connected to a local Wi-Fi connection. It will be very interesting to see if the proposed auction of the frequencies will aid in the creation of fair competition amongst carriers – and also how ISP’s will adapt the technology to create products suitable for both business and home users.
Also fascinating to see, will be how the release of this new technology will affect the existing home and business broadband market. As an innovative technology company, Fluidata will be seeing how we can integrate 4G into our award winning Service Exchange Platform ( SEP) in hope of enhancing our product portfolio for both our direct customers and channel partners.
It’s great that this exciting technology is finally on the way, it’s certainly a case of better late than never.
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