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: 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, May 16th, 2012
Fluidata are delighted to announce the launch of our new bonded FTTC service.
The first PureFluid PULSE service went live with a trial customer last month, and as you will see from this case study, we now have every reason to offer it to any client or prospective client lucky enough to benefit from it. The PureFluid PULSE service can aggregate up to three 80 Mb/s down, 20 Mb/s up PULSE circuits, delivering superfast speeds of up to 200 Mb/s down and 60 Mb/s up. As with all PureFluid solutions, PureFluid PULSE also comes fortified with true resilience, via either any additional DSL line (separate carrier) or 3G connectivity that is delivered over the same IP.
PureFluid PULSE can claim to be a genuine leased line alternative; offering as good as or even better speeds than fibre and a high service level guarantee.
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Posted: Thursday, February 9th, 2012
169 days to go
Due to preparations for the Olympics this summer, Transport for London (TfL) are putting in place an embargo on all planned street work starting on 1st March 2012 that will prevent any road works on the key parts of the London Olympic Route Network (ORN). Restrictions will continue to affect us until they are fully lifted on 30th September. However, it is worth noting that beyond this date a backlog of work may exist, delaying installations further.
It is therefore important to ensure early action is taken to complete Fibre Ethernet Access orders for Optical and Ethernet based services that will:
1. Terminate on the core Olympic Route Network (core roads, sites, venues and the Main A501 Road)
2. May require some form of construction work (digs, test roding etc) on the Core Olympic Route Network
Therefore, fibre orders must be placed by the end of February at the very latest if you wish for your service to start before the Olympics.
A detailed map of the ORN route can be found on the following TFL map, where the London roads highlighted in Red and Blue are the ones affected:
(N.B. this map can be zoomed to give a road by road level of detail)
A further embargo on the rest of the ORN (and most other central London streets) will come into operation on 1st July, so those orders would need to be with Openreach by May. This will impact most streets within the north and south circular and some areas of Greater London.
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Posted: Tuesday, October 4th, 2011
According to reports yesterday over 5% (275,000) BT customers lost connectivity due to a power failure at a major BT exchange in the Birmingham area. Connections started to drop 13:00 and most residential customers began to see their services logging back on 15:00 onwards.
However surprisingly it was business connections with higher SLAs and uptime assurances that had to wait even longer for services to return to normal. Reports from the BBC indicate that they did not see their connectivity restore for a “slightly longer period”. Whilst we do not know what constitutes as ‘slightly longer’ we do know that even two hours in the business world is two hours too long with no internet service. The fact that it happened as well during the day when most businesses would notice and less consumers would probably didn’t help matters.
While an SLA is a demonstration of an ISPs confidence in their network it will mean little, as some BT customers found out, in times of outages where it takes time to restore services. The problem is any compensation is going to be insignificant to the frustration and potential lost business. Much better to actually invest in a technology that is delivered over two networks so you aren’t just relying on one, such as our PureFluid or ADVANCE products which always use multiple carriers to ensure maximum uptime.
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Posted: Monday, March 28th, 2011
Based on VDSL 2+ technology it is the big brother to BT’s Infinity product providing contention guarantees and a business grade delivery. As with all Fluidata’s services we do not enforce a fair usage policy and do not throttle our users.
Our PULSE product physically locates the DSLAM within the street cabinet allowing for a significantly reduced copper line distance. This, coupled with the Very High Bit Rate technology, means that we are able to deliver up to 40 Mb/s download and 10 Mb/s upload with a 5:1 contention guarantee.
Due to the staggered rollout of enabled cabinets, FD PULSE is not yet available nationwide although an intensive network expansion programme is now scheduled. If you want to see what technology is available to you then please contact your Account Manager.
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Posted: Wednesday, September 15th, 2010
With Ofcom keen to set restrictions on advertised internet speeds, it is important to remember the difficulties in assessing the potential speed a user can get until the service has been installed. Back in the old days with fixed rate products, such as BT ADSL IPStream and SDSL, it was much easier to downgrade a user’s service to the next available product if the bandwidth they desired was technically not possible to deliver. However with the advent of ‘up to’ services customers receive the fastest speed their line can support for the same monthly charge.
This change took place with the launch of ADSLmax (ADSL2) services from BT and many other LLU carriers followed suit. What users forget is that the overall cost of the service reduced dramatically during this time and focus was put on the bandwidth used, rather than the all-you-can-eat model that coined the word ‘broadband’. This meant that it no longer cost any more or less to deliver faster speeds and the onus was more on the amount of data transmitted.
So while there is uproar in the consumer markets over advertised speeds and the actual speed they receive, there isn’t any cost saving for them if they were instead offered a 4 Mb/s product than the 8 Mb/s service they signed up to. From the carrier’s perspective, the faster the line the more likely you are to use the bandwidth, and hence the more it will be able to charge. Fundamentally the system is flawed because with the advent of TV and Voice services over IP the consumer will be penalised more than if we had kept the old model of fixed rate products.
The issue I would be more interested in Ofcom tackling is the one of contention ratios and the fact that networks slow during peak hours as packet inspection/restriction takes place. A lot of this activity is kept secret from the end user in a bid to not look anticompetitive. I believe that complete transparency on traffic manipulation and contention would give consumers better visibility into the quality of the service they receive rather than focusing on headline speeds.
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Posted: Sunday, February 14th, 2010
UK has dropped one place to 26th in global broadband race with an average download speed of 3.5Mbps according to the Akamai’s ‘The State of the Internet (Q3-2009)’ report with Sweden in 5th place from European countries and South Korea sitting pretty as the fastest broadband in the world with an average speed of 14.8Mbps.
Why such highly unflattering results then for a country with a reputation for technological advancement? Old cables are an obvious answer with all broadband providers except Virgin Media utislising BT’s antiquated cooper infrastructure; technology that’s performance is dictated by distance from telephone exchange to premises and by the quality of the ageing copper.
Of course there have been positive developments in recent year with the advent of LLU and the quicker services and technologies they’ve contributed. However there are still many blackspots on Britain’s digital landscape, particularly in rural areas where a higher proportion of premises find themselves far from the exchange and where the commercial benefits of network development are not deemed higher enough for the big telcos to warrant investing.
A Fibre optic network would help propel UK speeds up to the levels of their international counterparts, but as anyone will know who has ever look at purchasing fibre privately, it comes at a cost. In order to assist in funding the roll-out of faster broadband the government have proposed (under the Digital Britain report) a fifty pence monthly tax on fixed landlines with the hope of delivering the next generation of super-fast broadband within reach of 10m homes, or about 40% of the population by 2012.
Although the way in which the Government plans to fund broadband development may not be to everyone’s taste (particularly the 3m households that don’t use the internet!) it’s evident that something needs to be done to improve the ailing state of the internet in the UK. Government promises to deliver super fast broadband within a few years look ambitious, particularly when considering the painfully slow rollout of BT’s 21 CN. But at least improving speeds is a subject now higher up the political agenda and this could represent the beginning of Britain’s climb up the broadband rankings.
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