We are an independent broadband news and information site helping you to get the most out of your broadband. We pioneered broadband speed testing and provide a range of tools to help you diagnose, troubleshoot and fix any broadband problems.
Duct and Pole Access to the many millions of premises served by the Openreach local loop is once more in the spotlight as Ofcom publishes its latest set of detail on the next version of PIA.
PIA (Physical Infrastructure Access) has existed in some form since 2010 but has never been taken up in any appreciable scale and with Ofcom now setting its sights on the UK reaching full fibre coverage of over 50% across the UK reducing the cost for new operators to deploy networks is central to this goal. The lengthy consultation document has lots of information and includes some feedback from previous consultations.
"1.18 If a downstream BT division (e.g. BT Consumer) were to deploy its own broadband fibre network using BT’s ducts and poles, it would be required to use the PIA product, in the same way as any other telecoms provider. BT’s recent agreement to reform Openreach to become a legally separate company within BT Group will strengthen the independence of Openreach from downstream BT divisions. However, BT’s broadband fibre networks are currently deployed by Openreach, and so our focus is on ensuring Openreach does not have an unfair advantage over competing network builders.
2.3 Telecoms providers interested in deploying ultrafast broadband networks at scale have expressed concern over the high costs required to deploy new physical infrastructure (such as ducts and poles). We believe that an effective PIA remedy will reduce the absolute costs and time required for competing telecoms providers to build ultrafast networks at scale. This should encourage additional investment and new entry into the market which in turn will promote competition in the WLA and downstream markets.
2.4 The PIA remedy was originally introduced following our review of the WLA market in 2010.2 The remedy required BT to allow third parties to deploy broadband networks using its physical infrastructure located in the local access network. It was primarily intended to assist telecoms providers wishing to offer fibre to the cabinet (FTTC) services in advance of BT roll-out of superfast broadband infrastructure, particularly in rural locations that were eligible for public funding support. However, the interest from competing providers to BT for these public funds, under Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK), ultimately failed to materialise.
3.12 We are at an important juncture in the development of the networks that will serve the needs of the UK in the future. In particular, network competition would make the decisions about how to serve the needs of customers in the future contestable. Instead of being constrained by BT’s chosen strategy of incrementally upgrading its existing copper network, competing telecoms providers have the opportunity to build their own ultrafast networks, such as FTTP."Extracts from Ofcom PIA 2 consultation
The new proposals include a mixed use network, so that operators can also use the ducting to serve leased line connections at the same time as delivering to residential premises, and requirements on Openreach to ensure capacity on poles or ducts and things like duct blockages being cleared on a network 'ready for use' basis with the costs being spread equally across all users.
On interesting aspect is that Ofcom says 'Today’s measures are designed to spur investment in the next generation of ultrafast internet connections, and reduce the country’s historical reliance on Openreach – the network business within BT Group' and while this may be the case in terms of the cabling, it actually increases the reliance on a network topology that Openreach is looking after that is decades old and given the piecemeal way that towns and cities have developed over the decades the local loop is often a lot more complex than it needs to be. PIA 2 has the potential to allow Openreach to stagnate its current product set of VDSL2 products and rather focus on increasing its duct and pole teams and become the national guardian of the various pipes and poles without all the worries of running any active or optical hardware.
The big question now is when will the consultations end and providers be able to make full use of this next version of duct and pole access and which operators are looking to use this on a scale that will deliver many millions of full fibre connections in a few years.
We believe a very likely outcome if other operators do embrace the new sharing regime for full fibre is that areas with VDSL2 (likely to be G.fast too) and Virgin Media cable will be the first to benefit and the low population density of rural areas will mean they are left behind again, unless the continuing gainshare re-investment continues to deliver an even higher proportion of FTTP versus FTTC. The big money to be made is not in providing broadband, but selling access to subscription TV content.
The Government (who ever it is after the June General Election) will need to reconsider how the Universal Service Obligation will work and to date while BT Openreach has shown some interest, if they find their engineering teams are busy servicing a new full fibre roll-out and expanding capacity on urban ducts and poles they may be a lot less interested in delivering USO level broadband to the final million premises in the UK, irrespective of whether it has a minimum speed of 10 Mbps or 30 Mbps.
Sky has released its results for the nine month period to the 31st March 2017 but they reveal very little in terms of broadband numbers, the key figure is that fibre penetration (take-up) is running at 24% of the providers customers. Exactly how many broadband customers have been added is not revealed, though overall Sky added 40,000 customers to reach a total of 12.7 million customers.
The last firm figure for the number of broadband customers for Sky in the UK was from the previous results at 6,107,000, which even if they gained no broadband customers means they have some 1,465,680 customers on the VDSL2 services. There is/was a handful of people on the Sky UFO York trial, and one or two sightings of people who may have Openreach GEA-FTTP.
The financial results gives us an opportunity to share some data from the Sky customer speed tests during Q1/2017, the ratio of ADSL versus FTTC customers that we see is in favour of the FTTC user base where 40% of the Sky tests we see are on a FTTC product, a good chunk higher than the financial results suggest, but given people who have had ADSL2+ for years will most likely know how it performs and people with FTTC will be keen to see how their new connection behaves this is no great surprise.
The news that 8,000 premises in Herefordshire are set to see Gigaclear pass them giving businesses and residents the option of Gigabit broadband will be welcomed by those who are yet to see any improvements via the Fastershire scheme.
Gigaclear has already delivered some 3,000 premises of full fibre via the Fastershire project mainly in Gloucestershire (Fastershire is a joint project between Gloucestershire and Herefordshire). Herefordshire with 9.63% coverage of Openreach GEA-FTTP will likely see the full fibre coverage double to around 20% with this additional roll-out.
"This is a major step forward, not only will more communities and businesses have access to fast and reliable internet, but Fastershire is starting to lead the UK in rollout of full fibre. We’re committed to ensuring that Herefordshire has a broadband network that will benefit the county for many years to come."Leader for Herefordshire Council, Cllr Tony Johnson
Until Gigaclear release the detail of the footprint it is impossible to know the full impact on Herefordshire, but it is possible this could almost eliminate the 10% of the county that cannot get speeds above 10 Mbps currently.
|County and constituency level broadband coverage across Herefordshire and Gloucestershire
Data as of 18th April 2017
|Area||% fibre based
30 Mbps or faster
100 Mbps or faster
Combined FTTP and cable footprint
|% Openreach FTTP||% Total FTTP
e.g. Openreach, Gigaclear, Hereford CIC, ITS Tech
|% Under 2 Mbps USC||% Under proposed 10 Mbps USO|
|County of Herefordshire||93.1%||80.8%||9.90%||9.63%||9.90%||2.9%||10.6%|
|Hereford and South Herefordshire||93.7%||86.8%||8.0%||7.49%||8.01%||1.8%||6.3%|
|County of Gloucestershire||92.4%||88.7%||42.3%||1.71%||5.22%||0.6%||4.5%|
|Forest of Dean||87.5%||77.1%||8.7%||8.67%||8.67%||1.8%||11.5%|
Ofcom monitors broadband speeds in the UK via two main methods, sync speed data supplied by operators which is usually summarised in the Connected Nations report and a deep analysis from actual testing via some 4,824 linux boxes deployed to panellists across the UK. Today sees Ofcom release the results from analysis carried out in November 2016.
Obviously comparisons will be drawn with our own monthly publication of speed test results, but there are lots of differences in the way the data is collected, at the simplest level you can call the Ofcom data the modelled approach and ours is a massed observation exercise. Various plus points and minus points exist on both, e.g. ours includes Wi-Fi which can influence results, but conversely with so many using Wi-Fi all the time its important in the full consumer experience, and modelling from a small sample can miss variations and it is also difficult to look at areas like FTTP (Ofcom has recruited more FTTP based testers, but not enough to feature in this report). One emerging trend is that ECI cabinets for VDSL2 are not increasing in speed the same way as Huawei cabinets due to the roll-out of various technical changes.
"Cable broadband is typically faster than copper-based services, but a significant minority of users experience severe slowdowns in peak times
Contention occurs closer to the customer in superfast cable networks, making it more difficult to add new capacity to reduce the effects of network congestion. But despite suffering from higher levels of slowdown than ADSL and FTTC, superfast cable services still had the highest average download speeds throughout the day. There was also much greater variation in the levels of contention experienced by superfast cable customers, with a significant minority experiencing severe slowdowns. For example, while 47% of ‘up to’ 50Mbit/s cable panellists had a peak-time average speed of 50Mbit/s or higher, 9% received less than 10Mbit/s. There was less variation in the performance of FTTC connections; less than 1% of our FTTC panellists received a peak-time average speed of less than 10Mbit/s, while less than 5% had a maximum speed equal to or above the advertised speed, compared to 90% of superfast cable panellists."Ofcom on cable broadband speed variations
Each month we cover our speed test results there are invariably questions about the Virgin Media speed variations, but Ofcom is clear that their data is also recording wide variations, and given the fact that this can be very localised with cable broadband the reality for some people is likely to be very different to the Ofcom results. As with previous SamKnows results Virgin Media cable also fares badly for jitter which is crucial for gamers and its worse at peak times with cable broadband performing worse than ADSL2+ in this respect.
As an incentive to upgrade to a better service if it is available (and millions have the option but have chosen not to, which is especially galling for those crying out for better services and do not have the option) Ofcom has looked at disconnections, with ADSL performing worst at an average of 1.1 disconnections per day, ADSL2+ was better a 1 and cable and FTTC had a combined average of 0.3. So much better, but oddly the data suggests the cable up to 200 Mbps service is worse than the cable up to 50 Mbps service for disconnections and up to 52 Mbps is better than up to 38 Mbps VDSL2.
One take-away for anyone looking at the difference in performance in rural and urban areas, is that Ofcom has used the BlueWave Geographic Locale dataset to split into 7 groups, this set is apparently widely used in market research, our data analysis relies on the ONS classification system, thus the two may not fully align and this is important when comparing speeds, coverage and other metrics.
With installation set to start this summer some 1,700 tenants in 12 developments across Thurrock are set to start enjoying ultrafast broadband from Hyperoptic.
"We are very pleased to be teaming up with Hyperoptic to help every resident in council accommodation have the same access the fastest broadband speed available in the UK today, as those living in private properties.
The Council is neither financially up nor down through this work, but it has supported Hyperoptic develop an affordable package to areas which are highly populated in a bid to keep hundreds of Thurrock residents better connected.Cllr Shane Hebb, Portfolio Holder for Finance and Legal at Thurrock Council
The 12 clusters are Arthur Toft, George Crooks and Lionel Oxley House, Bevan and Morrison House Brisbane, Freemantle and Tasmania House, Butler, Davall and Greenwood House, Chieftan Drive, Clayburn Gardens, Cranell Green George Tilbury, Gooderham and Poole House, Keir Hardie House, Marine and River Court, Perth House, Seabrooke Rise.
In addition to the usual 20/1, symmetric 100 Mbps and symmetric 1000 Mbps services an additional 'light' package will be offered priced at just £9/month with a 5 Mbps download speed.
All the developments apart from Perth House have superfast VDSL2 at speeds over 24 Mbps already, so getting early adopters to switch may prove more challenging than areas that only have ADSL2+ available, not because they don't want to but that many may be tied into existing contracts. Of course a big factor with Hyperoptic is that if you buy a service you get connected at the speed purchased and the 100 Mbps symmetric service at £35/m is cheaper than many out of contract VDSL2 services. Perth House is in a cluster of exchange only lines, but Virgin Media does cover the building and we have seen speed tests within the postcode from Virgin Media customers.
Given the amount of advertising around broadband switching and broadband offers one would hope that everyone is keeping an eye on what they are actually paying, rather than blindly assuming their provider will automatically switch them to the cheapest tariff. Unfortunately a cautionary note from Citizens Advice suggests that 35% don't realise that they may be met with price hikes after their initial deal ends.
"A new report from the national charity reveals that more than a third (35%) of broadband customers don’t realise they could face price hikes by staying on the same contract with their provider after their initial deal ends.
With broadband customers staying on the same contract for 4 years on average, Citizens Advice warns customers are being charged a ‘loyalty penalty’ for remaining on the same deal.
Citizens Advice wants broadband providers to help customers avoid loyalty penalties by being much clearer about how much their services will cost after the initial fixed deal ends."Extract from CAB press release
Back in February we highlighted some interesting experiments that BT Consumer was carrying out on the public, with the out of contract price being made clearer and we presume this is ideally what Citizens Advice would like to see more of. Of course there is nothing to guarantee that the out of contract price when you sign up, will be the out of contract price once your minimum term is over, and we don't believe any broadband provider has sold a fixed price for your lifetime package. TalkTalk is trying to corner the fixed price market, but their prices are only fixed for the term of contract, and after a few years of broadband and line rental going up in price the hundreds of thousands who re-contracted now run the risk of over paying, since if recent Ofcom proposed wholesale price cuts have the full effect TalkTalk may have a bigger profit margin on those customers (fixed price utility contracts that only guard against price rises, but pass on price cuts are not impossible, but are very rare we believe).
The free market has reacted to a number of measures that improve things for the consumer in the last year, but some of this has not always been positive, e.g. rolling in the various up-front costs into a single price, has seen delivery costs of £6.99 magically become a set-up cost of £9.99, and migration between VDSL2 ('fibre') packages is being discouraged with set-up costs of £30 to £60 that apply no matter whether migrating between VDSL2 services or are upgrading from ADSL2+.
We fully expect average broadband speeds to become a requirement in adverts in 2017, and how this is handled may have an impact as it may discourage people from switching, particularly where they are getting above the average speed now and people worry unnecessarily that their speeds will drop even though the underlying technology and wholesale product is identical. There is also the concern that people who would benefit from VDSL2 but not get superfast speeds may be refused service (example: currently 1.5 Mbps ADSL with 12 Mbps VDSL estimate), or pushed towards a product that is less attractive price wise e.g. none of the offers and with less advertising does not feature in the average speeds of the adverts.
One idea for homes with a shared wall calendar is to highlight the end of minimum contract date for your various utilities so that you don't forget to check what the best offers are, and if your household has gone full digital set a calendar reminder so you get notified a couple of weeks ahead of the end of the contract. Broadband which works reliably quickly becomes invisible, so while those having problems will be ready to jump ship to another provider as soon as possible for those where it just works it is all to easy to forget about it.
Retention deals are still available but changes to the migration system meant that while providers used to have an ideal time to offer you a deal when you phoned up to request a migration code now you must explicitly contact the provider to see what they can offer. There is no guarantee of existing providers offering a better price, but some operators will let you sign another 12/18/24 month contract in return for a price that is somewhere between the standard price and current new customer offers.
It is time again for one of our regular summaries of where the UK stands with respect to broadband coverage, particularly focused on the levels of superfast coverage. This April update marks 12 months since we reported the UK hitting a 90% figure.
Of course for those who have seen no improvements, the figures will seem like pie in the sky, and we fully understand that frustration will be increasing as they see areas apart from their own being helped to go faster and faster. It is this frustration at being left out that is probably driving what seems to be an increasing volume of letters and emails to elected representatives, and some of the press coverage and statements from politicians with poorly chosen language in the past is not helping the current situation.
|thinkbroadband calculation of
USC, USO and Fibre Broadband Coverage across the UK, its nations and
regions for premises
In descending order of superfast coverage - figures 6th April 2017
(change since 7th March 2017)
|Area||% fibre based
24 Mbps or faster
30 Mbps or faster
100 Mbps or faster
|% Openreach FTTP||% Under 2 Mbps USC||% Under proposed 10 Mbps USO|
|London||96.8%||95.7% (+0.2)||95.4%||69.2% (+0.1)||1.91%||0.1%||0.9%|
|North East||97.1%||95.7% (+0.3)||95.4%||51.4% (=)||0.08%||0.2%||1.5%|
|South East||97.9%||95.5% (+0.2)||95%||50.8% (=)||1.19%||0.4%||1.7%|
|East Midlands||97.8%||95.5% (+0.3)||95%||57.4% (=)||0.12%||0.5%||1.9%|
|West Midlands||97.2%||94.9% (+0.1)||94.4%||62.7% (=)||0.27%||0.4%||2%|
|North West||97.3%||94.5% (+0.2)||93.9%||46.9% (=)||0.95%||0.7%||2.7%|
|England||96.2%||93.5% (+0.2)||92.9%||54.1% (=)||1.67%||0.6%||2.8%|
|United Kingdom||95.8%||92.7% (+0.2)||92.1%||51.2% (=)||1.52% (+0.09)||0.8%||3.3%|
|East of England||95%||91.5% (+0.2)||90.9%||50.4% (-0.1)||0.54%||0.7%||3.8%|
|Rest Of Scotland||93.7%||90.7% (=)||90.1%||44.2% (-0.1)||0.11%||1%||4.3%|
|Wales||94.8%||90.7% (+0.3)||89.6%||30.8% (+0.1)||2.04% (+0.27)||0.9%||5.4%|
|Yorkshire and Humber||92.6%||90.1% (+0.3)||89.6%||50.9% (+0.2)||4.68% (+0.28) (includes KCom Lightstream)||0.7%||4.6%|
|South West||94.9%||89.9% (+0.2)||88.9%||43.4% (=)||3.18%||1.1%||4.7%|
|Scotland||92.8%||88.9% (=)||88.2%||40.2% (=)||0.10%||1.3%||5.8%|
|Northern Ireland||97.7%||81.5% (+0.1)||79.8%||28.5% (+0.2)||0.29%||6.4%||12.1%|
|Highlands and Islands (HIE)||84.3%||70.8% (+0.7)||68.6%||0.07% (=)||0.07%||4.7%||21.5%|
There is now just one region of England left below the 90% mark, the South West and if roll-outs continue at the same pace they should cross that barrier for May. Yorkshire and Humber has climbed one place up the table, due to the accelerating pace of the KCom FTTP roll-out, which has now taken the City of Kingston upon Hull to 51.3% superfast coverage which is also 51.3% full fibre coverage (NOTE: East Riding of Yorkshire also has some KCom footprint). The city has held the crown for full fibre coverage for a while at 51.3% versus Cornwall in 2nd place at 31.3%, and KCom puts East Riding of Yorkshire in 3rd place at 29.3%.
Wales has broke a minor milestone as it now has 2.04% FTTP coverage, with Gwynedd as the leading council area with 9.38% FTTP coverage (5,300 premises). Wales still has lots FTTP indicated as in build, enough we believe to meet the original project goal of 96% (VSDL2/FTTP/cable coverage, worded as fibre coverage in press releases), the question is how quick can the full fibre build finished to what amounts to perhaps 15,000 premises.
As it is 12 months since the 90% target was met, we have included maps highlighting the change across the district council areas in Great Britain. Unfortunately no handy council map for Northern Ireland but the change in 12 months has been 2.6% for that part of the UK.
The council areas with the biggest change are City and County of the City of London +27.3, Cotswold District +25.7, Na h-Eileanan an Iar +19.4, Shetland Islands +18.7 and Herefordshire +18.2.
If full fibre (Fibre to the Premises) is your preferred measure of improvement, then the top five areas for change are City of Kingston Upon Hull +14.4 (36.88% to 51.32%), East Riding of Yorkshire +12.6, Herefordshire +8.2, Powys +7.7 and Gwynedd +6. This is with respect to Openreach and KCom FTTP/FTTH roll-outs.
Unfortunately it is not every day that we can talk of 10,500 premises getting access to full fibre (Fibre to the Premises) broadband, but for those who eventually move into the Barking Riverside development this will be the case.
The UK only needs another 2,600 or so announcements like this, bringing full fibre to existing premises to get the UK to be true global broadband leaders in the full fibre space race.
The Barking Riverside development is a 20 year long project, and will comprise of 460 houses, 9,000 flats and 1,000 businesses all with access to full fibre, which currently has retail speed options of 38 Mbps to 300 Mbps and 1 Gbps is just around the corner.
"We are delighted to be working in partnership with Openreach to deliver some of the fastest fibre broadband in the UK to over 10,000 homes across the Barking Riverside development."Ian Millard, Technical Director at Barking Riverside Ltd
Delivering full fibre to new build premises makes perfect sense, and given previous announcements about using FTTP for new developments of more than 30 premises it is of little surprise, but always welcome. The area does already have some FTTP available to the West of where we expect the new development to be, and almost every day we find new little clusters in various towns, cities and rural areas across the UK, thus while today we are tracking 315,000 Openreach FTTP premises in a few days that number will have changed again.
Which? off the back of an appearance on The One Show on BBC1 has launched a #fixbadbroadband campaign, but it could just as easily be titled 'ensure you are on the best connection available to you and check your issues are not just Wi-Fi based' campaign.
The campaign has hit the ground running with the a nationally representative survey of 2,084 households conducted between 21st and 22nd December 2016, with the core question being 'Those surveyed were asked had they experienced a problem with their main home internet connection in the last 12 months; and if they had experienced a problem, how these experiences made them feel. Also a problem can range from 20 seconds of buffering during their favourite film through to being without broadband for weeks.
Based on that question and the various outages in core fibre networks (even full fibre operators have had issues too in the last 12 months) that have gone on during 2016, combined with the issues people have with the actual ADSL/VDSL2/cable/fibre segments of their connection it is surprising that the poll once extrapolated to the whole UK only had 12.5 million households frustrated with poor broadband.
"Which? research found that 16 million people – or six in 10 (59%) – experienced some kind of problem with their home internet connection in the last year with a huge 12.5 million – almost nine in 10 – frustrated as a result. Which? supporters said:
- “I am unable to carry out my postgraduate research on the internet with such slow and inconsistent broadband speeds – it’s affecting my education”
- “These days, broadband is as important as gas, water or electricity. Imagine only having 10% pressure on your water supply!”
- “It is really frustrating waiting for a website to load or waiting for a film to stream. If a provider claims to have a certain broadband speed they should provide the service.”Which? #fixbadbroadband Campaign
The press release extra above has some problems with its statistics, or at least confusing points that might end up being used to generate headlines and thus make things look worse than they are. Getting the basics right is important otherwise effort from the campaign will be wasted and dismissed by those with the power to change things, or worse effort will be made to appear to be listening and nothing concrete will happen down the line. So what is the problem? Well we have gone from a headline 12.5 million households that are frustrated, to 16 million people with a problem, and this switch of units from households to people is not clarified. Why is this important? Because the release has talks of 12.5 million households and 12.5 million people in different places, the numbers may be a coincidence but clarity from Which? is expected. Also there is a mathematics problem, 12.5 million of 16 million is actually 78% so more like 8 out of 10 rather than the 'almost nine out of 10'. Also they say '16 million people – or six in 10 (59%)' but the UK has a population of around 64 million, even if the 100% is people with broadband that figure would still be a lot higher.
We reported on the ratio of the different broadband technologies we saw in March on our speed test, which has over the years proved to be inline with the reported figures from the financial statements the PLC broadband providers release, and with 39% still using ADSL or ADSL2+ when 92.7% of UK premises have the option of a faster than 24 Mbps service it is clear that many will be missing out on things like better full fibre options, or cable broadband that does not suffer interference in the same way as ADSL services, and even though VDSL2/FTTC (partial fibre) is criticised the general experience is that it is more stable than the old ADSL/ADSL2+ services. We are fully aware that with 1 million premises still only able to get a sub 10 Mbps service there will be lots of people in those premises getting increasingly frustrated and while the figure is shrinking those that remain are feeling increasingly ignored.
If you want help to #fixbadbroadband and all the techie terms are confusing and your provider is no help, then register for our forums and ask your question.
To be more succinct, if the campaign is not to be easily countered by a BT spokesperson (other broadband operators are available and responsible) with the usual platitudes about 'fibre' and saying information is old and things are much better than portrayed more research needs to be done.
It is easy to complain about the UK having less full fibre broadband coverage than other economies but some areas are addressing that and where full fibre has been delivered any economic advantages should be abundantly clear. KCom with its Lightstream roll-out has been praised by Matt Hancock MP Minister of State for Digital and Culture at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and while the area is the leading area for full fibre coverage it is trailing in terms of superfast and ultrafast metrics.
The aim for KCom is to deliver some 150,000 premises of full fibre equating to 75% coverage of the area that is covered by KCom telephone lines, and we recently featured the news about the 40,000th live customer. The project has announced that it aims for Beverley to have 97% full fibre coverage (NOTE: The area covered by the constituency Beverley and Holderness is much larger hence the dilution of the figures.
Our tracking shows some 105,265 premises have access to full fibre from KCom which ties in with their announced figures, and means there will be a lot more work to do in 2017 to reach the 150,000 goal. The KCom footprint falls across two local authority areas The East Riding of Yorkshire in addition to the obvious City of Kingston Upon Hull with full fibre coverage of 28.8% and 51.3% respectively.