23 Nov

West Oxfordshire superfast broadband

Okay, so I have stayed quiet about this for ages since I sold Cotswolds Broadband C.I.C. to Gigaclear plc. but since Gigaclear have now secured the contract to complete the work that I started in 2011, I can be sure that it is all going in the right direction and that full fibre will be available to every premise in West Oxfordshire that cannot access superfast speeds. A number of people have asked why I haven’t made a big noise about the solution that has been reached, but I wanted to be sure following cancellation of the contract that I originally brokered in 2015.

It was an ambition that came about as a result of the realisation that my part of the district wasn’t going to get first generation (ADSL) broadband in 2003.  I became the community ‘broadband champion’ raising awareness and encouraging BT to think again about a community where many people worked from home and a significant number of small and micro business operated. BT didn’t waver so we created our own wireless network (called Oxfordshire Rural Broadband) with funding from the council and The Co-Op , who also housed the backhaul, ironically sourced from BT.

Spool forward eight years and the same thing looked likely for a wider part of the district, where the holes left in the superfast coverage were larger than the small pockets of superfast broadband availability, spawning the idea of Cotswolds Broadband working with the district council to infill all those remaining properties.

So finally, the contracts have been tendered and signed, work is underway with credible suppliers this time(!) and West Oxfordshire still may be the first district in the country to achieve full coverage of superfast broadband!

10 Sep

The Great Net Neutrality Debate

Net Neutrality is one of those ‘on-topic’ subjects that has swung into focus recently and has caught people’s imaginations. It’s not surprising really as it’s something that threatens to change the way in which we are all able to access content on the Internet, so you could say it’s important!

Having watched the oddly compelling video ‘The Internet Must Go’, which is a clever mockumentary on how the big ISPs in America are trying to shape everyone’s consumption of Internet content, I have some observations on how this will pan out. First, if you haven’t done so already, take a look at The Internet Must Go:

Assuming that your ISP didn’t block the video you now understand the problem as perceived by many. There are polar views on the subject although everyone apart from some of the big ISPs agrees that creating a tiered payment system for content is clearly against the principles of the Internet.  It changes everything and is effectively like allowing those with deep pockets to jump the queue for a theme park ride (oh no, they do that already). Alright it’s like only letting rich teams win at F1 (hmmm, I think that’s been happening for years).

Judgment Day

Net Neutrality counters the potential for dominance by one or more ‘super providers’

Seriously, this affects us all; even a telecoms provider should be concerned about the potential for being squeezed out if ‘traffic shaping’ threatens their business. In this blog post, Trefor Davies and Pete Farmer discuss the ideals of an open Internet relating to VOIP provision.

Personally I still believe that this will start the ball rolling towards my preferred and predicted model of Internet Providers rather than Internet Service Providers. That’s not just a simple change of name but a fundamental shift from paying a third party to connect you to all content as you do now, to paying only for the very services you want. Effectively premium services would be available as part of a range of packages, so for instance buying a Google Business package would give you access to those premium services you want in your business, as well as the content you need, and the same would be true at home. It’s the payment for those services that subsidises the connection via the Internet and into your home or business. Some people may be worried about the ‘SkyNet’ dominance that would afford those companies able to offer these services, but I for one would rather be held to ransom by a company like Google than BT!

The good bit is that it is still unlikely that one company or even a few will own and operate all the infrastructure in this model, so there is still plenty of scope for earning rental for transit of services, and thereby for new infrastructure projects to thrive.

26 Apr

When Will Google Fiber Take Over The World?

Okay so this is a bit of fun, but the key message that rolling out fibre broadband connections could take a long time isn’t lost on the majority of people, least of all Cotswolds Broadband, where capital costs are to be kept as low as possible, but it is still a highly capital intensive proposition for a relatively small area of West Oxfordshire in the UK Cotswolds.

The end result is worth it only when you consider broadband usage tomorrow, not today. Soon we will all be clamouring for gigabit services, so copper solutions just won’t suffice.

When will Google Fiber take over the world? – An infographic by the team at Broadband Genie

Creative Commons Licence
When will Google Fiber take over the world? by Broadband Genie is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

26 Nov

Crowdfunding and social media

Social mediaThrough Cotswolds Broadband I have been looking at crowdfunding as a means of raising a significant proportion of the initial capital required to operate a new rural broadband investment fund. When you are talking about generating upwards of £5 million overall, it’s important to get it right, otherwise the business could struggle. So we are looking at how social media can contribute in reaching a wider audience of potential investors.

This is an opportunity for investors to benefit from not only a slice of the equity, but from generous tax relief in the form of the Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS), as well as future benefits on the successful performance of the business, so it’s all about reaching out to those who already understand the proposition. But are they on Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms? I doubt it very much.

However it’s the way these types of investment opportunities work that is the key to ensuring that the greatest number of touch points are exploited, not just a blanket coverage. The approach is like the difference between a blunderbuss and a sniper’s rifle: investors with significant tax obligations work through intermediaries; Independent Financial Advisers (IFAs) so it’s that group that we are targeting, and social media has a significant part to play.

LinkedIn is the obvious touchpoint for this group, with a quick scan producing a number of UK-centric groups that are well populated and used by IFAs, the main ones showing over 4,000 members. Reaching out to this target audience can be achieved in a number of ways:

  • by joining the relevant groups and getting involved in discussions, but that’s very time-consuming, risks being seen as a spammer, and wary moderators will see straight through it
  • by posting in the ‘Promotions’ tab of relevant groups, but unfortunately very few people actually visit this tab, which was setup to provide moderators with a means of removing the constant stream of personal promotion that used to appear in discussions
  • by using well targeted LinkedIn ads

I’m not an advocate of social media advertising per se (personally I am not one who clicks on ads in my social media channels), but it certainly has its place, particularly with very focused campaigns, and even more so when a short window of opportunity presents itself. In this case the fund is open for less than three months, so it provides a useful means of quickly reaching a target audience with a CPM campaign to increase awareness and reinforce the opportunity.

Other social media channels have their place, in this instance sponsored stories in Facebook are an effective means of targeting friends of those who already like a page or post. If the campaign has a local aspect or can be targeted at users’ Facebook interests, its effectiveness can be maximised.

The crowdfunding platform itself should provide ample opportunity for users to share content out to their network, so where these shares and comments appear they can be maximised.

So far, these touch points are generating low clickthrough rates, but in a CPM advertising campaign such as this, we are maybe more interested in reach than actions!

Find out more about social media marketing or get in touch to discuss these topics in more depth.

04 Jan

Latest Effective Social Media seminar

Effective Social Media seminar

Click to book your place on an Effective Social Media seminar

If you aren’t already actively engaging with more than 800 million Social Media users then you should attend my next two-hour ‘Effective Social Media’ seminar and learn how you can leverage LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and other social networks for your business, organisation or charity.

The seminar aims to give attendees a solid foundation in the world of Social Media, using interactive sessions and discussion on the social networks that organisations should be using in their marketing mix. You will come away with an understanding of how to plan and manage your digital network communication.

If you have already started social networking you should be using a coordinated Social Media strategy. If not, come and learn how to do so.

The next event is scheduled for 27th January 2012. If you are interested in attending, please contact me or book a place here.

18 Feb

NGA Broadband – Tackling the backhaul question

As I couldn’t read this whole story on Point Topic today, even though it was sent within their excellent newsletter, I am reprinting it here for others that haven’t seen this article on the costs of middle mile services (referred to here as backhaul). If you do subscribe to Point Topic you can access the story here: http://point-topic.com//content/ukplus/shortreports/UKPbackhaul.html

1 Introduction

Accessible, affordable, high-speed backhaul has been identified as key to bringing next-generation broadband services to the UK’s rural and remote communities. These locations tend to suffer from lack of access to backhaul provision because they are usually some distance from their nearest BT exchange and are situated in areas not served by other commercial providers.

The importance of backhaul was highlighted by the Coalition Government in its broadband action plan published on 6 December 2010. “Our aim is to ensure every community has a point to which fibre is delivered, capable of allowing the end connection to the consumer to be upgraded – either by communities themselves, or since this will make the business case more viable, industry itself might choose to extend the network to the premises.” The plan, entitled “Britain’s Superfast Broadband Future”, proposes a “digital hub” in every community by the end of this Parliament (in 2015) and Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) is to explore the viability of the approach at a local level. This builds on the idea of the “digital village pump” first coined by community interest company NextGenUs UK in 2010.

The Digital Scotland Report, published on 26 October 2010 by The Royal Society of Edinburgh, explores backhaul provision in greater depth. “Lack of backhaul capacity limits the provision of local access, the delivery of next-generation speeds to homes and businesses, and the rollout of mobile data services.” A number of remote communities have built their own high-speed local access networks but have limited speeds as a result of sharing a slow backhaul connection. In Scotland these include Tiree, Eigg and Knoydart. The report adds that a high-speed backhaul infrastructure would stimulate investment to build new local access networks as well as benefiting those that already exist.

Proponents of better and particularly fibre backhaul cite not only its beneficial effects on next-generation local access network provision but other benefits including greater efficiency in public services and enabling mobile operators to roll out 3G and LTE 4G mobile broadband offerings.

Industry has highlighted a number of ways in which the cost of both backhaul and access network construction could be reduced, namely sharing existing infrastructure, deployment of new overhead infrastructure, microtrenching and sharing streetworks. Other approaches on backhaul are also coming to the fore, the most interesting of which are demand aggregation on alternative infrastructure and the use of public sector networks.

In this short report we identify the options for providing backhaul to communities seeking next-generation broadband speeds, particularly those in remote areas. We look at the cost of providing backhaul and some of the products available today together with what is expected to be available in future. The emphasis is on fibre-optical solutions.

2 Defining backhaul

Backhaul is the connection over which traffic is carried from a local aggregation node such as a street cabinet or telephone exchange back to an internet gateway. It is sometimes referred to as the “middle mile” as opposed to the “last mile” or the local access network. Backhaul can be provided using different types of technology: fibre optic cable, fixed wireless radio and microwave technologies and satellite.

Essentially there are three flavours of backhaul – local, regional and national:

  • Local backhaul takes traffic from the primary connection point (PCP), back to a local aggregation point or node. Typically the PCP will be one of the green street cabinets operated by BT Openreach, used as a access point for a communications provider involved in sub-loop unbundling, and the aggregation point will be a BT exchange.
  • Regional backhaul collects traffic from the local aggregation node and delivers it to an aggregation point where a national backhaul provider has a point of presence (PoP). Here it connects to the national backhaul network. However, this [regional?] aggregation point need not be a BT exchange. Other providers including Cable & Wireless, Virgin Media and TalkTalk have similar connection points, as do some local authority networks.
  • National backhaul takes traffic from the regional aggregation point to a telehouse for internet breakout and onward delivery to the voice network. As above, the national link can be provided by various other providers besides BT.

The backhaul network needs to have enough capacity to serve aggregated traffic demand from the entire community it serves. End-users do not all use the network simultaneously but the network should still be able to handle peak hour demand.

The most likely approach for getting backhaul to a community deployment is for Openreach to provide a fibre as part of its Ethernet portfolio. Alternatively the fibre may be dug by a fibre-laying company, of which Openreach is one. Existing dark fibre may be another option although this is less likely to be available beyond urban areas and national routes.

Alternatively wireless technology could be used to provide the local backhaul element using 5.8GHz radio. This would involve conducting line of site surveys and sourcing suitable premises for masts or erecting poles, together with gathering the required wayleaves and landlord commitments. Both fibre and wireless approaches has been employed by Rutland Telecom, for instance, which uses Openreach fibre for its Lyddington sub-loop unbundling deployment, and point-to-point radio for backhaul from a number of smaller villages in Rutland.

3 Costs of backhaul provision

The problem for many rural and remote communities is that the local backhaul element simply does not exist in any readily accessible commercial form. The effect of geography and distance means therefore that backhaul provision comes at a high price. The cost of backhaul varies depending on the individual circumstances of deployments. Anecdotal accounts of specific backhaul costs include those cited in the Digital Scotland Report of £140,000 per year for 34Mbps backhaul supplied by BT to the Connected Communities network on the Western Isles in Scotland. The report goes on to estimate installation and operational costs of £250 million over 15 years for the 2,500 km of fibre it says is needed to bring backhaul to Scottish communities of more than 800 homes.

3.1 Backhaul pricing examples

Sample scenarios

To explore how significant the cost of backhaul is for rolling out NGA, Point Topic has calculated the implications of Openreach’s prices for backhaul projects to serve communities of different sizes over a range of distances. For local backhaul we assume communities at 1,000, 2,500, 5,000 and 7,500 metres from the serving BT exchange. We also consider how the costs per household or business look if they are allocated across 250, 50 or only 10 premises.

Each community is served by one PCP with fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC) deployment using sub-loop unbundling, putting VDSL2 into the cabinet. Thus an optical fibre is required to connect the communications provider’s (CP) cabinet, adjacent to the PCP, to the serving BT exchange. The prices for Openreach’s Ethernet Access Direct (EAD) products are used. EAD is due to replace Openreach’s current Backhaul Extension Service (BES) and Wholesale Extension Service (WES) products in June 2011. Prices include both one-off and annual rental elements, corresponding to the standard telecoms categories of capital and operating expenditure, capex and opex.

The differences in economic impact across this range are considerable. If fibre is already available and costs can be recovered from as many as 250 premises then the one-off capital costs would be quickly paid for and continuing opex would be quite modest per home or business, at only £20.30 per year even at 7.5km range. But recovery from as few as 10 premises gives opex per premises of £273.50 even at a short distance from the exchange, far beyond what is likely to be economic on a commercial basis.

The picture is less encouraging if new fibre has to be provided. Opex stays the same but capex is much higher, ranging from £23.80 for a home in a large and nearby community to £3,195 for one in a small community far from the exchange. And costs go up by another order of magnitude if a new duct has to be dug for the whole distance as well. Here the range of capex is from £163.80 to £29,445.

It is also important to remember that here we are looking simply at the cost of backhaul. The figures quoted are only small part of the total cost of providing a broadband service. They do not include, for example, the cost of the CP’s street cabinet or the cost of the unbundled tie cable from PCP to home among many other things. Legal and planning costs, exchange costs, marketing costs and a profit margin all need to be covered by the full price quoted to the end-user.

These simple calculations raise a number of questions without providing answers. What is a reasonable amount to spend on providing broadband to remote places? If my house is a few £100,000 cheaper because it is remote, would it be worth investing even £30,000 to abolish some of the disadvantages of remoteness? And what should the working assumptions be about the take-up of superfast broadband services in rural communities? Commercial CPs cannot afford to assume 100% take-up of a service or anything close to it, but it makes sense to assume 100% in cost-benefit analysis of a publicly funded project. In the long run the aim will be indeed to achieve 100%. Many homes will be users without appearing to access the internet as far as they are concerned, whether for streaming TV, telecare or smart metering.