March 2011 Archives

Spectrum auction is fair to whom, asks CMA

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Ofcom's rebuttal to a Communications Management Association opinion in Computer Weekly regarding proposals for the upcoming spectrum auction for so-called 4G licences has drawn further comment from the CMA. Ofcom's response left it wondering whether the auction process, which it described as "fair", had the CMA asking "fair for whom?"
CMA members want Ofcom to make sure that there is national roaming, almost to the exclusion of everything else.
It said there are four questions to ask to assess whether a regulator is doing its job right:
Will the proposals result in an affordable infrastructure for innovation?
Will they result in an infrastructure fit for enterprise purposes?
Will they speed up economic growth?
Will they enahnce community development?
"This has very little to do with finessing fairness between market players," the CMA says. "It's about responding to higher national purposes and fairness to UK enterprises and society - a responsibility that the Communications Act 2003 placed squarely on the shoulders of Ofcom."

Why BT should bid for a 4G mobile licence

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Ofcom's proposals to auction frequencies in the 800MHz and 2.6GHz frequency bands seem tailor-made to attract BT back to the mobile market.
Firstly, Ofcom says it wants a fourth operator. It had four, but then Deutsche Telekon and France Telecom merged their struggling UK operations, T-Mobile and Orange respectively, into Everything Everywhere, but kept the names for branding purposes. This was making it easy to squeeze Three, which has its own small 3G network, but depends on sharing the Everything Everywhere network for much of its traffic.
Secondly, Ofcom says explicitly it will reserve a licence in the 800MHz band for an operator that promises to cover 95% of the population by 2017. Curiously enough, this is the same deadline as the government's smart meter project, which will depend on the use of 800MHz signals to penetrate buildings and to travel long distances.It is also the same percentage that BT CEO Ian Livingston promises to cover if, and only if, the government gives it most of the £830m earmarked for rural broadband networks.
Without access to mobile spectrum BT would have to depend on a friendly mobile partner if it wanted to pitch for the smart meter (and later smart grid) business. Of course, it could hook up the telephone line to the meters, but no-one is thinking that way, and besides, why else did it tie up with broadcast signal distributor Arqiva?
And it would open up competition for the end user for the first time in Market 1 areas, the two-thirds of the exchange areas around the country where it is sole supplier, assuming another operator accepted the deadline.(See the map here: WBA map final.pdf.) BT objects to this characterisation, noting that while two-thirds of the the country's exchanges are in Market 1 areas, this covers only 11.7% of the population.
Those are two powerful reasons, one defensive of its market position in rural areas, the other to improve its competitive position, are why BT should bid for the 800MHz licence.
But really, why bother with the auction? Ofcom has so hedged the auction with restrictions on the amount of spectrum an operator can own that it might as well give it away in return for a very aggressive network build deadline.
That at least would have the benefit of getting the UK quickly up speed with Uzbekistan.

Openreach reveals latest exchanges for fibre

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BT Openreach last week published its list of the exchanges to be fibred up over the next 12 months. You can see a spreadsheet of its plans here.
It shows that Openreach is already accepting orders from other communications providers on 336 of the total 785 exchanges. It has also deferred fibre-ing up the exchanges at Tulse Hill and Shepherd's Bush in London. BT has an estimated 5,500 exchanges.
BT said earlier not everyone who lives in an exchange area will receive the up to 40Mbps download speed. That access depends on the street cabinet being fibred-up, and not all cabinets in a fibred exchange are will get it.
The table below shows the extent to which BT is doing fibre to the cabinet (FTTC), compared to fibre to the premises (FTTP). The European Commission has called for half of a country's population to receive 100Mbps, which strongly implies FTTP, by 2020, a call endorsed by the Welsh Assemby government in its tender for next generation access for the principality.

Total service starts

Estimated start date FTTC FTTC/P FTTP Grand Total
Accepting CP orders now. 333 1 2 336
Deferred 3

01/03/2011 33 1
01/06/2011 109 5
01/09/2011 100 20
01/12/2011 73 17
01/03/2012 72 16
Grand Total 723 60 2 785
Source: BT Opensource

NGA needs new success model

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Next generation access local networks need to support innovation, enterprise, economic growth and the community, says Groupe Intellex's David Brunnen, in a paper based on research visits to successful schemes in Europe.
"The significance of strong local leadership, local identity and deep community engagement also emerge as major success factors," he writes in Fitness for Purpose: effectiveness of FTTx investment and deployments, which has been endorsed by the Communications Management Association (CMA).
He concludes that "FTTx investments require business models that are entirely different from any earlier telephony-based access network designs."
He suggests that access networks that do not allow ISO Layers 3 or 4 local application services, or that are not "integrated with the backhaul needs of new intensively localised mobile base stations," may be fine for residential users, but are unlikely to support "newly intensive" local businesses, especially if they need high bandwidth.
"This is a problem if standards and  expectations are, for the convenience of national operators or the comfort of regulators, set too low to allow local diversity," he says.
Brunnenm says all four elements need to be balanced.  "If any one dimension is trashed by the dominance of others, the management model at the heart of the project will inevitably struggle to survive," he says.

Good luck to Olivia Garfield, she lives in interesting times

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Congratulations to Olivia Garfield, former boss of BT strategy and now head honcho of BT Openreach following Steve Robertson's decision to hand over the reins.

Liv, who has been feisty in protecting BT's interests in all the forums where she and I have breathed the same air, takes on the biggest job in UK networking. Ofcom has just published a slew of consultations, including its new policy on next-generation access, which I am still trying to plough through. More on that later, but everyone should feel free to express their opinions here too.

Liv has to deal with the legacy of past under investment, increasing regulatory pressure, rising political expectations that call for universal access to 30Mbps broadband and for 50% of the population to get 100Mbps, and more competition for investment funds.

The Chinese curse us to live in interesting times, so please accept our blessings in anticipation of a job well done.

Cardiff resists FTTC

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Here is a sentence to chill the blood, if not stop the heart of anyone interested in fibre networking: "Openreach has spent millions of pounds to ensure that Cardiff boasts some of the best access to modern broadband technology in the UK, but residents in some enabled areas of Cardiff are proving slow to adopt the service."

It was penned by the good folk in the BT press office. It goes on to say that Openreach's fibre to the cabinet (FTTC) gives users access to at average download speeds of 31Mbps and uploads at 8Mbps.

And still Cardiffians are underwhelmed. The best take-up rate, in Whitchurch, is just 7%.
Wales is now looking for someone to provide universal access to 30Mbps, and 100Mbps to half the residents, probably at the cost of some hundreds of millions to taxpayers and shareholders.

Cardiff is not the only town to resist FTTC. Openreach's "superfast broadband" progranme director Johnny McQuoid told The Register that residents of Haringey don't want big new fibre cabinets cluttering their streets.

Before BDUK or the RDPE or Defra or anyone else spends one more penny on broadband, they should find out why Cardiff is proving so resistant. 

Putting your money where your broadband mouth is

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Hat's off to Lindsey Annison, late of this parish, for putting her money where her mouth is. She is pledging her own £5,000 for a citizen's fund to get a fibre-based broadband connection in her neck of the woods, or rather fells.
This comes hard on the heels of Digital Agenda commissioner Neelie Kroes getting the CEOs of top telcos round the table for a chin-wag about how to get the necessary investment to make a 30Mbps broadband service universal throughout Europe, and for half of us to have access to 100Mbps. I suspect we all know how that will end.
Lindsey makes the excellent point that no-one ever asks end users if they would be interested in investing in their local broadband supplier. Some customers might well do so, if they could influence policy and saw the chance of dividends or cheaper prices or some other benefit.
Given that some people, like communications secretary Jeremy Hunt, think 95% of the required investment will have to come from the private sector, they might do worse than talk to Lindsey about how to raise the money.

What (house) price high speed broadband?

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It's been anecdotal up to now, but a recent report in the Telegraph suggests that life is starting to imitate art, at least where it concerns house desirability and broadband access. The Torygraph reported that website Rightmove, which claims to publish details of 90% of the UK's properties for sale, was working with BT to include access to high speed broadband to its catalogue of features.
A spokesman for Rightmove said there was no agreement in place, but did not deny the talks, adding the company "could look into" adding the details in its web pages.
The spokesman could not say whether was a correlation between house prices and broadband access, or indeed how much of a difference it made.
A February survey by ISP Review didn't ask the hard question (How much more?) but did find that almost half the 773 people it asked would pay a premium for high speed (more than 40Mbps) broadband. But almost 74% said it was "critically important" to them. Just not at home.

However wide our digital divide...

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We should spare a thought for those in Libya right now.

Looking at the Google Transparency report, it would seem the plug has been pulled on the internet for the citizens and businesses of that country. 

(Thanks to Fundamentals for the heads up).

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This page is an archive of entries from March 2011 listed from newest to oldest.

February 2011 is the previous archive.

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