Why Europe is coming round to BT's broadband thinking

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by Ronan Kelly

BT has been in the UK headlines quite a lot these past few weeks. News of a rare service interruption aside, BT's recent press cuttings file is par for the course. A little background chatter about potential regulatory tightening here; some more calls to accelerate faster and cheaper broadband services there.... Whatever they do for the UK's broadband infrastructure never seems to be enough, and there's a big problem with that narrative. It just isn't true.

I'm not saying the media is manufacturing negative perceptions. Maybe it's just the price you pay for having customers with high expectations and a reputation as one of the most respected telecom operators in the world.

No - BT isn't religiously fanatical about FTTP

People who believe that BT is somehow opposed to fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) should pay close attention to the new deal struck between Openreach and the UK's Home Builders Federation to ensure superfast/ultrafast broadband connections to newly-built homes. The move is proof of BT's willingness to take advantage of the broadband economics of greenfield sites, and support FTTP where it is commercially viable. Even more tellingly, it adds to the evidence of BT as arch-pragmatist; recognising the importance of being prudent with new technology when it comes to mass-market deployment.

Everybody knows that the UK lags behind the other G8 nations in FTTP penetration, and there are numerous historic and on-going reasons for this. I for one advocate FTTP everywhere (I wouldn't last long on the board of the FTTP Council Europe if I didn't) but even I'm pragmatic enough to appreciate that such progress takes time.

Being responsible and pragmatic about broadband evolution can mean faster - not slower - progress for subscribers

National competitiveness is a recurring theme in the UK broadband debate, and earlier this month a prominent manufacturing lobby group added its voice to calls for 'better connectivity' to support this aim.

Working towards rather than against this aim, BT's position appears to be that - other than in those local cases where commercial viability gives the green light to immediate roll out - progress toward the eventual goal of FTTP should be made to deliver sustainably incremental performance improvements. Such an approach, leveraging existing infrastructure - where possible - alongside innovative new technologies like G.fast, is infinitely preferable to telling subscribers they must tread water for the decade or more it could take an operator to deliver fully-fledged FTTP in their area.

Differing broadband views from abroad

Taking national competitiveness from a different perspective are those armchair experts who routinely like to contrast the broadband fortunes of UK with those of its closest neighbour, France. France has experienced something of a broadband renaissance in the last 12 months, with government support and the action of incumbent operators driving an upswing in the deployment of FTTP.

What a lot of people don't know is that - until very recently - the French regulator (ARCEP) had essentially outlawed the use of VDSL technology. Why does this matter? Well, in the glaring absence of established VDSL estate, French operators are only now presented with the opportunity to build one from scratch and extend the utility of their copper networks. Creating one could bring benefits but would take perhaps three or four years to mature, by which time operators would be presiding over a 10 year old technology. This makes it far more logical for France to put greater impetus behind faster FTTx penetration than the UK. It also hammers home the argument that more flexible and faster-to-market broadband options are more readily available to environments with advanced copper infrastructure.

Among the rest of Europe (with the notable exception of Spain, which has other obstacles in the way of fully leveraging its copper network, as well as higher urban concentrations of MTUs) network topologies and regulatory climates are all far more sympathetic to the BT thinking around broadband.

BT has played it smart with G.fast - and the world waits with bated breath

When G.fast was first introduced a couple of years ago, the most popular application proposed was for Gigabit connectivity over very short loops. We've seen this vision realised to great effect in numerous markets and scenarios, but the truth is that this approach isn't going to work for everyone.

What BT has done is pull those capabilities back to 'sub-Gigabit' levels to deliver highly competitive services over longer distances, with the net result delivering many times better performance than currently available over the same infrastructure. That's far-sighted, innovative and - some might say - courageous. What's more, it's making an awful lot of other operators in other parts of the world start thinking differently about their journey to FTTP.

BT's success has yet to be proven, and there are plenty of nay-sayers who'll continue to kick up bad headlines until hard, long-term evidence proves them wrong.

BT doesn't have all the answers, but I can't really see any obstacles to them achieving what they've set out to achieve, and within the pretty aggressive timescales they've set themselves.

Ronan Kelly is CTO of EMA and APAC at Adtran

How DNS information can help cut millions from your infrastructure costs

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A guest post by Chris Griffiths, director of new products and business development at Nominet.

One of the hardest things about infrastructure planning in our web-enabled world is estimating capacity needs, especially from a network perspective. Having a piece of content go viral can mean the difference between having a functioning set of web infrastructure and a completely broken one. We've all seen what happens when web platforms get overloaded in the old media world - the launch of a new blockbuster stressing the online booking systems of a cinema chain, the release of tickets for a major festival causing the website of its ticketing provider to crash, a funny cat video propagating on email grinding a corporate network to a halt - and so on. In the world of social media and streaming 4K content, these sorts of phenomena spread even more rapidly, even more virally, and can have dramatic effects. As such, the enterprises, service providers and channel businesses delivering IT services need to get smarter about capacity planning to meet the traffic forecast.

The limitations of retrospective analysis

Typically, traffic reports for a service provider, content delivery network or large enterprise might come quarterly, or monthly at best. They will also include retrospective analysis showing the loads the infrastructure has been under over a period of time. In a given month, the network might have been under an average load of 20% but spiked for a day or two at 80-90%... this in itself would trigger warning signals, and perhaps suggest the need for capacity investments for the following year. Indeed, most infrastructure investments are booked at least a year in advance.

The cost of overcoming uncertainty with over-capacity

This in turn means that massive assumptions need to be made about possible needs in the year ahead. Yes, 20% run rate means we're fine for now, but that 90% spike means we might lack 'burst' resource in the event something goes viral or requires additional capacity for any reason. Typically, infrastructure managers will have over-capacity plans representing 50% or more resource than is required. This is down to the length of time it can take to get hardware out in the field; and, after all, the worst thing that can happen for an IT team in this context is to under resource - the productivity cost, never mind the potential reputational impact - is just too dramatic. If you're a large enterprise with business critical services, a service provider delivering into sectors with high service level agreements, or a channel business providing hosted or managed services - you can't afford the risk. It would critically damage your credibility with your customers. This is an industry-wide problem, as businesses and service providers find the resource costs of continued capacity planning and deployments needed to stay ahead of demand are escalating year on year.

Predicting future needs with real-time DNS insights


Real-time analysis of DNS requests, coupled with an exploration and analysis of historical traffic growth patterns via DNS data, can give much more granular assessment of what's going on, allowing you to model growth much more effectively. Historically this wasn't possible due to the volume of data in play, but modern, real-time DNS intelligence can play a critical role in capacity planning and in dynamic resourcing. After all, if the patterns of requests indicate a spike is imminent and it is flagged in real time, infrastructure teams can spin up temporary burst capacity, adjust load balancing, or otherwise refine their infrastructure provision to withstand the onslaught. And this can be done without quite the same scale of over-capacity investment... even a 10% improvement in capacity planning could translate to millions or tens of millions of savings across a year.

As CTOs and network teams continue to be challenged to do more with less, even while digital and web technologies become more central to the operations of a business, the marginal improvements this kind of insight can give will be key to delivering a competitive edge. CIOs must be creative in their use of DNS data to deliver the kind of value that's expected of them.

No, nobody is going to nationalise Openreach

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It's always been reasonably clear - provided you don't work for BT of course - that the Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) procurement and delivery model was not fit for purpose, lacked ambition, and hindered the work of small altnets and community projects.

So now that BDUK is pretty well-advanced, and we're well on our way to 90%* fibre** coverage, it's really welcome to see that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) is consulting on fresh approaches to BDUK as it approaches that 95% milestone, and the issue of touching those remaining premises, down those narrow lanes that seem to be getting longer and more rutted, or in those valleys that seem to be getting deeper and more isolated, can be ducked no longer.

You can read the consultation document here, and if you're a stakeholder in any way I'd urge you give this some time and take an hour or two in the next month to formulate some responses, because you genuinely can influence the future of BDUK here, and help take superfast*** broadband connectivity to everyone.

For me, one of the most intriguing points raised, and the one I have focused on in my story for Computer Weekly, was the idea of setting up publicly-owned broadband providers as part of a new delivery and funding model for BDUK:

Public sector owned supplier: Under this approach, an arms-length company, owned by one or more Implementing Bodies, would invest in, and provide, broadband infrastructure services to end customers through service contracts.

The thought of buying broadband services from an asset owned by local councils interests me greatly. How would it work? Who would pay who? Council-owned ISPs are unlikely to be on the table, thank God, we're obviously talking council owned assets supplying private sector suppliers, in this case ISPs.

So could we see the emergence of a model similar to that used by local authorities for contracting out rubbish collection to the likes of Serco, which claims to have a £1.5bn order-book of rubbish?

Giving the idea of public-ownership of national assets some further thought, it then occurred to me that one could theoretically bring the network under government control.

Which would surely mean nationalising Openreach and bringing BT's infrastructure arm into public ownership.

Can it be done? There is certainly precedent. Just consider the state of the country's railways, the vocal and influential movement for re-nationalisation, the extremely successful temporary running of the East Coast mainline franchise by the government, and the recent news that Transport for London (TfL) would like to take over the running of some of London's failing surface rail franchises.

Actually, broadband is a lot like the railways, and BT is (or was) a lot like British Rail. And when you really start looking for parallels, Openreach is a lot like Network Rail - both run the infrastructure over which other companies, such as TalkTalk or Great Western, run the traffic.

So yes, I'm sure a lot of purists and hardcore Corbynites would love to see Openreach brought into state hands, like Network Rail.

Yes, it could be done. Will it be? No.

For starters, it would require the state to compensate BT shareholders to the tune of a lot of money indeed.

Secondly, Network Rail is hardly a picture of success. Just listen to the Evening Standard's Nick Goodway, who wrote on exactly this topic when defending BT after Grant Shapps' 'Broadbad' report laid into the telco.

Goodway argued that ever since British Rail was privatised under John Major, it has been responsible for a number of major failures - such as the 2007 Grayrigg train crash - and has sucked up millions of pounds of taxpayer money. It would be unwise, he contends, to go down that route a second time.

I can't say I disagree with him. Didn't it used to take months on end to get the GPO to install a phone line? Given it still often seems to take Openreach a similar length of time, we hardly need the government getting involved. At least under the current model we have the illusion Openreach isn't a monopoly.

So stand easy, though the idea is intriguing, nobody is going to be nationalising Openreach any time soon.

*Yes, yes, I know, but it's a borderline accurate headline stat so we're running with it.
**We all know they mean fibre-to-the-cabinet.
***Such as it is.

A fudged, rushed broadband report damages the case for an independent Openreach. Good job, Grant Shapps

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I wanted to put pen to paper today and explain a few things about the tone of our coverage of the British Infrastructure Group's 'Broadbad' report, which was released over the weekend of 23-4 January.

In the report, put together by the Conservatives' Grant Shapps, a group of over 100 MPs renewed called for the forcible split of Openreach from BT, which is set to be decided upon very soon now.

Some of our regular readers and commenters may feel that the story is critical not of BT, but of BT's critics. In this case they would be right to feel that.

I have spent a long time deliberating over whether or not BT and Openreach should be forcibly prised apart by the regulator, because I genuinely think that on the whole, when it comes to the national broadband roll-out, BT has tried to make the best it could of a bad situation.

However, there is much to criticise - a blatant and appalling lack of ambition around fibre, the utter fiasco of the Devon and Somerset BDUK contracts, and the often shoddy treatment of community projects, to name just three. All this reflects badly on BT. There is no doubt regulatory change is needed and I hope it will happen.

In general I think there are strong arguments for splitting off Openreach, and regard BT's occasional hints that it would hinder investment as smelling a bit like blackmail.

But obfuscation and misrepresentation is damaging to public discourse and that is why our piece today on Computer Weekly openly discusses some of the criticisms made in the wake of the report's release.

For instance, the 'Broadbad' report has it that BT has taken £1.7bn of taxpayers' money, which is absolute nonsense. The figure of £1.7bn is the total amount of funding backing the BDUK scheme, this amount of money has not yet been spent and, following the award of some second-phase contracts to other suppliers, will not all go to BT.

It also makes similarly dubious claims about a universal service obligation of 10Mbps, and presents data that is close to a year out of date!

This excellent blog by a long-time BT critic expands in-depth on a number of the other faults and misrepresentations contained within the British Infrastructure Group's report.

I cannot in good conscience tell Computer Weekly readers that this report is an accurate reflection of the facts surrounding the national broadband roll-out. If we are going to criticise BT, we have to get our act together!

The report was rushed, it was fudged, it poorly presents good arguments, and ultimately it damages the case for an independent Openreach.

The government's EC broadband consultation response is truly pathetic

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Last Friday, just after 5 o'clock in the afternoon, the government published a series of responses to a number of European Commission (EC) consultations around the Digital Single Market.

Personally, I can't imagine why a government as committed to openness and frank discussion as Prime Minister Cameron's would want to put out important announcements just after the country's journalists have headed off to the pub, but that's just me. I'm sure he must have an excellent reason for it. Either that or he's a fan of the West Wing.

Anyway, one of these consultations centred on the future needs around broadband speed and quality, issues of vital importance to the digital economy as regular reader will know.

The Commission sought input on the following points:

  • Network access regulation: The review will assess whether the regulatory objectives are still fit for purpose or whether they should be complemented with a stronger emphasis on availability and take-up of high-quality connectivity as a policy objective. It will ask whether the operators who are investing significant amounts of money in the very highest capacity networks need greater assurances of a long-term return on investment. The difficulty in relying on infrastructure competition to drive network investment in more rural areas points to a possible need to reassess the appropriate degree of complementarity between sector-specific access regulation and other measures which could enable efficient public intervention.
  • Spectrum management: to promote the deployment of high speed wireless networks and the further development of electronic communications and innovation, the review should focus on how greater consistency could be achieved by different means and through different levels of harmonisation or coordination (more efficient technical harmonisation; more convergent assignment conditions and timing to support investment);
  • Communication Services: to look at ways of updating sector-specific rules if they are still needed, while ensuring a level regulatory playing field for all players to the extent that they provide comparable services.
  • Universal service: the review will evaluate whether the current scope of mandatory services is consistent with market and technological developments. In particular, the role of broadband as part of universal service and its implications for the financing mechanism will have to be carefully assessed.
  • Institutional set-up and governance: this covers the need to enhance regulatory consistency across the Member States and to deliver convergent market outcomes while taking account of different local and national conditions. The review will explore more efficient and simpler arrangements for co-operation between regulators at EU and national level.
Our own government, however, decided it was going to set its own homework, and duly turned in the year-old results of a UK-specific consultation that formed the basis of a digital communications strategy first announced in March 2015.

We will now summarise the UK government's contribution:

  • We used to have dial-up. Now, not so much.
  • The Internet of Things. That's a thing.
  • Demand is growing.
  • Here are statistics from a friendly analyst that says this with numbers.
  • Nobody we bothered to ask cares about speed.
  • Everybody we bothered to ask has a vested interest in not delivering FTTP.
  • Moaners will get stuck with satellite.
  • Private investment good. Austerity good.
Which is exactly the same thing they've been saying all along, brings nothing new to the conversation and, one more thing, even BT Openreach execs will agree that FTTP is the right solution if asked the right question - it's true, I've seen them do it. No consensus my a***!

Frankly, it's an embarrassment to the country, and the ministers responsible at BIS and DCMS should feel ashamed for trying to pass off last year's science project as something new.






Remembering David Bowie's very own ISP, BowieNet

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As news reached us of the tragic news of the death of rock icon David Bowie at the age of 69, we were reminded that ever the talented and fearless innovator when it came to music, Bowie also had an eye for technological innovation.

And eighteen years ago, what better way was there to innovate than to set up one's very own internet service provider (ISP)?

Few people seem to remember it now, but back in 1998, Bowie did indeed set up his very own ISP, BowieNet, the world's first and so far, probably only ISP ever to be run by a pop genius, unless Adele is working on something.

The ISP launched with an ambitious - for the time - webcast that featured performances from Ani DiFranco, the Jayhawks, Jesus and Mary Chain, Spacehog and the Specials, as well as highlights from Bowie's 50th birthday bash at Madison Square Garden in New York.

It was to offer high-speed internet access across the world, offering "uncensored" internet access and naturally, an online community and exclusive content curated by Rolling Stone for fans, as well as access to Bowie himself through live chats and video feeds direct from the studio using FullView, a webcam service designed by Lucent's Bell Labs.

"Initial applications call for the camera to be used for in-studio question-and-answer sessions with Bowie, as well as live 'you are there' rehearsal sessions with Bowie and his band," said the press release, which incredibly is still available.

For $19.95 a month, users also got a a CD-ROM with two classic live audio and video tracks never before released, their own customisable homepage with a generous 20MB allowance, and a your name@davidbowie.com email address. The service supported both Internet Explorer and Netscape, at the time the powerhouse of browsers.

"The move would put Bowie near the front of the race to offer the kind of specialised, boutique access to the internet that is expected to challenge larger, broader ISPs," opined an MTV journalist.

"I wanted to create an environment where not just my fans, but all music fans could be part of a single community where vast archives of music and information could be accessed, views stated and ideas exchanged," said Bowie at the time.

All things considered, BowieNet - which came to the UK a few months later - had a good run of it, surviving until 2012, when the shutters were finally brought down on the service.

"Some say that it was a Mayan prophecy for 2012 and was forever thus. Others suggest it may have been deliberate sabotage by gremlins, finally successful after a sustained attack over many years," said a statement on Bowie's Facebook page at the time.

"And one bloke said: 'Your big end's gone, mate, the whole thing's a write-off.'."

Rest in peace, David. You will be greatly missed by the Computer Weekly team.

No surprise whatsoever as Openreach names new CEO

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After BT Openreach lost Joe Garner to the Nationwide Building Society at a critical juncture in its history, as I have previously written, it is entirely unsurprising that BT should turn to Clive Selley, a man with insider knowledge to take the wheel.

Selley is a safe pair of hands to steer Openreach through the choppy waters that lie ahead over the next couple of months, and an eminently sensible choice from a BT perspective.

My predictions for Clive's tenure are as follows.

  • BT will close ranks around an insider and we will hear less candour from Openreach.
  • BT will continue to insist it is delivering measurable service improvements with convincing top line statistics that ignore the voices of those left dangling.
  • Actually, nothing will change.

Oh, and ...

  • If Ofcom forces the separation of BT and Openreach next month, Mr Selley will quit faster than you can say Gigaclear.

Will satellite help us escape the dreaded blackspots?

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A guest blog by Neil Fraser, communications and information provider and leader at ViaSat UK

In March's budget, George Osborne restated the government's drive to push high-speed broadband across the UK: including testing satellite connections for remote communities and pledging ultra-fast, 100Mbps broadband to nearly every home in Britain.

However, broadband home internet is only one part of the equation. Last December, the government pledged mobile phone coverage for 85% of the UK's land mass by 2017 in a £5 billion deal. While this will be more than the 69% currently covered, it doesn't account for signal blackspots in areas that should be more than adequately serviced.

Even in London, a journey from the centre of town to the M25 can be accompanied by a wavering or even dropped signal and a consequent inability to use data services. For a nation aiming to sell itself to the world on the strength of its technology and communications, and with 4G and beyond a key part of that platform, the inability to guarantee high speed mobile broadband in the capital itself does not inspire confidence.

Who is missing out?

There are several implications of these blackspots. For the consumer, they mean interruptions to increasingly demanding online services. While five years ago, a mobile phone might have been used to check email on the move, the advent of 4G means that video and other data-intensive applications are an expected part of mobile life. If these expectations are disrupted for any reason, then confidence in mobile services, and the willingness to pay for higher speeds and more data, will fall.

For the economy, the fact that a high-speed service will be limited to only certain locations, whether the home, office or coffee shop, can be a barrier to investment. For instance, a business looking to locate within the UK will most likely make the level of connectivity available a key part of its decision process, meaning areas plagued by blackspots will regularly lose out compared to their more connected competition.

For a government that has stated the importance of investment in the regions beyond London, and is pushing the Digital By Default agenda for services to be always-available
online, ensuring that these spots are eliminated simply makes sound business sense.

Furthermore, the importance of removing these blackspots will increase as emergency services review alternatives to the existing Airwave national public safety network. If services do move from the existing Tetra-based network to a system such as cellular which provides greater access to broadband data, any blackspots will prove not just inconvenient and costly, but also dangerous.

Filling the gaps

The continued existence of blackspots is largely down to a very simple issue: not enough cellular base stations. Whilst increasing the capacity of these stations to provide 4G and beyond is one thing, increasing their range is entirely another. Similarly, placing base stations in every conceivable location to ensure continuous coverage is often impossible due to issues of cost and access. There is also the issue of what happens if a base station is damaged or otherwise inoperable; at which point a new, albeit temporary, blackspot is created.

To avoid this, other technologies must be used to supplement the existing signal and ensure that users enjoy consistent and uninterrupted speeds. For instance, Wi-Fi on the London Underground network has allowed mobile users to stay in touch both above and below the surface, regardless of local blackspots. This alone does not address every issue; anyone using the tube can testify that there will be uncomfortable periods of switching between cellular coverage and local Wi-Fi when passing through a coverage area. However, it does help to provide the start of more comprehensive coverage.

Another way to cover off coverage black spots is with satellite broadband. Once seen as a choice of last resort for users too remote to use any other form of communication, satellite has come on leaps and bounds. The advent of higher speed Ka-band satellites, such as Eutelsat over Europe, has increased network capacity from single digits to hundreds of Gigabits per second; meaning data bandwidth for services is measured in the tens of Megabits per second, rather than kilobits. Thanks to this, a satellite service can now guarantee a high speed connection to any area within its coverage, eliminating the last few blackspots. At the same time, receivers are constantly shrinking in size; and can be placed in black spot areas for little cost or direct impact in order to broadcast a signal.

What this means is that the image of satellite as an expensive, slow service that needs a vast antenna to be of use is woefully out of date. Indeed, costs to provide high-speed satellite broadband are now comparable to other high-speed services, with the added benefit of removing access restrictions.

Mixing technologies


This isn't to say that cellular should completely give way to satellite or Wi-Fi. Essentially, there is currently no single technology that can guarantee the complete, consistent, high-speed and cost-effective mobile coverage that the 21st century demands. Instead, a combination of technologies will help ensure that all potential areas are covered and that there is redundancy in case of one or more parts of the system failing.

Using a mix of technologies means that, whether in the Orkneys or Oxford Street, mobile users will have the high-speed connection they demand.

Openreach needs strong leadership at a critical time. Its next CEO MUST get on board for the long-haul

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When I saw the email from BT's press office telling me that Joe Garner was leaving Openreach to become CEO of Nationwide, I nearly hit the roof, and I expect Gavin Patterson did as well.

Joe Garner is an enormously personable, open and friendly guy with whom I've got on well on the handful of occasions we've met, and to be fair he's done a fantastic job at turning the Openreach ship - such as it is - around but I have to ask the question, why now?

Openreach is facing a rough few months. Depending on how the Ofcom review falls out, we may be heading into a time of legal uncertainty over the organisation's future as part of the BT Group. I have not yet made up my mind if I would prefer to see it separated from BT or not, but the weight of opinion in favour of a split would seem to suggest that Ofcom will take the possibility very seriously indeed.

Furthermore, the national broadband network is a critical element in building the future digital economy of the UK. It needs ambition, commitment, and a relentless focus on bringing the very best possibly solution to the biggest number of people. Candidly, we deserve and should expect long-term strategic leadership on this.

My hope for Openreach would be for the appointment of a successor who is ready to lead the organisation through a potentially tumultuous few years.

Don't buy the hype! The lot of a Virgin Media customer is above inflation price rises and slow broadband

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I am fed up with Virgin Media.


This morning they announced a £3bn investment to bring fibre broadband to 4 million new homes.


But every day Virgin Media is neglecting its existing customers.


For a little while now, Virgin Media has been telling me I will be upgraded for free* to 'supercharged' 50Mbps speeds by the end of February 2015. Today, on the day that Virgin Media makes its announcement, I logged in to find that this has slipped to July to December 2015. Suitably vague.


I imagine their oh-so-amusingly named vans (stop doing that Virgin, it's just awful when brands try to be cute) are going to be driving round some new neighbourhoods with new customers!


Since joining Virgin Media in 2010 my prices have risen by an average of 9% a year, substantially above the CPI average of under 3% a year.


All this time, an ongoing 'overutilisation fault' that never seems to be fixed means my broadband service has degraded.


Overutilisation. Hang on. Sounds like that means Virgin Media has too many customers on its network! But it wants 4 million new ones? Hang on. That doesn't compute...


And all this on the day Virgin Media reveals a £3bn investment to extend the network to 4 million new households.

Well, that certainly explains why increased prices for existing customers haven't actually made the existing service any better.


*With a 9% annual price hike it isn't actually free is it?






FCC showing its teeth on broadband speed. Time for Ofcom to grow a pair

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News reaches the Full Spectrum that later this week the FCC, the US Ofcom, is to vote to change what is defined as, and possibly what can be sold as broadband.

The FCC wants to change the actual definition of broadband from 4Mbps to 25Mbps, which would leave millions of Americans who thought they had broadband with, well, not dial-up obviously, but not quite broadband, either.

The big hope is that this move will make the US broadband market more competitive, and force the big providers to improve their average speeds, for which read, put fibre in the ground.

Wouldn't it be nice if Ofcom would consider following suit?

Ofcom's new chief exec Sharon White will formally take over at the comms regulator very soon. Forcing the issue of broadband speed early on would be a good way for her to demonstrate that Ofcom means business.

Oh, who am I kidding? Upping the UK definition of basic broadband from 2Mbps to 24Mbps - which is conveniently BDUK's current target for superfast - would upset BT and make it harder for it to dismiss complaints over speed (and lack of fibre).

We can't have that, can we?

Why is Huawei hiding behind Honor?

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Let's be clear. I don't think Huawei is some kind of Chinese fifth column. I think it has consistently demonstrated good faith in its dealings outside China, and I'm generally happy to stand by that.

But now something has given me pause for thought.

A new smartphone brand has just launched in Europe. It's called Honor, and it hopes to shake-up the consumer mobile sector with more appealing pricing and a direct connection with the customer, rather than selling through faceless mobile phone shops.

Its debut model is the Honor 6, launched today.

Powered by an octa-core Kirin920 chipset and integrated with LTE Advanced communication modules supporting LTE Cat6 protocol category, the Honor 6 can achieve download speeds of up to 300Mbps, the fastest in the world, claim the makers.

Oh, but there's one thing the people who drafted the press release didn't think fit to mention. Honor is not just Honor. Honor is a new Huawei brand.

Whoa there! Hold on a minute! Huawei?

So now I'm a bit worried.

I asked Honor why this wasn't being made clearer, and they sent me this statement:

Honor's parent company is Huawei but it is an entirely new brand. It is a brand that will grow and be shaped by its audience and supporters. It is in the fortunate position of being able to benefit from the extensive hardware and software experience and global footprint of the Huawei parent company, but it is run by a dedicated team and is run as a separate business.

Honor is a subsidiary company of Huawei and the relationship between the two brands is complementary. We plan to continue this relationship on an ongoing basis.

Honor products will not be branded Huawei as Honor is now a brand in its own right.


Huawei has previously released Honor devices under the Huawei brand. But from this moment on, Honor is a new brand.  We know there is a real opportunity to create a brand for the digital native generation and our Honor devices are best positioned to meet their needs. It makes sense to use the Honor name for this new brand as it already has some awareness amongst our audience.


I understand that Huawei wants to let the Honor brand speak for itself and stand on its own two feet, that's fair. And to be even more scrupulously fair it does have a copyright notice (at the bottom of its website in small type).

But when you are consistently criticised over trust and security, deliberately obfuscating the facts about what you're up to is a worry. In my view, if Huawei wants to be trusted, Huawei doesn't get to hide.

Shropshire broadband stalemate part two: the missing £11m and how to find it

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After learning last week that one of the more vocal rural broadband campaign groups - the Shropshire and Marches Rural Broadband Campaign, was pulling out of its partnership with Shropshire County Council - the Full Spectrum reached out to campaign spokesman Patrick Cosgrove.

As you may remember, the group took the decision to pull out after annoyance that the Council could (or would?) not find a way to match fund an £11.38m BDUK grant reached a head.

According to Cosgrove, the problem is that Shropshire Council simply does not want to borrow its share of the £22m, and was in fact "pretty peeved" when it found out it had to match fund £11.38m, as it would divert attention from its deficit reduction strategy.

To be frank, there is more than a whiff of monumental cock-up to the situation, as well.

"They had originally been hoping for some Growth Fund money from the Marches LEP, but there was some sort of cock-up. They say that they and the LEP were badly advised by DCLG  (the Department for Communities and Local Government) and were told that the first round of Growth money couldn't be used for broadband infrastructure," explains Cosgrove.

"It turns out that was wrong as it has been permitted for some counties. I think they're hoping for some in the next round. In the meantime it leaves the three county MPs playing chicken with the Council as to who might blink first in finding or borrowing some money from 'somewhere', and Shropshire with no Phase 2. It really is a bit of a stalemate."

As for the Shropshire and Marches campaigners, their withdrawal also means 'no more Mr Nice Guy' and a bit more attitude, clearly in evidence in its most recent bulletin, which said the government would bring the countryside "grinding to a halt" unless it worked with Shropshire Council leaders to end the impasse and stopped playing chicken over who blinks first.

"Rural residents and businesses deserve better than these antics," said Cosgrove.

I have to say. I couldn't agree more, and with an election on the way I wouldn't want to be the candidate who has to doorstep voters in rural Shropshire.

But where on earth do you magic up £11.38m?

Through the VDU, and what Alice found there

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"I'm sure I'll take you with pleasure!" the Queen said. "Two pence a week, and video conferencing every other day."

Alice couldn't help laughing, as she said, "I don't want you to hire me - and I don't care for video conferencing."

"It's very good video conferencing," said the Queen.

"Well, I don't want any today, at any rate."

"You couldn't have it if you did want it," the Queen said. "The rule is, video conferencing tomorrow and video conferencing yesterday - but never video conferencing today."

"It must come sometimes to 'video conferencing today'," Alice objected.

"No, it can't," said the Queen. "It's video conferencing every other day: today isn't any other day, you know."

"I don't understand you," said Alice. "It's dreadfully confusing!"

I got sent a report by Azzurri, (the communications service provider, not the Italian national football team) today. It was about mobile productivity.

It was mostly well-thought out and quite sensible in its conclusions. Mobile workers are more productive. Employees are increasingly using mobiles for consuming, creating and editing content, and more and more are exploiting access to corporate content, such as email and CRM systems.

No argument there whatsoever.

The survey went on to say that next year, the focus would move to enabling unified communications and collaboration tools on mobiles, and video calling and conferencing is one of the top priorities for enabling, the survey said.

So will 2015 really be the year of video?

As I recall, late in 2013, 2014 was going to be the year of video. Before that we were certain it was going to be 2013. And definitely 2012. 2011 was also the year of video ... in 2010. And 2009, 2008, 2007 and 2006 as well.

I can't speculate on 2005 as I only got my first job in tech journalism in July that year.

But I have my suspicions.

Shropshire broadband campaigners cut links with BDUK

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Frustration with the progress of Shropshire Council's BDUK scheme - Connecting Shropshire - has now boiled over after local campaign group, the Shropshire and Marches Campaign for Better Rural Broadband, ended its association with the council.

Mounting annoyance over Shropshire Council's apparent inability to find a way to unlock an £11.38m government grant by finding an equal amount of funding itself was the catalyst for the group's withdrawal, reported the Shropshire Star.

Group spokesman Patrick Cosgrove said the campaign had concluded there was "little useful purpose" in maintaining its membership of Shropshire's Rural Broadband Group.

Despite high hopes at the beginning, he explained, "attendance at the group has been patchy, agendas preset, and conditions of confidentiality too inhibiting for our campaign to express its views freely."

Though he remained sympathetic to the council, suggesting that central government had bullied and gagged it, Cosgrove said that its unwillingness to borrow to match the BDUK funding pot was disheartening.

He added: "Our decision has been aided by last week's discovery that one green cabinet in Clun will be upgraded to superfast while the other will not. It's difficult to imagine any elected member or council officer freely choosing to deal with a discrete area of population this way, which rather proves the point that BT is in the driving seat at the expense of rural households and businesses for whom the programme of broadband rollout was intended."

There is also a real concern that BDUK will increasingly be exploited by the main political parties as campaigning for next May's General Election hits its stride.

With the prospect of over £22m worth of broadband funding slipping ever further out of reach, Shropshire Council told the Star that it was still committed to finding the money. Somehow.

But according to Cosgrove, quite how that aim will be achieved remains something of a mystery. He told Computer Weekly that the group would continue its campaign.

In a recent constituency newsletter, Ludlow MP Philip Dunne said he would continue to work with the council to find ways to match the government funding.






How to cover up a network outage: distract everyone with Sir Tim Berners-Lee

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With hundreds of visitors to IP Expo crammed into the keynote theatre to watch Sir Tim Berners-Lee speak out on data privacy on Wednesday, you could have been forgiven for thinking that nobody had bothered turning up to see any of the actual exhibitors.

Lucky then, that only a few late-arrivals noticed that on the day that the ExCeL's management got together with a new Wi-Fi supplier to announce the successful deployment of a new, resilient wireless network, the new resilient wireless network went on strike.

It turned out something had been misconfigured, and it was a quick fix, but what a stroke of luck for the organisers that everyone was distracted at the critical moment.

I wonder if they planned it all along.

Why I won't be complaining about bad mobile signal again

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The western United States is a land of splendid and awe-inspiring isolation. Towering redwood groves, rugged coastal cliffs, soaring eagles, sleeping volcanoes hiding glittering blue lakes within their craters. You can drive for 20, 50, 80 miles or more before seeing a town of any size.

So you'd better have a spare can of gas in the trunk and a fully-charged mobile in case of grizzly attacks, right?

Welcome to Oregon.jpgWell, it turns out that the mobile might not be much help. Especially if yours
insists on roaming onto T-Mobile instead of AT&T despite being repeatedly told not to.

Turns out, outside of San Francisco, Portland and Seattle, T-Mobile is literally terrible. It can't even manage 2G most of the time.

Sure, I get that providing up-to-date phone masts in locations where they will hardly ever be used or needed is prohibitive in terms of cost, so I don't really blame T-Mobile for not bothering to invest.

And anyway, we were on holiday. We didn't need the internet. All we needed was Springsteen on the stereo, a TomTom on the dash, and the open road under our wheels.

However, coming from our crowded, connected island, the realisation that if the car spluttered to a halt on the dusty Oregon highways, help was not to be taken for granted, gave me a little pause for thought.

After 1,400 miles this West Coast road-tripper won't be complaining too much about lack of mobile signal in the UK from now on.

NoC distributed computing to support IoT

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A guest blog post from Lee Myall, general manager for cloud computing at Interoute

The Internet of Things (IoT) is closing in fast, it has been predicted there will be 26 billion units installed by 2020, generating $300bn in revenue. These are numbers that absolutely cannot be ignored and the anticipation for this technology boom is huge. A predicted 4.5 million developers will drive this prolific growth in IoT in the next six years and they are all in need of the right technology to support them. But, without putting too fine a point on it, developers without the infrastructure to develop are useless.

The challenges facing the mass adoption of IoT technology are significant, but not insurmountable. In order for the IoT to be a success from an infrastructure perspective, there are three major ingredients: infinitely scalable computing power, the network fibre to support the rapid growth in data traffic and the ability to control where your data is stored.

The infinite cloud

Scalable computing power is only achievable in the cloud, but it needs to be fit for purpose. If we are to reach the real potential of the IoT, developers need the computing power to support the creation of apps, media computing power for rich information and as we look to the future, high performance power or indeed, quantum computing to support enormous amounts of data crunching.

A truly elastic cloud provides the scalability to meet this unstoppable and unpredictable growth. We have seen the potential of disruptive apps like Uber and Aereo. Their rapid uptake and in Aereo's case unconstrained bandwidth consumption, have had a huge impact on the network. Without infinitely scalable computing the next 'killer app' will fall flat before it's out of the box. 

The network is the computer

The next challenge is the network itself. You can have all the quantum computers on the planet, but the real value lies in users connecting to and between them quickly and safely. You therefore need the computing power built into a superfast network in order to get the best performance. Who knows how fast an app might take off and overnight you might suddenly need to scale up bandwidth tenfold. With networked cloud, this bandwidth is already in place for the taking.

Taking control of your data location

App development on this scale is rarely a one-man job and several people or organisations will be involved. Individuals in different offices or even countries want to access the content they need but have to factor in things like the storage location, to ensure all data remains compliant to local regulations.

Like it or lump it, and despite talks in progress, we are unlikely to see a dramatic change in EU policy regarding data storage. Cries from the likes of CERN that a lack of clear data protection policies are preventing them from adopting cloud tech, have so far been ignored. Focus on the challenges EU data legislation has on the collective adoption of new technology will continue to grow.

Sound like a headache? Actually, the answer is quite simply to store data in the countries where consumers are accessing it. Regulations vary from country to country and it's essential that any multinational businesses are compliant with them. At the end of the day, the cloud is just a collection of datacentres and with the flexibility to choose which one houses which of your data sets; you can stay on the right side of the law wherever you are.

Network of computing

The cloud is the developer's oyster; with infinitely scalable computing developers can reduce time to market, boost collaboration and accommodate the rapid growth of new apps and services. A high-speed network of distributed computing is essential to the successful deployment of applications for the Internet of Things.

The trick is picking the right cloud provider. The network is the cloud and with it, developers can make visions for IoT a reality. With the power of the network behind it, could we be looking at not just hybrid clouds in the future but AI clouds that have the ability to automate app development for the enterprises of the future?

Mobile operators row over Crimean roaming

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Over in Ukraine, a row has erupted over mobile network provision in Russian-occupied Crimea, reports BBC Monitoring.

The disagreement centres on Ukrainian operator MTS-Ukraina, which is shutting down service on the Crimean peninsula after local authorities closed down its network in the capital, Simferopol.

Or so it says.

A man the BBC identifies as Crimean communications chief, Dmitry Polonksy, has countered with the claim that MTS-Ukraina is leaving town entirely of its own accord and that there is nothing to see here (move along please).

But coincidentally the Russians have just announced that their network, K-Telecom, is moving in on MTS-Ukraina's patch having taken over its frequency bands.

Now, it seems that there is more than one K-Telecom operating in Russia, and nobody really knows which one the Russians are talking about. But there is now speculation it could be owned by Moscow-based network operator Mobile TeleSystems or MTS, which just happens to (you might be ahead of me here) also be the parent of MTS-Ukraina.

So are we in fact witnessing a crafty bit of manoeuvring to ensure that MTS avoids becoming the subject of American sanctions? Russian news agency ITAR-TASS suggests this could be the case, but with confusion reigning throughout the region, who really knows what the truth of the situation may be?

Boris Johnson's 5G pledge? Don't make me laugh

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5G promises lightning-fast mobile speeds. Want to download a full-length movie in under a second? Want to stream ultra-HD TV on the go? Fancy trying out immersive gaming? Augmented reality apps? Oh boy, it's the mobile networking standard for you.

There's only one small problem. Nobody really knows what 5G is yet. It's years away. We haven't even begun to discuss standards. 4G is only just bedding in. We won't have 5G smartphones before 2023 at the earliest.

Or will we?

English: Mayor of London, Boris Johnson poses ...

English: Mayor of London, Boris Johnson poses for a photo prior to ringing the opening bell at NASDAQ on September 14, 2009. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This morning we reported on mayor Boris Johnson's long-term infrastructure plan for London - due to be formally unveiled this week - which is to include an eye-catching pledge to bring a 5G mobile network to London by 2020, in just five and a half years' time.

It all makes for a good story (who can resist clicking on a Boris Johnson headline? He might have got stuck on a zip line or offended Liverpool again) but I don't think Boris has the slightest idea what he's actually pledging.

2020? That's the South Korean target! Have you been to South Korea? They first deployed mobile WiMAX eight years ago! They launched LTE in 2011. They are quite literally years ahead of us.

Even with generous funding from Brussels and the British government, surely even the most ambitious 5G proponents can see this is wishful thinking. We haven't got a hope of bridging the gap in five years!

Will we have a commercial 5G network by 2020? Not on your nelly.

But with at least one mayoral election still to come before 2020 (and those rumours of Boris making a return to Westminster party politics with an eye on Number 10 never quite seem to go away), let's face it, it's hardly likely to be a pledge London's beloved mayor will have to live up to.

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