The Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has revealed the names of eight suppliers that will receive funding for superfast rural broadband trial schemes.
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The winning bidders will each receive a share of a £10m funding pot – with awards ranging in size from £175,000 to £2,000,000 – to conduct trials of various technologies, such as wireless and satellite, new social investment financing models, and network aggregation operating models.
The DCMS hopes the pilot projects will ensure the government reaches its goal of providing superfast broadband to 95% of UK premises by 2017, and go beyond that to address the needs of the last 5%.
Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) CEO Chris Townsend said that as yet there was no firm date on when the pilot trials would transition into deployments in the field, but said he was pushing for initial feasibility studies to have taken place by September 2014.
“One key criterion is how soon we can deploy them and make an impact, and we are particularly keen to focus on projects that will help us reach the last 5% as quickly as possible,” he said. “We believe that, based on the response we had and the quality of projects, we will have some good opportunities to take forward.”
The £10m of funding should be enough to cover the pilot schemes, and BDUK will be exploring future funding opportunities over the summer, said Townsend.
AB Internet: £848,000 to explore hybrid fixed line/fixed wireless solutions delivering 50MB speeds in Wales
Airwave: £1.56m to explore four next gen Wi-Fi systems, 2.4Ghz services; point-to-point multipoint fixed wireless at 2.4Ghz or 5.8Ghz; LTE small cells; and TV white space, in North Yorkshire
Quickline: £2.05m to explore line of sight, near-line of sight and non-line of sight wireless coupled with a BDUK voucher scheme to minimise social exclusion in Lincolnshire
Avanti: £886,000 to explore a 30Mbps KA-band satellite-based broadband wholesale platform in Northern Ireland and Scotland
Satellite Internet: £175,000 to explore KA-band satellite uplink/downlink as backhaul for wireless in Devon and Somerset
Call Flow: £1.19m to explore hybrid engineering techniques such as sub loop unbundling, fibre deployments, fixed Wi-Fi and FTTP in Hampshire
Cybermoor: £450,000 to explore a financing solution to lever social investment in FTTP and wireless in Northumberland
MLL: £958,000 to explore a wholesale OSS/BSS platform to integrate and aggregate wireless networks in Kent.
“Our view is we need to test and trial as many technologies and operational delivery methods as we can, based on current technology,” said Townsend. “Superfast broadband by fibre won’t meet our objectives – we have to find other ways to reach remote areas such as the Highlands and Islands.”
The nationwide rollout of superfast broadband is currently accelerating, with more than 20,000 new premises being hooked up per week, up from 10,000 per week when Townsend joined BDUK as CEO in April.
“The roll-out of phase one to 90% of homes in 2016 is going extremely well. By July we will be delivering 40,000 premises per week, and based on that we’re on track to deliver,” he said.
One of Townsend’s key objectives since taking the role has been to foster tighter working practices between BDUK, its supplier BT, and local authorities across the UK.
“We have been looking at how we can fine-tune deployment and performance, and BT has been adding resources and recruiting new engineers within Openreach,” he said.
“The big challenge now is to see who can deliver a significant roll-out to the final 5%,” he concluded.
Culture secretary Sajid Javid sung the scheme’s praises, saying: “Our nationwide roll-out is progressing at a terrific rate and each week superfast speeds are becoming a reality for tens of thousands of homes and businesses in rural areas across the UK.
“We know how important this has become, which is why we are investing £10m in these pilots to explore how we can extend coverage beyond the 95% of the UK we are on track to deliver by 2017.”
Malcolm Corbett, chief exec at the Independent Networks Co-Operative Association, added: “This is a very useful initiative and we are keen to help local authorities and INCA members learn from the trials. There is a huge amount of experience, professionalism and entrepreneurial enthusiasm in the independent sector that can play a big role in creating Britain’s future digital infrastructure.”