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BRINGING SENSE TO TELECOMS, DATA & EVERYTHING ELSE

2893

20180404

2
0

WED • 04 APR 2018

Create memories

As someone who regularly thinks about death, not in a morbid way just always have, I tend to think about what I would remember on my death bed. It has helped me through life to make sure I focus on the things that matter and less on the things that don’t. Certainly I will not be thinking about how clean my cars are, but that doesn’t stop me having an unhealthy obsession with their cleanliness... No, instead I will think about happy moments with friends and family and certainly a vast majority of those memories are built or focused around holidays. Memorable moments that I can quickly recall and remember the feeling of. True happiness.

So my recent adventure to Norway to compete in the IGO N60 challenge was one such experience that will stay with me as one of those ‘life moments’. The opportunity came through a friend, who I met through work, who knew the founder of the business. Basically he had rowed the Atlantic with three friends and after the 60 or so days arrived in America with an incredible sense of achievement. He decided upon his return to try and give everyone the kind of experience but in more manageable chunks. His business (IGO Adventures) therefore focuses on adventure holidays based on Summer and Winter themes. There is Morocco which involves running and cycling across sand dunes and dusty landscapes to Montana and swimming across lakes to the N60 based on Norway which involved ski touring, cross country skiing and running across icy tundras.

It is the Norway trip we signed up to and while I won’t go into detail on the trip, as another blogger, Jamnes Henderson, has captured my experience (see link), it did end up being one of those life memories. From flying Concorde to a holiday in Italy with all my family to the birth of my daughters or my wedding day they are memories I will think about when I die. I am proud of those memories and makes me feel I have not wasted the opportunity I have been given. Certainly dying with regrets is one of my biggest fears and that helps to define my life.

I have many ambitions, as I am sure we all have, I just hope I have long enough to complete as many as possible before I have to say goodbye. In the meantime I will keep focusing on those key memories.

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2858

20160721

4
0

THU • 21 JUL 2016

Do not underestimate the value of resilience

With BT currently suffering a lot of negative publicity in the last two days with two major outages caused by power issues in two London datacentres, it is a timely reminder that in the world of communication, networks sometimes break and when they do they have significant repercussions. So more attention to how these networks are built and what underpins the services is as important a buying decision as getting a great commercial deal.

The datacentres concerned are some of the most popular sites in the UK and because of that the knock on impact is significant especially when customers such as BT support so many other partners, businesses and consumers. However BT have appeared to suffer more than others, but anyone within a datacentre can be out for quite a while when hardware is subjected to a power outage, even a brief one, as it can result in hardware not powering back on. With core hardware spending its whole life turned on, the sudden loss in power can result in a high number of failures, requiring engineer visits and hardware replacement – all of which takes time.

Precaution is key, and whether BT had or had not in place sufficient alternative hardware in that datacentre, it did have other working datacentres, so lessons need to be learned about the importance of uptime and mitigating failure where possible. Customers, and especially businesses and ISPs need to understand the risks of not just their networks but upstream suppliers to mitigate total outages. Datacentres for example run large UPS (uninterruptable power supplies) systems to cope with the switch from mains power to generators and while this provides a level of resilience, it needs to be checked and serviced regularly. Servicing and testing varies dramatically between datacentres so investing in smaller UPS systems for individual racks may therefore seem excessive but from experience it can provide a useful buffer should the worse happen.

Furthermore the number of backups and spares again goes someway to reinforce confidence. Gone are the days, in my mind at least, when datacentres can offer n+1 resilience (where ‘n’ is the required load and the +1 means an additional spare). So for example if a datacentre requires four generators to power the site then five would be installed. This is very different to a more resilient site that offers 2n where, for the same example, eight generators would be provided. The big issue with all of this of course is cost and this has a knock-on effect to the customer.

Ultimately though no datacentre is impervious to disaster, as BT and others experienced today, and while a whole site outage is very rare, the importance of having multiple datacentres is very important. While the costs grows significantly again, because not only is everything at least duplicated but now connectivity is required to all the suppliers, the likelihood of complete outage is seriously reduced. The graph shown is all our BT DSL users, with the red line representing customers coming into the affected London datacentre and the green representing our Manchester datacentre also connected to BT’s network. At the time of the failure all our DSL customers moved across meaning they had an outage of a few minutes while their routers would have logged off and on again – significantly better than just relying on London. But as I say having enough spare bandwidth (at least 50% capacity free) dormant for such an occasion, is another cost.

With customers more interested in SaaS applications and outsourcing operations, their removal from the actual nuts and bolts of the network design puts higher reliance on the supplier and the supplier’s supplier to do the right thing in terms of investment and design. Hopefully issues like those experienced today and yesterday will go someway to help steer investment back into resilience.

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2829

20151202

WED • 02 DEC 2015

Back to the floor

One of my favourite programs was ‘Back to the Floor’ where owners and high level executives went back to the grass roots of their business to work with staff and customers to understand their business better and the day to day challenges that affect them. Now while my own company is too small for me to go back to the floor it is easy in modern work like to get consumed by planning and strategy and lose sight of what our day to day delivery looks like and the challenges customers face.

While returning from holiday I was greeted with the news that while scaffolding had been removed from my house, from a recent reroof, they not only knocked out my satellite dish but also my phone line. So I spent last weekend in the dark ages without mobile phone signal (as I use a booster and EE’s fabulous WifiCall technology), internet and television. Everything from listening to music (Spotify) or watching a film (Apple TV) was curtailed and I was focused instead to look for other forms of entertainment. While it sounds like I spend all my time in front of a screen the ability to bank, share photographs or do some research is reliant on a reliable and fast internet connection.

It did however give me an opportunity to test out our support team, the process BT Openreach now follow for booking engineers, and the list of issues with miscommunication with the engineers on the ground in actually fixing the problem. In the end it turns out it was a good thing that the scaffolders hit the line as it was actually broken in the cabinet as well.

What I always think about when I go through these processes is what my father would make of it. I am not saying he is a technophobe but in terms of industry jargon and feedback is it something he would be happy with would he have been able to get the same resolution. In the end it wasn’t as painful as I had expected, but it certainly could be better. Unfortunately a lot of that process might not change until the future of Openreach has been decided but there are certainly steps the industry can take to help the situation. For one thing our dependency on connectivity is at such a point that we certainly should be thinking about delivery in the same context of gas or electricity. I just hope enough people high up in our industry experience service as customers do rather than relying on their superior contacts or knowledge of the technicalities to mitigate them so we can drive forward with our need to improve.

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2818

20150923

3
0

WED • 23 SEP 2015

It is easy to tick boxes

In a letter in the Financial Times this week SKY, Vodafone and TalkTalk signed a letter asking Ofcom, the Competition and Markets Authority to investigate BT for their poor delivery of internet access service. In response yesterday, BT has talked about aims to improve speeds to a minimum of 5 – 10 Mb/s, extend ‘fibre broadband’ (read fibre to the cabinet) to more than 95% of the country and increase speeds past 300 Mb/s for 10 million homes.

Surely this was the inevitable outcome from the government supporting BT as the primary partner in rolling out ‘superfast’ (I still don’t know what that really means) broadband across the country. I have written before about moving into a brand new flat in 2014 which was still wired by BT using copper cables, instead of a future proof technology such as fibre which could support potential speeds of over 100 Gb/s. As it is, the technology BT has invested in, Fibre to the Cabinet, ensures we are going to be dependent on phone lines, copper and technical issues for decades to come. So while I appreciate BT’s view to maximise on their existing footprint, as any self-respecting business would probably do to maximise shareholder return, it has proved to be a costly mistake for the rest of the industry and consumers.

The other knock-on effect by handing BT so much responsibility has been the enormity of the task. The business continually has to invest in new staff and equipment to get anywhere near to delivering against the targets put upon it. No wonder the rest of the industry is frustrated. One such issue was recently highlighted to me by a neighbour who said to me that he had finally got ‘fibre broadband’ as it had just been enabled in our building.

“No”, I replied, it has been in our building since January 2014 when BT first enabled the local cabinet. What has transpired is that while our building has been enabled, the actual cabinet quickly ran out of capacity and it has taken over a year to deliver more capacity to it so that the rest of the residents could receive the service.

So is that due to BT being overstretched, or possibly a lack of hardware available? Or cynically could you read into this that actually on paper, at least, our building has been enabled and so therefore met a target, even if not many people can actually order it.

The same could be said where I live in the country. For the past nine months, I have been inspecting a shiny new cabinet that has appeared at the end of my drive. ‘Fibre Broadband is coming’ said a BT engineer to me who came to fix my broken phone line. Maybe, but at the moment all I can see is an empty box in preparation for it. Are we going to get the same issue in our village, that only a few will be able to enjoy it until it reaches capacity when it is finally enabled? And has the very presence of the cabinet thwarted any plan from an alternative fibre provider from investing into connecting up our village?

SKY and TalkTalk through their partnership with CityFibre have already started to look at rolling out Fibre to the Home (proper Fibre Broadband) and I believe will be looking to bring up to 70,000 homes online in York. Vodafone has a national fibre network that they own through their acquisition of Cable & Wireless. What Ofcom need to do is allow BT to do what they do best and enable everyone else to build and develop their own technologies to the home. They need to ensure that we have a level playing field; already other providers such as City Fibre, IFNL and Gigaclear have managed to build their own fibre networks on private investment. We can then let history decide if BT’s focus on a copper phone network was the right choice.

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2781

20150227

FRI • 27 FEB 2015

Should internet access be considered a utility?

As the House of Lords begin their debate on whether internet access should be considered a utility, the US Federal Communications Commission has approved a number of rule changes on how ‘broadband providers’ should behave with regards to Net Neutrality. The FCC has ruled that broadband access should be reclassified as a telecommunications service, providers can’t block or speed up connections for a fee and content can’t be prioritised for a fee. Pretty significant changes to an industry which already has to deal with changing technologies, uses (like the move to IPTV) and costs – and don’t think the mobile operators have got away with it; all the regulations apply to them as well.

So ignoring for the moment the issue of ‘not being able to charge to speed up connections’ I believe the changes are needed, and the structure provided provides a clearer market in which these providers can operate. I don’t believe the end user will see prices reduce, only climb, as the American market has a number of large operators who will see this regulation as an opportunity to push up costs. Back in the UK however I am less sure by the need to regulate internet access like a utility at this point in time and maybe the steps we take should be similar to those of the FCC.

Don’t get me wrong I believe at some point internet access should be seen as a utility, but at the moment with one major provider owning and operating the majority of the network in the UK, the ability to continue to deliver choice and investment is surely curtailed. The gas or electricity networks are on the whole uniform in the service received by the majority. They are also delivered in a way that makes them highly reliable and consistent, something lacking from our current data network delivery. I am sure that I wouldn’t want my gas supply to be as reliable as my home internet line was over Christmas (water on the line apparently), and I certainly don’t believe the 2 Mb/s service I receive is the same as my brother who has actual Fibre to the Premise (FTTP) delivering 200 Mb/s into his flat.

We, well my business, Fluidata, looked at this a number of years ago and believed we would make it our long term goal to build the national grid of data networks, something we have made great progress with in the last few years. There is a real need to piece together all the disparate networks across the country, and specifically the true fibre networks, rather than just the ADSL, FTTC and Cable networks that the majority of consumers currently use. Only when this is complete and the majority of homes have true fibre connections can government realistically push the industry towards utility status.

For the time being the support in helping these businesses roll out true FTTP is surely to the benefit of the country rather than potentially undermining this activity by regulation that the current infrastructure cannot support.

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2752

20141209

TUE • 09 DEC 2014

Reputation is everything

Our industry (telecoms) is one of the most incestuous in world. Our competitors at Fluidata are also our customers and suppliers. This works because business coming from a partner is usually easier business to acquire than directly. This means everyone in the industry does their best to ensure partners are looked after and conflicts that may arise from direct and indirect activities are quickly avoided.

Sometimes however this doesn't always work, especially where direct sales teams are given access to partner accounts, or that CRM systems are not professional enough to highlight potential conflicts. This issue seems to have appeared in one of our largest ethernet suppliers with existing customers and new prospects of ours being suddenly called by their direct sales teams. Now a few times and that might be considered and accident, but suddenly and in numbers highlights a bigger problem, almost a policy change from above. We have had this before, and in those scenarios suppliers are quickly dropped and enquiries are made elsewhere. Sooner, rather than later, they realise their actions are not generating more business but eroding it and actions are taken.

However, if our industry does one thing well, it is that it remembers. Changing the mindset back is a slow and painful process and one best avoided. There is one major national transit provider who are known for competitive pricing, but their service was so shocking that large numbers of networks will not use them. No matter how much better they are today or how much further their price has dropped. I have even had disagreements with my technical people who will not compromise on quality by risking another try.

I assume a lot of this is born out of the commoditisation of our industry. As carriers and providers with limited value add see their price eroded through indirect channels, they look to direct channels to build higher value and better returns. By doing this they end up competing with their competitor, which while entirely reasonable, begs the question as to what competitive data they are using to win business.

For me there are limited times for second chances, and without robust and open processes for dealing with partner data internally our industry risks losing the trust of system integrators, and partners, that has helped it to grow so successfully.

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2749

20141119

WED • 19 NOV 2014

The machines are listening

A recent article in the Times around Google and a growing number of people who are turning their backs on the business and going ‘Google-Free’ got me thinking as to how much we do on the internet is actually private. The story the article focused on, was one of a woman who after getting engaged started receiving adverts on diamond rings and honeymoons, when the only person she had discussed it with was her fiancé over Google Chat. Unbeknown to her, her private conversation was being watched by the overlord and crucial information in her messages was being used to ensure adverts were relevant.

Now I can understand the indignation of what is seen as a private conversation being eavesdropped, but at the same time how can the affected party expect for this service to be free and still operate. Google are not the only culprits, with Facebook being another easy example of a company using personal information to target advertising, which in turn provides the funds to enable it to operate in the first place. From my perspective it is the downside of signing up for a free service. Obviously if I was paying for the service I wouldn’t expect such behaviour, but ultimately don’t people realise that the internet is a public place, and that any activity is open to observation?

I have written before about the issue we have in society with people wanting to be completely anonymous on the internet. We don’t tolerate it on our streets; we are one of the most watched nations on earth, so why do people expect it on the internet? I believe the notion of sitting in your armchair in the security of your own home means that you are not public, but the reality is far from it. In the same way that if I started doing something obscene in a public place I would expect to be arrested but for some reason the belief that any kind of behaviour or action on the internet is not open to observation is very naïve.

I treat the internet like the high-street or anywhere outside my own home. If I would not be happy shouting the message on the street that I am having with someone over the internet (either via email or online), then I don’t say it. I wait until I meet with them and then have the conversation in person, which is then truly private. For years other parts of our lives have been subjected to observation, such as phones, with our content even our location open to monitoring. Hopefully information such as this is only viewed at the highest level of authority but the fact is it can’t be considered private.

I understand that society needs to decide how this life changing technology will impact our privacy, and it is great a discussion is happening, but the reality is if you don’t want someone to know about something then don’t mention it over the internet because the walls have ears.

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2740

20141024

1
0

FRI • 24 OCT 2014

Little features make a big difference

Having recently returned for a holiday on the east coast of the US (New York, Orlando, Miami and Key West) I was struck by how useful a small function is within my iPhone. Apple is notorious for adding new functionality to their software and when ‘Passbook’ was introduced I was unsure as to how useful it might be.

But after this holiday I believe I gave it a good work out to not only keep track of my boarding tickets but also the balance on my credit card (useful when the exchange rate is so good) and even the train ticket to and from Heathrow. No longer was I searching desperately after returning from holiday for the most expensive train ticket in the world, it was right there on my phone.

It has opened my eyes to the new payment technology which is being introduced into the new iPhone 6, and while live in the US, will take a few more months before being rolled out here. I am sure, while I don’t currently appreciate what exactly it will do, it will enhance the way I spend and maybe even make my wallet redundant.

So while my new iPhone is still not as good as my old Nokia for making calls, it does an awful lot more, so I am willing to put up with it for all the extra features and benefits I can get.

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2711

20140625

8
0

WED • 25 JUN 2014

Motivate with a challenge

I recently completed the Three Peaks challenge with fifteen of my fellow colleagues from work. We had to climb Ben Nevis, Scafell and Snowdon within 24 hours including the travel between the mountains. We kicked off at 5 pm on Saturday evening and managed to finish at 16:35 the following Sunday – so only 25 minutes to spare!

With all the challenges we had, from the coach breaking down, to major roads being closed, we still managed to pull together and complete the challenge. I think for a few of my fellow colleagues, who hadn't done much mountain walking, the realisation of the task ahead dawned as we stood at the start of ‘heart attack’ hill at the foot of Ben Nevis. That set the tone for the rest of the climbs as we were always behind time on the travel and had to make it up on the mountains. Trust me running along a mountain path after no sleep in a bus and having already climbed two mountains wasn't fun.

But the benefits for the team was not just in the completion of the challenge but also accumulation of training that went into it six months previously. For me it is a great opportunity to get people to work together and help each other along to ensure everyone had the best opportunity to complete the event. And even now, a few weeks after the event the office is still buzzing as those people build on their friendships and experiences with the rest of the business.

So if anyone is considering organising such a challenge for your own business, I would wholeheartedly recommend it. The cost of running it (which can be many thousands of pounds) can be immediately felt within the business in terms of productivity, so it is even a good investment. Couple that with raising money for charity and you have a real win win opportunity.

My only problem now is to think of what we could do next…

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2702

20140516

FRI • 16 MAY 2014

The phone line is dead. Should someone tell BT?

One interesting ‘in the small print’ pieces about BT’s fibre to the premises (FTTP) technology is that if you don’t also have a BT copper phone line then the rental for the FTTP technology will be higher, than if you did. Interestingly the increase is very similar to the wholesale cost of a BT phone line. So what BT is saying is that irrespective of whether you need a phone line or not, BT will make sure they make the same amount of rental income.

Now from BT’s perspective, they may argue that they are actually discounting the FTTP service for customers already paying out for a BT line - rather than increasing the cost for people who don’t choose to have one. However surely with the advancement in speeds that FTTP affords the need for a phone line diminishes? With the likes of Skype offering land line style services, mobile phone companies offering millions of free minutes, home signal boosters and so forth the concept of having a POTS (plain old telephone service) becomes less important. Surely the customers who have FTTP and a phone line will be less than those who just choose the fibre? Lets ignore for a moment as to why a 100 year old technology, which has been paid for many times over, actually costs more than it did this time last year.

The problem is nobody has told BT, and through the actions of their retail department recently upping the cost of line rental to £15.99 it has allowed it to market even cheaper broadband services, that surprisingly have to run over it – creating a very important cashcow for the group.

Unfortunately FTTP doesn’t need a phone line. TalkTalk has taken a leaf out of BT’s book and currently offer the cheapest unlimited broadband deal in the UK, apparently, at £3.99 per month. Sounds good. Until you realise that it needs a £15.99 line rental to operate, so actually it is £19.98. And with wholesale costs of phone lines at £10 per month it actually means the broadband component is £9.98. Ok still good value but surely this dubious marketing model shouldn't make its way into the world of true fibre to the home?

Hopefully as competition hots up, and the new FTTP services being launched which don’t rely on a ‘line rental’ component, BT will be able to focus on the future, rather than income streams of the past.

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  1. Martyn Dews

    8 years ago

    An interesting piece and although many are not in the position where they can get rid of the phone line in the area where I live and B4RN is being deployed it is now an increasingly common next step for customer to ditch the phone line and rental in favour of a VOIP provider. Vonage is the current preference I think, mainly because they are well know, the word in the community is that they are reliable and also they are offering a good starter deal to new B4RN customers.

    Reply
  2. Martyn Dews

    8 years ago

    An interesting article. Although many are not yet fortunate enough to ditch the BT line and associated rental, in the area where I live where many are now being connected to the B4RN FTTH service it’s becoming common place for customers to ditch the BT line in favour of a VOIP service. The current preference is Vonage. Mostly because the word in the community is that it’s reliable and also they have been smart in offering new B4RN customers a good deal.

    Reply
    1. Piers

      8 years ago

      True – but as you say once you have FTTP then the need for a phone line evaporates. Good point on Vonage – I haven’t used it myself but may get one in to see how it works.

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2694

20140407

1
2

MON • 07 APR 2014

Surely we should have reinvented the train by now?

An interesting article in the Times today on HS2 and the proposed suggestion to cut its top speed by 40 mph from 225 mph to 185 mph reducing the energy it consumes. This suggestion would mean the train would only arrive 25 minutes faster than it does today, making the £50bn investment look rather wasteful. What I don’t understand is why are we not trying to use this money and investment to reinvent the railway completely?

I have long harboured thoughts about the idea of a suspended track utilising maglev technology (magnets to suspend the train above the track) to allow pods to float between locations. Such a track would be small enough to be installed into our crowded cities and extend out to the country. Each pod could be the size of a standard taxi allowing people to book a pod for when they wanted it and arrive at their chosen location at a time to suit. The technology of today could allow for such an invention and surely with a £50bn cheque from government it could be made a reality?

You may not be aware that the first installation of a commercial maglev train was installed in Birmingham Airport in 1984 and it operated successfully for nearly eleven years. It fell into disrepair because spare parts were hard to come by and was replaced in 1995 by a cable operated train. Wouldn't it be great though if we managed as a country to then link Birmingham to London using the same technology 30-years later.

Wired magazine recently covered SkyTran which is essentially the same idea and is being considered for installation in Tel Aviv. I like this concept because it looks to be light on infrastructure and reducing the potential cost for such a system to be deployed. Other ideas include Elon Musk's much publicised Hyperloop project which looks to install a tube with low air pressure to sustain travel at 760 mph.

China’s famous Shanghai Transrapid is one step too far in my mind, requiring huge resources to build and support. While the train can travel at 268 mph and carry hundreds of passengers it looks over engineered and a much simpler, sleek and individual solution would be a better bet. It does raise an interesting point in regards to funds, because while the Transrapid cost $1.3bn to build 18.95 miles, it does mean that with our budget of £50bn we could build 1,140 miles across the UK.

I am all for infrastructure builds but instead of using the opportunity to develop something genuinely ground breaking, we are going to wait 15 years for something that is old today.

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  1. Mark (Editor - ISPreview.co.uk)

    8 years ago

    Agreed, although one part of me wants to forget trains altogether and build new roads that could link into sophisticated in-car systems, which means that when travelling on them your vehicle could go into a kind of auto-pilot mode. The downside would be if the road was too long then people might fall asleep for the re-join, but I’m sure there could be ways of tackling that too.

    Trains IMO charge a lot and give a little; I’ve found the local bus to be cheaper and more reliable so long as you don’t travel at night with the drunks or when they’re packed to the ceiling with noisy school kids shouting endlessly for 30minutes. Indeed these days a lot of train operators like buses so much that they very kindly send you off on one 🙂 .

    On a train I’ve sometimes paid for a first class ticket because I’ve got a lot to carry, boarded and then found it full with others sitting in my seat. It’s normal practice now for people to sit in reserve and first class seats, even with disabled seating, and rarely do you see a conductor checking tickets during the journey. Meanwhile you pay through the nose for this experience.

    Is it any wonder that most would rather pay less and just drive themselves to work. So in that respect I do support the ideal of personalised little mini-train-cars for smaller groups of people but it would cost a lot more than HS2 to do that in any meaningful way. I don’t think politicians are brave enough, especially given the terrible outcome of Trams in Sheffield. The two are not the same but politically they’re not that different.

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2674

20140115

WED • 15 JAN 2014

The Victorians would be appalled by BT’s short-sighted behaviour

I recently completed on a new flat in London. Nothing too fancy, just somewhere I can lay my head during the week, and maybe where I can enjoy some of this property bubble that everyone keeps talking about. The building is a new development part of a billion pound investment into the Bermondsey area and mostly comprises of support housing or help to buy flats. My building has over eighty flats in it and redevelops an up and coming part of London. So far so good.

The flat is rather small but fantastically advance. Everything is LED and bits flip about making the most of the space and simplifying its use. The heating system for example is a self-contained heat pump system which draws fresh air from outside, warms it and then pushes it around the flat. The air is completely refreshed within 2 hours. The floor throughout is fed with hot water and even items like the extractor fan feed hot air back into the system to improve efficiency. So while cooking my steak I can warm my bathroom. Brilliant and clever stuff.

So imagine my excitement at thinking about what kind of internet access I would be able to deliver to my new cutting edge London pad. I run a successful data networking business so whatever was available to the building I would be able to get my service delivery engineers on the case to ensure I was up and running as quickly as possible with the most cutting edge and fastest service possible. Not because I particularly need the fastest speed, but more because I can use it as a demonstration of where we are as a nation and as a complete contrast to my home in rural Worcestershire. My brother for example has a flat not far in Canada Water away and enjoys fibre into his airing cupboard delivering him with up to 1 Gb/s (1,000 Mb/s) in internet access (via IFNL). Surely I could do better than that?

Well as it turns out I don’t have fibre running into my brand new flat. The housing group who developed the site wanted to keep everything as separate as possible for each apartment and so understandably gave the responsibility of installing comms to the flats to BT. So what did BT choose to install? Fibre to the Home? No. Instead they installed a 100 year old technology and have graced my flat with a BT phone socket delivered over copper. Let’s remind ourselves this is not a flat in Worcestershire. This is not a building hundreds of years old. This is a building built from the ground up in 2013. This is a building within a stone’s throw of the City of London (should be good for my flat price… but I digress), arguably the capital of the world. And what do I have to deliver my internet access… two strands of copper.

Granted the building has the latest version of copper technology, Fibre to the Cabinet, which will deliver up to 80 Mb/s. More than enough I hear you cry. And yes I agree I have no need for anything faster at the moment. But this is not my point. This is a new building in a leading metropolitan city and BT are installing copper cables. This is like the government deciding to install a new train system between London and Birmingham and calling it progress… oh wait a minute, bad example. It is like building a new airport and not making the runway long enough to take the new Airbus Jumbo. Granted it is an airport, but it isn’t particularly useful. And while it may cope today it certainly will not cope with the demands put upon it in the future. In the same way that when I start to watch 4K television from the Internet the FTTC service delivering 80 Mb/s is going to look like old technology. Which it is.

And what really gets my goat (if you are reading this and thinking boohoo Piers, you must be so upset having fast broadband and a new flat), is that BT have successfully persuaded most of the countries councils that it is the right company to prepare Britain for a fast networked future. With over £500 million of public money being used, how can BT justify this old technology for completely new sites? Granted it may have some use in very rural communities but surely as a country we should be demanding nothing less than fibre into every home. Gigaclear, City Fibre, IFNL, Hyperoptic among others can deliver Gb/s speeds. But when BT are given a clean sheet of paper they can’t?

Or is it they don’t want to? Think about it. BT recently raised the cost of its direct line rental to an astronomical £15.99 a month. This is a blatant use of jazz hands. As it talks about cheap broadband (which needs a phone line if it is FTTC, which its Infinity product is) it is recouping the cost from the line rental. If they installed fibre, where would the line rental revenue come from? Would people still pay for or enable a phone line if they didn’t need it for broadband? And to think this is the company we have asked as a country to prepare us for the future.

As you can tell this is something that has really got my goat. If BT with a clean sheet can’t deliver modern technology, which incidentally would be cheaper to install (as fibre is less than copper which is an increasingly expensive commodity), then as a country we should hang our head in shame. As countries across the world look to embrace a fast and competitive internet, we look to short term solutions in the hope that the need for more bandwidth will not continue. If the Victorians thought like that there wouldn’t be the infrastructure we enjoy today – even one of London’s greatest, the Tube.

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  1. Brian Mills

    8 years ago

    So the cost to run the fibre is cheaper than the cost to run copper? How can that be when it requires specific equipment to terminate the end in your demise and of course requires specialist connection at the far end. Do you know if the nearest cabinet supports FTTP? If not then BT would have to run that fibre all the way back to the exchange which would be very expensive compared to running copper tot he nearest normal cabinet and linking it to one of many copper connections. Brian

    Reply
    1. admin

      8 years ago

      We install a lot of fibre with our business and so know that the ‘fibre price’ seems expensive when compared to copper at an end user perspective. But on a build project a fibre cable is cheaper to buy than copper (especially if you look at it as a 25-year investment). In the case of my flat they have installed FTTC so the bit they are saving on is the last 500 meters which makes no sense commercially.

      Reply

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2648

20131105

TUE • 05 NOV 2013

Our demands will only get greater

With Netflix announcing tests of streaming ultra-high definition video (aka 4K) next year, you have to wonder who is going to see the benefit. It is ironic that with millions of pounds of government money going to BT to deploy Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC) around the country that its maximum speed is up to 80 Mb/s, slower than 4K will most likely need to stream.

With 4K video offering four times the resolution of 1080p and talk of 8K on the horizon our appetite for high definition content will only grow, putting our efforts of on deploying antiquated technology into perspective. The problem is without looking far enough into the future we are only ever going to be playing catch-up, which is why so many new businesses have been able to start and raise private funding to deploy Fibre to the Home (FTTH) networks. Virgin obviously have their own network but without national coverage and its own limitations I feel unless we look forward to gigabit speeds and more we are never going to be able to meet this demand.

It reminds me of a time in the late nineties when PCs were always inadequate to run the demands of the software on it. Every day processor speeds and memory would make a leap forward only to be insufficient to run the newest programs. Today however I feel there is a bit more of an equilibrium, with the limitation now squarely focused on the pipe leading to the computer.

While I am not for spending government money on building an entertainment network (as that is its current biggest demand for bandwidth) there is an argument for adopting Sweden’s model of deploying a raw dark fibre network onto which the many providers can sell services. The ability for the NHS to connect to every home in the country to offer GP appointments via video and home nursing, Universities to offer home study courses and of course businesses to be able to conduct full HD video meetings without needing to commute. With over £50bn being estimated for HS2 I would say the biggest infrastructure challenge our country faces is a national and ubiquitous fibre network rather than connecting two cities together with a faster train.

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2615

20130717

WED • 17 JUL 2013

BT works hard to maintain their bullyboy reputation

For the past few weeks the news has been full of reports with regards to rural broadband and the Broadband Delivery group (BDUK) which was setup by government to help feed funds into providing fast broadband for all. This work along with the need to deploy next generation of connectivity services to urban areas has seen a cluster of new start-ups work on solutions to meet this requirement. Whether it is wireless from churches, digging up fields and roads to lay fibre or deploying satellite there doesn’t appear to be a shortage of enthusiastic companies to provide services to people who want it.

Ironically most of these businesses are managing to do so with little or no public subsidy as most of that is currently being directed to BT, who without sufficient competition, is clearing up the opportunities for government money. It is therefore surprising that even though we have a number of companies trying to tackle the digital divide their ability to do so is being thwarted by BT trying to maintain market share – even in areas they are not planning to build to.

While I have been aware of this action I didn’t realise it was so prevalent until I went to an industry event last week where a number of small network operators are represented. The problems is the ‘overbuild’ risk, i.e. BT building a network in a particular area when the other network has been built (and only then), seems to be one of protectionalism rather than one of delivering connectivity for all. This process seriously undermines the new network and hence BT are managing to use government subsidy to stifle the very competition and access for all the country desperately needs.

The problem is BT are not providing connectivity everywhere and there is a good 10% of the country that, in BT’s eyes, is uneconomical and hence the need for small niche players and groups to come up with alternative solutions. The problem is that as soon as these networks start to be built BT suddenly either announces with great fanfare that they are going to be enabling this particular area or go to great lengths to notify local residents that they will at some future point. What surprised me as well was the relative understanding by the group of providers that BT might want to build to an area and that this might in some cases be the best option for the resident. The issue however is that BT state they will not build to a particular area and then, and only then, offer a solution as soon as there is a possibility or demonstration of competition.

Ironically BT’s standard offering is Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC) and not Fibre to the Home (FTTP) which the majority of the players in this market deploy, and so BT has to use considerable marketing might to persuade residents that actually they would be better off waiting for a 40 Mb/s copper service rather than a potentially blistering 1 Gb/s (1,000 Mb/s). And as Philip Virgo so eloquently puts it this doesn’t just relate to rural areas but also urban ones.

So what is to be done? Well it seems government are listening and a number of high profile conversations are being had to ensure that a level playing field is maintained, especially when a lot of the solutions being delivered by communities and small operators are protected from overbuild when the incumbent has expressly said they will not build to a particular area. Also more work needs to be done by Ofcom to deliver support and stand up for the small and developing networks rather than just represent the interests of BT.

Who would have thought we would be in the position where government money is being used to help maintain a monopoly and stifle choice rather than being used to actually provide services to the last 10% which are ‘uneconomic’ apparently.

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  1. Peter Cartwright

    9 years ago

    One of the areas we having been providing a wireless solution to has this year been upgraded to FTTC. We are now starting to see the expected slow migration of customers over to that platform. What we have found very interesting though is that the reason some of them are giving is not that they can now get 50 Mbps compared to the 10 Mbps or so we can provide BUT that they can then get BT Sport for free!

    I have to admit it does annoy me a lot that BT, on the one hand, pleads poverty over rural areas but on the other hand gives £700 million pounds or so to the Premier League (or whoever got the money) and then provides the service for free to their own customers. It is not hard to imagine that the main reason BT can afford to do this is that they have been handed well over £1 billion pounds by the UK Government (in all its shapes and forms) to roll out FTTC into areas it claimed it could not otherwise afford to do so.

    Or am I just a cynic? 🙂

    Reply
    1. Piers

      9 years ago

      I think it is really a very valid point Peter. Obviously they need to compete with the likes of Virgin and SKY but then also owning the infrastructure as well probably isn’t such a good idea, especially when they have to deliver wholesale access.

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2609

20130702

0
1

TUE • 02 JUL 2013

Demand not there for great tennis

Every year when major sporting events have been aired during working hours we have always taken a keen interest on how many of our customers watch it over iPlayer whilst in the office. For us it has demonstrated the growing demand for bandwidth, even if not specifically linked to a business need, and the trend for growth as it becomes more common place.

The Olympics last year saw huge levels of traffic across our whole industry as people used iPlayer to keep abreast of developments while at their desk. However without doubt the biggest impact has always been Wimbledon where show stoppers such as Murray has seen everyone at very specific times logon to see what is happening.

This year however, even though Murray’s last game yesterday (1st July) was held during office hours, we saw minimal impact on transit graphs as people watched over lunch and into the early afternoon. Which is interesting because I don’t believe the game was any less appealing, more so probably considering his recent success and ability to win gold in the Olympics, so why didn’t we see the spike we are used to?

Well there are a few factors. Firstly bandwidth levels this year for us are about four times higher than the same time last year which could have deflated the overall impact. This could also mean more customers are using the network to deliver TV during the day, maybe addicted following the Olympics, and hence the traffic was already there. Alternatively IT Managers are better at managing bandwidth within their organisation and availability to services such as iPlayer is no longer accessible during working hours. Whatever the reason it looks like IP TV is no longer, well for us anyway, the measure of demand.

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  1. Mark Jackson

    9 years ago

    Like the new website Piers, though some of the text is a bit small.

    Anyway we’ve seen your traffic report reflected elsewhere too but it’s interesting to note that the spike for consumer traffic is also lower, perhaps the “pre-Olympic atmosphere” has faded somewhat this time around. We’ll see what happens if Murray gets through to the semi-final.

    MarkJ
    ISPreview.co.uk

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