BT DSL Outage London

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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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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BT Fibre to the Cabinet

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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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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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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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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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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All Comments (3)

  1. Martyn Dews

    1438 days 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.

  2. Martyn Dews

    1438 days 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.

    1. Piers

      1438 days 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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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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All Comments (2)

  1. Brian Mills

    1538 days 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

    1. admin

      1532 days 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.


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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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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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All Comments (3)

  1. Peter Cartwright

    1678 days 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? :-)

    1. Piers

      1665 days 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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Wimbledon 2013

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

    1758 days 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.



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WED • 15 MAY 2013

Google Glass in the future

Interesting video by Playground on what Google Glass could look like in the future and how it could be integrated into everyday life. Obviously I am not too sure I would jump straight from ‘my father is dying’ to ‘where is my guitar’ but I think it is a good example of how powerful wearable IT could be when coupled with the power of the internet. A lot of the processing power happens within the cloud, so a good internet connection will be crucial but with the future possibilities of 4G I think it won’t be long before such features become a reality. I probably though will wait for Apple’s inevitable version which will be much more stylish!

Where Google Glass will have immense power is when something untoward happens and immediately hundreds if not thousands of people will be able to witness and upload video of the event. In a similar way to when the asteroid hit Siberia and the hundreds of people who caught the event on their car cameras (required apparently because of the number of car crashes) providing incredible scientific insight.

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THU • 11 APR 2013

Gigaclear continues to plug away

A lot of focus recently has been on the government funding currently being awarded to BT to deliver high speed broadband services to the majority of the country. However the realisation that one, they don’t have enough resource to meet the government targets and two, will not be covering 100% of households means there is still a lot of scope for other businesses to feed this need.

What has been interesting is not the glut of existing alternative providers meeting this need in the form of SKY, TalkTalk, or Virgin but more the new players to the market such as Gigaclear, Hyperoptic, IFNL and City Fibre. And while I appreciate SKY and TalkTalk don’t currently invest in the last mile (sub loop and working with Openreach being the preference) they do have the resources to do so, but instead it is these new players maximising on the opportunity for Fibre to the Home (FTTH). With Google today announcing plans to bring fibre to the home to Austin, Texas it shows that the big players should be taking a more active involvement.

Anyway with a recent visit to see one of Gigaclear’s rollout south of Oxford I was able to observe the solutions they have come up with to meet with the demands of such a project. I suspect it is this kind of innovation that the larger players would be less likely to take such as the pragmatic approach to the dig to the whole concept of self installs from the edge of the customer’s boundary into their home.

Apparently self-installs have proven popular and surprisingly ended up with less support calls demonstrating their effectiveness. Yes it is going to take time to roll out these services across the UK but with the focus on the true next generation of service (ie FTTC) and not short term solutions such as fibre to the cabinet (FTTC) the future looks bright.

We just have to continue our efforts with the Service Exchange Platform to ensure all these networks are as widely available as possible and deliver customers with choice.

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WED • 06 FEB 2013

2e2 on the buffers

With the news the other week that 2e2 the disti, sorry box shifter, no I mean ‘ICT Lifecycle Services Provider’ has hit administration it has left a number of businesses evaluating exactly how they are affected and whether they can survive without them.

Unfortunately it is not clear anymore what 2e2 actually stand for and from a customer perspective the impact of them going under or being saved is a difficult call. Probably only the managed services part of the business will be saved as clients can already be served by competitors for the other services they offer which means more people will lose their jobs and creditors will be unlikely to reduce their losses.

With the dust settling and the conversations I have had within and around the industry it now seems somewhat obvious that they were going to fail. However like many businesses of a certain size and image they seemed to be very good with their ‘jazz hands’ to a point where their customers and suppliers didn’t ask too many questions. We have come up against 2e2 on a number of occasions and have always backed out because the terms became uncompetitive once 2e2 started selling products or services below our cost (and obviously their own!). The customers obviously didn’t have too much issue with this, because they were getting a deal, but as it turns out the headache of now dealing with a trusted partner no longer being available is a significant one.

As a smaller business we are used to having to jump through hoops and go the extra mile to demonstrate to prospects about our potential, capability and long term sustainability. But businesses such as 2e2 which have grown through acquisition and are of a certain size are given the benefit of the doubt because of their superior size.

So while I am of course upset for all the employees who now find themselves without jobs or pay it does at least hopefully mean larger prospects will start to once again consider smaller suppliers who are less complicated, more open and above everything else care.

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MON • 21 JAN 2013

The future? Augmented Reality and 3D printing apparently.

Last week I had the pleasure of joining a number of contemporaries from the industry at the Innovation and Growth seminar hosted by Royal Bank of Scotland at their Bishopsgate office in London. I am lucky to get a number of invites to such events but usually they either end in disappointment or they somehow go off topic, but this, as is usual with events from RBS group, was of a high standard.

A gentleman by the name of Chris Skinner hosted the event which gave it a good momentum and we enjoyed a number of talks as well as a few panel debates. But the most interesting part of the morning was actually the last question of the day and that was ‘What is going to be the next big thing in terms of technology and innovation?’ As you would expect a few people said big data, ie cloud and dealing with the huge amount of information we are producing on a daily basis. But interesting two relatively less talked about technologies were mentioned more than once; augmented reality and 3D printing.

Augmented reality isn’t something very new, and for those of you with the latest smart phone will have been able to experience it in the form of a computer game or similar, but with the advances in speed of mobile communication coupled with the technology in a phone (such as GPS and processing power) it looks as though we are the cusp of some great advances. Google’s forthcoming Goggles product looks to be a big hitter in allowing you to search the internet by using a photo. So if you are reading a book and want to know more about it or its author with Google Goggles you will just need to take a photo of the front cover and let Google do the rest. While impressive my personal view is it takes no time at all to type the name of the book into Google so I will expect more from it.

More exciting developments with augmented reality is the ability to overlay information, and importantly by using the internet, live information, over the vista you are looking at. One such example is the new digital binoculars that have been deployed in The Shard on the viewing gallery. I was able to go up there last week and the ability to pan these screens around the skyline and for them to overlay building and other useful information was deeply impressive. It will be more so when I have that ability directly from my phone.

The second future innovation is of course 3D printing. However for the most of us this is still very much in its infancy and it will take years before this kind of technology becomes mainstream. For this reason at least it is easy to ignore it as a technology of the future but with a bit of foresight you can see this will have massive implications not only for the manufacturing industry but also our lives.

At the moment the technology is very much like the machines I used to use while studying my CDT A-levels. I would design my crappy idea using CAD and then upload it to the machine (a lathe or similar) that would whittle it out of a piece of metal or wood to my design. It was very basic and the principle is used throughout the manufacturing world. However the idea that I could literally print something at home in 3D is a powerful concept. As I understand it the ability is somewhat limited to a synthetic material with a rather large device however if you look at printers in the early 90s the potential as they develop is fantastic.

It is quite feasible to imagine a time when I buy my new Apple iPhone 12 (if they are still in business and haven’t imploded once more with no new innovation) via the internet, download a file and print it to my 3D printer in my home. Just think no factories, no distribution process and no waste. When I break it, I just print off the parts to repair it. This is of course some way off but with innovation accelerating I think it will be closer than you think.

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