All posts by Oliver Colenso

Autumn 2017 Update

As we head into September it’s time for another update on broadband in Basingstoke and the surrounding area.

On a positive front, all of the new housing developments in the area seem to be befitting from last November’s change by Openreach to offer fibre to the premise to all developments over 30 properties.  So the focus is now very much on retrofit to existing areas.

Hampshire Superfast Broadband Programme

The publically-funded Hampshire Superfast Broadband Programme has been particularly targeting business parks and commercial areas in the Basingstoke area this year (whilst continuing to roll out to more rural areas across the remainder of the county).  This includes the “high street” (London Road, live in July), Houndmills, and the Armstrong Road/Wade Road area, where cabinets have already gone live, and further enablement is ongoing.

Cabinet in Wade Road installed in 2016, seen on Google Street View

Last December the council also agreed to re-invest the money returned to the programme by BT due to take up (gainshare) and underspend into extending the programme to a further 8,500 properties.  Details can be seen in this report.  Further such decisions are listed here.  What is interesting from this report is that the average cost per premise for wave 1 of the programme was £168; for the current wave 2 this has increased to £477.  And for the new wave 2 extension it’s expected to be £804 per premise.  There are still expected to be around 14,500 premises without access to superfast broadband across the county however once this work is complete.

Openreach “Commercial”

Openreach focus outside of the Hampshire Superfast Broadband scheme partnership appears to have been on adding additional capacity to areas where the initial FTTC VDSL2 cabinet has been full.  A number of cabinets in Chineham have had this work completed in particular, sceptically you may suggest in advance of Virgin Media’s advance into the area.  Cabinets 66, 67, 76, 77 in Chineham, and 73 (Lychpit), 82 (Beggarwood) and 101 (Marnell Park) fall into this category of expansion.

One piece of commercial rollout that does look to be finally getting off the ground is the rollout to Turgis Green cabinets 15 and 16 – better known as Taylor’s Farm or Sherfield Park, with installation due to have commenced on 1st September.  For once, despite at least cabinet 15 being planned a number of times of the years, on this occasion some pre-works have been observed on the ground (removal of bushes where the cabinet is due to be sited), and it is also the first time both cabinets serving the development have been scheduled.  So let’s hope once and for all the work is at last completed, making another milestone in the upgrading of recent new-build developments.

roadworks.org schedule for FTTC cabinets adjoining Turgis Green PCPs 15 and 16 (Taylor’s Farm), September 2017

Virgin Media

Virgin Media’s “Project Lightning” has been busy rolling out FTTP to Lychpit and Old Basing, with works also commenced in Chineham, using a relatively low-impact micro-trenching technique.  However in line with general reports that the programme rollout being slower than expected, it does seem to have taken an long time to complete the work, with Lychpit and Old Basing works only just now vanishing from roadworks.org.  Despite previous scheduled works also commencing in Chineham, including some ongoing this week, the main activity has now been scheduled (according to roadworks.org) for November/December and into January 2018.

A multitude of phone symbols indicating planned Virgin Media FTTP trenching and other works in Chineham until January 2018 #ProjectLightning #NotLikeLightning

WarwickNet and Cross-Over?

Something not seen before on roadworks.org around the Basingstoke area is installation of fibre broadband by Coventry-based WarwickNet.  Whilst known for targeting business parks which have otherwise failed to attract affordable superfast broadband services, it’s not just one cabinet or one business park where the works are planned…. you could call it a deluge.   Works planned for September and October include at least 9 cabinets across Houndmills, Lister Road/Wella Road/Winchester Road, Wade Road/Kingsland Business Park, and part of Chineham Business Park.

Scheduled works by WarwickNet springing up around Basingstoke

What is perplexing is that the work appears to be adjoining Openreach PCPs which have recently been had FTTC installed and funded by the Hampshire Superfast Broadband Programme, for example the works pictured above clearly show work adjacent to PCP 47 –

– which is proudly listed as newly live for FTTC in the August 2017 Hampshire Superfast Broadband Update (from 18 July according to industry data).  Worse, as the HCC work initially got underway in this area, Virgin Media also jumped in and installed their FTTP as we reported back in February.

We shall endeavour to investigate with the HCC Superfast Programme and WarwickNet what is going on here, as it looks like extremely poor use of public funds if the new cabinets are being overlaid with a similar service.  Take up would of course also be impacted by the new competition meaning little chance of future gainshare from these cabinets.  However it may be the cabinets offer enhanced ultrafast service, akin to Openreach’s G.Fast pods or even locally distributed fibre.

 

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An update on Superfast Broadband in Basingstoke

It’s been quite a while since we last posted, and in that time there has been a lot of additional work delivering superfast fibre broadband in Basingstoke and across the wider county.  However, there remain a significant “unlucky few” headed towards having the disappointment of being in “the final 5%”, with “new” housing developments at the fore of these.

On a positive front, Virgin Media have chosen Lychpit and Old Basing as one of the early stages of their Project Lightning £3Bn network expansion, and are now approaching the end of the residential streetworks which have been running since late 2016 throughout the area, so the network should be live relatively soon.  Further work appears to be ongoing to also cover the business area in Wade Road.  This expansion covers a significant number of properties, and has used the micro-trenching technique to minimise the effects of the work and damage to existing infrastructure.  The infilled trenches are almost impossibly narrow.

Virgin Media “Project Lightning” streetworks in Lychpit shown on roadworks.org, Feb 2017.

Openreach have also been busy, particularly towards the end of 2016, but their self-funded work has been geared towards adding second cabinets to areas where the initial FTTC cabinets are full rather than increasing overall footprint.  A number of upgrades have taken place in Chineham, and other sides including PCP101 in Marnell Park.

Openreach have also been carrying out further work as part of the Hampshire Superfast Broadband Partnership with the county council, but these works in the current phase have focussed on industrial/business areas in this part of the county.  There does in particular appear to be an overlap here, with both Openreach and Virgin Media currently working along Wade Road, and before Christmas they both appeared to be working in Armstrong Road.  This does raise questions over the best use of public money,   as the government/county backed scheme is not meant to be subsidising BT/Openreach to deploy to areas already covered by Virgin.  However in this particular case it’s a bit like the analogy with buses, and the HCC work has been scheduled for some time;  Virgin are chasing them down the road.

On top of this good news, there are also some housing developments appearing with Ultrafast Openreach fibre to the premise.  The below for example shows the 330Mb service available in the David Wilson Spiers Meadow development.

Ultrafast fibre broadband available in Spiers Meadow

It will be interesting to see what is delivered at Croudace Homes’ new Vyne Park development (RG24 8LS) which opens tomorrow.  Initial forecasts are not promising, based on the current Openreach checker result shown below.  Openreach are currently building out, as part of the BDUK scheme, fibre to some cabinets in nearby Chineham Business Park which are connected to the Basingstoke exchange. But there is also a tiny Chineham exchange serving the northern part of Chineham Business Park which has no fibre, and Cabinet 3 on that exchange is listed as serving the Vyne Park sales office and show home!

Initial broadband availability for the Vyne Park showhome does not look promising… lets hope developer-driven improvements are on the way.

Due to the presence of nearby roadworks last year, it is thought Virgin Media may be being provided on the development, which would at least be a step up from Croudace’ last development at nearly Taylor’s Farm/Sherfield Park.  Despite being one of the most affluent areas of Basingstoke, this still lacks any superfast broadband and consequently offers one of the slowest residential speeds in the Basingstoke area.  An upgrade to FTTC was scheduled for at least one of the two Taylor’s Farm cabinets back in 2015 with planned street works appearing on roadworks.org, but the work was never actually carried out.  DSLchecker.bt.com currently states “Cabinet to be enabled between Apr-17 and Dec-17”, but the delays show a lack of commitment at best from Croudace, evidenced by our ability to have PCPs 102, 95 and 97 enabled, and progress on sites like Abbotswood in Romsey.

The other development where there has been disappointingly no sign of progress is Skippetts Gardens, which remains outside of the Hampshire County Council/BDUK scheme, and outside of the Openreach funded planned works.

Linden Homes Longacre development at the southern end of the town also appears to suffer from poor planning.  Properties on the development (postcodes RG23 7FA, 7FG & 7FT) appear to be connected to Basingstoke PCP135 which is probably the furthest cabinet from the exchange and consequently offers a massive 1Mb ASDL speed estimate, and currently no fibre.  The Openreach website does however report fibre to be in the planning so there is a glimmer of hope for purchasers there.

So… some ups, but still, despite Openreach’s change of policy towards new-builds last year, that they would provide fibre to the premise where possible, things don’t seem to have been sorted just yet.

 

 

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DSL Checker Updates and new BT Commitments

Tonight the BT DSL Checker has updated to:

  • retitle FTTC (fibre to the cabinet) as VDSL (very-high-bit-rate digital subscriber line);
  • split the different product categories into different sections (VDSL FTTC;  FTTP;  ADSL);
  • add a column for a planed SOGEA service (single-only generic ethernet access – the ability to have a broadband-only service with no phone connection);
  • mention of G.Fast, the ‘next generation’ of “ultrafast” fibre broadband (but which still retains the copper local loop) which BT has committed to roll out to 20 million properties (eventually), likely offering speeds of somewhere between 100Mbps and 500Mbps.
Updated BT Wholesale DSL Checker
Updated BT Wholesale DSL Checker

The changes tie in with announcements made by BT/Openreach over the past year, and a number of ongoing trails.  On 5th May Openreach also announced a plan to deliver FTTP services to 2 million premises by 2020, a marked increase from the current level.  ThinkBroadband say this new rollout is going to be “aimed at new build estates and high streets and business parks”.  Whilst it would be nice to think that includes recent new-build developments such as Everest Park where ducting should be built to current standards, the reality is that seems unlikely and is likely to tie in with February’s announcement on new-build sites.

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PCP102 returns to Available

Following news on the 30th April that fibre was once again unavailable from PCP102 and a “Waiting List” was in place, the cabinet status was updated again on the 5th May to show it as “Available” again, a quick turnaround.

This means the cabinet is now almost certainly half full (144 lines from a total of 288), and over 35% of properties have taken out a fibre broadband package, a great result.

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Hants Superfast Programme Opens New State Aid Public Consultation

Hampshire County Council, under the Hampshire Superfast Broadband Programme, have opened a new public consultation on how to use £1,772,000 which BT is returning to them under the gainshare clause of the Phase 1 BDUK contract.  Nationwide BT has committed to return £129M under the gainshare clause so far.

State aid funding for Phase 1 in Hampshire was just over £11M, £5M of which came from the County, Borough and District Councils, £5M from BDUK, and presumably includes the £1M from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, so this represents around a 16% return.  BT invested £3.8M themselves in this initial phase.

The good news on Phase 1 is that it initially targeted 59,500 properties but over 80,000 properties have now been covered.

State aid funding for Phase 2 is £18M, again with £3.8M from BT, and when announced was looking to reach 34,500 homes.  It can quite easily be seen how the costs spiral upwards as properties get harder and harder to reach; £631 per property on average for Phase 2, vs somewhere between £185 to £232 for Phase 1.  At Everest Park we estimate it cost BT around only £75 per property to commercially enable our cabinet.

Our view is that the gainshare return should be used to go back to the beginning and re-analyse the county as it stands today;  and target the new cheap-to-reach, higher property count areas which up to now have been excluded – mainly new-build sites completed since 2010.  As these are likely to generate higher levels of BT funding leaving less ‘gap’, this would reach another large number of people at very good value to the public purse.

There is a concern Hampshire County Council are trying to ignore these areas, as they currently seem to be excluded from the “final 5%” figures and therefore if now included would make their coverage calculation worse then previously declared.

Taking Skippets Gardens which we recently reported on as an example, and assuming the best estimate of £30,000 to buy and install a VDSL2 cabinet, its 162 properties would cost approx £185 each to enable, which certainly seems to be near the average actual cost spent per property under Phase 1.

Looking at the postcodes included as the proposed intervention area, for Basingstoke they map as follows:

Proposed Intervention Areas
Proposed Intervention Areas

…. which mainly includes business parks and an area in the town centre, as well as parts of Chineham, Taylor’s Farm, and Old Basing, as well as a lot more rural areas.  What it notably excludes is Skippetts Gardens.

Purpose

The stated purpose of the new public consultation is to confirm the areas which do not have Next Generation Access (NGA) broadband infrastructure delivering at least 30Mbps, or where there are no plans to provide such infrastructure over the next three years. These are described as “white NGA areas”. This is to enable all interested stakeholders – the public, businesses and telecommunications providers – to comment on the proposed white NGA areas before further coverage is committed.

Hampshire County Council will then submit its final proposals for the NGA white area, taking account of the outcome of the public consultation, to BDUK’s National Competence Centre for clearance.

However reading further down the consultation they are mainly calling on broadband providers to provide information on areas they are due to enable, but with a focus on ensuring these areas in the white list.  Crucially and worryingly, apart from as a result of public comment, there doesn’t appear to be a mechanism to identify missing white areas.

It’s therefore highly recommended to any residents living in an postcode which doesn’t have superfast broadband, and doesn’t appear to be getting it when you check the BT Wholesale DSL Checker, and whose postcode isn’t currently in the white list, to respond formally to the consultation, and ensure their neighbours and county councillors do too.

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Another milestone reached for Everest Park PCP102

It looks like superfast fibre broadband continues to be popular at Everest Park, and there is further justification to our campaign, with news today that PCP102 has once again moved to Waiting List status.

PCP102 returns to Waiting List status
PCP102 returns to Waiting List status

This is the third time the cabinet has been temporarily full since it went live on 8th December 2015.   It initially sold out on the 11th December after just 2.5 days, and a second card was fitted and the cabinet went back on sale on the 18th December.  The cabinet then went to Waiting List status again just over a month later on the 22nd Jan, this time returning to Available status on the 2nd February.

This time it’s taken nearly three months to, we assume, fill another line card.  Whilst that shows a slowdown in takeup, it means the cabinet is half full already, and around 144 lines have been switched over to fibre.  This is significantly ahead of our survey response where around 100-120 properties said they would upgrade to fibre within 6 months of it becoming available.

We will obviously prompt Openreach about this and hope they are as swift as the recent second card install at PCP95, which happened within 3 days of the first line card being full.

 

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PCP95 first line card full?

Following the completion of the VDSL2 twin for PCP95 on 8th April, the cabinet took just over 10 days to ‘sell out’ its initial capacity, with the Waiting List status appearing on 19th April:

Changed:
 -        FTTC Range A (Clean)    80  79.7  20   20   --       Available
 -        FTTC Range B (Impacted) 80  66.6  20   17.6 --       Available
 ... into:
 +       FTTC Range A (Clean)    80  79.7  20   20   --       Waiting list
 +       FTTC Range B (Impacted) 80  66.6  20   17.6 --       Waiting list
 
 Added:
 +     This PCP has a waiters list for FTTC services. You may place an order
 +                       which will be dealt with in turn.

However Openreach reacted very promptly to this, perhaps due to our forecast that the cabinet would be popular, and the good news is the cabinet was back to Available again just 3 days later on the 22nd April.  How long to the next one?

 

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PCP95 completes the trio

Celebration in Rooksdown tonight, as PCP95’s VDSL2 cabinet has been declared “ready for service”, and residents connected through it can now order an upgrade to superfast fibre broadband at up to 80Mbps… a massive upgrade from previous highs of 1-2Mbps.

Pcp95live
BT Wholesale DSL checker finally shows PCP95 live tonight

Following repeated chasing of Openreach, whilst they missed their self-imposed target of 31st March by a week, they have been noticibly pulling out all the stops to get the cabinet completed, agreeing with the highways authority to work 5am-9am during the Easter holidays to connect the fibre itself, and today commissioning the cabinet and making it live the same day, appearing to do so around 9.30pm.

It’s not known if Openreach were able to install additional line cards in the cabinet, we shall monitor it to see if it “sells out” quickly like PCPs 92 and 102 did.

For residents looking to upgrade to fibre and interested in the best deals, BT themselves currently have a great offer on unlimited 40/10 fibre, especially if you also take advantage of additional cash back from sites like Quidco.  With a £100 reward card, plus £110 Quidco cashback, and the fibre itself reduced to £10/mo + line rental, even including the up front router delivery charge and a £49 activation charge, the monthly cost of fibre plus line rental averages about £15.20 over the 12 months – less even than the regular line rental cost on its own.

 

 

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Skippetts Gardens (Basingstoke PCP116) with a familiar story…

Under our campaign, we have principally focussed on:

  • our own new-build site, Everest Park, and its Openreach cabinet, Basingstoke PCP 102;
  • two cabinets on other nearby new-build sites which seemed to be part of Openreach’s commercial superfast fibre broadband programme  but were delayed – Basingstoke PCP92 at Marnell Park, and PCP 95 at Limes Park.
  • another 19 cabinets across Hampshire which also had been part of Openreach’s commercial programme and have seemingly been delayed time and again.

The problem for cabinets that are part of the commercial programme is that the Hampshire County Council / Broadband Delivery UK partnership cannot then look to deliver these cabinets, and some have been in limbo for a number of years.  The good news is Openreach are now actively addressing this, and delivered a number of the 19 during 2015/16, and plan to deliver another batch in 2016/17.

However a few cabinets seem to fall between the commercial and HCC/BDUK programmes, with both claiming the cabinet is the others responsibility;  those supplying new-build sites developed between around 2010 and 2013 being the likely to be the worst offenders – as was our very own PCP 102.  We did have some evidence showing it had at times been part of the Openreach commercial programme, but Openreach claimed this had not been the case.  Certainly the HCC/BDUK team pointed the finger at Openreach.

The case for Basingstoke PCP 116 supplying the Skippetts Gardens development  is less clear;  it may never have formed part of the commercial programme.  However the response to residents of the development on Twitter from the HCC/BDUK team is that their area falls under commercial delivery.  Looking on the Hampshire Superfast Broadband Programme website map, that doesn’t appear to be strictly true, the area is devoid of any colouring implying it is not part of the commercial programme, nor waves 1 or 2 of their programme… therefore falling into the final 4-5% without any provision.

Hampshire Superfast Broadband Programme map showing "whitespace" over Skippetts Gardens, implying no superfast broadband provision at all
Hampshire Superfast Broadband Programme map (captured 02/04/2016) showing “whitespace” over Skippetts Gardens, implying no superfast broadband provision at all

For a relatively dense, urban development surrounded by properties with superfast options from both Openreach and Virgin Media, this looks like bad planning.  What is particularly disappointing is that the Chief Executive and the Director of Culture, Communities and Business Services of Hampshire County Council published this report on the status of the Hampshire Superfast Broadband Programme in January 2015, and Basingstoke PCP 116 serving Skippetts Gardens was specifically mentioned in it, under section 3.8 Retrofit.  This details the largest 30 recent new-build sites without superfast broadband in the county, and states “A number of these developments may be viable for commercial investment, but there are few signs that this problem is fully recognised by the private sector or that solutions for residents will come forward in a reasonable timescale”.

One particularly concerning aspect is that the section opens with the statement “Not included in the count of premises remaining unserved in the Intervention Area are some 4,800 new homes on existing phases of housing developments where the developer and broadband providers have not so far arranged the provision of superfast services through commercial investment”.  This appears to imply that the final 4-5% once the Hampshire Superfast Broadband Programme has delivered Wave 2, will actually be 4-5% PLUS these addiitonal 4,800 properties, and the properties are essentially missing from the statistics!

Worse, the report goes on to provide a number of properties on each site, but for Skippetts Gardens this is listed as just 67;  and for Basingstoke PCP 102 which was also in the list, 124.  Both developments were long since completed when the report was published so the figures are significantly out of date, as the actual number of properties served by PCP 116 at Skippetts Gardens is 162, and at Everest Park is just over 400.  If these inaccuracies were repeated across the county, there could be well over 10,000 properties in this state – and being ignored from coverage figures.

Following the HCC/BDUK assertion, we have asked Openreach to confirm whether PCP116 is in or out of their commercial programme, and are currently waiting for a response.  However unlike PCP102, we’ve not seen any evidence of it ever being in the programme.  The Superfast Openreach website currently displays the following message, implying they have no plans to commercially enable the cabinet.

Superfast Openreach website confirmation that PCP116 is NOT in their commercial programme at this time
Superfast Openreach website confirmation that PCP116 is NOT in their commercial programme at this time

So what can residents do?  At least their current broadband speeds are better than those experienced in Everest, Marnell and Limes Parks, where speeds maxed out between 2Mbps and 4Mbps;  the estimates for Skippetts Gardens are up to a lofty 8Mbps.

The first thing is to get as many residents as possible to register demand for superfast broadband on the following websites:

  1. Openreach – http://www.homeandwork.openreach.co.uk/expression-gen.aspx – Openreach have just changed their Superfast Broadband website, this is the latest link to their registration form to say “enable my area”
  2. Virgin Media – https://cablemystreet.virginmedia.com – Virgin are undertaking a multi-year multi-billion pound network expansion, so it is a good idea to register interest with them also.
  3. Openreach again – http://www.homeandwork.openreach.co.uk/help-and-support/fibre-broadband-availability.aspx – fill out the form to ask Openreach when fibre will be available.  With requests from multiple residents, Openreach should respond.  As a community you can also ask for a gap-funding quote.  Openreach have commercially enabled cabinets in Hampshire and Basingstoke with less connected properties (though the majority are above the 200 property mark), so it may be they have just not assessed the true number of properties affected, and at that time may decide to enable it commercially.
  4. Hampshire Superfast Broadband Programme – http://www.hampshiresuperfastbroadband.com/get-involved/ – if all residents register the HCC team may more readily spot the problem.
  5. Email the Hampshire Superfast Broadband team  – broadband@hants.gov.uk
  6. And tweet them…. twitter.com/superfasthants

Also contact your local borough and County Councillors and ask them to get involved.  Our councillors, and in particular our County Councillor Jane Frankum, has been particularly helpful.  Skippetts Gardens is in Basingstoke Grove ward, and the local councillors are Cllr Stephen Day and Cllr Ron Hussey. The County Councillor is Cllr Brian Gurden.  Our MP, Maria Miller, would be another good person to contact.

Once Openreach have confirmed the cabinet really is not in their commercial programme, the first goal has to be getting Hampshire County Council to recognise that position – we will certainly forward any emails.

Whilst the figures are not as stand-out as PCP95 in Limes Park for example, where maximum ADSL speeds have been around 2Mbps, and where take-up on completed cabinets is the highest in the county, or like Everest Park where the number of properties (400+) can easily be seen to be commercially viable, much of the BDUK work is enabling cabinets supplying 100 properties or less, and many areas have far higher ADSL speeds attainable than at Skippetts Gardens.  Therefore it should make sense for the Hampshire Superfast BDUK Programme to support delivery of FTTC to the location.

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Basingstoke PCPs 76 and 101

Following requests from residents connected to PCPs76 and 101, which are currently in the “Waiting List” status implying current cabinet capacity is full, we have raised the plight of these cabinets with Openreach.

The response, which generally provides good news, is as follows:

Basingstoke 76 (Chineham)
·         Due to great demand, this cabinet is completely full, and requires an Incremental Cab (ie/ 2nd DSLAM).
·         There were some challenges with the location and wayleaves for the second cabinet which caused some delays.
·         The delivery team have now found an alternative location which does not require a wayleave.
·         All jobs have been issued to suppliers for the new cabinet build and it will be managed by the team who have delivered PCPs 92, 102 and are now completing 95.

Basingstoke 101 (Marnell Park)
·         Due to the excellent high take up, this looks like a capacity issue.
·         This has already been escalated to the relevant team, and once there has been a formal update and confirmation of action / plan, it will be provided to us.

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