Category: Rural Broadband Access

NBN now offers British-style infrastructure-upgrade programs

Article – From the horse’s mouth

NBN

Area Switch product page

My Comments

You may have seen some articles on HomeNetworking01.info about how various local entities in the UK have gone about bringing an underserved community like a rural area up to current Internet-service expectations.

Here, an entity that is either a community collective in the case of B4RN who are pushing out FTTP fibre broadband to Northern-England villages or a private company in the case of Gigaclear pushing FTTP fibre broadband to small towns and villages in the Home Counties has worked alongside local government and the local citizenry to achieve these goals.

Australia’s NBN have headed towards a mixed-technology approach similar to BT Openreach in the UK. But they have offered an “area-switch” technology upgrade that can affect areas ranging from an apartment block to a town or suburb. This can be co-ordinated by a representative group like a building’s owner-corporation, a neighbourhood association, a local council or even a state government.

This will allow a area covered by satellite or fixed-wireless NBN technology to be upgraded to a wired technology or allow a fibre-copper setup (FTTN, FTTB or HFC) setup to be upgraded to FTTP full-fibre technology.

Like the other rollouts, the areas concerned must be contiguous such as having all premises in a street or all units in a multi-premises development covered. Similarly, there will be a requirement to have the work performed when the area of concerned is being prepared for the NBN deployment or, in the case of a satellite or fixed-wireless upgrade, a neighbouring town is being equipped with a wired setup.

The main problem with the NBN approach is that it’s like BT Openreach offering a similar service in the UK – they could wrap communities around their thumbs by, for example, charging too much or delaying rollouts. The Australian Government need to look at what has been going on in the UK with the likes of B4RN, Gigaclear and Hyperoptic where these organisations have established their own infrastructure to answer broadband-service problems by compete with the established provider.

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Cable One pushes towards a Gigabit Arizona city

Article

Cable One Launches Gigabit Speeds in Arizona | Broadband News & DSL Reports

From the horse’s mouth

Cable One

Press Release

Product Page

My Comments

In some areas, a small firm focuses on providing next-generation broadband to those areas, whether be FTTC fibre-copper (VDSL2), FTTP fibre-optic or HFC fibre-coaxial. This allows them to concentrate on enriching those areas’ Internet service and has been taking place mainly in rural UK.

Now this practice is taking place in some parts of the USA, especially Arizona, thanks to Cable One. Here they have rolled out in to Cottonwood and Clarkdale a DOCSIS 3.0 HFC service which can yield 1Gigabit/second downstream and 50 Megabit/second upstream. The cost of this service, known as Gigabit One, will be US$175/month with a 500Gb data plan, but will make sure it is able to be delivered across all of both towns. There are other plans being put up for this service including one that has a 2000Gb allowance.

It is the first of the cable-based firms to offer a Gigabit service and has been seen as a way to call those small towns “Gigabit cities”. But the idea of smaller companies focusing on smaller neighbourhoods allows them to concentrate on making sure that these neighbourhoods can benefit from current technology and may even allow larger businesses to set up shop there especially when they want to encourage telecommuting.

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B4RN video which describes how they brought real broadband to the country

Article

VIDEO How B4RN’s Community 1Gbps FTTP Broadband Network Began | ISPReview.co.uk

From the horse’s mouth

B4RN

Promo video – Click / Tap to play

Digging For The Future video – Click / Tap to play

My Comments

If you are wanting to know what B4RN is all about, have a look at these two videos which underscore this effort.

Here, it is about the local community preparing a local fibre-optic infrastructure to bring in Gigabit-class real broadband in to their rural area in the North of England. This was more so where BT Openreach were showing very little attention to the rural areas, with them claiming they would offer 95% coverage of the UK and rural communities questioning which areas will represent the 5% that will miss out.

There is an emphasis on the community-focused effort where everyone pitches in to prepare and lay down the infrastructure for this fibre-optic service. The second video, “Digging For The Future”, even had a glimpse at a network-speed-test screenshot where the application’s needle hit the maximum, showing that there is real high-speed broadband available here.

I would see this and the Gigaclear efforts as a point of encouragement for country dwellers who fear they are being treated like second-class citizens when it comes to next-generation broadband.

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Using school buses to provide Internet to poorer communities

Articles

Yellow school bus - Wikimedia Commons image courtesy of H, Michael Miley

These yellow school buses are being used not just for transporting schoolchildren but to provide Internet to poorer communities in the US

Wi-Fi-enabled school buses leave no child offline | PBS Newshour

Wi-Fi-Enabled Bus Connects Students in Poor Calif. Community | Education Week

What to do for kids with no internet at home? How about parking a wifi-enabled school bus near their trailer park? | Hechinger Report

How one of the poorest districts in the US pipes Wi-Fi to families – using school buses | The Register

My Comments

Coachella Valley in California is a rural community often associated with one of the trendiest rock music festivals in the USA. But when the musicians and fans pack up and leave this district, it reverts to having the attributes of a highly-disadvantaged rural community based primarily around trailer parks including lack of decent Internet access.

This is a situation that has been found to hold back secondary students who want to push on with their studies especially as today’s method of learning is focused towards online learning. One of many situations was that families were heading out to Starbucks or McDonalds or their schools’ parking lots to use the on-site Wi-Fi public-access Internet service. Another situation was a student staying back late at the school to complete an online assignment because their family couldn’t trust the Internet connection they had back at home.

But the Coachella Valley Unified School District have provided an innovative way of solving this problem by implementing in-vehicle Wi-Fi Internet connectivity in the school buses. Each bus implements a modem router connected to a mobile broadband service and dispersing the Internet access inside the bus and to 100 yards (91.44 metres) from the bus, similar to what some premium bus routes are doing. This network is set up for the school students to use through the use of particular software installed on the students’ tablets.

This setup would work when the vehicle is underway during a school-bus run but the school district wanted to run this setup with vehicles that are parked. They tried it out running the modem routers off the vehicle’s batteries alone but it could run for an hour with the batteries not providing enough juice to start the bus’s engine after that hour.

So one of the teachers put forward a solar-based solution to supply enough power from a roof-mounted solar panel array to run the modem router and in-vehicle network. Here, this didn’t put strain on the vehicle’s batteries thus avoiding the risk of losing the power needed to turn the engine over on a cold morning.

The buses would be parked in the trailer parks or near the communities so that students can wander down with their portable computing equipment to do the necessary study while under adult supervision. For example, if the community has a clubhouse or community hall, the bus would be near that facility.

There are further plans for the Coachella Valley Unified School District to take this concept further such as using donated or salvaged cars for the same purpose or even creating a community-access Wi-Fi Internet service. The usual remarks that I would most likely hear in relationship to enabling a disadvantaged community with real broadband is that such broadband services will end up being used for pornography viewing which would lead on to a downward family-abuse spiral.

Personally, I would also like to see the Coachella Valley Unified School District approach Google and others who roll out competitive broadband service to target the areas in the school district’s remit for competitive real-broadband service. Similarly, the school district could work toward helping the adults in their community by providing onsite public-access Internet facilities like an Internet café or Wi-Fi hotspot in these communities.

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B4RN progresses on bringing Gigabit broadband to rural North England

Article

B4RN Bring 1Gbps Broadband to 1,600 Rural Homes in North England | ISP Review

Previous Coverage

The soil has been turned for fibre-optic Internet in rural Yorkshire (14 January 2015)

A fibre network to cover Lancashire’s rural parishes (22 August 2011)

My Comments

Yorkshire Dales By Kreuzschnabel (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0), GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or FAL], via Wikimedia Commons

B4RN reaches in to more of North England with real broadband

In 2011, there was a valiant effort that started off to cover parts of the north of England with real broadband Internet service. This was in the form of B4RN (Broadband For Rural North) which is a community effort that is based on local contribution including the contribution of personal effort to deploy the service. The standard of this service is a pure-play symmetrical Gigabit fibre-to-the-premises broadband service but B4RN are facilitating VoIP telephony in conjunction with Vonage, an American pure-play VoIP provider who has set up presence in the UK.

This effort has encompassed Yorkshire, Lancashire and Cumbria and there has been strong local interest and participation because of the fact that BT have been neglecting many rural areas. This state of affairs is something that a lot of people who dwell or work in rural areas sadly experience. The rollout has had the locals face many problems relating to its deployment and had them work out how to solve them.

Just lately, the B4RN effort has connected 1600 premises with 100 connected per month with the figure driven by the available effort. It has yielded a 65% service takeup with the price payable by end users being GBP£30 per month for the symmetrical Gigabit unlimited service and a GBP£150 connection fee.

As well, most of the original network, which encompasses 800km of core network, has been laid but the B4RN effort is expanding to more of rural North England. The same effort has been able to “pick up” areas where other projects have failed like Cumbria’s Fibre GarDen scheme.

I have read some accounts on the Yealands page where this network has enabled small businesses and community organisations. One of these is a small garage (Facebook link) who specialise in tuning cars for performance being able to exchange files with a partner based in Blackpool to modify engine-management units in order to performance-tune those cars. As well, the St. Johns Anglican church in Yealand which is one of those archetypal English village churches, ended up being connected to the B4RN broadband network and took advantage of this technology to “broadcast” a funeral service that they hosted to family members based in Sydney, Australia. They even want to take this further for sharing the wedding and funeral services that they host with participants who are separated by distance.

Like with Gigaclear, B4RN raised the issue of BT Openreach overbuilding their infrastructure but it may be seen as an effort to nawt because of a significant customer base who have invested in it. A question that may end up being raised is whether B4RN will end up becoming wholesale infrastructure for other retail ISPs rather than just an “end-to-end” provider. This would encompass the availability of multiple-play services via that infrastructure.

What B4RN is showing is that the rural areas have as much need for real broadband as urban areas and is highlighting that these areas can be about moving towards the country or starting a business there without losing the concept of real broadband.

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New ISP players working against established players to provide competitive Internet service

Article

Gigaclear and Hyperoptic Highlight Problems with UK Broadband and BT | ISPReview.co.uk

My Comments

Aylesbury Vale countryside picture courtesy of Adam Bell (FlyingDodo)

Questions are now raised regarding independent operators providing real broadband to the countryside

The article I read in ISPReview has highlighted some problems that affect the existence of competitive next-generation broadband Internet service in the UK. These same problems can also affect other countries like those in the North American, South East Asian and Australasian areas to varying degrees.

It is based on interviews with Matthew Hare from Gigaclear, Dana Tobak from Hyperoptic and Scott Coats from the Wireless Infrastructure Group, all whom are running up against an incumbent telecommunications company who effectively owns the infrastructure in most of the country and is effectively given a fair bit of blessing from a national or regional government. This can be through state aid as part of a broadband-improvement scheme or through a legal “right of way” that proscribes competitors from operating in the area of concern. In the case of the UK, it is Openreach who is a BT spin-off that manages the telecommunications infrastructure in that country and they have been dominating the state-assisted “Broadband Delivery UK” projects that provide next-generation broadband to most of rural UK.

Apartment block

.. and apartment blocks in big cities

Issues that were raised were:

  • The dominance of a particular entity when it comes to delivering infrastructure for next-generation broadband in the UK
  • The costs associated with deploying new infrastructure
  • Business-hostile local-government property rates that affect the provision of service infrastructure by a private company, especially fibre-optic cable used for next-generation telecommunications
  • The difficulty of gaining access to the “pits, poles and pipes” infrastructure that BT Openreach owns or has exclusive access to; and
  • Whether BT and Openreach be fully and legally separated such as to make Openreach an entity controlled by the national government or local governments; or have it as a separate company.

Gigaclear are providing a 5Gbps fibre-to-the-premises service in to rural areas and commmuter towns in East Anglia and some of the Home Counties while Hyperoptic are providing a 1Gbps fibre-to-the-premises service to large multi-dwelling units in most of the UK’s main cities.

Gigaclear has effectively invested GBP£1000 / property and has found that the operating costs for pure-fibre setups are less than the costs for fibre-copper because there is no need to run electricity down the line and it is a modern robust technology. But they have paid many times the projected cost for some deployments like in Kent due to shodddy workmanship.

Matthew Hare from Gigaclear was highlighting BT swallowing up most of the BDUK contracts but he has picked up a few smaller Phase 2 contracts like projects in Gloucestershire, Essex and Berkshire. He had noticed a few of the local authorities being helpful about these rollouts like in Kent where Kent county council de-scoped (provided exclusive access) for Gigaclear projects compared to Rutlant where the Rutland county council and BT overbuilt Gigaclear with FTTC service.

This comes to the big question about whether an overbuild by one or more competing operators permit real infrastructure-level service competition. Some countries, most notably France have found that an overbuild by a competing infrastructure provider can achieve this level of competition.

Dana Tobak from Hyperoptic highlighted that fibre-copper technology like fibre-to-the-cabinet is a short-lived asset. She also highlighted the issue of access to the “pits, poles and pipes” owned by Openreach being a burdensome process for competing operators. This ranged from costs to onerous procedures and restrictions sucn as not being able to provide business broadband services.

There was also the issue of business-level property rates and taxes levied on the infrastructure where the workflow associated with these costs was onerous thanks to the Valuations Office Agency. This made it difficult for an operator to factor in the property rates due on the infrastructure when they are costing a rollout. To the same extent, the property taxes levied by a local government could be seen as a bargaining chip especially where the local government is behind the rollout in order to see effective increase in their local land value and tax base.

The question associated with an independent Openreach managing the infrastructure was whether this would breed real service competition. An issue that was highlighted was that Openreach could focus on the premium pure-fibre-based service and make life hard for small-time operators like regional-focused operators or startups who want ot serve the British market. But Matthew Hare reckons that it is better for the UK, especially rural areas to see Openreach as an independent operator.

Here, ISPReview have raised the issue of competitive next-generation broadband provision with independent “own-infrastructure” operators and covered some of the main hurdles facing these operators. This includes proper management of costs including infrastructure-based property taxes and rates; the creation of sustainable competition including build-over rights; incumbent operators’ behaviour including preferential treatment by governments; and access to the same  “pits, pipes and poles” by competing operators.

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Gigaclear’s Epping Forest coverage is now underway

Article

Epping Forest © Copyright tim and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence tim [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Epping Forest – to get fibre-to-the-premises Internet

UK FTTP ISP Gigaclear Starts Rollout of 1Gbps Broadband in Essex | ISP Review

Previous Coverage

Gigaclear increases their Essex footprint

From the horse’s mouth

Gigaclear

Press Release

My Comments

Previously I have written an article about Gigaclear working with Superfast Essex Rural Challenge Project to put a foot in the door to provide next-generation broadband in to parts of Esssex, especially Epping Forest.

Gigaclear fibre-optic cable - picture courtesy of Gigaclear

This is what is to come for some Essex villages

Now they have stared to turn the soil on this project to cover the first tranche of communities in that area with the fibre-optic infrastructure passing at least 4,500 premises. This project is seen as a pilot project to identify whether an alternative path can exist for providing next-generation broadband in to Essex rather than relying on BT Openreach to fulfill this task using their fibre-to-the-cabinet technology. It will underscore whether infrastructure-level competition can achieve better results and value for money when it comes to covering rural areas in the UK with real broadband.

Part of the rollout will include Gigaclear and Superfast Essex running public-relations events at local community events to put the fibre-to-the-premises network  “on the map” as far as the locals are concerned. This is with the first phase of this project being complete by May 2016 and the possibility for subscribers to go live within the next couple of months.

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Telephone Interview–Matthew Hare (Gigaclear)

Cotswolds hill and village picture courtesy of Glenluwin (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Cotswolds – part of the big 10000 for Gigaclear

Previously, I did an interview with Matthew Hare from Gigaclear shortly after they rolled out fibre-to-the-cabinet next-generation broadband service to Lyddington and fibre-to-the-premises broadband to Hambledon, both small villages in Rutland, UK. This was about small rural areas being enabled for real broadband service rather than second-rate broadband service.

Fibre-optic connection pots in ground - press picture courtesy of Gigaclear

10,000 of these connection pots for the fibre-optic broadband installed

Now Gigaclear has covered 50 small villages around the Oxfordshire and other areas of the UK with their service passing 10,000 properties. From this interview, Matthew had mentioned that 4000 households and businesses had bitten the bullet and taken up the next-generation broadband service that Gigaclear offers.

Digging up a village street - press picture courtesy of Gigaclear

When this is happening in your village, the broadband service quality becomes better

There have been some benefits across the board with the arrival of these next-generation fibre-based broadband services.

For businesses and other income-generating activities, the next-generation broadband services have been valued as an enabler. One of the benefits that has been noticed was a reduction in traffic levels because of a reduced need to travel to work which has become important for the villages that exist within commuting distance of the large towns. Knowledge workers like accountants, consultants and lawyers also benefited because of their increased bandwidth that is available to them at home so they can run their practice or business more effectively.

Fibre optic cable trench in village lane - press picture courtesy of Gigaclear

Fibre-optic cable laid alongside a lane to a premises in a village

The food, beverage and accommodation industries have valued these rollouts in a few different ways. Initially they saw the increased bandwidth as a way to improve the Wi-Fi-based public Internet service they provide as an amenity and having a consistently-good experience with this service attracts customers. In the interview, Matthew highlighted Oxford Country Cottages who sell this as a significant amenity for their self-catering holiday cottages.  I sent a follow-up email to Oxford Country Cottages regarding their experience with this service and what they identified as a core benefit was the business guests who were returning to these cottages because of the guest-access Wi-Fi that was served by Gigaclear’s fibre-to-the-premises service. This was something that the business guests were finding that was “beyond the norm” for guest-access Wi-Fi networks.

This leads on to the feasibility to use cloud-based business systems which avoids the need to maintain servers on the premises and is considered an essential business tool.

The local communities have benefited from the broadband deployments due to increased cohesion. This was even evident in the initial stages of each project because of the initial curiosity surrounding the projects and that the visibility of the works taking place meant that something good is happening for their village. Some of the townsfolk in each community may want to preserve the status quo but more of them wanted an Internet service better than what the were being provided with.

There have been anecdotal reports of local property values increasing due to the arival of fibre broadband as I have covered before but Gigaclear haven’t seen this as evidence for themselves with any of their rollouts.

But where Gigaclear stands when it comes to providing Internet service is that they will exist as a pureplay broadband provider. That is where their business is about providing an Internet service alone rather than offering a voice telephony or pay-TV service.

Gigaclear are also operating this infrastructure as an infrastructure provider to serve these communities. This is to allow competing retail-level Internet service providers to include the villages in their footprint if they wish to do so.

BT are saying that they are doing the right thing when they are covering Britain’s rural areas but there needs to be a lot more work done to provide a proper level of service for these communities. A lot of these issues aren’t just about adding the necessary equipment but more about making sure that the wiring to the customer’s door is working properly.

What is showing up from the interview is that Gigaclear are putting the pedal to the metal when it comes to deploying infrastructure in to rural communities in order to provide a broadband service that would be considered the norm for big business in the city.

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Gigaclear hits the big 10,000

Article

Cotswolds hill and village picture courtesy of Glenluwin (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Cotswolds – part of the big 10000 for Gigaclear

Gigaclear races past 10,000 premises passed mark | ThinkBroadband

From the horse’s mouth

Gigaclear

Press Release

My Comments

I have been following Gigaclear’s efforts in making sure that rural areas in Britain have access to real broadband. Think of places like Epping Forest, the Cotswolds, Underriver in Kent along with a few Oxfordshire villages gaining real broadband that attracts city dwellers wanting to “get away from it all”.

This effort started off in 2010 when Gigaclear was founded by Matthew Hare in 2010 with a focus towards real broadband in rural areas. The first effort was in Lyddington, Rutland where there was a VDSL2-based fibre-to-the-cabinet setup serving that village, then there was a fibre-to-the-premises setup in Hambledon shortly after that.

I did a Skype interview with Matthew Hare regarding the impact these broadband developments had on these towns in the early days of Gigaclear’s existence.  Through the interview, I had found that there was real interest in rural broadband with at least a third of Lyddington subscribing to the fibre-to-the-cabinet rollout and two-thirds of Hambledon pre-contracted to the fibre-to-the-premises rollout at the time of the interview.

As well, these deployments were satisfying business reality by allowing a “country-house” hotel in Hambledon to put forward a fully-functional public-access Wi-Fi Internet service as a drawcard feature; along with allowing small businesses to think of cloud-based software as a way of feeling “grown up”. It also encompassed the fact that an increasing number of villagers were using their computers for some form of income-generating work, whether to telecommute or to run a business or practise a profession from home. This underscored the need for reliable Internet service.

The interview also underscored Gigaclear’s rural-broadband effort as being a real commercial effort in a competitive market rather than philanthropic effort. This is because Gigaclear were coming through as an infrastructure competitor to BT Openreach for these rural areas.

Gigaclear found that the symmetrical FTTP technology was found to be more scalable than other technologies and this led to future-proof setups which can come about as a village or town grows. I would see this underscored more when the same village or town or one nearby acquires a larger employer and more people move in to these communities to work for the employer or work for new shops, schools and other employers that come on the scene to support a larger community.

There has been 40% takeup across the 36 communities in 5 different counties where this service has been deployed with a focus on the slower underserved communities. For that matter, construction activity surrounding a fibre-to-the-premises rollout piques interest because of the impending arrival of an Internet service that realistically serves local needs.

Keep up the good work with covering more villages, hamlets and small towns with real broadband Internet service, Gigaclear!

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Rural-growth campaigns need to factor in broadband and mobile

Article

A house in an Australian country town - telecommunications needs to be factored in for rural areas if there is pressure for them to grow

A house in an Australian country town – telecommunications needs to be factored in for rural areas if there is pressure for them to grow

Government to Build More Rural Homes, But What of Broadband? | ISPReview.co.uk

My Comments

The UK Chancellor, George Osborne, puts forward a growth and productivity plan for UK’s rural areas, an activity which other countries call for in order to “spark up” their similar low-density areas. This may also involve encouraging a larger employer to set up shop in or near a rural area or nurturing a tourist area for increased capacity and attraction. Similarly a town with a tourist attraction may see economic growth based on that tourist attraction.

But even if the government doesn’t call for this, these rural areas continue to attract the “tree-change” culture where people who were in urban areas shift out to these rural areas because of attractions like beauty, tranquility, ability to know locals easily and the like. This also encompasses an increase in small businesses operating in these areas, whether to serve the local area or larger areas. Let’s not forget rural areas that exist on the periphery of an urban area falling victim to urban sprawl as the neighbouring urban area expands.

This is something that typically encompasses an increase in housing density in these areas such as subdivision of land, creation of new housing communities or expansion of existing housing areas.. But there is the need for improvements in local (private and public) transport, infrastructure, education and the like which also will include a requirement to see local telecommunications services like broadband Internet and mobile (cellular) telephony be brought to urban standards.

With the telecommunications issue, this may be sorted with extension of telephone lines from the town-based exchange in to the new developments but this can limit bandwidth for DSL-based broadband services. Such situations may call upon a need to re-architect the telecommunications infrastructure that serves the town and neighbouring communities, whether to have separate exchanges or distribution points for each community. In the case of a next-generation broadband rollout, it may call for a fibre-based fixed-line rather than a fixed-wireless deployment for the town and those communities.

Similarly, there will have to be the issue of mobile coverage which may be contentious ion some areas due to the perceived health effects of electromagnetic radiation. This could be approached again through re-architecting the mobile base station layout with use of more low-powered base stations in denser neighbourhoods.

So if there are efforts to increase capacity for a rural neighbourhood or factor in a change of direction for these neighbourhoods, the telecommunications issue may have to be factored as much as housing density and other infrastructure.

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