Ewhurst Broadband Performance Report Published

Walter Willcox and David Cooper have just published an extremely informative paper on the real-life performance of FTTC connections in Ewhurst, Surrey. There are a couple of points which I think should be kept in mind while reading the report.

First, Lucie Glenday (Superfast Surrey Programme Director) told us the SCC/BT contract stipulates that 95% of premises in Surrey will be able to achieve speeds of at least 15 Mbps, and the remainder at least 2 Mbps. We have since been informed in writing that the contract actually stipulates 94.6% but they are “pushing for 95%”. We have repeatedly requested sight of the relevant contract terms to verify the exact wording, especially since SCC have not to our knowledge published these numbers, but to date our requests have been ignored.

Second, some extra public funding is available for use in areas not covered by BT’s commercial roll-out (i.e. for the “intervention” areas, the allocated funds exceed that required for FTTC alone). Lucie told us that much of this will be used to provide additional technology to extend the reach and performance of FTTC in intervention areas only. We were also told that the Superfast Surrey team can help communities in intervention areas to implement other solutions such as FTTP and wireless. Apparently they are already discussing B4RN style projects with some Surrey communities, and this help can include some public funding. As an example, premises in Peaslake and some parts of Cranleigh are in intervention areas, but none in Ewhurst or most of Cranleigh. So, the estimated 69 premises in Ewhurst still unable to access FTTC services cannot be helped using public funds, nor can we take advantage of the Superfast Surrey team expertise and experience. The same disadvantage seems to apply to all “commercial” areas covered by BDUK projects nationwide, and is reportedly caused by BDUK interpretation of EC state funding rules. Note that a premises is defined by SCC/BDUK as being in a commercial area if its phone line connects to a cabinet which is supplied fibre as part of the commercial roll-out, even if that premises cannot actually be connected to a fibre service, or if the fibre service is no better than ADSL.

Click here to access the report by Walter Willcox and David Cooper

 

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17 Responses to Ewhurst Broadband Performance Report Published

  1. Walter says:

    Perhaps we could draw SCC’s attention to the basic infrastructure required if they wish every property to be able to access fast broadband. Currently with a large Huawei cabinet we understand that the maximum capacity is 288 services. Our Ewhurst ECI ones have been installed with only 128 services available, but the PCP green cabinets contain significantly more services. The initial limit is that BT only install a 100 pair tie cable but after repeat excavations this has been increased to 150 pairs at cabinet 20, 200 pairs at cabinet 19 but nothing has yet been done for cabinet 18 as only the existing duct was used from the PCP to the joint pit by the telephone kiosk. Further expansion will mean re-excavation for the third time to install a second set of ducts, yet most current deployments continue with only single ducts so the subsidy money is being severely restricted.

    It is believed that BT are to increase the capacity of cabinet 20′s FTTC to 256 (currently scheduled for 28 August or soon after but currently only 22 of the 128 services will be available until a second duct is installed.

    Given that taxpayer’s money is assisting most of Surrey, it is hoped that a more cost-effective construction program will be established very soon.

  2. Walter says:

    Just to make sure that it is abundantly clear, many of the technical people involved, together with those suffering the worst, would like to see a B4RN type Fibre-To-The-Premises solution installed initially around the periphery of Ewhurst and perhaps beyond. (Walter’s Golden Ring as I have named it, as there are bridges under every road involved. )

    As fibre is far more reliable (so has far less maintenance / fault problems), can provide much faster speeds both up and down now – and even faster into the future, does not suffer from electrical interference and is not affected by line length, it is the obvious choice.

    However, even with the least-cost B4RN community self-help model, the start up costs are much higher than the relatively small number of sufferers could possibly support. Our anguish continues to be ignored by politicians and public servants at all levels so it seems very unlikely that any assistance will be forthcoming (or possible under EC rules).

    It follows that the only remote possibility might be a generous benefactor who is prepared to subsidise such a project without even any short-to-medium term gain. The longer term would be a different matter as much faster speeds will become more and more important for the entire community so the costs would fall as other solutions become more inadequate.

    I would be absolutely delighted to assist but I very much doubt I will have an opportunity !

  3. David Nye says:

    Good point, let’s hope a “generous benefactor” reads your plea Walter!

    One query on page 2 of your report; whilst I know that for many business applications upload speed is just as important as download, I am not aware of any which actually require a totally symmetric connection. Also, the IT suppliers I work with for my clients suggest that a (close to) 40/10 FTTC connection is fine for most SMEs. So please will you clarify why the report implies that up to 80/20 is unsuitable for business cloud computing, VPNs, and video conferencing? Does this sentence actually just refer to businesses on long lines? Thanks.

  4. Walter says:

    We would all agree that many applications designed for symmetric communications can work on asynchronous ones, however undesirable that might be. (Similarly we are reassured that a twin engined aircraft can remain airborne after one engine fails.) There are wide concerns over the future competitiveness of UK industry if hampered by substandard communications systems as Dr Peter Cochrane explained in his evidence to the House of Lords select committee. In the context of the intended audience of this paper, we do not wish to suggest that those organisations using ever faster applications designed for symmetric communications in the future have to make do with inadequate services.

  5. David Nye says:

    Thanks for the clarification. Surely in practice it just means that the upload bandwidth should be used to compare services for this type of application? So for a high street business (usually close to cabinet) it’s quite likely that a BT FTTC connection will provide twice the useful bandwidth of a Virgin equivalent, because Virgin only offers 10% upload:download compared to BT’s 20%.

    Also, here is some related info I posted on a forum:

    Many points read in forum posts seem to be founded on some very common misconceptions, created by the way these projects have been announced. SCC have acknowledged to me that a much larger number than 0.3% will be too far to get 2 Mbps from FTTC in its current form. Openreach do not appear to have a minimum acceptable FTTC estimate of 5 Mbps, my own was below that; I get 3.3 Mbps and cannot report a fault unless it drops below 3 Mbps. I understand that some ISPs will accept FTTC orders on estimates as low as 3 Mbps, and the minimum acceptable speed for such an order would be 2 Mbps (Plusnet). Oddly, at these line lengths upload speed does not seem to vary much; always around 0.5 Mbps IME. Of course very many more premises will not initially achieve 15 Mbps, which seems to be the only speed stipulated in the Surrey contract (unless the contract restates BT’s national committment to 2 Mbps). It’s significance is that this is the minimum service level for BT Infinity. I was told that the Surrey contract stipulates that 95% of premises in Surrey must be able to order BT Infinity i.e. achieve this service level. I have not previously published this new number, since I felt it will only increase the existing state of confusion. To achieve this 95% I believe that BT/SCC will need to deploy much additional equipment (beyond that currently standard for FTTC). So the term “Superfast Surrey” is somewhat inappropriate, although possibly justified in terms of the number who will achieve superfast speeds when compared to many other parts of the UK.

    SCC are unable to talk about the new technologies publicly until BT formally announce them. I believe that all those working on this have signed BT’s NDA. I was offered access to some additional information if I was willing to sign the NDA.

    The definition of intervention areas is also confused. Unfortunately I am told that BDUK define it (in this context) as anyone not connected to an FTTC enabled cabinet, irrespective of whether they can actually order a FTTC service. Apparently their definition relies on the ability to “connect” to the relevant “networks” with no mention of performance achieved. Perhaps anyone with a different interpretation would be kind enough to contact the Superfast Surrey team and argue it out with them?

    Just up the road from me, at the postcode boundary, premises are connected to a different exchange. Their lines to cabinet may well be longer than mine. If they are in an intervention area, then SCC will be spending public funds on improving their service well above 2 Mbps; “superfast” if possible. I am definitely not in an intervention area, I already get 3.3 Mbps on FTTC, so Openreach are not obliged to do anything more. The public funds they are getting are specifically not to be used here. In other places neighbours might be on the same exchange but different cabinets, and one cabinet might be defined as an intervention area (defined as such because Openreach concluded the upgrade was not commercially viable). The same “digital divide” will be created here, although those on the “intervention” cabinet are very likely to have longer lines to cabinet.

    Unless Openreach voluntarily “match” in commercial areas what they will be doing in intervention areas, then I will be amazed if this does not eventually spark a media storm.

    SCC are not appealing the EC rules; BDUK and other cental govt people are apparently working on it, but SCC are not really expecting any changes before end 2014. So their “plan” is to get BT (and/or others) to apply the same solutions they use in the intervention area (yet to be determined) in the commercial area. Apparently BT are currently indicating a willingness to fund this to some extent, since they recognise that they will eventually have to do something anyway. [It seems to me quite likely that they will install "regenerators" wherever FTTC customers are complaining about sub 15 Mbps speeds. Possibly also use "vectoring" later in some areas. Neither will completely resolve the issues, but they will get a some more premises up to target and eliminate some complaints.] At the end of 2014, the plan is to then assess areas which are still below target (they are convinced that this will be a very small percentage, e.g. less than 2%) and work with these communities i.e. if public/BT funds are not available/adequate then the communities will need to “contribute”. Where appropriate FTTP On Demand may be presented as a solution (I assume this means for businesses and high value residential premises) assuming it is available in that area by then.

    In summary, the objective of “access to superfast” broadband for 99.7%, which still appears to be the generally assumed target in February, is somewhat misleading, as we suspected. As we thought, it does just mean that a “fibre based” service can be ordered for the premises, which is capable of superfast speeds for some subscribers. The contract actually stipulates that 95% must be able to get a BT Infinity service with the service level agreement of 15 Mbps minimum.

  6. David Nye says:

    A reader has reported that they were told only 94% of Surrey premises will be able to get 15+ Mbps, rather than 95% as quoted above. I have asked the Superfast Surrey team to confirm the correct figure.

  7. Walter says:

    Re Virgin & BT broadband packages.
    I would suggest a degree of caution and a careful examination of the business packages being offered (as well as the prices ! ). VM offer VPN from 1 Mbps to 1 Gbps, SSL VPN, IPVPN and IPSec VPN managed services. E.g. …Unconstrained bandwidth on a 100 Mbit/s or 1 Gbit/s bearer, allowing you complete freedom and flexibility with internet usage, a symmetrical and uncontended connection… with a defined SLA.
    However I expect BT offer some VDSL business packages too.

    In my experience VM’s domestic products tend to run closer to their quoted speeds, although contention is sometimes an issue at peak times. I have yet to see any VDSL service running at a download sync speed of 80 Mbps where the upload throughput exceeds 12 to 14 Mbps.

    Re percentages, I wonder how accurate theses figures are at this stage in the deployment of FTTCs which are only in their initial stages, at least in Bramley, Abinger / Peaslake / Holmbury and Oakwood Hill. 1% seems a very small discrepancy at present.

  8. David Nye says:

    Good point, I tend to forget about Virgin’s business products, because the one client I have who wanted a Virgin service found it to be useless, because Virgin could not provide a fixed IP address! Apparently the cable serving them is old technology and cannot support this? Sounds ridiculous, but Virgin were adamant about it.

    The exact percentage (94 or 95%) is very important becase BT Openreach are contractually bound to meet this target by the end of next year. 1% is over 4000 premises, no? And how many others will also get a better service in the process of getting those 4000 up to 15 Mbps?

  9. Walter says:

    I certainly take your point about the actual percentage number making a difference but how can any number be calculated ? What happens if the actual numbers are wildly out as our data suggests. We only have sample data but a rough guess suggests around 25% of current Ewhurst services are below 15 Mbps.
    How does this number get calculated before every house that wants such a connection actually gets connected? BT don’t have accurate performance figures for each line as we’ve seen so many times with the Wholesale Estimator.
    Or is the total estimated figure just taken from the Wholesale estimator and what happens about TalkTalk etc. lines which the estimator refuses to calculate ?
    As we don’t seem to have any information as to how the %age is calculated, this seems to me to be so far removed from reality as to be impossible to define let alone monitor. Perhaps you have more information than I have so let me pose a few simple questions:-

    How many premises are actually being counted? Is it:-
    every premise,
    every domestic premise
    every domestic phone line
    Are ADSL, ADSL2+ lines exceeding 2 Mbps included as reaching the target whether or not they opt for a VDSL upgrade ? What happens if the VDSL speed is less than the ADSL one or isn’t available for a VDSL service ?
    For VDSL services, bearing in mind we have had 3 significant interruptions on cabinet 20 and others on the other cabinets, plus the weather delay, so when is the cut off date ?
    What happens if a residence can’t get a VDSL service immediately ?
    What figure for each premise is recorded and is it only added after the training period ?
    When a VDSL service is deemed to be at fault, do BT try to repair it automatically or is it still up to the end user or does the end user just get added to the failed numbers unless they manage the struggle to get a successful Openreach repair visit ? Or is it ignored if they already had an ADSL speed above 2 Mbps ?
    How is all this to be transparently monitored and who has access to this presumably secret data and where does the data come from ?

    Until the full details of the rules and the administration mechanism are in the public domain, I suggest this is, at best, a political pipe dream.

  10. David Nye says:

    Some very good questions, Walter, which brilliantly illustrate just why it is so important for the contract terms to be published. Mark reports that the Loseley meeting hosted by Anne Milton last month was told that the contract terms are already available to the public. Yet I have not been able to obtain them. I sent another request yesterday. Some of your later questions seem to stray a little off topic, but I will address your understandable concerns as best I can.

    How can any number be calculated?
    One hopes that this is defined in the contract, but in any case there must be an agreed, or at least assumed, method for compliance. This needs to be published.

    What happens if the actual numbers are wildly out, as our data suggests?
    If there is a dispute over contract fulfilment, then I suppose the courts would ultimately have to decide. The BDUK framework may well include some procedures covering this as well.

    We only have sample data but a rough guess suggests around 25% of current Ewhurst services are below 15 Mbps. How does this number get calculated before every house that wants such a connection actually gets connected?
    This is exactly why the contractual target and exact terms are so important and must be published. Your report shows that BT will have to do considerably more than just enable FTTC at every cabinet. We need to know exactly what we need to do to ensure Surrey gets maximum value for money.

    Is the total estimated figure just taken from the Wholesale estimator and what happens about TalkTalk etc. lines which the estimator refuses to calculate?
    As above, we need the exact terms to be published, but we do know that the percentage apparently refers to the ability to obtain a “BT Infinity” product with a minimum service level of 15 Mbps.

    How many premises are actually being counted?
    The announcements clearly state that the 99.7% “fibre” coverage refers to all premises, and I was led to believe that the performance target does also. Personally I would not be at all surprised to find the contract does have some exclusions; we need to know.

    Are ADSL, ADSL2+ lines exceeding 2 Mbps included as reaching the target, whether or not they opt for a VDSL upgrade?
    I expect so. Bear in mind that ADSL services are currently cheaper than VDSL, although probably less stable.

    What happens if the VDSL speed is less than the ADSL one or isn’t available for a VDSL service?
    If ADSL can meet the relevant target, then I expect it will suffice for contractual purposes.

    For VDSL services, bearing in mind we have had 3 significant interruptions on cabinet 20 and others on the other cabinets, plus the weather delay, so when is the cut off date?
    The announcements state “by the end of 2014″, although some slippage is to be expected. We need to see the contract terms.

    What happens if a residence can’t get a VDSL service immediately?
    I expect that this is covered by existing Openreach Terms and Conditions.

    What figure for each premise is recorded and is it only added after the training period?
    As above; I hope that the exact method for calculating compliance will be revealed in the contract terms when eventually published.

    When a VDSL service is deemed to be at fault, do BT try to repair it automatically or is it still up to the end user or does the end user just get added to the failed numbers unless they manage the struggle to get a successful Openreach repair visit? Is it ignored if they already had an ADSL speed above 2 Mbps? How is all this to be transparently monitored and who has access to this presumably secret data and where does the data come from?
    Once we have seen the contract we’ll know what potential issues it might not cover.

    Thanks for raising these valid issues, and hopefully the situation will be clarified very soon.

  11. David Nye says:

    The official word from SCC is that the SCC/BT contract actually stipulates that 94.6% of premises in Surrey will be able to achieve speeds of at least 15 Mbps, and the remainder at least 2 Mbps. However, they are “pushing for 95%”, so that explains the discrepancy.

  12. Walter says:

    Those that read the Surrey Advertiser will probably have seen the article on our report together with a response probably from a BT media department. I should like to remove an ambiguity regarding the BT statement re 1000 properties with 5% no VDSL service. We calculated the 942 number of properties from Post Office post code data excluding Ellens Green connected to the Rudgwick exchange. Our failure figure of 69 properties is derived using the address checker part of the BT Wholesale VDSL availability checker. It should also be noted that BT are nowhere near providing 1000 VDSL services; this point also seems generally overlooked in SCC announcements too.

    Those that would like to read national paper articles will see one in the Times today but it is behind their paywall. I have a copy if you would like to e-mail me. The Telegraph article is here:-

    http://tinyurl.com/k6dp2qc

    Those that are able to use iPlayer might like to see Thursday’s BBC Newsnight article starting at 34:53 minutes in.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b038bsqn/Newsnight_08_08_2013/

  13. David Nye says:

    That is a great Newsnight item, highly recommended viewing, many thanks. Peter Cochrane’s wireless solution sounds like a realistic stop-gap solution for parts of Surrey BT will fail to reach.

  14. Walter says:

    However I suggest the wireless solution can only be viable where there are medium sized clusters unable to get adequate services, unless significant subsidies are guaranteed beforehand. It is most unlikely that BT will wish to compete with their inferior product, so it follows others must be strongly encouraged.

    Below you will see the text of the letter the Surrey Advertiser has published in all editions. Where we mention no test instruments, that translates to the customer and subcontractor being quite happy with a service connected at say 40 Mbps but within 2 days that can, and has, dropped to under 5 Mbps.

    ________________________________________________________

    Readers of last week’s Cranleigh edition of the Surrey Advertiser will have seen an article on the findings of a report into our investigation of BT’s superfast broadband “Fibre-To-The-Cabinet” deployment in Ewhurst. The report is available online from http://www.texp.co.uk.

    We estimate that approximately 24% of the “superfast” lines installed in Ewhurst cannot achieve the 24 Mbps Government target for superfast speed. Since Ewhurst is not unique, it follows that SCC’s “Superfast Surrey” project to provide superfast broadband to almost 100% of Surrey premises is not possible.” We have also discovered that 69 Ewhurst properties or 7% cannot receive any “superfast” service from the new “Fibre-To-The-Cabinet” equipment due to line quality and length.

    We note that the response that you received from the “BT Spokesman” is imprecise. We estimate that there are currently 356 services available to cater for 942 premises. At present cabinet 20 is closed for the third time for superfast orders ostensibly until after August 28th. If that date does not slip, a further 22 services will then be available until more cables are installed requiring roadworks for the third time. In our opinion it is quite wrong to say that 95% of 1000 properties can have access when, even after extensive additional roadworks and delays, the maximum capacity is only 256 per cabinet. This approach surely compromises the entire superfast Surrey project ? It is also unfortunate that BT mention “customers’ own equipment” when they employ superfast subcontract installers without test instruments to check on the line quality.

    It is perhaps even more worrying when a SCC spokesperson has presumably been convinced that Surrey is to be the best connected county in the UK with only 1% hard to reach premises, particularly when 1% seems far too small compared to Ewhurst’s 7% result.

  15. Walter says:

    The Lancashire B4RN project is now WORLD FAMOUS thanks to BBC Radio’s World Service. Come on Ewhurst – let’s find a way !!

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01f2xfn

  16. Walter says:

    Just to keep you all encouraged here are some recent pictures from B4RN.org.uk

    Where there is a will there is a way !

    Pictures

    http://tinyurl.com/qj5v8n8

    Video

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vju7bRRUk_0&hd=1

  17. Walter says:

    Two links which might be of interest. The first illustrates the quite preposterous difficulties an Ockley Road resident is facing on a line length of only about 375 m.

    http://t.co/M8s9slcJ9k

    The second nicely shows the differences between the only long term solution that B4RN.org.uk are deploying and the dead-end we have in Ewhurst. Sadly I detect very little effort being applied to solve Ewhurst’s problems whilst the behemoth struggles to clear ducts and install identical partial solutions all over Surrey and elsewhere.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-24366190

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