Friday, September 28, 2012

Broadband Commission for Digital Development: State of Broadband 2012


The International Telecommunication Union's Broadband Commission for Digital Development recently published its State of Broadband 2012 report, providing an interesting snapshot of developments worldwide and underlining the importance of broadband investment:
"Broadband is today a critical infrastructure in the growing global digital economy, and countries that fail to invest in broadband infrastructure risk being excluded from today’s online economy, as well as the next stage of the digital revolution and future Internet."
Some striking facts and figures:
  • Worldwide, mobile phone subscriptions exceeded 6 billion in early 2012, with three-quarters of those subscriptions in the developing world (ITU, 2012).
  • There were 589 million fixed broadband subscriptions by the end of 2011 (most of which were located in the developed world), but nearly twice as many mobile broadband subscriptions at 1.09 billion.
  • Worldwide, the total number of smartphones is expected to exceed 3 billion by 2017 (Ericsson, 2012), with the number of smartphones sold in Africa and the Middle East expected to increase four-fold from 29.7 million units sold in 2011 to 124.6 million by 2017 (Pyramid Research).
Broadband has many benefits for education, but these are taking a little longer to be realised than might have been anticipated:
"Whereas serious attention has been devoted to mHealth, mAgriculture and mPayments, mEducation or mLearning is taking a little longer to come to fruition. National investments in education are a solid and consistent predictor of economic growth (Rodrik, 2000). One report concludes that one additional year of school can be directly associated with a 30% increase in per capita income20. With the advent of cheaper tablets and smartphones, the world is realizing the potential of broadband to enable access to education from anywhere and anytime via mobile devices. Cloud technology also promises to offer even greater opportunities for mLearning and improving educational outcomes."
mLearning has significant potential for developing countries:
"mLearning is especially meaningful in developing countries and in rural areas, where infrastructure is poor and access to resources may prove a challenge. mLearning provides anytime, anywhere educational content delivered via mobile technology. Mobile phones are truly unique in their ubiquity, accessibility and affordability. mLearning differentiates itself from e-learning in the sense that it is independent from any fixed infrastructure. mLearning can range from simple SMS messaging, MMS live classroom sessions, web and podcasting to audio-to-text or text-to-audio applications. It provides rich learning experiences via educational video, logical reasoning and problem solving games, and even mobile whiteboards for interactive discussions. In developing countries, only 25% of homes have computers, so perhaps the most important benefit of mLearning is its potential to reach people through devices which, before long, will be in the pockets of every person on the planet. The most up-to-date content can be accessed immediately and from anywhere and repeatedly reviewed for better understanding. Although most mLearning happens today via feature phones, our imaginations are inspired by the greater possibilities of higher bandwidth (e.g., live tutoring via a mobile device)."
The report highlights a number of successes and innovations to date:
"New tools and concepts can be applied to learning, through the development of a largely virtual ‘augmented classroom’ through which students can interface with educators, as well as others. The recent success of the Khan Academy (where volunteers post short videos to illustrate or explain basic concepts in mathematics, physics, economics or other subjects) is an example of how social media, online webcasts and education can educate and inform large populations. The impact of such approaches would grow exponentially with broadband. Open courseware and models (e.g., those pioneered by OCW at Harvard) can increase the number of students around the world and help promote multilingual and localized versions of the same content. Interactive education can become a reality (e.g. the growing use of tablets in primary and secondary schools in Singapore), fostering local talent bases."
Broadband's new collaboration opportunities apply globally and are key to innovation:
"Innovation through collaboration (crowd-sourcing and crowd creativity, for example) can generate an unprecedented environment for ‘Globally Engineered Serendipity’ (GES). As confirmed by recent innovation benchmarks (such as the WIPO-INSEAD Global Innovation Index released in July 2012), the ability of experts in different areas to interact is key to innovation, especially in its early stages. Until recently, ‘cross-fertilization’ of ideas would typically happen in a serendipitous fashion, on university campuses. Broadband offers a brand new way to engineer and systematize such an approach at the global level. Hence the phrase of ‘Globally Engineered Serendipity’. In conclusion, broadband is both the source of need for new skills, and the potential producer of many of those skills."
Many nations now recognise the importance of broadband and are making plans accordingly, however there remains more to do:
"The importance of national policy leadership is now clearly understood by policy-makers and Governments around the world. Today, some 119 or 62% of all countries have developed a national plan, strategy, or policy to promote broadband; and a further 12 countries or 6% are planning to introduce such measures in the near future...However, 62 countries do not have any form of broadband plan, strategy or policy in place."
The report also acknowledges that "achieving progress in implementation may be more challenging or slower than anticipated", and that a small but growing number of countries are including broadband within their definitions of universal service. Some interesting commentary on the future for satellite broadband services too:
“Some observers perceive today’s satellite solutions as lagging fibre and wireless technologies in latency, mass throughput, and cost per bit delivered. However, today’s satellite technologies can be very advanced in terms of reliability, speed of deployment, and security, while the next generation will deliver higher transmission speeds competing with other broadband technologies in speed and costs.”
Similarly:
“…the next generation of satellites is under procurement and will deliver higher transmission speeds, potentially competing with other types of broadband connectivity both in terms of speeds and costs. New technologies are being developed to fully integrate the Ku-band and L-band, offering maritime and aeronautical users a compelling combination of high speed broadband with increased bandwidth and speeds of up to 50 Mbps delivered globally via compact and affordable terminals at reasonable cost – e.g., via fixed fee unlimited data packages.”
Affordable 50Mbps services available anywhere are not to be sniffed at? A commentary from Intel's World Ahead Programme illustrates the importance of affordability:
"In fast-growing developing countries (such as Brazil, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mexico and Russia), broadband access can account for 60-80% of the TCO of a PC. Often, only about 20% of citizens could afford the monthly plans."
Intel therefore took the following approach:
"We decided to pick eight countries for a pilot study of prepaid broadband with entry-level PCs. Working together with telecommunication companies, PC manufacturers and, in some cases, governments, Intel made available bundles of entry-level notebooks, compelling content, and prepaid broadband, accompanied by exciting advertising, branding and marketing."
This proved highly successful; one of the pilot countries was Vietnam:
"The major telcos, Viettel and VNPT, offered 700 MB of data download for just $2 prepaid. At that price, broadband affordability surged from 12% to 70% of citizens. We launched the offer in June 2011 and had sold 150,000 packages in just three months. To put that in perspective, sales of PCs in Vietnam are typically about 140,000 per month. The additional 150,000 over 3 months represented a 30% increase. More importantly, this helped lower-income citizens, who might otherwise never have been able to afford a PC and broadband."
Finally, some striking figures illustrating the globalisation of the Internet:
"In terms of users, English and Chinese dominate the Internet, accounting for 27% and 24% of total global Internet users respectively, with Spanish a distant third (8% of Internet users). Indeed, if current growth rates continue, the total number of Internet users accessing the Internet in Chinese may overtake the number of Internet users predominantly using English in 2015."

Monday, September 24, 2012

CLA: Broadband Fit for Rural Growth


The Country Land & Business Association (CLA) has today published Broadband Fit for Rural Growth, a policy paper on the importance of rural broadband (press release here).

The CLA perceives a number of shortcomings in UK policy in this area, suggesting that it is unlikely that the Government's objective for Britain to have the best superfast broadband network in Europe by 2015 will be realised. In addition, the CLA "is not convinced the £530million committed (or £1.06billion when including match funding) is sufficient."

The paper argues that more emphasis should be placed on the universal availability of basic broadband services, rather than on the rollout of superfast services which are unlikely to benefit rural areas any time soon:
"The CLA believes that the key is universal coverage. It is accepted that many rural businesses currently do not need speeds associated with superfast broadband to operate efficiently. Of course, this will change in the future and this is why it is essential that any broadband network is proofed against future developments in business."
Similarly, the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs' Rural Community Broadband Fund (RCBF) should be re-cast to support basic as well as superfast broadband provision:
"The CLA continues to have serious misgivings about Defra’s Rural Community Broadband Fund. We believe it has missed a major opportunity through seeking only a superfast broadband solution. The effect of this will be to reduce very slowly the number of people in rural areas who have no connection rather than facilitating broadband for all in the countryside. We question why there has been so little consideration given to how to ensure universal coverage."
The Government should "look again at the implementation and structure of the Rural Community Broadband Fund to ensure more businesses have access to the available funding." This focus on universality over superfast echoes the similar arguments made in the report of the House of Commons Welsh Affairs Committee, Broadband Services in Wales, published last week (more here). The CLA also calls for a more binding universal service obligation, as opposed to the current universal service commitment:
"The CLA advocates the adoption of a broadband USO and we remain concerned that the Government is only promoting a USC which has no legal sanction behind it. We did not agree when the previous government advocated the USC and we remain concerned that a USC provides government with a get-out clause in the event that the two Mbps benchmark cannot be achieved by the stated deadline of 2015…If, as the House of Lords Communication Committee report states, there is likely to be a stronger case for a USO in the future, we see no reason why the Government should not now begin to put in place a workable structure so that a USO can take effect by 2015.”
The CLA also advocates that better use should be made of existing public sector networks in support of broadband in rural areas:
"...the CLA continues to be alarmed at the Government’s lack of support for rural communities to be allowed to “piggy-back” onto public sector broadband. The examples where rural communities have been able to take advantage of unused public sector bandwidth to feed into community wireless networks are few and far between."
A couple of such examples are described in this previous post. The Government should "provide an appropriate framework to allow rural communities to “piggy-back” onto public sector broadband", according to the CLA.

Coverage from ISP Review here and the BBC here and here.

4G talks enter final week


The Financial Times reports that talks between the UK Government and mobile broadband operators over the rollout of 4G services are "still in the balance" as they enter their final week ("Talks in the balance over 4G services").

Following EE's soft launch of its 4G service earlier this month using its existing spectrum holdings, in advance of Ofcom's forthcoming spectrum auction, operators agreed to a one month stand-still period where EE agreed not to launch its 4G service and other operators agreed not to launch litigation as discussions were held with Ofcom officials to try and resolve the situation. If no solution is found, the delays to the rollout of 4G services in the UK could be considerable:
"There remains the threat of “years of litigation”, according to one person close to the talks, if other operators seek to block any rollout of the mobile broadband services being planned by EE. In turn, there could be legal action to interrupt the already long-delayed auction of spectrum that could be used by the other groups for 4G, which had been expected later this year."
Other countries are much further ahead with 4G services already available in many. Fingers crossed for an amicable outcome.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Google Fiber: further analyses


A post on the Technology Liberation Front tech policy blog (mentioned in this previous post) offers an interesting analysis of Google Fiber, identifying five lessons from the project:
"Google’s first lesson for building affordable, one Gbps fiber networks with private capital is crystal clear: If government wants private companies to build ultra high-speed networks, it should start by waiving regulations, fees, and bureaucracy." 
"The second lesson Google learned from its fiber project: Specialized video services help support the costs of fiber deployment...When it initially announced its fiber project, Google did not intend to offer specialized video services at all. Little more than a year ago, Google remained focused only on Internet connectivity and still had no plans to provide video services; though it said it wanted to “hear from Kansas City residents what additional services they would find most valuable.” By the time it launched the project, Google had decided to center its highest subscription rate on a new, specialized video service (Google Fiber TV) that Google says is “designed for how you watch today and how you’ll watch tomorrow.” It appears that, after listening to Kansas City residents, Google learned that many consumers want their ISP to offer specialized video services." 
"The third lesson Google learned from its fiber project: Equipment subsidies coupled with term contracts offer benefits to consumers...Consumers who opt for “The Full Google Experience” will get four devices, including a set-top box, a network box, a storage box, and a new tablet for use as a “remote control”, subject to a two-year contract... By bundling its own, vertically integrated computing devices with its premium service, Google can leverage its fiber network to gain market share from the makers of other devices, software, and operating systems, including Apple and Microsoft." 
"The fourth lesson Google learned from its fiber project: Open access isn’t a viable business model in competitive markets...Once Google analyzed how fiber networks are financed, built, and operated, it abandoned its earlier commitment to open access and decided not to allow other ISPs on its network. According to Google Fiber project manager Kevin Lo, “We don’t think anybody else can deliver a gig the way we can.” Translation: Open access doesn’t make financial sense in a competitive environment." 
"The fifth lesson Google learned from its fiber project: Vertical integration among “edge” and “infrastructure” providers offers an alternative to the “end-to-end” principle...The end-to-end purist believes core network infrastructure should be economically severed from the “edge” of the network, i.e., that Internet access should be offered entirely separately from the services, devices, applications that use network infrastructure. Strict adherence to this principle would prohibit the subsidization of network architecture by profits derived from services (e.g., specialized video and advertising), devices, and applications. Google was thought to be an end-to-end purist, but, assuming that were once true, it appears the company’s views have shifted."
Such vertical integration potentially offers an alternative investment approach to drive the roll-out of next generation networks, freeing up capital to drive future profitability for all players:
"What if large Internet “edge” companies – Google, Apple, and Microsoft – were vertically integrated with the large infrastructure providers – Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T? If the government allowed that to happen, it’s possible that the enormous profits generated by the edge companies (Apple is one of the most valuable companies in the world) would be used to rapidly drive ultra high-speed network deployment rather than fill cash coffers in offshore banks. Google is sitting on $43 billion overseas. Apple has more than $81 billion and Microsoft has $54 billion. By comparison, Verizon currently has about $10 billion in cash, which is less than one quarter of Google’s overseas holdings."
Time Business also offers an analysis of Google Fiber, suggesting that the company is not seeking to compete with existing ISPs:
"Google’s goal, by building the fastest city-wide broadband network in the country, is not to compete with the giant national cable and telecom firms. Rather, it’s to shame these legacy giants, including Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Verizon, AT&T, and others into improving U.S. Internet performance. Why is that important to Google? Because the more people who use broadband Internet, at faster speeds, the more Google searches get executed, and the more money Google makes. So think of Google Fiber as a kind of proof-of-concept public-shaming that Google is performing in the heartland of America, demonstrating to the country — and the world — that better Internet performance is possible."
The article also sheds some light on the uses planned for the network, which include education and health applications:
"Google is working with the University of Kansas Medical Center, and local public schools to wire up the community. One of the tests that Google, working with local partners, will conduct, is high-definition “telemedicine” trials, where medical professionals try to simulate the in-person doctor-patient interaction remotely. Another test involves piping HD advanced placement (AP) classes from schools in the community where they are taught, to those where they aren’t..."
For more on this potential, see the Building the Gigabit City report, and also this BBC article. The Time Business article concludes that Google Fiber is "about serving notice to the existing U.S. broadband community, and vividly illustrating how badly we’ve fallen behind in Internet broadband speed competitiveness."

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Delivering minimum 2Mbps services across Northern Ireland


Northern Ireland's Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) has published a public consultation aimed at identifying areas currently unable to receive minimum 2Mbps broadband services. DETI's information paper highlights that despite the huge progress that's been made, there remains more to do to ensure everyone is able to access broadband services:
"Information from OFCOM indicates that Northern Ireland has the highest availability of superfast broadband services in the UK and estimates that 94% of homes had  access to these services by March 2012 compared to a UK–wide figure of 60%. DETI is now considering how to address those remaining homes and businesses in Northern Ireland, particularly those in rural areas, where the choice of broadband provision is limited and/or the available speeds are less than 2 Mbps."
The purpose of the consultation is "to seek comments from the telecommunications industry, users affected by the proposals, political representatives or any other interested parties". DETI is particularly interested in any current or planned investment that will result in network infrastructure that is capable of delivering minimum 2Mbps services in the areas the project will cover, in keeping with European state aid requirements. The consultation closes on 12 October 2012.

Coverage from ISP Review here and ThinkBroadband here.

DCMS confirms funding for first 10 super-connected cities


The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has today confirmed the funding allocations for the first 10 super-connected cities, which are as follows:
  • Belfast £13.7m
  • Birmingham £10m
  • Bristol £11.3m
  • Cardiff £11m
  • Edinburgh £10.7m
  • Leeds & Bradford (joint bid) £14.4m
  • London £25m
  • Manchester £12m
  • Newcastle £6m
DCMS first announced the list of ten cities on 21st March 2012 as part of the 2012 Budget announcements. From today's DCMS press release:
"The investment, announced today by Culture Secretary Maria Miller, will help the ten cities transform into ‘super-connected cities’.  By offering high-tech and digital companies the infrastructure they need, the cities will be able to compete for business, investment and jobs with the world’s top digital cities. The four UK capital cities along with Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds & Bradford, Newcastle and Manchester will share the funding.  It will help provide businesses with ultrafast broadband (at least 80-100Mbps) and well as high speed wireless Internet access...The total sum allocated to the 10 cities is £114.1 million, which exceeds the £100 million originally allocated to the first round of the super-connected fund.  We expect to manage the costs within the overall £830 million available for broadband."
Cities wishing to participate in the second wave of the programme, which targets smaller cities, had until 17 September 2012 to draw up their detailed Super-Connected City Plans. The winners will be announced in the 2012 Autumn Statement and the money will be available in 2013/14. More on super-connected cities here, here and here.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Broadband Services in Wales


The House of Commons Welsh Affairs Committee this week published Broadband Services in Wales (PDF version here), the results of its inquiry into current and future broadband availability in Wales (coverage from ISP Review here; also see this previous post for more on broadband policy in Wales). The report identifies a number of issues of concern, both in relation to Wales specifically and UK broadband policy as a whole. In relation to broadband availability in Wales:
"Over a number of years, the availability of broadband has been consistently lower in Wales than the UK average. However, according to Ofcom, that gap has narrowed in recent years following investment by the private sector and through the efforts of the Welsh Government. We are concerned, however, that Ofcom figures for 2012 show that the gap between Wales and the UK has widened again."
Though interestingly Wales is ahead of the UK in terms of mobile broadband in some ways:
"Wales has the highest mobile broadband take-up in UK with 16% of the country's properties having access to mobile broadband, with south east Wales being a “hot-spot” for mobile broadband usage with 18% of households using the technology compared to 15% in England...Overall the uptake of mobile broadband in Wales has increased significantly in recent years. In Wales as a whole, 16% of people used mobile broadband as their primary means of accessing the internet."
Presumably "having access to mobile broadband" in fact means "has mobile broadband", indicating take-up rather than availability (I would imagine mobile broadband is available to significantly more that 16% of properties in Wales). The reports notes the ambitious targets that have been set for broadband in Wales:
"The Welsh Government’s broadband strategy is even more ambitious than the UK Government’s and its stated aim is to develop a broadband infrastructure “capable of delivering fast and ultra-fast broadband services to all premises in Wales”. Under its plans every business in Wales would have access to next-generation broadband at a minimum speed of 30 mbps by “the middle of 2016 and domestic premises by 2020”."
However the report expresses a concern that those currently unable to access broadband should be prioritised over achieving the widest possible availability of superfast services:
"We are concerned that too much focus may have been placed on the roll-out of superfast broadband at the expense of ensuring that the needs of those without any broadband service at all are met. The first priority must be to ensure that the needs of the approximately 90,000 homes in Wales which currently do not have access to broadband are addressed as soon as possible. The Government’s ambitions for superfast broadband must not be at the expense of delivering a good broadband service for all."
The report also suggests that more needs to be done in relation to BT's physical infrastructure access (PIA)/duct and pole sharing provisions, to help drive competition and availability in rural areas:
"While we welcome Ofcom’s efforts to open up the access to BT’s ducts and poles in Wales to other providers, we are concerned that it has not yet gone far enough in ensuring access is available at a reasonable cost. We call on Ofcom to increase its efforts in this area."
Evidence provided to the inquiry by Three underlined the importance of mobile broadband for Wales:
"...concern was expressed that the (4G) auction had been delayed on at least two occasions and that the delay was holding back the roll-out of broadband particularly as other European countries had already held similar auctions and handed out contracts. According to Three this was further evidence that the Government considered mobile broadband to be a ‘complementary’ service to fixed broadband whereas according to that company mobile broadband is the fastest growing part of the broadband sector and is predicted by 2015 to provide more access to the internet than fixed lines."
The report goes on to recommend that the forthcoming 4G auction should result in 4G services being available "to at least 98% of people in Wales." Satellite technologies also are of potential benefit, and should be investigated further:
"Satellite broadband is a practical alternative to fixed line and mobile broadband. Although we received conflicting evidence regarding the performance and cost of satellite broadband, we received very persuasive evidence that for very difficult-to-reach areas it might be the best solution for Wales, as it has been for Scotland. We recommend that Ofcom undertake a study to evaluate whether satellite broadband should be supported more vigorously in Wales."
The concern about prioritising not spots over superfast roll-outs was echoed by Arqiva in its written contribution to the inquiry, included as one of the appendices to the report:
"There is an ever-greater social and economic cost to each person who falls, or is left behind on the wrong side of this “digital divide”. Research suggests that consumers and SMEs left without broadband would be disproportionately rural… and disproportionately Welsh. The overriding public policy objective must be to deliver universal access to broadband. It is therefore crucial that the political commitment to achieving universal access to broadband by 2015 is not lost in the heated arguments about who should receive “superfast” broadband first…and how. The real gain for UK plc is to achieve universal access to broadband - not to push fibre to 90% penetration and then stop."
Arqiva sees fixed wireless solutions as the most cost effective option for rural areas:
"Where fibre is not cost effective (ie more than 1 million households), we believe wireless broadband is the only practical solution. No roads need to be dug up, no ducts shared (not that there are many in rural areas anyway), wireless broadband could be deployed quickly and offered to all consumers within range of each transmitter as soon as it was switched on—just like television, in fact...television provides the optimal spectrum to use because as Arqiva switches off analogue television across the UK as part of Digital SwitchOver (Wales has, of course, already been switched), a swathe of spectrum (usually referred to as “800 MHz”) which is harmonised across Europe for “4G” wireless broadband is left behind unused. So unlike the few rural wireless broadband solutions offered to date, the spectrum is ideal for this use (having previously provided universal public service television); the infrastructure is already in place; and consumers could choose from a range of cheap, standardised equipment. The effectiveness of using 800 MHz spectrum to deploy 4G wireless broadband in rural areas was modelled for Ofcom and Arqiva in 2009 and, at the end of 2010, Arqiva borrowed some of this spectrum from Ofcom and carried out an extensive 4G trial. This trial was carried out in Pembrokeshire, which was selected precisely because it would be difficult and highly costly for fibre to address its rural “not spots”, and yielded very impressive results. We were able to demonstrate delivery of high speed broadband (in excess of 50 Mbps) in a challenging rural environment where citizens currently experience typical speeds which are less than 500 Kbps..."
More on the Arqiva 4G trial in Preseli here, here and here. Geo and FiberSpeed's contribution provides more information on the issues with BT's current PIA provision:
"...the industry believes that the current arrangements and pricing of the offer will not achieve the aims, in particular the following key issues need to be addressed:
  • Initial pricing is not reflective of the cost to BT and does not make the product commercially viable.
  • Restrictions on use for leased lines to businesses substantially reduces the services available and investment return.
  • Restrictions on use for Fixed or Wireless backhaul substantially reduces the services available and investment return.
Until a viable PIA product is agreed and available, there is likely to be slow progress on the roll-out of new NGA networks. From the experience of the introduction of Local Loop Unbundling products, which took two years to develop, thus early conclusion of the current negotiations is unlikely and it is likely that Ofcom will be required to formally regulate. Delays to the agreements on PIA may impact the success and benefits of the BDUK pilots."
Finally, Virgin Media's contribution describes another successful trial in Wales:
"In July 2010, Virgin Media announced a trial agreement with Surf Telecom to use the electricity distribution network in Crumlin, Caerphilly as the first UK trial of ultrafast broadband delivered over existing electricity poles. The trial—which took place throughout the remainder of the year—delivered a 50Mbps connection to residents in Crumlin, a ten-fold increase on what the community had previously received through the existing legacy copper infrastructure. The deployment allowed residents in the village to connect directly to Virgin Media’s fibre optic network...Virgin Media’s experience to date, through trialling of overhead deployment and constructive discussions with electricity providers, is that innovative commercial partnerships could see this model replicated on a wider basis. To achieve such an industrialised approach to utility infrastructure, Virgin Media has made representations to government that the following changes to the current regulatory structure governing overhead deployment are required:
  • Greater clarity to utility network operators about the financial rewards for utility companies in entering infrastructure sharing agreements.
  • Streamlining of the planning process under the Electronic Communications Regulations - removing duplication in the notification requirements that significantly add to the time and resources required at a local authority level for approval.
  • Clarity over the provisions under the Electronic Communications Code in relation to transparency and certainty in the way in which wayleave payments are calculated. Virgin Media does not dispute the right of landowners to seek consideration for communications cables crossing land, but in doing so, the process should be resolved in a timely and certain manner. We would like to see RICS carry out a review of the current wayleave calculation methodology to provide fresh certainty over the rights of landowners and communications providers."
More on Virgin Media's Crumlin trial here and here.

Friday, September 14, 2012

iPhone 5 will only support 4G services on EE's network


The BBC report that Apple's new iPhone 5 will only support 4G mobile broadband services on EE's 4G network as a consequence it operating in the 1800MHz band:
"The iPhone 5 is the first of Apple's handsets to support 4G, but it has been optimised for just three spectrum bands - the 1800MHz band, which EE has been allowed to use for 4G services, the 850MHz, which doesn't work in the UK, and the 2.1GHz band, which currently only supports 3G services. Apple has taken the view the 800MHz and 2.6GHz bands, for which O2 and Vodafone and other operators will be able to bid at auction in spring 2013, are not "developed enough", according to Matthew Howett, an analyst with research firm Ovum."
More details of Ofcom's forthcoming 4G spectrum auction here. So even when they've acquired 4G spectrum via the auction process, other operators will not be able to offer a 4G service via the iPhone 5 in its current form (however the iPhone 5 will work on all operators' slower 3G networks). In the same article, the BBC report that O2 are seeking to accelerate the auction process, and also discusses the other options available to operators:
"O2 and Vodafone could petition Ofcom to allow them to reuse the 3G band for 4G services. But Mr Howett said: "The 3G band is heavily occupied. Ofcom has said it could take five to 10 years to free up the 3G spectrum for 4G." An alternative would be to launch legal action to prevent EE from rolling out its 4G network."
Operators recently agreed to a one-month stand still period to enable discussions to continue, with a view to finding a collaborative way forward and preventing any further litigation which would delay the auction process. EE, one of the signatories, has agreed not to launch its 4G services until after this period has closed. 3 is the only other operator that will be able to offer 4G services via the iPhone 5, but not for a while yet:
"3 is the only other UK operator who has the opportunity to launch 4G services that will work with the new iPhone. It recently bought some of Everything Everywhere's 1800MHz spectrum although it is not allowed to launch services until September 2013."
The Financial Times ("4G operators gain iPhone 5 head start") reports that this is issue is not unique to Apple:
"...all handset makers are having to choose which bandwidth to support. There are more than 40 officially recognised bands for 4G. In Europe, the normal 4G specifications are 800MHz, 1800MHz and 2.6GHz."
The same article reports that O2 will offer "iPhone customers a “4G handset guarantee” facilitating an upgrade when it had a 4G network next year". So presumably new iPhone 5 customers on O2 will be able to upgrade to a handset that will work on O2's 4G network once it's in place?

Nothing in the world of 4G is ever simple it seems.

180 Kansas City fiberhoods to get Google Fiber


In a blog post yesterday, Google confirmed that 180 Kansas City fiberhoods will get Google Fiber:
"The final count is in—after tallying some last-minute pre-registrations, we have confirmed that 180 fiberhoods throughout Kansas City will be wired with ultra high-speed Google Fiber...We plan to install Google Fiber for our first customer in Hanover Heights within the next few weeks, and then we’ll move on to other fiberhoods on the Kansas side...On the Missouri side, the first fiberhood to get service will be Crown Center, which pre-registered a whopping number of apartment buildings and condos. Right now we’re still busy deploying infrastructure in central Kansas City, Mo., and we’ll start installing Google Fiber to Crown Center residents and other Missouri fiberhoods next spring."
More in this previous post. Google has published approximate construction schedules for both the Kansas and Missouri sides of the city. Construction will commence from Cctober 2012 and run until Fall 2013, with Google acknowledging that dates may be subject to change (for example, if the winter proves harsh). Anyone in a qualified fiberhood can still sign up for Google Fiber, regardless of whether they pre-registered or not, and Google has stated their will be a second round of pre-registration "sometime next year" for those that weren't successful this time (more here).

Nesta's PLAN I: the case for innovation–led growth


Earlier this week, Nesta, the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts, published PLAN I: the case for innovation–led growth. From the related press release:
"Plan I outlines how all sectors in the UK - public, private, third sector and higher education - have a critical role to play in restoring economic growth. With no additional public spending requirements, Plan I makes recommendations that will quadruple the government's discretionary investment in innovation, give the UK the most cutting-edge technological infrastructure in Europe and tear down barriers that discourage businesses from investing."
Further investment in broadband infrastructure is one of the plan's key recommendations. From the executive summary:
"The upcoming 4G spectrum auction is expected to raise £3 to £4 billion, which should be committed to innovation. And some of the £40 billion infrastructure fund should be earmarked for the infrastructures of the twenty-first century, in particular smart electricity grids and super-fast broadband. These measures should be the first steps in a longer-term rebalancing of government spending from consumption to investment."
See this previous post for more on the Government's infrastructure fund plans, with more on the Infrastructure (Financial Assistance) Bill available here. The plan suggests that half of the £40 billion fund should be channelled into superfast broadband and smart grids, significantly more than the level of funding committed by the Government to date, as broadband is one of the "types of infrastructure that do most to increase innovative capability".

Broadband infrastructure is considered in detail on pages 64-67 of the plan:
"We argue that any infrastructure investment programme should not just focus on nineteenth and twentieth–century infrastructure in the form of road, rail and airports...Some of the most exciting breakthroughs we might expect to see in the decade or two to come depend on other types of infrastructure: in particular, superfast broadband, smart grids for power, and more housing and office space around emerging clusters."
Broadband is described as the "twenty-first century equivalent of the motorway system":
"When the first wave of broadband was deployed in the 1990s and 2000s, it enabled great leaps in productivity as businesses, especially in the retail and business services sector, changed their processes and supply chains to take advantage of a steadily increasing flow of data about their operations. Technologists like Brian Arthur and George Gilder have argued that this is just the beginning: increasing bandwidth will drive a new industrial revolution, as far more technology is delivered remotely and far more ‘real–life’ economic activity is mediated by computers, driving demand for ever more bandwidth."
The plan reports the frustrations experienced by start-ups in East London in relation to broadband, where bandwidth limitations and long lead times have caused problems (more on this here) and cites developments in Korea and Australia as examples of what can be achieved. Public investment in broadband is crucial and should not be held back because we can't precisely define all the uses that superfast broadband will be put to:
"Public investment in broadband should be seen as strategic investment. If superfast broadband is rare, it is unlikely that any individual business will adapt its ways of operating to take advantage of it, and few producers will bother to create services that exploit its potential. If it is widely available, the benefits increase significantly. We do not fully know what applications superfast broadband will give rise to: at the moment, few applications make use of the gigabit–per–second connectivity that fibre–to–the–home provides. But if the history of the last 30 years has taught us anything, it is that people and businesses find ingenious uses for more memory, more processing power, and more bandwidth. It was not so long ago that Bill Gates opined that 640k of memory would suffice for most computer users. Looking further back, the American Interstate system and the German Autobahns were built long before there were enough cars to fill them. Like these projects, superfast broadband is an investment in the future."
The plan also acknowledges the difficulty of precisely measuring the impact of broadband:
"It is difficult to compare directly the benefits of these types of infrastructure. Transport projects have the convenient and comforting characteristic that their economic benefit can be neatly measured by clever economic consultants: Crossrail will supposedly bring £42 billion of value, HS2 £43 billion. The effect of housing development that allows clusters to thrive, or of deploying broadband that allows new business models to take hold, or of rolling out smart grids that may transform the way we use energy, is much harder to model. Indeed, there is considerable controversy even over the benefits of existing investments in broadband, with some economists arguing the effects have been vast, others that they have been relatively small. But in all three cases, the potential upside is considerably higher than the mostly incremental effects of upgrading existing transport routes. If our aim is economic transformation, this is an important consideration."
Hopefully the broadband impact study currently being commissioned by Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) will go some way to addressing this. The plan goes on to suggest that broadband has an advantage over other infrastructures in that it "starts to yield a productivity benefit almost as soon as work begins (as the first houses or offices are connected), unlike new rail lines, which cannot be used until they are finished."

The plan's specific recommendations in relation to superfast broadband are as follows:
"The government should borrow to invest in the creation of a superfast broadband network around the UK. The costs of deploying fibre–to–the–home broadband to the whole of the UK has been estimated at £15 billion, less than half the cost of High Speed 2. A parsimonious option would be to start the deployment in a limited number of urban and rural areas, at a cost of perhaps £5 billion, to reduce initial costs and learn lessons for wider deployment. This investment should take the form of contracts issued to the private sector to develop broadband infrastructure to an agreed speed on an area–by–area basis. This will avoid the problem of government choosing a single, perhaps inappropriate or obsolescent technology, and will involve a range of providers in the deployment (including, we hope, emerging community broadband providers). Government will then lease access to the infrastructure to service providers on a competitive basis. This should be combined with small business support from the Technology Strategy Board for the development of applications to make the most of superfast broadband. Nesta’s Hyperlocal Media programme, which is being matched by the TS B, is an example to build on."
Some similarities here with the recent House of Lords broadband report perhaps (more here), particularly in relation to the recommendation that Government should set a more detailed specification for suppliers to meet? Nesta and partner organisations will be following up Plan I with more detailed proposals.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

World Conference on International Telecommunications 2012 (WCIT-12)


In December of this year, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) will convene the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT-12) in Dubai.

According to the ITU's WCIT-12 website, the purpose of the conference is to "review the current International Telecommunications Regulations (ITRs), which serve as the binding global treaty outlining the principles which govern the way international voice, data and video traffic is handled, and which lay the foundation for ongoing innovation and market growth. The ITRs were last negotiated in Melbourne, Australia in 1988, and there is broad consensus that the text now needs to be updated to reflect the dramatically different information and communication technology (ICT) landscape of the 21st century."

A publicly accessible draft of the proposed future ITRs is available here and a set of background briefs and FAQs is available here. From the first background briefing:
"There is consensus that the ITRs must be adapted to match our rapidly changing world. Differing proposals have been put forward on how best to do this, but all agree that there must be international cooperation. Governments and the private sector will play complementary but distinct roles. Governments establish sound regulatory frameworks, and the private sector provides the investment. Together this will ensure that infrastructure is built — to the benefit of consumers and the ICT sector as a whole."
The proposed changes or additions to the ITRs are summarized under the following headings:
  • Human right of access to communications
  • Security in the use of ICTs
  • Protection of critical national resources
  • International frameworks
  • Charging and accounting, including taxation
  • Interconnection and interoperability
  • Quality of service
  • Convergence
Some of the proposals for updating the ITRs have been met with concern. Analysys Mason this week published a report on the ITU's proposals (press release here and ISP Review coverage here), titled Internet global growth: lessons for the future. The report critiques the proposals in the light of the success and growth of the Internet under the current model, and suggests that applying rate models developed for an obsolete telecoms system would have a negative impact on the modern Internet. From the executive summary:
"...adapting the ITR treaty to the Internet is not only unnecessary, but could harm the growth of the Internet in developing countries. The Internet is governed under a multi-stakeholder model with no global regulation, but well accepted and efficient "rules of the road" allowing business arrangements to be based on commercial considerations. There is significant evidence that this model works – including in developing country regions such as Africa, Asia and Latin America – and does not need a fundamental regulatory overhaul."
The report argues that "the Internet and the international voice network are fundamentally different" and that any attempt to adapt regulations that were originally developed for voice networks to the Internet will create problems, particularly for developing countries. Instead, Analysys Mason argue that policies should focus directly on developing a robust Internet ecosystem, by increasing investments throughout fixed and mobile networks, increasing competition via telecoms liberalisation and taking action to increase demand for broadband services.

Similar concerns are expressed in a position paper from Digital Europe, which "represents the digital technology industry in Europe", with members including "some of the world's largest IT, telecoms and consumer electronics companies and national associations from every part of Europe":
"DIGITALEUROPE believes it is critical to preserve the global multi-stakeholder, market-based and decentralized nature of internet governance. This will ensure that the substantial benefits already gained will be maintained and reinforced. The ITU will have a role to play in this context, together with individual governments, industry and civil society. We believe the ITRs should enshrine high-level principles of international telecommunications, which have underpinned the success of telecoms liberalization and expansion, and the development of the internet. They should not be revised in a way that grants the ITU authority over the internet or develops an international regulatory treaty for the internet. All of the proposals commented on above seek to impose inter-governmental treaty control over the internet and will forfeit the gains achieved today and fragment the internet. In short, the participants to the WCIT-12 should look at how to improve, not to expand, the ITRs. DIGITALEUROPE looks forward to engaging in a constructive dialogue with the ITU Member states on the proposals to be considered in Dubai and their impact for Europe"
In summary, the main recommendation of both the Analsys Mason and Digital Europe reports to the ITU would seem to be "the Internet is working, so don't try and fix it". I'm sure there will be further commentaries and analyses in the run up to WCIT-12 in December.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Google Fiber pre-registration period closes


The pre-registration period for Google Fiber in Kansas City, which opened on 26th July 2012 (more here), ended on 9th September, with at least 180 out of 202 fiberhoods qualifying for service (more on fiberhoods and the pre-registration process here). On Thursday 13th September, Google will announce all the fiberhoods that have qualified for Google Fiber and the order in which they will be constructed - more here and here.

Google has been "amazed and humbled" by the response, according to the Google Fiber blog, which states that the fiberhoods which missed out in this round will have another chance to register next year:
"Together we’ve made good progress during this pre-registration period, but there’s still work to be done. Some fiberhoods won’t qualify this time around. If you live in one of those fiberhoods, we want you to know that we’ve heard your concerns. We will include you in a future rally sometime next year, when you can try to qualify for Fiber again."
Promoting digital literacy will continue to be a focus for the initiative:
"We’ve been truly inspired by, and have learned so much from, the efforts of local nonprofits, community centers, libraries, schools, and churches to pre-register their neighbors. And we want to continue working with these groups as they promote digital literacy throughout the community. So going forward, we aim to support great organizations in Kansas City in a programmatic and strategic way, through grants and joint educational efforts focused on digital literacy. Together we will work to equip Kansas Citians with the knowledge and tools they need to get online and use the web to their advantage for education, job hunting and more. We’ll have more details about this program soon."
Commentary from GigaOM here. Two days before the 9th September pre-registration deadline, Wired reported how the level of registration thus far reflected the different demographics within Kansas City: "most of the neighborhoods that have pre-registered enough households to qualify for the service lie on the city’s more affluent west side." The Wired article goes on to highlight that while Google didn't create the digital divide in Kansas City, its pre-registration approach to provisioning Internet access risks widening it.

In fairness, the final total of at least 180 out of 202 fiberhoods (almost 90%) was reached after the Wired article was published, with many fiberhoods reaching their targets in the last two days. This level of sign-up is very impressive, but how to reach the final 10%? If they didn't sign up this time, what's going to persuade them to do so in a second round? Clearly Google's digital literacy efforts are going to be crucial in this regard. ThinkBroadband have commentary on this here, with New York Times, Huffington Post and Ars Technica articles expressing similar concerns.

Another Ars Technica article questions the basis on which Google chose Kansas City for its fiber initiative, based on an analysis by Fred Campbell, Director of the Communications Liberty and Innovation Project, published by the Technology Liberation Front. While Campbell argues that Google Fiber demonstrates what can be achieved when regulations, fees and bureaucracy are waived, the Ars Technica article stresses the importance of transparency around the way Kansas City has effectively subsidised Google's deployment:
"If a city is going to spend public funds on a new broadband network, it has an obligation to ensure that taxpayers are getting a good deal for their money. That might mean insisting on conditions, such as build-out requirements or open-access rules, that will avoid the need for yet another taxpayer-subsidized network to be constructed in the future. But mis-characterizing a government-supported project as the result of unfettered free markets obscures the true costs of such projects, and makes informed debates over them more difficult."
Campbell states that "deregulatory policies fairly applied to all competitors are essential to meeting our nation’s shared goal of national broadband connectivity". He makes a number of very interesting observations about Google's initiative, which I'll return to in a future post.

The proof of the pudding will be in the success of Google Fiber in Kansas City and the extent to which Google or other players can replicate it successfully elsewhere. We'll just have to wait and see.

Everything Everywhere soft launches 4G via EE


This morning Everything Everywhere announced the arrival of its new 4G services under its new EE brand. This follows on from media speculation yesterday, see these examples from the BBC and the Independent.

From the Everything Everywhere press release:
  • EE network switched on today
  • EE’s new customer brand to launch in the coming weeks with pioneering superfast 4G LTE mobile services and fibre broadband
  • EE’s superfast 4G service to launch in 16 cities by Christmas, covering 20 million people – a third of the population. Nationwide 4G roll out to accelerate through 2013 with 98% of UK population covered in 2014
  • EE’s superfast fibre broadband service to reach more than 11 million households and businesses by end of year
The 16 cities are London, Edinburgh, Cardiff, Belfast, Birmingham, Bristol, Derby, Glasgow, Hull, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham, Sheffield and Southampton. EE will also offer fixed broadband services too:
"EE will also launch a fibre broadband service to homes and businesses with fixed-line internet speeds typically ten times faster than today’s average broadband speeds. It means that EE’s 4G customers will be the first in the UK to enjoy superfast speeds on their mobile and at home or at work."
According to ISP Review, EE's fibre broadband service will be based on BT's fibre to the cabinet (FTTC) deployment. Coverage of today's announcement from the BBC here.

Helpfully for EE, it seems a truce has been called in relation to the dispute over whether Everything Everywhere should be allowed to launch 4G services in advance of Ofcom's forthcoming spectrum auction. From the Finanical Times ("Tories broker deal to allow 4G peace talks"):
"The Financial Times has learnt Everything Everywhere, Vodafone, Three and O2 have signed a stand-still agreement that will prevent any legal action for a month while talks are held to help all proceed with 4G plans."
This "cooling off period" will hopefully enable the industry to agree a collective way forward, to prevent any further delay to the deployment of 4G in the UK. The FT report that as a result of this agreement, brokered by the Government and Ofcom, EE will not roll out 4G services in the month from last Monday, with some referring to today's announcement as a "soft launch" as a result.

Talks will continue to investigate how other operators' deployment plans can be accelerated to minimise EE's first-mover advantage, for example by clearing the spectrum to be used for 4G services faster than originally planned. More on this from ISP Review here.

Friday, September 07, 2012

Government response to House of Lords broadband report?


In its article on the recent report from the House of Lords Select Committee on Communications inquiry into the UK's broadband strategy, Broadband for all - an alternative vision, the CDI Alliance reported that
"...the Lords expect the Government to deliver a formal response to their report within a couple of months, a response that itself will then be debated on the floor in the house."
I had assumed that Jeremy Hunt's last speech on broadband as Culture Secretary effectively constituted the Government's response to the report, but the above would suggest that the debate is set to continue?

More on the House of Lords report here and here.

DCMS: cutting red tape to speed up broadband roll-outs


DCMS today issued a press release announcing new measures to fast-track the roll-out of broadband infrastructure through reducing bureaucracy:
"Under the new plans:
  • broadband street cabinets and other infrastructure can be installed without the need for prior approval from the local council (except in Sites of Special Scientific Interest);
  • broadband companies will face less cost and bureaucracy in laying cables in streets; and
  • broadband cables and cabinets can be installed on or under private land without the bureaucratic burden of long-running negotiations.
The Government will also work with mobile operators, local government and other interested parties to consider ways that the planning process might be streamlined to speed up the deployment of mobile infrastructure. 
We will also facilitate discussions between broadband infrastructure providers, power companies and the regulator Ofgem to develop a national contract for providing broadband infrastructure with a power supply."
This is the first broadband-related announcement from Maria Miller in her new role as Culture Secretary following the recent cabinet reshuffle. Presumably the last point above relates to providing power to street cabinets and masts to support active equipment, which can be particularly challenging in rural and remote areas, as cabinets delivering voice and current DSL broadband services are powered from their serving telephone exchange.

Coverage from the BBC here and ISP Review here; the European Commission consulted earlier this year about ways to reduce broadband costs (more here), covering similar ground. ThinkBroadband coverage included the following, further to an enquiry to DCMS:
"We chased DCMS for an approximate timeline for when the new rules will take effect and consultations are expected to be completed in Spring 2013, with legislation as soon as possible after that. Therefore it is our speculation that the changes will help to accelerate the BDUK project roll-outs, and compensate for time lost during the EU State Aid approval process."
A notable instance of where broadband infrastructure was blocked was in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Council, as described by ISP Review and mentioned by ex-Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt in his last speech on broadband. Another example of the objections that can be raised in relation to new cabinets is described by ThinkBroadband here.

Infrastructure (Financial Assistance) Bill includes telecommunications


As mentioned in this previous post, the Infrastructure (Financial Assistance) Bill 2012-13 does include telecommunications within its scope. From the only document that's so far available:
"“Infrastructure” includes—
(a) water, electricity, gas, telecommunications, sewerage or other services,
(b) railway facilities (including rolling stock), roads or other transport facilities,
(c) health or educational facilities,
(d) court or prison facilities, and
(e) housing."
The Bill is designed to stimulate private investment in UK infrastructure, with the Government proposing to underwrite up to £50bn of private sector projects. It will be interesting to monitor how this impacts on progress towards the UK's broadband targets for 2015.

Spectrum sharing: European Commission proposals


Earlier this week, the European Commission published its proposals to encourage spectrum sharing, in recognition of the importance of spectrum to future growth and the fact that it is a finite resource that must be carefully managed. From the press release:
"The European Commission today unveiled plans to deal with the exponential growth in mobile and wireless data traffic by enabling wireless technologies, including broadband, to share the use of the radio spectrum...A coordinated European approach to sharing spectrum will lead to greater mobile network capacity, cheaper wireless broadband, and new markets such as tradeable secondary rights for a given spectrum allocation."
The full communication offers this definition of spectrum sharing:
"The shared use of spectrum refers to situations in which a number of independent users and/or devices are allowed to access the same range of frequencies under certain conditions...stakeholders are increasingly turning to emerging sharing possibilities to meet growing demands for wireless connectivity. To maximise the benefits of efficient spectrum use, it is necessary to support this trend, while ensuring that there is no deterioration in the quality of services provided."
Sharing spectrum is a necessity to address the lack of vacant spectrum:
"...the growing demand for wireless connectivity is coming up against limits in the available radio spectrum to meet it. There is, for example, no vacant spectrum left and the cost of re-allocating spectrum to new uses is high, in particular if current users have to switch off. Through advances in technology, shared spectrum access makes additional resources available without compromising the incumbent license holder's rights to use the frequencies. For example, many new wireless technologies are designed to share bands in which no licence is required (licence-exempt bands). Others make additional spectrum resources available by, for example, providing wireless broadband services in between TV frequencies (so-called 'white spaces'). To maximise the benefits of such approaches to share spectrum, regulatory barriers need to be removed and incentives provided at EU level. In particular, new regulatory approaches need to give different users, including current holders, guaranteed rights to use a given frequency band on a shared basis with guaranteed levels of protection against interference."
A related memo outlines why incumbent spectrum holders may be interested to share their spectrum, which could be of benefit to areas where current service availability is limited or non-existent:
"Incumbent spectrum users that have an exclusive licence could be interested in sharing infrastructures to provide their services. This could stimulate investments in infrastructures in areas where demand for services is uncertain, and actually make it more attractive to invest. Operators could also join forces for acquiring shared spectrum licences to get additional spectrum resources."
The full communication outlines the steps the European Commission proposes to take in this area:
"The Commission therefore proposes to develop two additional tools to provide more spectrum access opportunities for innovative technologies and to incentivise greater and more efficient use of existing spectrum resources:
  1. An EU approach to identify beneficial sharing opportunities in harmonised or non-harmonised bands; and
  2. Shared spectrum access rights as regulatory tools to authorise licensed sharing possibilities with guaranteed levels of protection against interference."
In the UK, white space technologies which make use of the gaps in spectrum between TV broadcasts have been trialled successfully - more on this here, with a more general overview of UK spectrum developments here. ISP Review's coverage of the European Commission's proposals is here.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

O2 threaten to challenge Everything Everywhere's launch of 4G services


The Guardian reported last week that O2 has threatened to challenge Ofcom's recent decision that Everything Everywhere should be allowed to launch 4G mobile broadband services in the UK in advance of the forthcoming spectrum auction, using its existing spectrum holdings (more on this here):
"The Guardian understands that Spanish company Telefónica, which owns O2, has written to telecoms regulator Ofcom threatening to challenge its decision to allow rival brands Orange and T-Mobile to launch 4G services this autumn...In a letter believed to have been copied to culture secretary Jeremy Hunt, whose department oversees telecoms, O2 gave notice that it intended to appeal against Ofcom's ruling at the Competition Appeals Tribunal (CAT). As part of the appeal, O2 could seek an interim relief, effectively blocking Everything Everywhere from launching its 4G service until a decision is reached. Separately, the Guardian understands that O2 issued EE with an ultimatum that gave the company until Tuesday evening this week to undertake not to go ahead with its 4G launch."
Everything Everywhere has warned it may challenge the forthcoming auction process if any other operators take action to halt its 4G plans - more on this here. Computing reports that Ofcom are prepared for this eventuality:
""Allowing the early introduction of 4G services in the UK will deliver significant benefits to consumers. We are ready for any potential litigation of our decision to allow this and we will robustly defend our position if required," an Ofcom spokesperson said."
Similar coverage from The Register and ISP Review.

Delivering a Connected Society: A National Broadband Plan for Ireland


Last week, Ireland's Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources published Delivering a Connected Society, a National Broadband Plan for Ireland (press release here, with coverage from Silicon Republic herehere, here and here).

The plan's targets are ambitious in comparison with the UK's 2Mbps everywhere / >24Mbps for 90% targets for 2015, and are ahead of the EU's 2020 Digital Agenda targets too:
  • 70Mbps - 100Mbps to more than half of the population by 2015;
  • At least 40Mbps, and in many cases much faster speeds, to at least a further 20% of the population and potentially as much as 35% around smaller towns and villages; and
  • A minimum of 30Mbps for every remaining home and business in the country – no matter how rural or remote.
The plan follows the publication of the report of Ireland's Next Generation Broadband Taskforce in May 2012. As in the UK, the Irish Government will only invest in areas where the market will not deliver:
"This Plan will deliver on these targets by leveraging investment from both the private and public sectors. The total funding involved for any State intervention is indicatively estimated at €350 million, €175 million of which will come from public funding sources with the other €175 million from the successful commercial bidder(s) emerging from a public procurement process. State funding will only arise where it is clear that the market will not deliver. The precise cost to the State will be subject to the outcome of the procurement process chosen. The source of the State’s contribution will be subject to further consideration and may include the proceeds from the sale of State assets, the National Pensions Reserve Fund and the Strategic Investment Fund." 
The Government will publish its National Digital Strategy (NDS) by the end of 2012. This will:
"...put in place a blueprint for digital adoption in Ireland which will support new and existing business and help unlock the enormous creative potential that exists. Particular attention is expected to be paid to the potential of eLearning and eHealth. The NDS will also focus on delivering a more cohesive Government approach to dealing with digital issues."
There are specific targets for schools too, unlike the UK's broadband strategy:
"The Government has already commenced the rollout of high speed broadband connectivity to all second level schools. Under this initiative all second level schools will have 100Mbps connectivity installed during 2014. This significant capital investment will run between 2012 and 2014 and will facilitate an important change to the way teaching and learning takes place in the classroom. It will also help equip our students with the digital skills necessary to compete for jobs in the digital economy."
The plan also outlines the steps that will be taken to remove barriers and streamline investment. The Government is also keen to make use of existing infrastructure in pursuit of its ambitions:
"A number of commercial State companies and non-commercial State bodies are already leveraging their existing infrastructure to actively provide infrastructure and services to the telecommunications market. These include Bord Gais Éireann, the Electricity Supply Board, Iarnród Éireann, Coillte, the National Roads Authority and the Office for Public Works. The MANs which are owned by the State and operated by e|net are also providing middle-mile infrastructure and services for the sector. All of these assets have played an important role in the marked improvement in broadband services in recent years. It has been Government policy for some time that State entities should avail of all opportunities to facilitate the deployment of infrastructure to the telecommunications market. The laying of ducts alongside the Galway to Mayo gas pipeline; ducting as part of sewage works in Tuam; and ducting along national roads and motorways are just some examples of how this policy is being implemented. Further opportunities may exist and the Government is firmly committed to exploiting any such opportunities with a view to accelerating the rollout of high speed broadband. The Government also recognises that non-commercial State entities may find it more challenging to bring their assets to market and will develop a model to assist these bodies in overcoming such challenges."
Finally, the plan states that spectrum for 4G mobile services will be released this year. 

The Infrastructure (Financial Assistance) Bill & broadband


Over the weekend the BBC reported on the Government's plans to underwrite up to £50bn of private sector building projects which need finance, in an effort to boost growth.
"The Treasury said The Infrastructure (Financial Assistance) Bill, which builds on a scheme launched in July, will give the green light to £40bn of construction projects by using the government's low interest rates to underwrite them. To qualify, the projects must be "nationally significant", ready to start construction within 12 months, financially credible and "good value" for taxpayers."
Broadband was acknowledged as being key to the UK's future growth in the Government's National Infrastructure Plan, updated in November of last year (more on this here). The other £10bn relates to plans to underwrite the construction of new homes. Yesterday in their coverage of the Cabinet reshuffle (in which Maria Miller became Culture Secretary as Jeremy Hunt moved to the post of Health Secretary), the Guardian noted the appointment of Paul Deighton, the chief executive of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG), as a Treasury minister in charge of economic delivery:
"He will have responsibility for implementation of the 30-year National Infrastructure Plan published in 2010, including the guarantees for infrastructure being made possible by the legislation being introduced to Parliament this week. Specific examples include High Speed Two, Thames Tunnel, new road and rail projects (eg. A14, Northern Hub), rollout of high speed broadband, and new-build nuclear."
Presumably this legislation will be the Infrastructure Bill mentioned in the BBC's coverage. More on Paul Deighton's new role from Inside the Games:
"Deighton's responsibilities will include taking forward the National Infrastructure Plan, which was published last November and includes commitments to improve Britain's transport and broadband networks as well as steps to attract major new private sector investment. He will also be overseeing the new private finance initiative model and UK Guarantees scheme, where the Government is looking at under writing infrastructure schemes."
Hopefully more information about the Infrastructure (Financial Assistance) Bill and what it means for the development of the UK's broadband infrastructure will shortly be available here.

FCC: redefining broadband?


In its press release announcing the findings of its most recent research into broadband speeds and availability in the USA (more on this here), the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) included the following statement regarding its approach to future studies:
"Technology and the needs of businesses and consumers continue to evolve, the FCC notes in a Notice of Inquiry also released today that seeks public input for the next annual report. Because higher-speed broadband is increasingly available and market offerings continue to change, the Notice of Inquiry explores how to keep the broadband report up-to-date, including further examining the role of mobile services and next-generation, high-speed services in the FCC’s next annual evaluation of broadband availability."
The notice of inquiry asks some interesting questions about how broadband availability should be defined and measured, particularly regarding the importance of latency and data capacity as well as speed in relation to "determining whether advanced telecommunications capability is being deployed to all Americans." The inquiry notes that "for some applications, latency is more important than bandwidth" and questions if and how the FCC should "consider capacity restrictions when benchmarking "advanced telecommunications capacity" for fixed services."

The inquiry also seeks comment about how mobile broadband availability should be evaluated and the role of mobile broadband, particularly whether availability requirements can be met using mobile technology alone. The FCC has previously acknowledged that "fixed and mobile broadband services are complementary and have their own unique attributes, and it established a policy goal of ensuring that all Americans ultimately have access to both fixed and mobile broadband services." The notice of inquiry raises an interesting question about the role of mobile vs fixed broadband:
"We also seek comment about whether a household or geographic area should be considered served by “advanced telecommunications capability” only if it has access to both fixed and mobile broadband services, as defined using the respective benchmarks, or if the mobile service meets the benchmark for fixed broadband service. This approach is consistent with our recognition that high speed, high quality, and mobility are all important characteristics of broadband service today."
Schools are a focus for the inquiry too:
"Section 706 also requires us to examine broadband availability in elementary and secondary schools and classrooms. In the last report, we stated that “[w]hile school systems will need speeds substantially faster than the benchmark, we find, based on SBI Data, that providers offer download speeds of at least 25 Mbps to only 63.7 percent of the nation’s schools, suggesting that many schools may not have a sufficient level of broadband service.” Should we adopt a speed threshold specifically for fixed broadband services to elementary and secondary schools? What speeds do most school systems need so that students are able “to originate and receive high-quality voice, data, graphics, and video telecommunications using any technology?” What data or metrics are available to make this determination?…According to results of a recent survey of E-rate funded schools and libraries, as many as 80 percent of schools and libraries believe that their broadband connections do not meet their needs generally, and for 55 percent of these respondents, the primary reason is that their broadband speeds are too slow. How should the Commission evaluate the adequacy of broadband connectivity for schools and libraries?"
The questions raised in the FCC's inquiry echo the concerns expressed by Point Topic analyst Tim Johnson at the recent Broadband Forum meeting in Bucharest that broadband targets should focus on the user experience as well as speed. From Point Topic's press release:
"“Every European country is planning how to deliver superfast to all its citizens by 2020,” Johnson points out. “But the emphasis is too much on the headline speeds and not enough on the user experience."...He believes that the policy makers should be focusing on the extra homes connected per pound or per euro, plus the need for good performance at the speeds people actually use. “Twenty megabits with good quality of service is better than 100 megabits without,” he says. The official targets also ignore issues like performance across multiple superfast networks using different technologies, needed for users to get good quality end-to-end performance on video calls for example. There is also an issue about the proposed use of mobile networks to fill the gaps in fixed broadband coverage. Although they may meet the speed requirement at a basic level they are not technically well-adapted to supporting the continuous high-volume flows of data which video applications need."
Commentaries from ISP Review here, Total Telecom here, Broadband Choice here and uSwitch here.