Adrian Wooster’s Blog

Adrian Wooster is a widely respected consultant working with INCA on the development of technical and business process standards to support the emerging patchwork quilt. We have syndicated the content of his influential and widely read blog for the convenience of INCA members and site visitors. You can view Adrian's site at

What the Ofcom broadband data tells us about West Oxfordshire

This week Ofcom released the data sitting behind their recent broadband study. The dataset contains over 1.5m postcodes from across Britain, summarizing the local broadband experience.

The file is far too big to play win in Excel but when loaded into a spatial database it becomes a fantastic resource that will take some time to properly exploit. Given last year’s data was in a similar format it means we may soon be able to build up a picture of the evolution of broadband over time as well, empirically showing the advances that the UK is making.

With the data loaded, I wanted to have a quick look to see what it might show. The map below is a snapshot of West Oxfordshire, the focus of the Cotswolds Broadband project I’m helping.

Cotswolds Broadband passes a milestone

Today Cotswolds Broadband passed something of a milestone in its long journey to ensure everyone in West Oxfordshire has access to superfast broadband – today it is launching the open procurement process to find an organisation to build and maintain their broadband infrastructure.

So what makes it different?

Firstly, the project is a community-led public-private partnership with investment from local people, external professional private investors, and public bodies. The project has so far secured £6.4m for the project with all the stakeholder groups represented – the community alongside the financial and public sectors as true investors.

In addition the state funding is only partially in the form of grants. While BDUK are making a significant grant available, West Oxfordshire District Council are lending their share with the expectation of receiving repayment with interest. The procurement will finalize the level of public subsidy but it is expected to be less than 30% of the total investment, much lower than might typically be expected for such a rural area.

A week in broadband – net neutrality, content and competition

Its been and interesting week to contrast the discussions and shifts in the broadband markets in the UK and the US.

In the US, the Net Neutrality debate is coming to a head with the FCC now considering how they might inject some additional layers of competition in an attempt to use market forces to avoid operators fiddling with customers traffic.

At the same time there are UK reports that  BT may be considering the scrapping their Wholesale division in favour of Openreach.

The timing of the latter reports couldn’t be better timed for the FCC’s deliberations.

In principle the UK has a market which creates a distinction between services and infrastructure; it is true the UK doesn’t have the scale of problems the US has with net neutrality but the UK market is certainly not in rude health.

Its your business to know your Open Market Review from your Public Consultation!

I’m starting to hear, again, some very confused and sometimes very wrong advice from within the telecoms industry regarding the flow of the state aid process and how it relates to existing network operators.

From the beginning, when an organisation – any organisation – wants to use public money to roll-out broadband it needs to go through a state aid process.

Even small investments, so-called ‘de minimis aid‘, need to go through this process although they may not have to notify the European Commission as the final step – de minimis aid is still aid and needs to obey the same rules as any other aid, it’s just considered too small to have a significant distorting impact on the market so the Commission doesn’t need to specifically rule on it.

Creating a first draft fibre network using Opensource tools

There are some fantastic tools out there for detailed design of fibre networks from companies like Comsof and IT Simplicity but they are sometimes overkill when all you want to gauge is if fibre is even the right technology to consider or if a project is worth going to the extra level of detail.

There are some excellent Opensource GIS tools out there with more features than most of us will ever need to consider – but are there enough to get that first draft fibre model to suggest whether fibre is the right solution?

The quick answer is “yes” but not in one place.

The first really useful resources is the downloadable Open Streetmap (OSM) data  and PostGIS 2.0’s pgrouting tools.

By loading the OSM data into a Postgres table and formatting it for routing allows you to create a set of roads and paths to focus on for your project.

Clustering spatial data

I’ve  recently needed to find a way to break a large dataset of points into manageable clusters, ideally within a Postgres database.

I’ve not found anything in PostGIS, although would love to be proved wrong, so I looked to the R statistical language and to using the PL/R extension in Postgres (sorry, this post assumes R and PL/R have been installed).

After muddling around in a bunch of things at the edge of my understanding, I’ve managed to create a PL/R function that takes a set of spatially distributed points, processes them using R’s k-means tools, and returns them with a cluster id appended.

Others may be able to suggest better ways of doing this, especially how to present the returning data but it seems to work.

At the moment it returns a composite value so I’ve created a special type, structured to accept the R output:

Estimating FttC/VDSL with free GIS tools

One of the more common mapping questions I get asked is about predicting VDSL speeds – who might benefit from an upgrade to Fibre to the Cabinet (FttC) and who might be caught in what might be called the “NGA but not superfast” trap where premises are connected to an upgraded cabinet but don’t really benefit from it.

VDSL, just like its sibling technology ADSL before it, delivers diminishing speed with distance; in this case the further from a cabinet a customer resides the slower the speed they might expect. This decay is fairly well documented by manufacturers so can be predicted where the cabinet location and the copper network routes are known – but often only the location of the cabinet is known, or at least only the location of the cabinet is relatively easily found out, so some method of estimating the speed is needed based on some assumptions about the network.

Will the EU’s changes to broadband State Aid matter to you?

The EU has made a rapid start after the recent European elections by cutting the first bit of red tape – in fairness this has been coming for some time so perhaps its not possible to read too much into the timing.

New “block exemptions” make it easier to provide support to smaller projects without bureaucracy and delay. In particular, broadband projects will not have to be “notified” to or approved by the Commission if they are under €70 million – whether it’s for fast, next-generation networks or just “basic” broadband. That significantly cuts red tape for this essential investment – making it easier to roll out more networks for more people.

These enter into force on 1 July.

All options on the table

In my new role at Broadway Partners I was recently asked to show how different technologies provide different outcomes for the same area – the diagram is what transpired.

All Options

I picked the Oxfordshire village Swinbrook because its local and it has a very nice pub.

The three windows suggest which homes might benefit from each of  fibre to the cabinet (FttC), fibre to the premise (FttP) and wireless.

Reviewing the market – what market?

The first wave of Open Market Reviews (OMRs) have been published by Local Authorities looking to refresh their maps of which areas remain with no plans for superfast broadband services, looking for operators to come forward with their existing coverage and their future plans for the coming three years.

On the face of it this is very good news – it hopefully means that alternative operators will have an opportunity to protect their footprint from overbuilding by another subsidised operator, and its essentially every operator with plans engages with the process if they are to have any voice later on.

However, the big problem with issuing Open Market Reviews now, before worthwhile data is published detailing which areas have already been subsidised, is that most Local Authorities have appeared closed to investment for the last few years so most OMR processes are likely  to simply confirm that.