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 http://wooster.org.uk

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.

Inflation touches the cloud – get used to it

From time to time the basket of stuff used to calculate the official measures of inflation is updated to best reflect a typical spending pattern.

The latest update saw something of a watershed moment. For the first time the Consumer Price Index basket contains items which depend on good, reliable broadband.

Out went DVD players – in came Netflix.

Why is this important?

The CPI is not a predictor of the future, it’s a descriptor of the now. The change says that high quality commercial streaming services are a common item in UK consumers’ shipping basket. That Netflix, Amazon Prime, Sky’s Now.TV, etc are mainstream and not a fringe activity of the gadget generation.

It speaks to those that were critical of the decision to make BBC3 an online-only channel. The reality is that streaming is normal and that the key audience for BBC3 is the demographic most at home online. The BBC didn’t get a little more white, make and middle class, as was claimed by critics; it simply reflected the shift in society that the CPI is now confirming.

Why is the UK so different? It just is but that’s an opportunity for operators

The annual FttH Council Conference in Stockholm published it annual FttH/B league table for Europe which seems to perennially out of scope for having too little fibre connectivity to be counted. The UK is not alone, other major nations like Germany and France also struggle to make the grade. Heavy Reading also continue to predict that the UK won’t achieve what they call “fibre maturity” until after 2020.

This precipitated a number of conversations, as it does every year – why is the UK so different?

So here are some of the conclusions.

UK customers like a bargain

Price is king and other factors are perhaps less important than in some other countries. This has driven our service provider market towards a “pile it high, sell it cheap” model” which relies on scale more than in almost any other market. Internet services are not alone in this – price comparison sites are prospering in finance, insurance, energy and the key and sometimes the only differentiator is price.

Local broadband maps – are you open for business?

Local Broadband MapsIn my first post in far too long, I wanted to look at maps and broadband, more specifically the coverage maps many local authorities and assemblies are publishing in the UK relating to their broadband programmes.

Its a welcome move that some are now publishing maps and deeply frustrating that some are holding out when its clear that no local authority has found itself in court for releasing information about their publicly funded programme.

The inset map is my trawl of local websites for maps of local plans as of 7 February 2014. Some of the red areas have not published a map at all while others have published maps that are of little value to investors. (And its possible I’ve missed some so please let me know)

There is a simple message to those that aren’t publishing maps: The telecoms market considers that you are closed to investment!