Observatory Archive – Jan 2012 – 2017

By | February 12, 2017

This is a complete archive of FISP observations 2012 to January 2017

DEB Updated: The Digital Economy Bill, first introduced to Parliament in the summer of 2016, has been updated to take account of new priorities for rural areas and recognition of the need to move towards a full fibre future.  Explore the details, details, details. (26/01/2017)

Fakebook?:  Facebook is trying to counter efforts by German authorities to more heavily regulate the social network by saying it will do more to combat fake news and hate speech.  German lawmakers are planning legislation this year to force Facebook to remove incitements to hate crimes from its web pages within 24 hours or face fines, a push that could force the social media giant to bear more responsibility for content posted by users.

Whilst Facebook already manages to delete 40% of reported fake or hate postings within 24 hours (4 times the best performance of other social media platforms such as YouTube or LinkedIn) the company is under pressure to lift that performance to no less than 70%.    Full story  (18/01/2017)

That’s a relief:  The linkage between village shops, telecoms infrastructure and public toilets is that under the Local Government Finance Bill announced last Friday they all get some relief from local rates charges.  In the case of telecommunications infrastructure the relief is, reportedly, intended to apply only to full fibre (FTTP) provision and not copper access lines.  This reform is applied for the next 5 years and, it is argued, will boost investment in new deployments.  (16/01/2017)

Dis-connectivity’s silver linings: The Observatory prefers to report positive and encouraging news items.  Whilst the continuing difficulties of the Connecting Devon & Somerset project may be powering the BT PR machine into overdrive (and encouraging would-be customers to abandon hope) the more positive news can be found in the new contracts awarded to Gigaclear for full fibre solutions.  Councillors who previously backed FTTC (hybrid fibre/copper) solutions have also, through this experience, learned a great deal about physics, deployment logistics and market demand for high-quality broadband infrastructures. (14/01/2017)

Robo-Futures:  Setting aside the cynical thought that we already have sufficient agencies for robotics and artificial intelligence (AKA Governments) the proposal that the legal status of robots is given careful consideration is timely.  Blundering into the adoption of new technologies without thinking through the economic and societal consequences will been seem by some as a constraint on innovation – and likely to be ignored.  Wiser heads may however prevail.

Apart from recommending that all robots should have a disabling ‘kill switch’, the suggested rules currently include (A) Pacifism (do no harm – leastways to humankind), (B) Obedience (obeying human orders within the law) and (C) Sustainability (an inbuilt default for self-preservation providing that doesn’t conflict with A or B).  Even these severely limited strands of artificial robotic intelligence indicate how design complexity will push back the evolution of robotics-futures – and maybe raise awareness of the extent to which learning to live with diversity is already a poorly-managed challenge.   BBC Report (13/01/2017)

Full Fibre 5G Futures: The Future Communications Challenge Group (FCCG) this week published its interim report – and presented plans for the UK’s 5G strategy at a very well-attended event hosted by the BSG and INCA.  The aspirations take us well beyond debates around technologies – envisaging a major attempt to fuse many currently silo’d activities and attitudes.

 “5G needs to be a collaborative effort in order to enable development of seamless services using common approaches to benefit all of industry, academia and society. So an unprecedented degree of collaboration across industries, government departments and independent bodies will be required. The UK has a strong track record and ‘DNA’ in collaborative working across diverse teams and has a real chance to show leadership in this space.”

Full recognition of the significance of ‘full fibre’ for 5G implementation in this report has clearly been a contributing factor in recent revisions of digital infrastructure policy – although not perhaps as radical as those envisaged in ‘Fibre Mobile’ published last November.

The implications of these FCCG plans should not be underestimated and a full reading of the Interim Report is recommended.  Readers will find the chart on page 44 (PDF Page 45) particularly helpful. FCCG_Interim_Report [2.4Mb PDF download] (12/01/2017)

Comparative Regulation:  French comms regulator ARCEP has signalled its intention to further stimulate ‘enhanced quality‘ fibre access networks.  In a press release yesterday ‘Arcep notes and welcomes the investment effort that Orange has made‘ – Orange being the inheritor of the French equivalent of BT.    Whilst recognising this investment the ARCEP statement goes on to stress that,   ‘This momentum must now spread to all market players. Through its actions, Arcep will work to prevent any obstructive behaviour from Orange, whether with respect to other operators wanting to invest in FttH networks, or to upgrading broadband networks to superfast and ultrafast systems.’

It is clear that in ARCEP’s view the business market requires particular attention.  ‘Arcep will propose a set of regulatory measures to expand the range of “enhanced quality” products available to businesses on FttH networks, to lay the groundwork for new players specialising in infrastructures dedicated to businesses, and to prevent any potential obstacles to healthy competition.’  This statement marks the start of a 6-month consultative process with the intention that regulations will be enacted in October 2017.  See full Press Release  See also commentary by Diffraction Analysis. (10/01/2017)

In the NIC of time: UK mainstream media coverage today inevitably focused on criticism of current 4G Mobile coverage but the thoughtful and admirably readable study by Lord Andrew Adonis and Sir john Armitt at the National infrastructure Commission has been underway for some time – and in the genesis of that long-term cross-party initiative (prior to the 2015 General Election) it is worth remembering that, in the then prevailing descriptions of ‘infrastructure’, Broadband Connectivity did not have a prominent role.  Pennies have, however, dropped and, with a new government, a new Chancellor and, with Matthew Hancock MP at the DCMS helm, the scope for fresh thinking is to be celebrated.  Several forces have combined to great effect; realisation of the coming challenges with 5G being only one factor.  The 4 key recommendations are:

  • acknowledging that digital infrastructure is at the heart of the UK’s industrial strategy and across every sector of the economy
  • main transport routes (motorways) must have mobile networks fit for a future with autonomous vehicles
  • rail passengers should have high-capacity connectivity – a huge technological challenge as higher frequencies are deployed
  • and finally, Local Government should be engaged in deployment – recognising the vital part that public assets will play in infrastructure.

It should not be assumed that progress will now be easy – the naysayers and apologists are already out in force – but imagination and energy from empowered new entrants may well be able to hurdle the vested interests.   Full reading of the NIC work is recommended connected_future_report  [3.6Mb PDF download] (14/12/2016)

Incumbent Redundant?  According to Arthur D. Little’s report on Race to Gigabit Fiber: Telecom incumbents pick up pace – but not, it seems, in the UK.  ADL reports that the number of countries with more than 95% fibre coverage has increased from just one (in 2012) to seven (in 2016). The most successful fibre rollout models were based on a collaborative approach.   Globally, incumbents have increased their involvement in the last 3 years and are positioning themselves stronger than before to drive nationwide fibre. Rollout is further accelerated by partnerships with the government, local utilities, financial investors and participation of challenger TelCos.  Successful take-up of fibre is driven by migrations from legacy technologies to fibre, upgrading customers to gigabit fibre services such as broadband & 4K TV, and an effective competitive market environment.

The report highlights 5 key observations:

–          The 4 regional hot-spots for fibre rollout in recent years are:

  • Baltic (Latvia and Lithuania)
  • GCC (Qatar and UAE)
  • Iberia (Portugal and Spain)
  • South-East Asia (China, Hong-Kong, Japan, New-Zealand, Singapore, South-Korea)

–          Fibre investment has been driven by incumbents in many markets (eg. Qatar, Spain) but challenger telcos are also playing an important role both in rolling out fibre (eg. Portugal, Spain) as well as in facilitating take-up (eg. Singapore, Sweden)

–          Local governments, utilities and financial investors are increasingly partnering with TelCos to roll out fibre (eg. Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland)

–          Fibre investment further facilitates innovative services such as 4k TV, gigabit broadband and lays the ground for future network evolution to 5G

–          Fibre investment enables TelCos to better compete with CableCos (where relevant)

But FISP observes that little of this is apparent in the UK.  With the UK incumbent dedicated to leveraging value from its legacy copper assets for as long as possible, the UK’s aspiration for an economy fit for the digital future rests largely in the hands of relatively small ‘challengers’ like CityFibre, Hyperoptic, Gigaclear and community networks such as B4RN.  The role of Local Governments is also constrained as national policy developers harbour doubts about Municipal Enterprise and are reluctant to devolve power to those close enough to understand the urgency of infrastructure investment requirements. adl_racetogigabitfiber_report_3rd-edition_dec-2016  [PDF download] (11/12/2016)

Breaking News:  Ofcom’s Statement this morning regarding BT/Openreach legal separation (rather than divorce) will not end speculation about the likely outcomes.  It does however signal a determined view from the market regulator that BT has failed sufficiently to respond to concerns over the welfare of the children – the businesses born of a previous era of barely differentiated choices masquerading as competition.  Whilst mainstream media (and many economists) will focus on likely impacts for the glitzy celebrity end of the market – the broadband, faster, super, ultra or multi-giggy heights – the messages from the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement called for long term infrastructure investment.   In the digital field (whether for Fixed or Mobile) the focus must be on the least glamorous tasks – the essential restoration and renewal of the passive (holes and poles) assets.  Ofcom has already demanded that Openreach enables greater access to this vital utility but growth-hungry Local Authorities will not be impressed with market machinations that overlook the need for solid reconstruction efforts.  As recently observed, duct digging and fibre delivery will impact on future 5G Mobile in an era where shared networks will be needed to host vast numbers of micro base-stations.  In that longer term, the rearrangement of chairs in BT and Openreach boardrooms may well be seen as a relatively trivial pursuit.  (29/11/2016)

Caught in the Met:  With what is likely to be the largest ever deletion of surveillance data, attention is now focused on how many other Policing and Criminal Justice systems may be over-reaching their legitimate access and retention of data.  The current deletion was initially prompted by an FOI request and it appears that overdue retention of data from the Numberplate Recognition System was known by the regulator for some considerable time.  Only now that the data recording 4billion car journeys has become technically unusable for any meaningful policing work has it become apparent that these systems fall outside the scope of current legislative legitimacy.  (22/11/2016)

Internet Governance:  The UK’s Minister for Digital, Matt Hancock, addressed the Internet Governance Forum with spirited support for a multi-stakeholder approach to development of the future of the Internet.  The decision by the USA to step back from any dominant Internet governance role (a position that many hope will not be undone under a future president) was welcomed with quotations from Burke who said that liberty “is not solitary, unconnected, individual, selfish liberty, as if every man was to regulate the whole of his conduct by his own will”. Instead he said liberty is “social freedom”. “Secured by the equality of restraint.” In which “no one man, and no body of men, and no number of men, can find means to trespass on the liberty of any person.”

The Minister further commented, ‘Taking that fine principle and applying it to today’s problem means protecting liberty on the internet with reliable protections against theft, and harassment, and child pornography, and incitement and terrorism.  Put it this way: we highly value freedom on the Internet. We want the Internet to be free, open and global. We reject the vision of a censored and limited Internet, controlled by national governments.‘ (20/11/2016)

Upping Mobile Uplink: From Ericsson’s November report (Uplink and Time-to-Content) on Mobile performance we are reminded of yet another reason to increase the number of Base Stations – even before we consider the backhaul requirements when planning deployment of 5G at frequencies well above 3.5GHz.

A lack of uplink coverage indicates that a device is too far away to reach the serving radio base station with a sufficiently strong radio signal. The radio transmitter in a smart device can only transmit with a maximum power which is a fraction of the power available to the radio transmitter in a radio base station. Uplink coverage is a challenge both in rural areas and densely populated urban areas with high buildings. Mobile operators can address the lack of uplink coverage by densifying their network of radio base stations.‘ (18/11/2016)

Break or Bandage?:  Richard Cadman’s paper on the BT Separation debate is a timely and well considered contribution – and concludes that the effort of separation would not be worth the candle because the structure of BT is not really at the heart of the problem.  It is far more a question of regulatory rigour and competitive pressure.   These are complex issues and deserve careful consideration – and that process may not be enhanced by loud campaigning calls from the sidelines. (17/11/2016)

Advocacy Reaps Rewards:  From the finalists in the 5 categories of the European Broadband Awards 2016 there are huge potential clues for all parts of the UK but particularly those in less-favoured rural areas and parts of cities where digital infrastructures have been neglected.   Category 2 (Cost Reduction and Co-Investment) includes the Tyrolean Regional Government who enabled municipalities to build their own passive Broadband infrastructure. More than 140 municipalities took part. The TIWAG (energy supply company owned by the Region of Tyrol) provided about 1.500 km of empty conduit infrastructure and the Austrian Federal Government provides additional funds in a grant programme.  According to the citation, ‘This is a successful example of joint efforts of regional authorities, municipalities and energy companies reducing the cost of broadband deployment and providing an open network.’

The UK is represented in this competition by the West Highland Internet Exchange but readers may observe that within our regions we have many great examples of imaginative projects (such as B4RN, Loch Tay, Gigaclear, etc) but are far less inclined towards open advocacy – often on account of fears of ‘overbuild’ wherever demand is proven.  By default, therefore, this caution allows the central policy agenda (and Local Authority minds) to be dominated by the views of those with the largest PR and Public Affairs budgets. (07/11/2016)

Fibre Five Futures:  In a widely-welcomed ministerial mission statement, Matt Hancock MP (UK Minister of State for Digital and Culture) left delegates at the Broadband World Forum in no doubt that government has seen the light – light that is streaming from the ends of millions of fibres feeding a 5G mobile future.  This welcome clarification (including acknowledgement that the current push for a 10Mb/s USO was not enough) coincided with news of two other components of future networks.  European backing for 26GHz frequencies may have come as a surprise to spectrum experts but whether it’s 26, 28, 37 or 39 GHz that eventually delivers 5G, we know that the reliable cell radius coverage at these frequencies is in region of 200 to 400 metres.  The implication of this – millions of small cells needing fibre backhaul – underscores the need to move rapidly beyond short term fixes and ‘phone line broadband’.   The complexities of managing such a network (often piggy-backing on others’ gigabit connectivity) also makes the case for SDN/NFV – as demonstrated by 5G researchers at Surrey University.  And yet, for all these dreams and technological brilliance, fibre and 5G deployments still need the underlying critical resource – the passive network of ‘holes and poles’.  More capacity will be needed or, at least, ‘liberated’ from the copper camp. (25/10/2016)

National Needs:  The impetus for Sir John Armitt’s National Needs Assessment was a cross-party understanding (well before the last General Election) of the need to remove long-term infrastructure planning from the whims and wobbles of parliamentary political cycles.   The outcome is not a list of projects that could or should be funded but a massive reminder of the interdependencies between infrastructures.  It has been, from his base in the Institute of Civil Engineers, an appropriately major, almost heroic, undertaking.  That said, those concerned with the development of digital connectivity (pp 66/67) may feel disappointed that the interdependencies between energy and broadband access network design did not gain as much attention as they deserve – particularly as the much-lauded ‘achievement’ of FTTC designs are grossly energy-inefficient relative to future-proofed point-to-point FTTP.  That weakness apart, Sir John’s team deserve recognition for championing the notion that infrastructure investment should transcend politics.  national-needs-assessment-pdf-1 (a 15MB download)  (24/10/2016)

Safe & Responsible:  The education of children to become safe and responsible online citizens was the recent focus of the House of Lords Select Committee on Communications.  Taking evidence from a head teacher of a school in Solihull the committee came to appreciate the need to improve schools delivery of Personal, Social, Health & Economic (PHSE) guidance – a topic which has been on school curricula since 2000.  PHSE remains, however non-statutory and reports suggest that online safety education does not have comprehensive coverage throughout the UK.  The awareness gaps between policy makers, teachers, parents and the everyday realities of childrens’ online activity demonstrate the increasing irrelevance of outmoded safety-net concepts such as the late evening television ‘watershed’.  The Select Committee’s evidence hearing (see video from Parliament TV) on 18th October helped to identify important recommendations for further policy development.  (19/10/2016)

Whoa VOA: Much like ‘evidence-based’ policy that is inevitably not forward-looking, the much-vaunted independence of ‘arms-length’ regulators leads to issues of right & left-hand coordination. Some are clearly on message and in tune with economic and societal imperatives whilst others have yet to read the digital directions.

The much-criticised Advertising Standards Authority (failing to understand the difference between copper and fibre) is now joined by the VOA setting rateable values that discriminate against fibre.  In this report by Think Broadband the first reader comment also usefully highlights the distinction between the passive assets (ducts & poles) and whatever is threaded through them.  One wonders if mighty ministerial minds at BEIS, DCMS, HMT and DCLG, or even regulator Ofcom, might be moved to call out ‘Catch up there at the back’  (02/10/2016)

‘Accurate Estimate’:  Ofcom today announced a new voluntary code of practice for suppliers of business broadband services.   The new Code applies to all businesses, regardless of size, and to all standard business broadband services across all technologies (including Fibre to the Cabinet and Fibre to the Premises services).  The internet service providers (ISPs) who have signed up promise to:

  • provide businesses with an accurate estimate of their expected speeds before signing up. This covers both download and upload speeds, which are particularly important to businesses as some may need to send large amounts of data;
  • manage their business customers’ speed-related problems effectively;
  • offer them the right to exit their contract without penalty if speeds fall below the minimum guaranteed level;5
  • give additional relevant speeds information at the point of sale (for example, how the provider manages internet traffic on its network, and how this might affect a customer’s speed); and
  • provide further detailed speeds information in writing to the customer after the sale.

The Code has been welcomed by the Federation of Small Businesses, saying “FSB members are clear about their need for clear and accurate information about both the download and upload speeds they can expect at the point of sale.”   Ofcom is inviting all providers of business broadband to sign up to the Code. Mystery shopping will be carried out, to check if these providers are complying with both the letter and spirit of the Code, and Ofcom will also continue to assess the Code’s effectiveness while considering other ways to improve communication of broadband speeds. (30/09/2016)

Up-rage: While Parliament debates the introduction of a 10Mb/s download USO for 2020 a survey shows a dramatic rise in awareness of, and demand for, better upload capacity.   ISPPreview surveyed 2,209 people in the UK and found that 94% of respondents are now familiar with Internet upload speeds, and a whopping 30% claiming to “need” an upload performance of 20Mbps or greater.  Mark Jackson (ISPreview) commented, ” it’s clear from this that the Government’s plan to introduce a new 10Mbps Universal Service Obligation (USO) by 2020 must pay serious heed to the need for comparable upload performance, particularly with 65% of respondents now claiming to ‘NEED’ an upload speed of 10-20Mbps+.”  (13/09/2016)

Brexit Brains:  In the upsurge of events probing the interpretation of Brexit for networking sectors (and in advance of FISP’s own seminar tomorrow) Tim Cowen (a partner at Preiskel & Co) presented a perspective to the FCS.   Underscoring his view with data showing the UK in a middling performance for broadband connectivity (but way below par for future-proofed fibre) he identified three areas of opportunity (1) to mend and reinvigorate Competition and Regulatory Policy, (2) to focus on Productivity (where TMT is a vital enabler) and (3) to shine a spotlight on infrastructure as a ‘cross-sector GDP Multiplier‘   brexit-means-brexit_preiskel-co  (13/09/2016)

INCAbit Britain:  INCA today published its long-awaited report ‘Building Gigabit Britain’ highlighting ‘the pivotal role of the Altnets in delivering the connectivity the UK needs to prosper‘.  The report highlighted the critical role of public sector agencies leveraging their infrastructure requirements for wider economic and societal benefit.  Recommendations included a call for the Advertising Standards Authority to revise its guidelines to ensure consumers were better informed.  buildinggigabitbritain  (08/09/2016)

Left/Right-hand coordination:  Writing for CapacityMedia, Barney Lane (director of regulation for COLT) observes a weakness in the Ofcom market review process.  “Ofcom needs to re-evaluate how it orchestrates its reviews, to ensure greater clarity and direction, and avoid the risk of internal contradiction.  Issuing a strategy document that promotes a solution to Britain’s fibre investment problem and immediately afterwards, issuing a decision on the business market that fails to implement that solution, does not look good.

Barney Lane further comments: “The issue is that Ofcom continually reviews many market segments which are heavily inter-dependent but the timings of these reviews are not synchronised. At the time of writing, its latest business market review has concluded just as the equivalent residential market review is kicking off. This lack of synchronisation causes Ofcom to behave timidly for fear of an unintended consequence in another market, which happens not to be the subject of the current review. The French have got it right by reviewing all related markets in tandem. The digital strategy review was helpful in showing what Ofcom really wants.  However, its implementation machinery has immediately proven itself unfit for purpose.” (02/09/2016)

Communicating Contexts:  The United Nations may be oft-criticised for its unwieldy bureaucracy and the snail’s pace of diplomatic progress but, by providing solid research and comparative data across many countries and regions, the scope for evidence-based policy development is hugely enhanced – assuming, of course, that their massive and detailed reports are read and understood.  Despite their rigour the ever-present danger is that they remain unread on bookshelves or are superficially scanned to bolster current complacency.

The latest fine example is the UN E-Government Survey 2016 – a production that will gladden the hearts of UK Ministers even though the local debates on future broadband infrastructure continue to rage.  In the context of global provisions, the UK scores well on many measures – particularly in matters of central government policy on e-government.  Comparisons with distant less-developed nations are however spurious.  Researchers (and policy developers) will gain much by looking closely (for example in Table 14) at the relative performance of our more-immediate European neighbours and economic competitors.  (30/08/2016)

Of-com’on: The policy battle lines between the Government and the ‘arms-length’ independent regulator, Ofcom, were once again evident as DCMS issued a statement saying that ” We are concerned that BT’s proposals do not go far enough and think it is right that full structural separation remains an option. Swift and clear action is needed to give certainty to consumers, industry and investors in the UK’s broadband infrastructure, and which delivers rapid improvements in the level of investment and service.”  At the same time DCMS maintained its stance that the UK is a ‘world leading digital nation’.  Initial reaction dismissed this DCMS position (to maintain the Openreach separation option) as an empty political threat designed to quell negative reactions to Ofcom’s decision.

At the heart of this  lies concern for future investment – BT having been criticised (in the recent Select committee report) for the aggregation of the cost of capital across its entire business instead of disaggregating it according to the relevant sector risks.   If BT is now forced to allocate a realistic cost to Openreach it could, in theory, release “several hundred million” for investment.   That however does not imply that future BT funds would be spent on eliminating copper in favour of full-fibre connectivity – and, apart from Sharon White’s fibre enthusiasm repeated today and tentative progress on passive infrastructure sharing, the country still lacks any clear path towards the ‘Gigabit Nation’ aspiration occasionally (but not very convincingly) mentioned by the previous DCMS minister.  (26/07/2016)

French Lessons:  The French communications regulator, Arcep, has delivered a status report on broadband and superfast broadband regulation in France, and set out their development paths for 2017 – 2020.  This example of pro-active regulation is titled ‘Regulation of Fibre, Copper and Civil Engineering’ – and that headline choice is a key indicator of priorities.  Fibre comes first (in the national economic interest), reduction of reliance on copper is the corollary and passive infrastructure (ducts and poles) is the enabler.  Notions of ‘technology neutrality’ – fence sitting to appease market sensibilities – are, in France, less tolerated in the delivery of essential infrastructure for future economic and social development.  (26/07/2016)

Communicating Communications:  Market and Policy Education in matters of digital infrastructure has long been a challenge for media, academia, investors and the industry itself – and, as often revealed by online comments, consumers are left in deep ignorance.  There are, however, encouraging signs that market and policy education is beginning to rise above the self-serving messages emanating from those with deepest pockets.  One recent example comes from Ray Le Maistre, editor in chief of ‘Light Reading’ where he focuses on the commercial models that ‘give hope’ to alternative networks.  In the light of the recent Select Committee Report (see below) and Ofcom’s pronouncements today, the media and policy mood in the UK appears to be shifting towards recognition of realities and fresh thinking rather than the maintenance of dogma and delusions.  One myth (‘Who needs all that bandwidth? – There’s no demand’) is fast fading as Sky (reselling CityFibre’s infrastructure) gained 12% penetration in the first 14 weeks after launch in York of a  fibre rollout that is already available to 11,000 properties. Quality sells – and something that works reliably is really welcome. (26/07/2016)

World Class Connectivity? The light shining from yesterday’s CMS Select Committee report has inevitably encouraged commentators to selectively embellish their long-held views but, taken as a whole, this huge work is remarkably balanced.  FISP may routinely call for greater evidence-based policy but, in the context of parliamentary inquiries, it is hardly surprising that views are coloured by the strengths of committee members’ experiences and all the distortions and delusions that clamour for attention.

There is a natural advantage in these debates that accrues to dominant players given the strengths of their fiscal and intellectual resources.  It is therefore remarkable that the report has left BT feeling a little bruised.  ‘Trust me, I’m a Telco’, seems, this time around, to have finally lost its plausibility.  The Regulator may have helped set the critical context.  Reportedly, in the next 10 years, up to 40% of consumers may have a real competitive choice – an Ofcom view that might have struck committee members as a fairly low aspiration since they eschew the notion of local connectivity being a natural monopoly.   But perhaps more than any other input, the balance was maintained by virtue of the expert advice documented in an Annex to the main report.  Readers who may be deterred from reading the full report on account of its length, may find the 15 pages and 76 paragraphs of expert insight to be particularly revealing, and FISP applauds their diligent work.  (20/07/2016)

Wibre: If copper connectivity can be sold as ‘fibre broadband’ (see Observatory note 03/07/16) then it is presumably equally fair to describe a Fibre to the Kerb scheme, with a short final link via wireless, as ‘Virtual Fibre’.

Dutch-based Angie Communications (NG with a Dutch accent) has agreed a deal with Slough Borough Council and has lined up COLT and Zayo to build out fibre infrastructure to the kerb in all the town’s neighbourhoods, business parks and premises.  Connectivity for the the last 50 metres or so will be carried by wireless technology. Angie says the “ultra-densification of fibre and wireless will result in Slough being “5G-primed” and so able to take advantage of all the benefits and opportunities that implies.  Slough businesses and residents will pay from just £30 per month for a wireless Gigabit connection that will blanket the entire town. Angie will finance the entire project, ensuring that Slough will have all the benefits and none of the financial or operational risks.”

Neal Lachman,the Group CEO of Angie Communications International said, “We will bring fibre to locations in Slough where it would have been uneconomical or expensive for the council; it is part of our commitment to the people of Slough. This way, everybody wins: residents, businesses, Slough Borough council, and Angie and its partners. With the likes of Zayo and Colt and several others already or coming on board as partners, we plan to emulate the Slough models, principles and modus operandi worldwide.” (report sourced from Telecom TV)  (13/07/2016)

Holes & Poles:  The BT News Release heralding a fresh attempt to simplify the process for non-BT providers to gain access to ducts and poles has been widely reported (and welcomed) in mainstream and industry media. The simplified procedures will be tested by five network providers.  Three of those were named in the news release but BT didn’t mention the two most significant participants – CityFibre and Hyperoptic.   The success or otherwise of the trial of simplified procedures – e.g. being allowed to get on with the work without asking for further permissions – is expected to be an important factor in Ofcom’s post-DCR position on the BT/Openreach separation issue.  (08/07/2016)

The fib in fibre: The ongoing complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority about the description ‘fibre broadband’ for services that use copper for their delivery to the end user have routinely met with a refusal to acknowledge the relevance of that deception.  The ASA notes: “consumers interested in a ‘fibre-optic’ service would primarily be concerned with the improved speed and performance that could be delivered in comparison to an ADSL service, rather than being concerned with obtaining the most technologically advanced fibre-optic product available at any cost.”   This inability to recognise that repurposed analogue services are fundamentally different to digital services delivered entirely over fibre may however be short-lived.  ASA Chairman, Lord Smith notes that the ASA “does not dispute that an FTTP network will deliver a superior service,” and that the “marketplace will change”.   ISPreview reports the ASA view that this will eventually lead to a situation where people need to choose between FTTC and FTTP rather than today’s market where the choice on Openreach’s network is more between FTTC and ADSL.  Who will declare that market moment and when it might occur remains unspecified.   See also Observatory note (Moral Fibre) for 28th March 2016 for commentary on the same debate in France where action has already been invoked. (03/07/2016)

Response-Abilities:  The responses to Ofcom’s ‘Call for Input’ on proposals for a Broadband Universal Obligation/Commitment are now demonstrating the extent of the huge and largely voluntary intellectual effort that can inform governmental policy developers and regulators.   It is clear that in all such consultations there is, inevitably, no shortage of advice from major players keen to protect their investment interests.   Ofcom, however, should be particularly heartened that many previously disregarded or unknown actors are actively engaged – not least because these smaller voices often lack the financial resources of those who dominate the market.  An example, among many, of the thoughtful consideration of USO concerns comes from the Rural Services Network.

Cynics, and some respondents, may view regulatory consultations as action-delaying, backside-protecting, policy wallpaper conveniences but any regulator would be failing in its duty if it did not fully appreciate, and honestly reflect, the strength of fresh inputs – sometimes for no better reason than they provide evidence for greater market education.  The great challenge for regulators – how to gauge the value of consultation responses – is perhaps best approached by looking not at who responded but by asking why; ‘Why are they telling me this?’ (27/06/2016)

All Change, All Change: The long-held assumptions about fibre investment viability – particularly (but not exclusively) in hard-to-reach rural/remote areas – can now be questioned.  Evidence increasingly shows that the foundations of UK connectivity policy – largely based on assumptions of high deployment costs and low demand – are no longer valid and served only the incumbents’ interests in utilising their existing assets.  In part the shift is related to perceived demand as consumers (public, commercial and domestic) are now beginning to understand the need for future-proofing.  Other factors include improved deployment management techniques together with scale efficiencies.

The largest single factor, however, in the growth of innovative FTTP deployments is the collective willingness to get on and banish the fault-ridden operational costs of trying to re-purpose copper networks that are now demonstrably seen as ‘unfit for purpose’.  The ‘purpose’, of course, has been redefined with a far greater emphasis on longer term needs.  In this article from The Telegraph, Matthew Hare of Gigaclear observed, “Even Ofcom thought what we were doing was impossible. They said they had run consultations which said fibre wouldn’t work in rural areas, but [they] now had the evidence in front of them.” (20/06/2016)

Platform Perceptions:   The Economist writes that, “It is not only Europe that is suffering from growing platform anxiety. Although worries vary, politicians and regulators around the world are waking up to the power of these online matchmakers, whose role is to bring together different groups—advertisers and consumers in the case of Facebook and Google, merchants and buyers in the case of Amazon, drivers and passengers in the case of Uber.”  Platform power is only now being understood – and understood from a consumer protection perspective rather than from the complaints of legacy  businesses disrupted.  Size really does matter in these networked arenas and regulators are being reminded that monopolies (old or new) are rarely socially and economically beneficial.  Regulators (and Policy Developers) need that learning journey – and they need the tools and talents to moderate market excesses and undue protectionism. (27/05/2016)

My Government will: Further to the FISP response to last week’s Queen’s Speech outlining the government’s legislative programme, the reaction from rural communities who are more sensitised to broadband inadequacies has, unsurprisingly, been more pointed.  Richard Harris, writing from Perthshire, gives full vent to the angst that has built up over years of delivery solutions that are not appropriate for their environment.   We should, of course, remember that the under-provision of adequate broadband also affects parts of large cities including London – as FISP pointed out in the DfL campaign ahead of the recent mayoral election. (25/05/2016)

Steeple Learning Curve:  TelecomTV reports ‘that the Church of England is offering its ancient network of more than 10,000 country churches as antenna sites so that the rollout of rural broadband in the UK may be completed.  It is already working with 40 dioceses on a broadband rollout plan. In point of fact, the Church already operates a broadband network called WiSpire. It provides Internet and mobile services from 47 church towers and spires across Norfolk.’  (18/05/2016)

Defining Digital Infrastructure:  One need not entirely agree with the political/economic stance of the Washington-based think tank ITIF to appreciate their broad approach to defining Digital Infrastructure – setting it in a far wider context than is commonly found here in Europe.  Such an approach might be useful in the UK where questions over the validity (or even existence) of an adequate broadband plan continue to arise 9 years after the BSG’s ‘Pipe Dreams’ report of 2007.  (17/05/2016)

Delivering the UK”s National infrastructure: marking the start of the new year for the Infrastructure and Projects Authority, Chapter 7 of the National Infrastructure Delivery Plan ( 2904569_nidp_deliveryplan ) sets the framework for investments in digital infrastructure.  It is interesting to note clear recognition of the role of ‘alternative’ suppliers, the role of local Government and the expectation of higher broadband performance.  (03/05/2016)

Digital Single Market: As European Commission leaders meet with the ITU in Geneva to discuss how better Quality of Service metrics and broadband mapping can help deliver better connectivity services, the International Telecoms Users Group (INTUG) released an entirely different perspective on achievement of a single European market for digital services.  The INTUG perspective notes that having identified the barriers to cross-border trade and understanding how much would be gained by their elimination, the UK government ought to be pursuing an agenda whereby a series of individual national rules are replaced by single EU-wide rules.  Unfortunately for those politicians who might prefer a simple life, there is a tension between seeking to “reduce interference” from the EU and seeking a single market to replace 28 different national markets. The INTUG paper cites a potentially helpful parallel with pan-European regulation of the pharmaceutical industry but any precedent found in that (1990’s) experience might be scuppered by national regulatory caution urged on by security services.  UK and pan-European economic success and social well-being may inadvertently be sacrificed on an altar of nationalistic fear that has been built on foundations of commercial and regulatory ignorance.  Digital-Single-Market – INTUG  (03/05/2016)

Lines, Damned Lines and Statistics:  Unlike the French, the UK Government persists in the consumer-confusing use of the term ‘fibre’ to describe broadband services distributed via copper pairs.  Clearly some marketeers recognise that customers correctly understand fibre optic technologies to be vastly superior to copper networks.  By the same logic that labels part-fibred (FTTC) services as ‘Fibre Broadband’ we might also expect Mobile Operators to provide Fibre Mobile if their masts are served by optical connections.   But more than that ‘misrepresentation’, the online journal The Register also highlights further overstatements of digital infrastructure provisions.  In the ongoing battle to shore up legacy providers of services that are not fit-for-purpose or future-proofed, it would now appear that the term ‘ultrafast’ is being deflated to accommodate asymmetric services as slow as 100Mb/s download.  (29/04/2016)

OnLine Platforms:  The House of Lords Select Committee that scrutinises EU policy development has been thinking about OnLine Platforms.  Their Lordships conclude that:   Online platforms (which comprise a wide range of software-based technologies, from search engines and social networks to price comparison websites and collaborative economy platforms) are drivers of growth, innovation and competition. They enable businesses and consumers to make the most of the opportunities created by the digital economy. Supported by the emergence of mobile devices and pervasive wireless connectivity, online platforms have transformed how we live, interact and transact. In doing so they have disrupted existing sectors of the economy and challenged regulatory frameworks.

In framing their recommendations their Lordships observed that some OnLine Platforms may ‘also have huge power which could be abused‘  A full copy of the report is available in PDF (1.4MB) Online Platforms and the Digital Single Market FINAL  (25/04/2016)

Backhaul Dependencies:  The USA’s FCC has made clear the potential value of 5G technologies to bring competition to poorly served areas.  Speaking at a policy summit, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler pointed out “Because 5G will be the first mobile technology to add the use of millimetre wave spectrum at scale, wireless signals will travel shorter distances.  This means that 5G cell sites will be much more densely located than traditional networks. We will see a proliferation of new cell sites requiring expanded backhaul capacity – and backhaul is a Business Data Service. Without a healthy BDS market, we put at risk the enormous opportunity for economic growth, job creation and US competitiveness that 5G represents.”

The need for greater backhaul ahead of 5G is also a concern for London – as reported in coverage of the FISP project Digital for Londoners (DfL) – where the conventional model of relatively few mobile base stations (with large site rental costs) needs to be overturned to accommodate millions of sites at very low costs.  The Public Sector is expected to play an important role through the utilisation of property assets and street furniture to accommodate huge numbers of very small cells each with a typical coverage area of 200m radius.  The 5G capabilities are unlikely to be fulfilled without extensive fibre backhaul and elimination of asymmetric copper connectivity. (13/04/2016)

First Mover Advantages:  If anyone ever doubted the economic and societal benefits of pioneering investment in advanced connectivity they should look to the Nordic countries for evidence of bonus outcomes.  Market maturity in the digital domain is far from any sign of slowing growth – it is a pre-qualification for future developments.  The most recent examples in the way ‘Connected  Things’ are becoming connected to yet more ‘Connected Things’ are shown in a report from AD Little and Telia Sonera. Connected Things Report 2016 online  (PDF Download) (12/04/2016)

Not-so-Smart Meters:  Yet another hitch in the UK’s expensive and underperforming Smart Metering programme – the realisation by GCHQ of hacking  vulnerabilities.  The original motivations that fuelled the project centred around encouraging greater efficiency predominantly in domestic energy usage – and was one of several measures including thermal insulation upgrades.  The £11bn programme costs are perhaps close to 75% of the theoretical costs of proving FTTH/B throughout the UK (vastly reduced from 20 year-old estimates) and, as experience shows elsewhere, that would have provided a network more-easily and more-securely able to read meters at, say, 15-minute intervals and create vastly more detailed insights into energy consumption. (12/04/2016)

Ducts & Poles: In the context of Ofcom’s recent urging of more competitive access to Ducts and Poles, it’s interesting to read of current experience in the USA.  Urban areas in the USA are more frequently served by overhead cabling, not just for telecoms but also for power distribution.  From an engineering viewpoint fibre is more compatible with parallel distribution of electricity.  Overhead distribution contributes to cost reductions for fibre network deployments – indeed the US pioneer in this regard is Chattanooga where, conveniently, the local energy company is owned by the City.  In the UK, use of overhead routes for fibre may be of greater benefit on longer routes in rural areas.  This highlights yet another reason why Energy and Digital policies should be better coordinated. (12/04/2016)

Getting to a Gig:  As a useful adjunct to FISP’s ‘Digital for Londoners’ (DfL) initiative, CityFibre’s video explanation of a ‘Gigabit City’ is a timely resource.  The old assumptions about how broadband is delivered are being questioned, particularly in London, by better-educated consumers who understand the need for future-proofing the fixed and mobile broadband networks. (02/04/2016)

Moral Fibre:   As reported via on-line journal telecompaper the French government has set new rules for the use of the word ‘fibre’ in operators’ sales and marketing material.  The change was sought by Orange France and Free, which deploy FttH, claiming that cable operator Numericable’s description of its FttB network using fibre coax for the connection to the home constituted false advertising. Under the new decree, when advertising states the download speed, it must also indicate the upload speed at the same volume and visibility as the download speed.  Full Story (28/03/2016)

Ofcomreach:  In a review of Ofcom’s conclusions from its Digital Communications review, Benoit Felten of Diffraction Analysis observes that ‘the measures announced will not make any difference in terms of Openreach’s ability to invest since the markets will still look at them as telecom, not infrastructure (and because the ability of BT Group to siphon Openreach profit will not be hindered.) In other words, this is no game changer when it comes to investing in rural broadband or investing in future proof urban broadband.

‘The game theory scenario could be that proper infrastructure competition pushes Openreach to either invest in FTTH themselves (unlikely, Google Fiber hasn’t managed to get AT&T to do that, and they’re a much bigger threat than Sky, Talk Talk, Cityfiber, Hyperoptic and Gigaclear currently are to Openreach) or to undergo voluntary separation to avoid the systematic erosion of its revenue base.

‘One thing is clear though: the linchpin of the whole thing is that pole and duct database.  Ofcom had better start to work fast on specifying that and ensuring that whatever Openreach offers actually meets the needs of the market. If that database isn’t up and running in a year’s time, we can probably consider that the whole thing was hot air.’  Full story  (04/03/2016)

Poles Apart:  In contrast to calls for complete separation of Openreach from BT, Ofcom today announced moves towards stronger governance of Openreach within BT and greater open access to passive infrastructure – the ducts and poles.   The complete statement issued at 07:00 today is here. (25/02/2015)

Quality v Quantity:  The latest Diffraction Analysis blog considers the lack of interoperability in the growth of municipal datasets.  ‘The low interoperability of ICT in healthcare and digital medical records is a recurring issue, but it highlights a disturbing trend regarding Smart City solutions: municipal services are urged to produce more and more data (by manufacturers, big data evangelists, or even services from other cities), instead of higher quality and better structured data.’

‘Will other cities, or even other municipal services of the same city, be able to use my data in their own application?  Or the other way round, will the municipal service in question be able to use other application on their data?  These questions should be answered before starting Smart City projects.  The matter of the quantity and relevancy of information seems however here to stay: the number of hackathons from cities (and companies) having data they have no use for is still incredibly high, and too many new projects rely on a massive rollout of sensors with only limited use cases for them.’  (10/02/2016)

Hello?  Hello?  Such is the rapid growth of cellular mobile traffic that deployment of network upgrades may at first seem to degrade customers’ Quality of Experience.  Call drop-outs in VoLTE environments may be three to four times higher than in 2G or 3G networks according to research by Amdocs.  Consumers may be forgiven for concluding that an ‘upgrade’ inevitably means a deterioration in service quality – an increased flakiness – and, in operators’ quest for reduced CAPEX and OPEX (the key drivers for VoLTE), there is a need for greater post-deployment design attention to tuning networks to cope with rapid growth and offload yet more traffic onto WiFi networks – assuming, of course, that they in turn offer adequate backhaul.  Not so much of a problem in the growing ranks of ‘Gigabit Cities’.  (05/02/2016)

Up To Speed?  Ofcom has facilitated a Voluntary Business Broadband Speeds Code of Practice for ISPs.   It aims to provide business customers purchasing standard business broadband services with transparent and accurate information on their broadband speeds.  The Code is a voluntary commitment from those Internet Service Providers who are signatories to the Code. They undertake to provide accurate and transparent speed information on standard business broadband services at point of sale, manage business customers’ speed-related problems, and allow customers to exit the contract without penalty if speeds fall below a minimum threshold.

Broadband services are fundamental to all businesses, but there can be some confusion for business customers about the actual speeds that can be achieved by their broadband services compared with the “up to” maximum speeds advertised. Ofcom also found that a fifth of SMEs were dissatisfied about their ability to access the speeds paid for, and that some providers did not give individual estimated speeds.  The Code applies to all standard business broadband internet services, regardless of technology, but some parts of the code are technology specific e.g. certain provisions on line speed information and contract release do not apply to FTTP and cable for which speeds performance is less variable.  The Code does not apply to technologies and services where speeds are guaranteed and/or the customer has a dedicated connection, such as leased lines, Ethernet over fibre to the Cabinet (EoFTTC), Ethernet First Mile (EFM), or similar. In addition, broadband services which connect to a private internal system rather than directly to the internet are excluded.  Ofcom will undertake regular mystery shopping exercises on ISPs sales processes to ensure compliance. (27/01/2016)

Battle of the Bugs:  Reported by industry new site, Telco 2.0, (and based on material from ZDnet and Wall Street Journal)  ‘Google is now paying over a thousand people just to police deceptive, creepy, or malware-laden ads. Last year, 780 million of them were shot down, which is up 49% year-on-year.

The worst offending sector was pharma, with 12.5m unacceptable ads. No fewer than 17 million ads were caught mimicking operating system prompts in order to trick users into installing dodgy software. And this doesn’t even include mobile, although at least 25,000 apps were turned down for in-app ads for shonky tricks like “placing ads so close to user-interface elements users would click them by accident”. Google exec Tom Siegel says the volume of refused ads is going up as the total volume of ads does, but you can’t tell because they don’t give a percentage number.’ (20/01/2015)

UK USO Debate:  In a timely reminder of the origins and implications of Universal Service Obligations, Richard Feasey’s latest blog will inform the very many minds that are gearing up to interpret proposed UK policy initiatives.  SuperfastUSO (PDF download) is a long but well researched examination of the issues.  Richard’s blog can be found here.  (22/01/2015)

Universality: Whilst the UK ponders how to bring adequate broadband to the last 5-10% of its population, leaders at the World Economic Forum are considering the scale of investment needed to bring broadband within reach of 60% of the global population.  A Discussion Paper developed by ITU as a contribution to the work of the UN’s Broadband Commission presented in Davos estimates that it will take global investment of USD 450 billion in network infrastructure to connect the next 1.5 billion unconnected people worldwide. (22/01/2015)

Market Definitions: In a blog published by University of East Anglia’s Centre for Competition Policy, Richard Cadman uses the recent CMA policy determination in the BT/EE merger case to highlight questions of market definition.   Whilst not giving any opinion on the outcome of that case (Fixed & Mobile Broadband Access), Richard’s views on the significance of market definitions surely have great relevance as new investments by fully-fibred (FTTP) terrestrial operators do not necessarily follow traditional market segmentations for, say, commercial or domestic customers – indeed the crossover between ‘business’ and ‘residential’ markets has long been evident as ‘working from home’ work-styles have evolved over the last three decades. (21/01/2016)

Network Resilience: An article for Computer Weekly, ‘Floods reveal weakness in the resilience of UK broadband‘ comments on the impact of recent flooding and network designs such as Fibre to the Cabinet. (12/01/2016)

Smart Meters:  In a letter to The Times, FISP Chairman Michael Rowbory challenges the air of complacency that surrounds the national Smart Metering project.  ‘Sir,  The Secretary of State’s letter (Smart meter future –  Jan6) does little to answer the questions raised by the Times (report Jan4).  The competition argument used is on a par with saying that giving people choice about which brand of fuel to buy gets motorways built. 

Many of the consumer benefits identified in the letter could be achieved more simply by using low cost applications at little or no cost to the public purse. The gold plated Smart Meter programme is costly, technically risky and raises innumerable security issues for very little consumer or national energy management benefits and does nothing in the short to medium term to assist in “keeping the lights on” .  

We advocate the creation of an effective national digital infrastructure to support Smart Energy networks and other National Infrastructure programmes that the Smart Meter programme as currently envisaged will not deliver.  The programme should now be paused to establish more practical and coherent policy objectives as part of an effective national energy management capability underpinned by a fit for purpose national digital infrastructure.’   Michael Rowbory BSc (Eng) MIET  (07/01/2016)

Regulatory Certainty:  In his review of the impacts of structural separation in New Zealand, Benoit Felton of Diffraction Analysis observes the significance of regulatory certainty – and the very positive consequences for both Chorus and Spark. (30/12/2015)

Spectrum Crunch?  The UK Spectrum Policy Forum has warned that the UK is at risk of a spectrum ‘crunch’ if growing demand is not met. Failure to provide adequate spectrum across a number of sectors that have critical business and social requirements could result in significant economic and social impact for the UK. Based on studies of 11 sectors, from space and radio to broadcasting and transport, the report provides a snapshot of the current spectrum usage and expected long-term future needs.  UK_Spectrum_Usage_and_Demand_-_main_v3 (PDF Download)  17/12/2015

BEREC Broadside: Addressing the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications(BEREC), Commissioner   Günther H. Oettinger highlighted the “one indispensable condition for the achievement of the Digital Single Market: unconstrained connectivity across the entire EU.    The availability of high-capacity and high-speed connections is”, he said,” a necessary condition – the conditio sine qua non – to achieve better results for each and every citizen, for industry, for businesses, whatever their size and whatever the sector of the economy, for schools, for research and innovation centres, for public services across Europe.”  His speech was also noteworthy for stressing the importance of National Regulatory Authorities to be independent – ‘independence from industry, but also from your national administrations‘ – in pursuit of higher connectivity goals. Full Text (11/12/2015)

Networking Ideas:  Bristol, with its ‘Bristol Is Open‘ initiative is showing the UK how digital endeavour can deliver real benefits for citizens and the local economy.  The availability of live open data from Bristol https://opendata.bristol.gov.uk/ and a blog interpreting this data www.bristolisopen.com/category/blog/  derives in large part from a long-standing core network investment by the City that enables experimentation.  Details of the network and the Bristol context is explained in this recent presentation (PDF) Bristol Is Open_Digital Economy  (11/12/2015)

Mobile Coverage:  Data released by the RAC Foundation reveals that more than 4,500 miles of British roads have zero mobile coverage from any operator.  The RAC’s  list of Local Authorities ranked by the extent of not-spot-miles is available as a downloadable PDF.

2G Total not-spot miles = 4,567,  3G not-spot-miles = 14,554,  4G not-spot-miles = 136,271.

3G and 4G coverage (oft-regarded as essential for IoT applications) is a long way behind 2G and this data challenges assumptions of contiguous availability across British roads.   To make a phone call, 2G or 3G coverage is required as most 4G mobiles rely on 2G/3G networks for voice calls and 4G coverage by itself won’t solve breakdown and emergency call issues.  The research did not include analysis of mobile not-spots in Northern Ireland. (3/11/2015)

Mobile Spectrum:  The global spectrum allocations agreed in Geneva at the World Radiocommunications Conference (WRC-15) have been applauded by the GSMA expressing an almost audible sigh of relief from mobile operators. In the short term the legitimisation of the relatively low frequency sub-700MHz band (currently used for television) is significant as it will enable greater mobile coverage in sparsely populated areas as the market shifts increasingly away from voice telephony towards data-driven applications.  This round of negotiations may be sufficient to stave off immediate coverage & capacity pressures but the agenda for WRC-19 has been clearly marked as the time to consider much higher frequencies above 24GHz with massive backhaul implications for millions of small cells and a critical interdependence on the availability of fixed fibre networks.  (via TelecomTV Insights – 27/11/2015)

Connectivity and Quality:   The European Commission has launched a public consultation to look into the needs for Internet speed and quality beyond 2020. The purpose is to assess and understand those needs better with a view in developing a policy helping the investors to deploy the future-proof connectivity networks and to ensure that all users, being households, businesses, public institutions, can take advantage of the digital economy and society. This public consultation is addressed to citizens, businesses, NGOs, public authorities across all sectors. (27/11/2015)

BBC futures: In a blog for LSE, Prof. Mariana Mazzucato highlights the need for policy debates to move on beyond ideological beliefs and embrace the evidence.  A few simple metrics will not serve the debate well and, Mariana suggests, four steps are required with a new approach  focused on: Directions, Organizations, Evaluation and Risks-Rewards. (19/11/2015)

Broadband Policy – polarised debate:  In the opening keynote address at NextGen15, Richard Hooper attempted to give a balanced view in what is an increasingly polarised debate.  Here is a brief video from NextGenTV capturing his views – including the thought that it was time to set a date for switching off the analogue PSTN. (17/11/2015)

Passive Assets:  In a wide-ranging reflection on digital comms regulation across Europe, Richard Feasey focused on the ‘bottle neck’ of passive assets and touched on issues of structural separation:

“I would associated State Aid more strongly with structural separation of the assets to be subsidised from the rest of the vertically integrated firm. This ensures that the funds really are targeted at the assets and investments you want to support, rather than being diverted to other purposes. It removes a whole set of concerns about gaming the process. So I would split out duct assets from the incumbent and then use public money to upgrade them to a point where they would support competition.

“I might also get the other users of the ducts to contribute towards the funding and perhaps even take an ownership stake in the new company. I would also consider adding assets from other businesses – other utilities or local authorities – to the venture.

“So far, when thinking about passive access, we have tended to assume that this refers to the assets currently used by the incumbent to support its business. But why assume that these will be adequate to support a whole new business for which they were never designed? I think we will need a much more ambitious approach to improving passive infrastructure in the telecoms arena if we are to get the kind of competitive outcomes we want. Too many people say that there are limits to how competitive fixed infrastructure can be – but have we really tried to explore the limits of what might be possible? ”   Full text:  Comments on European Regulation November 2015  (16/11/2015

Cameron Connects?  Speaking at the CBI’s annual conference, UK Prime Minister David Cameron gave a commitment to new 2017 targets for broadband connectivity and regard it as a utility:  “….And as I said, a big focus for us is going to be broadband.  If you’re a business, or an individual, or a household, and you’re not connected to broadband, it’s like not being connected to the road network or not being connected to the electricity network.  So today I can say what we’re going to do next: we’ve taken this country from 2010 at 45% of homes fast to now 83% of homes fast.  We’re on track to get to 95% of homes fast in 2017.

But one of the ways we’re going to get to that next step, and go beyond it, is to treat broadband in the same way that we treat telephony, in the same way that we treat electricity, which is to have a Universal Service Obligation.  We’re going to consult with Ofcom about how best to deliver it, but I’m absolutely determined that that minimum guarantee of 10 megabits per second to every household, that should be delivered through a universal service guarantee.  And that is going to be a major focus for us in the months ahead….

The PM clearly believes that telephony is already a utility that should now extend to encompass broadband.  The promise to ‘consult with Ofcom’ on delivery of a universal service guarantee may well signal new opportunities for the Alt-Net industry to deliver innovative design solutions for places (in both cities and rural areas) that are beyond the scope of the dominant incumbents’ current technologies. (10/11/2015)

Mobile Consolidation:  Commenting on consultancy Rewheel’s Digital Fuel Monitor, which tracks mobile prices across Europe, TelecomTV highlights the finding that, in matters mobile, ‘for the first time the UK does not meet Rewheel’s competitiveness threshold‘.  The report assembles the evidence that mobile mergers have a detrimental impact on consumer prices and service choices.   Summary by TelecomTV. (10/11/2015)

NextGen15:  This year’s NextGen event on November 5th was in no way lacking in informed and captivating presentations but, from a FISP viewpoint, two contributions deserve a wider audience.  Firstly the opening keynote address by Richard Hooper (Chairman of the Broadband Stakeholders Group and former Deputy Chairman of ofcom) kicked off proceedings with a balanced view of what has become an extremely polarised debate as he attempted to answer the question:  Is the UK on track to meet its digital needs? RH Speech to NextGenSpeechNovember2015 .   Later in the day Barney Lane (Director Regulatory Affairs, Colt Technology Services) gave his view on How to ensure that regulation is fit for purpose in a fibre world. Barney Lane speech at NG15  Both speakers impressed with (from Richard Hooper) a UK call to set a date for PSTN switch -off and (from Barney Lane) a call for vastly more extensive access to passive infrastructure assets. (6/11/2015)

eSIM Impacts:  Richard Feasey writes of the impacts of ‘Embedded SIM’ on the Mobile industry – suggesting that it’s introduction could have an uncoupling effect even greater than that of IP.  Uncoupling again (PDF) suggests that “the decoupling of devices from networks precipitated by the eSIM means that investing in networks will no longer be a good way to compete.  Operators will need to find new ways to tie in retail customers now that the physical SIM card and the network can no longer perform that function. Perhaps the end point of this is that network operators decide to do what the eSIM achieves through software, and physically combine their network infrastructure to create a single, open access network to which all devices attach.”  (ED: Just think what that might do for spectrum efficiency!)

Comparative Regulation:  FISP noted two aspects of the recent ARCEP Press release. The French regulator’s approach to issues of Mobile Network Sharing is very clear – and, incidentally, comes at at time when Mobile Operators in that country are heading the European rankings for low latency and hence higher customer satisfaction.   The second observation is that there would appear to be less confusion about the role of the regulator – their work is subservient to the overriding overriding objectives of the country’s Act on Growth, Business and Equal Economic Opportunity  (7 August 2015).   In the UK international comparisons are often decried on account of economic/market environmental differences.  There is however much value is studying ‘Comparative Regulation’ as a route to boosting progressive policy expectations.

Digital Single Market Priorities:  BCG’s latest report identifies EU priorities from the Telco viewpoint.   Through this lens they see a need for:

  • consistent standards
  • market structure analysis to optimise investment
  • wholesale regulation to drive NGA investment
  • modernised spectrum policy, and
  • services with guaranteed network quality

The report (commissioned by ETNO) includes a call for a shift away from price as the dominant regulatory objective – a view with which few investors (established or emergent) would disagree.  Regulators may well take issue with the inbuilt assumption that they still adhere to this simplistic focus as they seek greater innovation and welcome diverse competitive approaches.  The report clearly restates Telco perspectives and challenges regulators to recognise the virtues of the industry before they are lost to evolution.  The full BCG report can be downloaded here. BCG-Five-Priorities-Europes-Digital-Single-Market-Oct-2015

OnLine Platforms: “The Call from a subcommittee of the House of Lords was just too tempting.  Their Lordships’ inquiry into online platforms was prompted by the European Commission – a classic legislative response to mutterings that surely ‘something must be done‘.  But looking at the questions posed, it became clear that the great success of online platforms might be largely due to the fact that nothing much has been done. There may be a case for consumer protection in a world of uneven comprehension but there is certainly little justification for market protection by over-egging regulation. And, moreover, jotting down some notes for their Lordships’ committee, it became clear just how good the UK is becoming at this sort of innovation.  We may not be home to the Googles, Twitters or Skypes but we have no shortage of great examples of online platform innovation.”  More: Groupe Intellex

Predictable Quality of Experience:  In compiling the forthcoming FISP mini-series based around the’ Quality of Experience’ theme, were were drawn to Stephen Temple’s perspective.  He writes – ‘As every sector of our economy modernises itself through greater digital connectivity we need smart government pro-investment policies and smart regulations that drive fixed broadband access networks (and wireless pick-up points) towards a “net neutral” end goal but drives capacity constrained networks (eg national mobile networks) in a different direction towards the right sort of “net discrimination” based upon transparent rules of prioritization. The country needs a future fixed and broadband infrastructure that aspires to deliver an “Equality of Experience” but must  always deliver a “Predictable Quality of Experience” in the circumstances likely for most networks where there is occasionally not enough capacity to meet peak demand.’

Full text at Stephen Temple’s blog.

Demand Perspectives:  A new FSB report ‘Reassured, Optimised, Transformed’  is based on the premise that almost all small businesses should, and could, be doing more online. Despite this, many small businesses are not taking full advantage of the different benefits using online services can offer. This report therefore moves from looking at supply side issues to that of how to stimulate demand in the most effective manner.

Copper Switch Off? Considering calls for a more determined policy to shift from copper to fibre, Adrian Wooster continues his theme that the Ofcom Strategic Review provides an opportunity to think through the objectives before rushing into regulatory remedies.

Digital Impacts on Jobs:  In ‘Man and Machine in Industry 4.0’ Boston Consulting Group tackle head on the concern for future jobs in a highly automated world.  Their detailed modelling forecasts that digital technologies (collectively known as Industry 4.0) will help people remain in or return to the workforce. Although more jobs will be gained than lost, workers will require significantly different skills. Technologies such as augmented reality will enable workers to perform entirely new jobs.

Breaking Up – so very hard to do:  In his ‘Cart before Horse’ blog Adrian Wooster points out that market remedies seem to be proposed before a full debate around future needs.  This is a classically well-balanced commentary and not uncritical of the market regulator – a view which, in the subsequent comments, is extended by others to questions over policy leadership.  The notion of a referral to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) would, he suggests, enable the wider debate about the market and future direction.   Usefully the blog has stimulated some excellent comments – leading Adrian to suspect that ‘the big ISPs call for a referral to the CMA is as much about a review of Ofcom as it is about BT‘.

UK Global Broadband ranking:  The Akami ‘State of the Internet’ report shows that the UK has risen from 21st to 19th place.  Although Germany fares less well it would seem that it is catching up fast.  The study also shows that 23% of UK broadband users may now be able receive download data at a speed greater than 15Mb/s.

Passive infrastructure:  In a speech at an FCS event, Comms Provider 2015, Barney Lane, Director of Regulatory Affairs, Colt, focused attention on the impacts of regulation from the viewpoint of an operator with 42 Metropolitan Area Networks across Europe – but only one in Britain.  In the context of Ofcom’s Strategic Review of Digital Communication, he urged action beyond opening access to dark fibre.  If Ofcom  opened regulated access to ‘passive infrastructure’ they could create a model similar to that in other European markets such as France, Spain and Portugal. Future proofing the UK – a regulatory perspective (PDF).

Separation of Openreach from BT:  The debate on physical versus virtual separation continues at all levels.  In his blog, Adrian Wooster, responds to those from rural areas  seeking a view on the likely impacts of such a move.  His message is to not expect any great change anytime soon – it would take years for a separated Openreach to shift its current approach.   The reactions/comments on this blog are interesting with much support for independent alternative network solutions for deeply rural environments.

Asian Economic Growth:  Recent data from Fibre to the Home Council Asia-Pac announced at a conference in Jakarta shows Asia is powering ahead in the global race for future-proofed connectivity.

Infrastructure Investment:  HM Treasury and Infrastructure UK have updated their view of the UK’s National Infrastructure Pipeline  for the period to 2020/21.  The communications element profiles a gradual reduction over the period with most investment devoted to mobile infrastructure.  The detail can be found in the downloadable MS Excel file.  The projections suggest that with BT and VM combined, investment will be well below recent achievement by OpenReach alone.   Reviewers may be disappointed to find that the overall investment for the period (£7bn) is less than half the level considered to be adequate for future-proofing digital access (particularly in rural areas) and suggests a deep lack of investor awareness of future value.

Digital Innovation:  In calling for support for ‘alternative’ infrastructure providers, Malcolm Corbett points to two potential policy responses: question the need for public funding and focus on the availability of backhaul in rural areas.   His first point is very much in line with the views of Professor Mariana Mazzucato – funding grants to private enterprise are short-term palliatives with little or no return to the State whereas investment loans (or loan guarantees) de-risk innovative pioneers.   Corbett’s second point – overcoming the backhaul barrier – challenges again the market structure where regulatory judgements ( and how assets are utilised) are set within the confines of outmoded definitions. There are (or were) , perhaps, some operational performance issues around the services for businesses, households and public sector organisations but not such that are very relevant when deploying fully-fibred connectivity.  Is it not beyond policy imagination to see the investment in public service networks for hospitals, colleges, libraries or civic offices as investments that can be leveraged in the cause of engendering economic growth?

Ofcom Review: The discussion document published (16th July 2015) for Ofcom’s Strategic Review of Digital Communications devotes 16 pages (pp 116-131) and 4 consultation questions to issues surrounding the possible separation of the Openreach operation from the rest of the BT Group.  From this morning’s discussions on BBC Radio 4 Today programme, the debate may ultimately centre on the balance of views:  Not Broken, So Why Fix, versus, Stark Reality of Current & Future Needs.  Ofcom’s closing date for responses is 8th October 2015.

Broadband Realities:  The ongoing debate regarding the honesty of broadband advertising is analysed in depth by a report from Which ‘Advertising not Up To speed‘ which shows that BT services (and those of it’s channel partners) do not all comply with the advertising watchdog’s mild requirement that at least 10% of broadband services should deliver the headline Up To speed claims.  More interestingly the report highlights the lack of true competition.  Whilst Virgin Media services (using copper coaxial cables) do indeed largely deliver against promises they are operating at or near the limits of that technology and unlikely to meet longer term demands – particularly in respect of symmetry, packet loss and contention.  BT-derived services, being mostly dependent on a twisted-pair copper lines from the nearest cabinet (or sometimes the telephony Exchange), are demonstrably unable to cope with demand both now and in the future.  ‘Unbundling’ – letting others re-sell an inadequate product – is clearly no substitute for true competition.

Future of Governance: In their draft paper Filippo Addarii & Indy Johar observe that there is a looming crisis as our post industrial society is still governed and legitimised by industrial society institutions, concepts and methods.   The paper is clearly a ‘work in progress’ and in need of editing but, the authors assert that the tensions at the centre of the European Union are merely a pre-cursor of the crises facing nation states and will require us to reinvent Goverance addressing the drivers of new digitally-enabled realities.

Broadband for the Rural North, B4RN : In a week when both Barry Forde and Chris Conder were acknowledged with MBEs in the Queen’s Birthday Honours, the remarkable details of this rural gigabit network were revealed – beating broadband performance anywhere in the UK by several country miles – Connected Britain

Broadband Eggs: In this brief talk prepared for a conference on enabling economic growth David Brunnen uses the metaphor of a box of ten eggs to highlight the marketing of broadband connectivity where few suppliers can assure customers of what sort of service they may actually experience.  The talk is also a platform for highlighting the need for Municipal Enterprise with far stronger local leadership and attention to local business and community needs -and questioning the value of national regulatory metrics and policy relevance.

Telephonic Futures?   In Past the Point of Peak Telephony, Dean Bubley charts the decline in voice telephony traffic which, he concludes, means that ‘the perceived value of the telephony element of bundles will fall’ (i.e. in Triple and QuadPlay voice telephony becomes less relevant)  and asserts that  Regulators ‘think in terms of “voice competition”, not comms use-cases and purposes’.

Fibre Optics – reaching further, serving more and saving energy:   NTT and OKI  have successfully demonstrated their jointly developed optical access system featuring the WDM/TDM-PON technology in ultra-large capacity transmission at 40Gbit/s over a 40km distance servicing 1024 users. In other words, this new optical access system enables a transmission capacity of 40 times that of the existing system while accommodating 32 times more users.

5G – a field of dreams: In an insightful article, Peter White of Rethink Wireless, writes ”The love-in that is the annual Mobile World Congress held in Barcelona has focused squarely on the mass hysteria surrounding the creation of an all-encompassing 5G network which will solve the ills of all cellular participants. How likely is that?’   He went on to enumerate the potential ingredients/capabilities of a 5G networks as ‘explained’  by Günther Oettinger, European Commissioner for the Digital Economy and Society.  Conclusion?  Europe pulls together a plan for 5G – carved mostly from dreams.

Fibre to the Building:  Hyperoptic , supplier of digital connectivity to multi-occupancy buildings, has revamped its pricing and package options.  1Gigabit symmetric service is now on (time-limited) offer for £29 per month.   Unfortunately the service is as yet only available to 100,000 premises but they hope to reach half a million by 2018.  From a survey of UK broadband consumers they report that only 24% feel satisfied with their current service and two in five (41%) respondents claim that they would forgo a triple or quad play package altogether for a reliable and fast broadband service on which they could depend.

Nuisance Calls:  In support of their campaign #gottheirnumber, the debt charity Step Change commissioned Claire Milne MBE, visiting Senior Fellow in the Department of Media and Communications at the London School of Economics, to carry out a comparative policy analysis of legal and regulatory approaches to nuisance calls in numerous countries around the world.  Claire’s report (PDF) demonstrates that the UK, despite some recent advances, still lags behind other countries in its approach to nuisance calls (download the Combatting nuisance calls appendix and texts PDF to find out more). However, the report presents policy makers with some practical options for how they can move us to where we need to be in terms of consumer protection and shows how more can be done regarding international co-operation.

Consumers plagued by nuisance calls and texts will now benefit from the Government changes to the law, which will make it easier for those firms responsible to be hit with fines of up to £500,000.  The law currently requires the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) to prove a company caused ‘substantial damage or substantial distress’ by their conduct before action can be taken.   The Government is now removing this legal threshold, giving the ICO the power to intervene in more cases with effect from 6 April 2015.

The Government has also now confirmed it will look at introducing measures to hold board level executives responsible for nuisance calls and texts.  In July last year, the rules were changed to make it easier for Ofcom to share information with the ICO on companies breaking the law. This is already helping in the ICO’s efforts in taking more action. In addition, the Government is looking to introduce mandatory caller line identification (CLI) so that all marketing callers will have to display their telephone numbers.

Nuisance calls and texts remains a significant concern for consumers – in some cases they are not only annoying, but can also cause distress especially amongst vulnerable people in society.

Local Government Reform:   The  Policy Exchange think tank has turned its attention to the scope for smarter use of technology and data  in the cause of improving efficiency within local authorities.   The threefold focus  is (unsurprisingly) on fraud prevention, collaboration between neighbouring councils and phasing out legacy IT systems.   The report is interesting for its analysis and the view that that salami-slicing and thinning-out over the past five years has now run out of steam.   Time therefore for a rethink of core objectives.  Whether the Policy Exchange view of motivating priorities, or whether there are much wider societal gains to be made from smarter local use of data and technology, there’s little doubt that management of local economies will gain more attention relative to national policies.

UK Mobile Rural Data Initiatives:  Under pressure from the regulator to provide ubiquitous mobile coverage at long last, the UK’s operators are rushing to provide alternatives to the compulsory roaming proposed by Ofcom – reports Caroline Gabriel of Rethink Wireless. As well as coming to an agreement with Ofcom for a voluntary coverage scheme, the MNOs are also going beyond the voice services that deal guarantees, and looking to improve rural data services.

Two-Speed Digital Economy: The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has released its research findings into the differences between rural and urban digital economies and concluded that the UK has a “two-speed digital economy.

FTTP User Dynamics:   From their study ‘FTTP Dynamics in a Mature Market’ , Diffraction Analysis observes that  ‘FTTP subscribers are clearly more inclined to use their Internet at home with time actively spent online being 30% higher for FTTP users compared to DSL users.  Additionally, FTTP users tend to use niche or cutting edge services more frequently, and express more interest in ‘future’ service concepts such as medical monitoring at home, live tuition at home or TV-centric video-conferencing.‘   This report, together with two further studies (covering France & Portugal),  will form the basis of their presentation at the FTTH Council Europe annual conference in Warsaw on 12th  February 2015.

Digital Government: In a well considered blog Three things the next government must do with tech and dataEddie Copeland explores how smarter use of technology and data could help public sector organisations deliver front-line services in the face of further funding cuts after the next election.  He observes, however, that, ‘digital government sadly remains a niche interest: the concern of back office officials and a mere dozen or so MPs‘.  FISP would additionally observe that for all digital government schemes the potential savings will not be realised until reliable broadband connectivity with adequate capacity is available to all citizens wherever they live and work.

Reaching the final 5% or final 10%:  Adrian Wooster ponders the difference between tackling rural connectivity challenges in one or two bites – and concludes that it’s probably better to maximise digital inclusion by not slicing and dicing too much – because tackling the larger challenge is not as hard as trying to create a stand-alone business solution for the smaller segment.   It’s still complex but at some point the cherry picking must give way to a more universal inclusive endeavour.

Technological Cul-de-sacs: In recent drafting of a FISP response to the DCMS call for input on future digital policy we considered using the line that ‘extending a cul-de-sac does not stop it being a dead end.’

Neil Fairbrother’s blog  looked at the network technologies for fixed Internet access and concluded: “G.Fast is an amazing technical development and full credit must go to those that laboured away on it. The trouble is that it is a technological cul-de-sac that will simply delay the inevitable rollout of true fibre optic broadband to the home. FTTH is real, it’s now, delivers consistent effectively unlimited high speeds irrespective of distance and this country is lagging behind others, much to its detriment.

Structural Separation: Benoît Felten’s (Diffraction Analysis) letter to new EU Commissioner for digital policy, Mr Oettinger, raises again the need to understand the distinction between connectivity and the services delivered over that connectivity.  Whilst the Commissioner has understood that access connectivity is a natural monopoly, that does not mean the elimination of competitive services.    In a webinar today (18th November 2014) Benoît will explore the issues of breaking the mould in the provision of advanced broadband – a mould which, he says, has been largely cast by incumbent Telcos.  Digital technologies are quite distinct from their analogue forbears and there is no reason to continue living within the constraints and of copper-based telephony designs.

The National Roaming consultation has exposed a wide range of concerns – from regulatory and competitive issues through to Home Office concerns. In his thoughtful blog Government Searches for Needle in Haystack, Stephen Temple considers the search for a solution and concludes: If Secretary of State Sajid Javid came behind a refinement of his own MO-MVNO suggestion – it could be the biggest regulatory driven improvement to the UK’s wireless infrastructure for the past decade. Given the right conditions an MO-MVNO offering roaming can not only offer better coverage and more reliable mobile signals but provoke a competitive response from the mobile operators to offer roaming with cell handover that would propel the UK’s mobile infrastructures to becoming one of the most powerful in the world, driving the expansion of the UK digital economy much faster.

Municipal Enterprise:  In this Groupe Intellex paper, David Brunnen ponders why, compared to their overseas competitors, UK Local Authorities seem less engaged in developing their local economies.  He discusses the need for more future-proofed digital network infrastructure investment in the context of calls for devolution of greater empowerment of major cities but suggests a broader relaxation of centralised supervision would benefit towns and communities of all sizes.

Federation of Small Businesses says broadband not fit for purpose – BBC report attempts balanced coverage.

The Race for Place: In his blog on Separation (of Connectivity and Services) Richard Medcalf asks, ‘Why not let each local authority manage their own ducts and tower sites?’

Encourage Multiple Access;  regulatory thoughts from  Dean Bubley’s Disruptive Wireless

EU Single Digital Market – commentary from researchers at LSE Network Economy Forum.

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*  The FISP Observatory includes material originally sourced from external websites and copyright remains with the source owner. FISP is not responsible for the content of external websites.