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Wireless in Wales

Rory Cellan-Jones | 17:03 UK time, Thursday, 15 July 2010

If you were to believe the rural broadband lobby there is a simple answer to closing the digital divide between town and country - fibre.

But the cost of laying fibre-optic cable down every country lane still looks prohibitive. There is though another possible solution - wireless.

I think someone must have told TFL Group that we were going to be reporting from the broadband notspot of Felindre near Swansea. The company turned up at the village hall to demonstrate how they could blanket the area in broadband relatively easily.

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They mounted a temporary mast on a hill above Felindre, which picked up a signal from Swansea and beamed it down to a receiver unit at the village hall.

Now they can show the locals the joys of a broadband connection with download speeds of about 15Mbps and remarkably fast uploads of over 4Mbps.

Now this won't satisfy the fibre lobby looking for 100Mbps but it could provide a short-term fix for many places. It's important to remember however that the economics are still a little tricky.

Felindre will need to get some cash from the Welsh Assembly - and show that sufficient numbers of villagers are prepared to sign up for the service - before it can move into the broadband fast lane. Or perhaps middle lane.

Update, 1707: Oh, and by the way, the Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt has come out with something of a bombshell at that broadband summit today.

Last night his department was still talking of being committed to a minimum 2Mbps broadband service for virtually every community. What it was not saying was that the culture secretary was about to postpone that commitment for three years from 2012 to 2015, on the grounds that Labour had not left enough cash in the coffers to do the job.

Even last month Mr Hunt still thought that this 2Mbps target, set out by the Labour government, was "pitifully unambitious". Now he has decided it is in fact too much of a stretch. So if we can't afford 2 megs for all, don't expect the Treasury to come rushing round with the couple of billion pounds BT thinks might be needed to bring super fast broadband to every corner of Britain.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    I see the U in the Universal Service Commitment is now routinely prefixed by a get-out clause, for example "virtually every community". So as well as being 3 years late it isn't going to be Universal either, which given there's only about £100 per affected household available might be as well.

    Wireless tends to be symmetrical, but the 15M downstream shared by say 100 users might not look too good in the evening.

  • Comment number 2.

    Rory Cellan-Jones.

    "They mounted a temporary mast ... show the locals the joys of a broadband connection with download speeds of about 15Mbps and remarkably fast uploads of over 4Mbps."

    demonstrations always look good, even Apple's new iPhone worked perfectly when it was demonstrated. are you intending to provide an update, say, a couple of years from now?

    "Even last month Mr Hunt still thought that this 2Mbps target, set out by the Labour government, was "pitifully unambitious". Now he has decided it is in fact too much of a stretch."

    well, at least rely on the mealy-mouthedness of our politicians for the foreseeable future.

  • Comment number 3.

    When are people who live in remote spots of the country going to learn to accept that they're not getting onto the superfast information highway.

    If I chose to live in rural Herefordshire then I'd accept that one of the things I'm getting away from is having things on my doorstep. So along with (lack of) decent bus routes, libraries, doctors and dentists having dial up internet access is one of the things that go with the rural idyll

  • Comment number 4.

    DaveC,
    I am reading this, in a very remote spot in Canada, north of Toronto on the lakes...with great wireless connection (I don't know what the technology is, but it is fast, easy and inexpensive). Now I know a lot of wealthy people have summer cottages on the lakes here, and hence the excellent coverage...but it is not expensive and it is fast.
    It shows the technology is there if people want to apply it...you do not have to give up high speed internet access to live in a remote area...you just need the will (and the economics) to provide it.

  • Comment number 5.

    Regardless of the technologies which might provide fast broadband, and the choices about who pays and when they get rolled out, surely the point is that services and procedures that are meant to be universally available (eg those provided by government departments) have to be delivered through the universally available bandwidth. So as long as there are people whose access is limited to 5 kbps, all services must be deliverable at that speed (text only, and forms to download and complete offline), and while 10 million adults have no access, services have to be delivered in parallel without penalty through other means. Already, some public sector employers (eg NHS) offer vacancies only via on-line application, effectively excluding candidates without viable internet access. Does this actually provide fair competition for public sector jobs?

  • Comment number 6.

    DaveC,

    Your position is fine up to a point. However I anticipate a future when Internet access (and a reasonable speed of Internet access at that) will become an essential part of life in the UK. For example, filing tax returns seems to be heading that way. When that happens, Internet access is no longer a luxury, but a necessity.

    MRK

  • Comment number 7.

    Wireless works brilliantly in rural Sussex, to the extent that those who use this service have ditched their BT lines and gone to VOIP. We get 16mbps, in the evenings too. In Crawley they're getting 28mbps, all wireless, run by one man who has never had a penny in subsidy since starting his business 10 years ago. He charges low rates, with a 50GB cap, so that the two businesses run from our house can operate very cheaply and effectively. Satellite broadband is only a few years away. Who knows? Maybe BT will be in real trouble, because why dig up the roads at huge public expense when 100mbps can be had (and that's what the sat chaps promise) from a couple of geostationery birds flying overhead?

  • Comment number 8.

    Q. Rory, why does your video not work?

  • Comment number 9.

    @ DaveC, doing most essential chores is far easier online, and in the future a lot of tasks will only be done online. If people reject the internet that much, nobody's forcing anyone to have any connection at all, but it might be nice to have a choice.

    The thing is, at one stage BT were making in the region of 96 pounds per second, every second of every day, every year.
    Those are gigiantic sums of money, but where are they now?
    They are still too expensive and when it comes down to re-investing some of the profit they are still making then they duck their heads beneath the parapet.
    The fact of the matter being, that if the government really is serious about getting the country online (which it has to be), then it needs to divert a portion of the VAT it takes from the products these companies offer. This should then be combined with a fund which all current existing telecoms companies (not allow companies to dodge by creating holdings) having an annual turnover of 1 million or more contribute to procentually and get this thing off the ground.

    The country is wasting it's advantage over the rest of the world, i.e. knowledge and information sharing capability, how should the UK remain at the forefront when 80% of the population are still on dial-up?

    BTW to hold up satelite broadband as a saviour is naive, as anyone that has satellite TV will attest, it just ain't reliable enough!
    Solar activity is also on the increase which is currently "worrying" satnav manufacturers.

    Five years ago, we were being told that telephones and internet access would be completely wireless and that "old copper cables" would be obsolete, who wrong can you get it? Hardwiring is always the most reliable way and less susceptible to "tapping and interference".
    I'm afraid the journos fell for the marketing boys spiel.

    This issue has to be persued immediately not in ten years time, like the NuLabour master plan – too little too late.
    I don't know why the government are afraid to get companies like EBAY on board, surely these companies have a vested interest in speeding up connections and as they are awash with money, it would be a great chance for them to look like they are investing in the UK (great PR) whilst also bolstering their business.

    Apathy in the government I'm afraid, there's no other excuse.

  • Comment number 10.

    Hi Rory, Letsbe_avenue, everyone :-)

    I just watched the video and was upset that it made no mention whatsoever of Satellite Broadband. I work at BeyonDSL and I can tell you that we have many, many happy customers and that the reliability issues Letsbe_avenue complains about are just not an issue anymore. Our service has been tested to withstand Gale Force 9 and our churn rate is almost non-existent.

    The Welsh government has just announced that from August they will give subsidies to those in "not-spots" of up to £1000. Our equipment and standard installation comes in at much less than this (£399.99) which means Mr. Price will be able to get it for free. Indeed I called him after watching the "Broadband 'still failing rural areas' in UK" video to tell him all of this and he was extremely happy!

    Please can everyone understand that with satellite *anywhere in the UK* can get a fast, reliable broadband service right now.

    Thanks :-)

  • Comment number 11.

    @ No.10, hi there.
    I'm sure you have a valid point and the service your company provides is good and reliable. However, I envisage several concerns, firstly: the increase in solar activity is actually a cause for concern re. reliability, secondly; why are we filling space with expensive 'junk' when the job can be done with less radio-smog on the ground, thirdly; if sat broadband is rolled out to the whole country will it still be as reliable as the small scale venture that it currently is, fouthly, the current patchwork attempts at subsidising different forms of broadband looks great for the politicians, as A; it looks as if they are exploring all avenues, B; it gives people offering different solutions to the problem time to prove/fail to prove that their system works (similar to Betamax v VHS or the differing BlueRay formats).

    These small scale subsidies help the govenrment to appear active whilst all they are really doing is sitting out a real policy decision.
    This is not the way forward, let the companies with the most convincing technical arguments step forward and then the govenment (in conjunction with the industry) decide where the medium-term future lies and commit industry's own money and tax-payer pounds in providing universal provision, anything else is just dragging ones heels.

  • Comment number 12.

    Beg your pardon the figure was actually 136 pounds profit per second, see

    http://www.theregister.co.uk/1999/05/20/bt_makes_136_profit_per/

    Apparently since 1999 BT have been investing in new technology due to the extra profits...
    "According to BT's own figures, the number of local calls made during the last year has doubled and that increase is down to Net use."
    As BT have been so busy investing in new technology thanks to greater use of phone lines (internet use), universal broadband coverage must be running at least at 85 percent by now, non?

    This is what I mean, these companies are fine when they are raking it in, but not so great when it comes to spending money for medium term projects.

  • Comment number 13.

    Interesting piece Rory, but the omissions in describing the technology are significcant. Looking at TFL-Group's website, little detail is given. But, need for repeater station suggests either microwave backhaul (exactly how many of those do you need to cover Wales?) or heavy contention (competition) on some form of broadcast channel. So, what are real costs/speeds if TFL signed up the whole of Felindre?

    Further, its all very well picking up a radio signal from nearby Swansea via "carrier grade high speed wireless links", but what happens when you have to go over the Brecon Beacons? If it uses direct line of sight microwave to get speed, you are going to need several repeaters just to serve one remote village.

    Perhaps Matthew Beynon will respond?

    In response to Alex (BeyonDSL): their package for 2Mbps (the Government's 'minimum') is ~£70 per month. All very well saying that satellite will cure problem, but at nearly £840 per year, not convinced. Plus there are problems with latency (delay) in any geostationary satellite system for people wanting to do realtime tasks like gaming (think World of Warcraft) or voice over IP.

  • Comment number 14.

    "broadband coverage must be running at least at 85 percent by now"

    it's way over that as a % of population.

  • Comment number 15.

    @ PhilT, have a look @ the digital map on this site. That means that 85% by population cannot have acceptable broadband cover.

  • Comment number 16.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 17.

    Instead of spending money on trying to get the entire UK up to a measely 2Mb/s or trying to get another 10 million people to get onto our already crowded network and then also spending another couple of million on upgrading the phone network (/mobile broadband network), we could just revamp the entire system and install a 4G network. Keeping the current copper as a backup and any of the fibre customers on the fibre network to relieve strain. Why would this be better?

    Well it would save having 2 networks, one for houses and one for mobiles/laptops. Also there is not much infrastructure. What seems to be one of the biggest problems with upgrading our shaky copper network is the cost of ripping up roads and installing tubes. When it comes to the time that 4G is too slow nothing needs to get ripped up only the equipment at either end needs to be changed.

    Also many many villages in England have churches (or some tall building like an old water tower), why is this relevant, well instead of having to install masts they can "just" put the transmitter at the top of churches. This gets around the problem of people complaining about masts. Also many of the 10 million people who are not online are in rural villages.

    How to get the signal from one mast/church/tall building: Just create a "higher-tier" wireless network that goes directly from one mast to another creating a mesh. This could also be complimented with satelite links and using the current broadband network as backup. In towns and cities the existing fibre networks are used to connect up the base stations as there have to be more stations in cities due to the larger density of people.

    So we'd get:
    A faster (up to 1Gbps with LTE-Advanced)
    Cheaper (Well likely cheper; No road to rip up. It might be a bit more expensive in the short term but it will give a better service, but it will be cheaper on the next lot of upgrades in the future)
    Cleaner (less masts)
    Easy to upgrade (see cheaper) solution

  • Comment number 18.

    #17. Jon889 wrote:

    précis: universal wireless would be better.

    There is one slight (and insurmountable problem) that of the actual information carrying capacity. There is a physical law about that links the frequency, signal power and bandwidth with data capacity of a (wireless) signal. It used to be that the frequency was about the same as the maximum information capacity, but various coding techniques and data filtering techniques have upped this a bit, but there is a finite maximum capacity for a wireless signal. Now everyone has to share the same signal - think of it as a piece of string with a dozens on tin cans on each end. (see The Shannon–Hartley Theorem)

    This is why wires are best.

    (There is even a problem with the latest domestic over the mains plug networking systems. The frequencies that these operate on go right over the FM radio bands and as there is no standard that says that they must not use the FM radio band it is more than probable that many of such systems will in fact prevent the reception of FM radio near or connected to the mains circuits being used.)

  • Comment number 19.

    Our local council here in Shetland set up a scheme to provide wireless broadband in a small remote village. Purely by coincidence BT decided to upgrade their exchange speed from 0.5 Mb to 8Mb not long after!

  • Comment number 20.

    We already know this, we knew this a few years ago when the original plans were released. We always get told the same thing over and over and over....

    Is there any chance of a report on SKYLON? That should send the comments through the roof, 99.99999% of people have never heard about it and so they would have no idea about the sister project that has recieved Framework 7 funding because of it.

    What did every news site talk about when Framework 7 projects were announced? Oh yes, that is right.... the stuff we already knew about. Wind Turbines, Broadband, ZZzzzzzzzzz.....

    (PS. I don't know why it is written in uppercase, I guess it makes it sound better than it already is, which is pretty darn amazing even without the uppercase characters that it rightfully deserves compared to some other scientific endeavours)

    (PSS. If you do end up doing a piece about SKYLON, please do a good lengthy piece because other, ableit extremely rare, publications are comparing it to the Space Shuttle, Ariane 5 and Blackbird, outlining how it is light years ahead in efficiency than all of them and how it should quickly spawn a new age in clean, cheap and ultrafast truly global commercial air flight)

  • Comment number 21.

    This conversation bores me for 2 reasons:

    Firstly its not true that some rural areas can't access broadband, they just can't access it as cheaply as everyone else. Satellite (as mentioned above) and other technologies have been available for years so use them. I live in London, my rent is high, you live in the middle of nowhere, your broadband fees are going to be high. I don't see why my fees should be used to subsidise your broadband, you don't subsidise my rent. Fair's fair.

    Second; most essential things can still be done on dial up if there really is no alternative or you don't want to pay the extra. It will be slow but you can file your taxes online with dial up so government services can still be rolled out online.

    The only people I feel a bit sorry for are businesses, it is an inevitable extra cost of doing business which will make you less competitive. I hope (and expect) there are lower costs in other areas that balance it out.

  • Comment number 22.

    'I think someone must have told TFL Group that we were going to be reporting from the broadband notspot of Felindre near Swansea. The company turned up at the village hall to demonstrate how they could blanket the area in broadband relatively easily.'

    I must revisit my understanding of 'coincidence'.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/rorycellanjones/2010/07/24_hours_of_broadband.html

  • Comment number 23.

    You twice refer to putting fibre up every road. But this is very misleading, you refer to the FTTP (fibre to the premise) approach which is not affordable in rural areas. No one is going to do that, and to get a reasonable service you don't need to.

    If fibre is laid to each cabinet, the FTTC (fibre to the cabinet) approach, then this would make a huge step towards acceptable performance in rural areas and would remove most notspots. The remaining ones would need extra cabinets installed.

    For example in my case I am 7.5 Km from the exchange (as the cable runs). My cabinet is about half way. So FTTC would give me a copper distance of under 4 Km and I would get over 2Mb.

    The solution is for a first step of forcing the FTTC project through for every cabinet in the country. I assume that is what BT want an extra 2 billion for, although the BBC reports never actually explain it.

    Wireless will only be economic in some places, it will certainly never come to where I live.

  • Comment number 24.

    I live in London but have a property in the Cambridgeshire Fens. As far as internet goes the differences are huge. There are two medium sized towns from me up there, which are served with moderately OK broadband and mobile signal (3G) – however come outside those two towns and you enter the ‘not spot’ zone.

    I have looked into satellite broadband, but the cost is so much higher for not even (what I consider) to be a decent speed. 4Mbps download for £70.00 a month might be good in terms of what satellite broadband can achieve, but for speed and cost outlay it is poor.

    So the other option would be to get a ‘internet dongle’ from one of the mobile operators. I did. You see Vodafone was the only network who had any coverage on there map of the area, however once I got the dongle found it does indeed pick up signal, but only GPRS (sometimes Edge but never 3G) Thus meaning it is as slow, or sometimes slower than dial-up.

    It is not just the fact the property is several miles from the nearest exchange, but as I was told by a BT Engineer, the quality of the wires is poor. It is for this reason voice calls are not as clear and also why when using dial-up it will connect a paltry 33,000bps.

    So you see in many ways when I am in this part of the world I am in many ways ‘disconnected’ from everything I take for granted in London. It is easier when needing to go online to send emails and the like, to pop into town for a coffee where I can at least then get coverage dongle with laptop or head over to the Library.

    But this got me thinking what can the solution be? Well in London my Broadband is through O2 because I get a discount as an existing O2 customer seemed worth it. I pay just a few pennies shy of £10 a month for 17Mbps broadband. But O2 also happen to own a lot of cell towers all over the country, and these cell towers also happen to be integrated into the telecommunications network.

    I wonder how much 4G would cost, and the licenses for such etc etc. However (and correct me if I am wrong here) WifI is ‘open’ license free, in that no one company ‘owns’ it and cannot as case is with other radio spectrums auction parts of it off. So you take O2 as an example, how much would it cost to equip it’s current cell towers with ‘Wifi Max’ equipment. And your infrastructure is there, the cost therefore should be far less than 4g services, fibre etc etc. Just a thought.

    Finally a few years a go – the name of the company I forget – but a company was set up in Cambridge. You subscribed to them and in the Cambridgeshire area had a small grey unit put atop your house. They then ‘beamed’ to it your telephone line. You subscribed to them not BT and all your calls came through to you via the ‘air’ wirelessly. They went Bankrupt in the end, but the idea that such technology could be used not for calls but broadband could be more popular these days.

  • Comment number 25.

    @24 London Rascal

    The company you mention at the end of your post is Ionica - en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ionica_(company) They used little microwave dishes to distribute their phone lines.

 

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