The final 5% challenge – Small providers of alternative technologies can deliver cost-effective superfast broadband

The final 5% challenge – Small providers of alternative technologies can deliver cost-effective superfast broadband

The Government published this week their findings on the feasibility and deployment of 7 test pilots schemes set up to explore alternative technologies and business cases to deploy superfast broadband (24Mib/s) to the hardest-to-reach areas. The report found that non-fibre based suppliers can deliver good quality superfast connections, hybrid solutions are viable technically and commercially and that smaller internet service providers can compete successfully with the larger providers such as BT Openreach to win public procurement contracts.

Under current Government targets, superfast broadband will be available to 95% of UK premises by 2017 thanks to public funding (Broadband Delivery UK scheme). With additional investment, BDUK aims at pushing coverage by a further 1% by 2020.  Since June 2014, and against a backdrop of numerous public debates on a potential digital divide between urban and rural areas, Government launched a £8m scheme to investigate the potential for commercial and technical viability as well as expected scalability of 7 projects.

The projects tested in various parts of the country (in at least the 2% lowest premise density areas of the UK)  include Avanti and Satellite Internet, who are using superfast-capable satellite; Airwave, Quickline and AB Internet, who are using fixed wireless; and Call Flow and Cybermoor, who are using a mix of fibre and fixed wireless technologies. A full breakdown of the projects can be found here:

testpilots

 

The pilot projects found that cost-effective superfast broadband can be delivered by a mix of technologies, and that small providers can fulfil the conditions to win and deliver public procurement contracts including complying with State Aid rules. The pilots highlighted the role that communities play in collaborating with suppliers to create viable commercial conditions for small projects, helping to create bespoke solutions; and the value of creating partnerships with other network providers (e.g. Janet and Network Rail Telecom). The study also found that the pilots were performing well so far in terms of take-up, which is positive news since the viability and scalability of these schemes depend on it.

Interestingly, customer tests revealed that the majority of people in the pilot areas are generally content with a slower (although an improvement on their current connection), cheaper broadband service from the new supplier (packages of 10Mbit/s) rather than opting for superfast. This is a notable finding as the Government recently announced that it will implement a Universal Service Obligation which would be set at 10Mbit/s.

The market test pilots will close in March 2016 and a final report will be published in the following months. The outcomes will continue to inform Government on the best approach to providing superfast broadband coverage in the hardest-to-reach areas.

The BSG will continue to stay engaged in this debate and is organising an event on Monday 29 February 2016 to explore the various approaches to universal access to broadband services.

 

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