In light of the recently announced Rural Broadband Scheme in Ireland I am doing some research for an upcoming article. To get some basic details for this I would appreciate if you the reader could complete the two polls below.
In light of the recently announced Rural Broadband Scheme in Ireland I am doing some research for an upcoming article. To get some basic details for this I would appreciate if you the reader could complete the two polls below.
Bernie & Damien write about the recently started fiasco called the National Broadband Scheme.
I have been seething with rage since it’s started and feel compelled to comment on it.
The whole scheme is a perfect example of posturing. Doing something so that one can be seen doing something but without caring about the actual results. Movement is better than stagnation even if it is in the wrong direction (or at least that’s what the Dept. seems to think). I had hopes that Minister Ryan would make a reasonably sensible decision after I attended round table discussions on NGN’s in Dublin castle some months ago. The discussions there were good & open and valid points were put forward. Ryan has obviously thrown these in the bin. Declaring 100% coverage by 2010 is a sign of complete and utter idiocy. Even Northern Ireland which has claimed to have 100% coverage as far back as 2006 still has not really got 100% coverage. 100% coverage is an unattainable pipe-dream and I did tell Minister Ryan this during the discussions in Dublin Castle.
Also choosing 3G as the technology of choice doesn’t show a great deal of knowledge or insight. Yes off course there was a tender process, however certain technical and service standards should be set. 3G is not and will not be able to support acceptable broadband standards. Not even the promised 1Mbps. That’s another thing, to call 1Mbps broadband is laughable. I cannot even go into that without guffawing and shouting abuse at my screen. (I won’t even go into the sheer, utter, moronic suggestion of satellite, go Google, yahoo, Copernic or whatever search engine you use and see for yourself).
Forget that 3G reception is poor as it is and coverage can only be approved by dotting the landscape with new masts which will not happen due to logistic, planning and financial reasons. The main issues are that 3G is not suitable for some form of local loop unbundling leading to the creation of a monopoly. Strangely enough the last time the Irish government created a monopoly in the Irish Telco industry it was also lead by an incompetent company (Eircom). Now it is assisting Three in establishing one. if you wonder what I base this judgment of Three on go have a look here.
So we now the NBS money allocated to a provider who will deliver no more than a shadow of real broadband with a technology that will not support any other entrants into the market.
Only pictures can express my opinion on this….
OFCOM has drafted a voluntary Code of Practice for ISP’s. This is an excellent innitiative in my opinion and something that we could do with in Ireland. It’s mainstay is that ISP’s have to communicate clearer to their customers what speeds they will actually be getting for their money. Currently most, if not all, ISP’s juggle theoretical speeds to dazzle customers but apart from business users nobody is really getting the speeds advertised. The Code of Practice states:
1. headline or advertised speed – This is the speed that ISPs use to describe the packages that they offer to consumers. They are often described as ‘up to’ speeds but these are often only a guide as to the speed an ISP can provide and at what price.
2. access line speed – This refers to the maximum speed of the data connection between the broadband modem and the local exchange or cable head end. This constitutes the maximum speed a consumer will be able to experience.
3. actual throughput speed – This is the actual speed that a consumer experiences at a particular time when they are connected to the internet. This figure is often dependent on factors such as the ISP’s network, its traffic shaping and management policy, the number of subscribers sharing the network at the same time and the number of people accessing a particular website.
4. average throughput speed – This is an average of actual throughput speed for each different broadband product offered by an ISP.
There’s a lot more worth reading. I suggest that you download an copy and email it to your ISP’s customer service desk. One fault in the Code is that it only applies to fixed line broadband providers. I think that a similar code for Wireless ISP’s is even more needed. The business practices in this part of the industry need even more “streamlining”.
Another interesting read is PCMag’s survey of broadband speeds in the USA. It gives a good overview of what speeds are being delivered by the different “broadband” technologies:
“In the modern world of Internet service, two things go without saying: Fiber optic service is dramatically faster, and satellite service is substantially slower. Our results support these shocking statements. Among satellite services, including industry leader HughesNet and competitors like WildBlue, SurfSpeeds averaged just 145 kilobits per second (Kbps). Taken as a whole, DSL and cable connections were more than five times as fast. And fiber optic connections, including the well-publicized Verizon FiOS and lesser-known regional carriers like Utah’s Mstar and New Mexico’s CityLink Fiber, were 152 percent faster than that.” However the most surprising bit is that the fastest provider is Surfspeeds with an average speed of just 724 Kbps. Not exactly broadband is it now?!
Anyway, go read the article, it puts everything into perspective.
Lastly here’s an blog post about 3G speeds generated in an almost lab environment. Maximum speeds reached where of 5.76 MBit/s. The test were performed on the Hanover exibition ground, where both T-Mobile and Vodafone have upgraded their 3G network and their base station backhaul to support these speeds. It again illustrates the difference between theoretical and actual speeds.
I spent the afternoon of September 30th in Dublin Castle at the “invitation” of minister Eamonn Ryan. The occasion were the “Next Generation Broadband Forum Consultative Forum” aimed at formulating the long term policies in this area. This was an interesting and relatively new approach by the government that actually showed an interest in the opinion of people in the “broadband industry”, the interest groups and the “average users”.
The event was taking place in a large conference room with about 14 tables with 6-8 people per table. I shared a table with Sean Galagher, Antoin O Lachtnain, Damian Callan (blogger), Aebhric Mc Gibney (Director of Policy & Communications Dublin Chamber of Commerce) and a few others.
The afternoon was very tightly organised with specific topics to be discussed by each table. Each topic was given 30 minutes after which the table “moderator” would present the tables conclusions to the room.
Topics to be discussed were:
- “What broadband do we use”
- “How will Next Generation Broadband be delivered”
The discussions were very frank and some very valid points were raised. The general consensus was that the current approach does not work and that a change of direction is badly needed. Also the term “joined up thinking” was used often targeted at different departments and private sector operators actually working and thinking together. We also had a very good discussions about how broadband is used and what speeds and capacities will be needed towards 2010 and 2015. It was surprising to find out that by most people Youtube was still seen as a “new technology” and an example of future broadband use. Very few (if anybody) had heard of Qik, Seesmic, Vimeo or other video based applications. My Twittering of the discussions also raised some eyebrows.
One point that was raised by our table is that we should look at “untethered broadband service” meaning not just broadband into residential or business premises but also broadband to mobile devices and in public spaces. Also Broadband is not just an economic force but also a social & demographic driver and should be recognised as such. The provision of a widely available broadband service will change the make-up, quality and spread of our society.
As for required speeds we put forward 10Mbps by 2010 and 100Mbps by 2020 as an indication of what would be needed. However it was also agreed that quantity was as important as quality. This in relation to issues such as contention ratios and synchronous upload and download speeds.
Something that became apparent from the other tables’ conclusions was that the private sector has no interest in rolling out broadband in areas currently not serviced without a guarantee of revenue.
The round table discussions ended at 3:20 at which time there was a well needed coffee break followed by a number of break-out sessions. I decided to participate in the session on “Models for open access” which looked like the one drawing the most people.
There were people from all the telcos, Comreg and some government departments. Initially the discussion was full of woolly talking with now specifics about the specifics of open access. I quickly dragged it back into reality by actually asking the group “what the open access should be to” i.e. privately owned or publicly owned infrastructure. Thus raised a lot of hackles as most incumbents did not want to build an infra-structure in unserved areas but also did not want to the government to intervene in the market. A director from Smart Telecom actually made a statement that their market research had shown that “SME’s did not want broadband” and that the should only be government support for (privately owned) companies to supply broadband to multi-nationals and large corporates (he forgot to mention that this is exactly the market that Smart is targeting). Besides utterly stupid, his statement is indicative of the thinking within the industry. Everyone wants to run a closed shop with as only target immediate ROI and a serious lack of long term vision is prevalent.
I was pleasantly surprised to notice that there was a certain level of agreement with or at least interest in) my opinion from both the people from the various government departments as well as Comreg. I put forward that the recent & current as failed miserably and that a drastic change of policy and thinking is needed.
Privately owned companies clearly have no interested in rolling out broadband in underserved areas as there is no profit to be made. While it shows a lack of vision it is understandable as they are only looking at their bottom line.
What is needed in Ireland is a completely new broadband infrastructure. The current infra-structure could not support a sufficient broadband service even if we wanted it.
What is needed is a government owned broadband (fiber) network that will bring fast backhaul connectivity into every community. This infra-structure should be opened up to everyone on a fee paid basis and run by either a government body or a private operator for the government. As long as they do a better job than E-net.
Last mile delivery of broadband should be left to the private sector but this backhaul infra-structure opens up the market and will make service delivery in 90% of the country an achievable target. Obviously my complete proposal on this is ever so slightly more elaborate and detailed than just that but it surmises it nicely.
As you can imagine this proposal did not go down well with the telcos. Because “jayzus didn’t they go and spend buckets of money to bring us into the broadband heaven that we are in”….
After this frank exchange of opinion there were 20 minutes for all the breakout session to present their opinions and conclusions. Unfortunately the minister was no longer present as he was needed in the Dail to assist in dealing with some “financial problems”.
This was followed by a brief “thank you” from the organisers which ended the day.
I must say that I was impressed by the overall level of the discussions and the frank exchanges of opinion and I hope that all the views and opinions will be considered by the minister and his department when they draw up there long term policies.
In the recent weeks I have blogged about Internet access (or rather the lack off) on Irish trains on two occasions (here and here). One of the results of my posts was that i was contacted by the people behind the popular Irish radio-show “The Last Word” on Today FM. It was supposed to be a discussion between Barry Kenny, the spokesperson for Irish Rail, and myself. You can listen to it in this section of the show. Barry Kenny basically explained that Irish Rail would not install or offer public wifi access in Irish trains because of the costs involved and because there was no revenue benefit in it for them. When I replied that we would install and manage the service at no cost to Irish Rail he still wasn’t very interested. Also in spite of agreeing to set up a meeting I still have not heard from them. However this issue is not over as we are working on several approaches to convince Irish Rail of the importance of this service.
In light of all this I came across a very interesting posts on DailyWireless.org today.
The CTIA (Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association)an US based organisation ahs done research that has indicated that in the US being able to access the Internet on-the-go is expected to generate $860 billion in additional gross domestic product in the next decade! That’s $86 billion per year….
Now I do not see why a these kind of statistics would not apply to Ireland. off course the figures would be lower but the revenue per capita would be the same.
The health care sector and small businesses are the big winners of wireless broadband deployments, says the CTIA. In 2005, productivity improvements due to use of mobile broadband solutions across the U.S. health care industry were valued at almost $6.9 billion. By 2016, that number will triple to $27.2 billion.
Al this contributes to my arguments in favour of putting wifi on Irish trains:
- Increased ticket sales for Irish rail.
- Increased services for passengers.
- Less traffic on Irish roads leasing to lower pollution and less accidents.
- Increased productivity of train travellers.
Read on MuniWireless:
The European Commission has allowed Scotland to use £3.4 million (€4.32 million) in public funds to bring broadband to remote areas of Scotland. EU state aid rules place restrictions on member states using public funds to subsidize the creation of broadband infrastructure or services that compete with private enterprise. However, in this case, the Commission concluded that public funding is necessary to bring broadband to users in remote areas of Scotland. Private service providers will have non-discriminatory access to the wholesale services if they decide to serve those remote areas.
I wonder if this will set a precedent that will break the EU’s reluctance to approve this type of investments so far. Maybe Dublin’s councillors should pay attention..
I came across this story via here, here, here and here…
O2 UK has admitted its 3G customers are limited to 128Kb/s connections, with business users being automatically upgraded to 384Kb/s if they are deemed to warrant it.
Higher speeds are possible but are apparently only issued arbitrarily to customer who warrant that speed (i.e. that pay an expensive monthly subscription).
Some O2 PR rep mistakenly called a reporter from “The Register” while still discussing how to respond to its story with a colleague. He referred to those wanting faster speeds as “a bunch of techie nerds”, and called anybody who’d want to leave the network a “muppet”…
Someone even did a speedtest on O2′s network and came up with the following results:
Yes, you’re seeing it right, O2′s EDGE service is faster than their HSDPA service. I wonder if that has anything to do with all those EDGE (but no HSDPA) iphones that O2 has sold?
This again proves my point that “conventional telco’s” just do not understand the internet. They think that it is possible to squeeze internet based content through a piddly little connection that is little more than a dripping tap compared to “real” broadband such as DSL, cable, fibre, wifi & wimax.
The thing that is so very annoying about this is that there is such a huge market for proper 3G connectivity. There are lots of client devices available that can handle high bandwidth web based content and applications (N95 anyone?). And who would not want mobile broadband access on the go?
Due to tower density it could also fill in those gaps left by other connectivity methods (in rural areas and the like).
128 Kb/s is what you;re going to get and if you want more you are a “techie nerd”…
Silicon Republic ran an “interesting article” some time ago describing all the good things that are being done to improve Irelands low level of broadband penetration. The article was another one that was long on praise for Eircom and the Irish government but short on fact and insight. The general gist of the article is that now that the availability of broadband is reaching acceptable levels in Ireland, providers are looking at offering speeds higher than the “entry-level” 1-2 Mbps DSL products. While higher speeds would be a great improvement it is nothing to boast about. Service providers in most other European countries offer much higher speeds at prices lower than what Irish people are expected to pay for the paltry 1-2 Mbps packages. Ebay’s MD was right when he dubbed these services “fraud-band” instead of broadband.
The article discusses comments made by the Irish government and several providers (but mainly quotes Eircom soundbites). However there is no insight from spokespeople for the various industries that are losing their competitive edge in a global marketplace due to a lack of broadband.
The current availability of broadband in Ireland can be summarised in a few short sentences: Several forms of broadband (DSL, cable, wifi/wimax, fibre etc.) are available in the major urban centres. If you live or work outside these areas your choice is limited to (maybe) DSL and mostly wifi and/or satellite. Large areas can still only get Internet access by dialup, a technology that is being axed in a lot of European countries due to lack of interest. New entrants in the broadband market mostly start by offering their services in the same urban centres that already being over-serviced by the existing operators. Large swathes of urban areas are only being serviced by WISP’s that have sprung from grass-roots initiatives. These are quite often under-funded and struggling to cope with the demand. The Irish government is doing squat to assist these companies while continuously pandering to Eircom.
The debate has now been shifted to so-called Next Generation Networks (NGN’s). This is just a spin-doctors attempt to divert the attention form the real problem. The current infra-structure is simply not able to provide broadband to most rural (and some urban) areas. Even if every exchange in the country was upgraded to allow DSL type services and opened up to allow LLU it would still be unable to provide the required level of connectivity. Why? Because of the miles and miles of rotten 7 corroded copper that runs from the exchanges to the end-user premises. Apparently the line-failure rate runs at 40% at the moment. Yes, that’s right: 40%!!
Eircom keeps using the number of users connected to enabled exchanges as the number of broadband enabled users but this is plain and utter non-sense. Theoretical figures don’t mean anything, we need to look at the real numbers.
The best thing that has happened to the Irish broadband market in the last 10 years is the establishment of the Metropolitan Area Networks (MAN’s). Large rings of fibre optic cable put in place around large urban centres, cities as well as large and medium sized towns. However the management of these networks was then contracted out to a company called E-Net who just sits on this huge assets rather than promoting the use of it. I recall asking one of their executives years ago how and who they planned to market these networks to. His answer was a surprised: “market? We’re only supposed to manage these networks”…..
Access to the MAN’s is only available by going through E-Net’s expensive and arduous application process.
So do I have any suggestions on how the current impasse can be solved? Off course I do!
If the MAN’s were made more accessible and affordable we would see a lot more smaller operators jumping into the market. Running fibre into rural phone exchanges and turning them into “mini-MAN’s” could turn them into jumping off points for more operators. If I wanted to bring broadband to the area I now live in I would need to put a backhaul into place running from a city over 50 miles away. If the local exchange had fibre running into it I would have provided broadband to the whole area years ago.
A quote that supports this point of view is by Dutch operator KPN’s vice-president John Quist: “One of the cornerstones of KPN’s plans is that in our network rebuilding we will make it a fully open network,” says Quist. “This means that it will be open to all service providers. All operators can use the NGN in the same way as our own service provider KPN Retail.”
What we don’t need is government interference in market pricing and service levels. Open up the market and let free-market economics work away at the crappy providers, high prices and low service levels.
My activities during Barcamp have just been extended; besides my talk about “The need for an alternative telecoms infrastructure in Ireland” I will now also sit on a panel discussing “Finding money for your start-up”.
Just so that people can have a bit of an idea of what the content of both is I will give a short outline below:
“The need for an alternative telecoms infrastructure in Ireland”
Rather than giving a big long talk spouting just my opinion on the deplorable state of broadband availability I hope to start a bit of an interactive discussion. I will give a short description of what I consider lies at the root of this problem and why I think that an alternative telecoms infra-structure is the only solution to this problem. After that I would very much have a open discussion on the subject. What I do not want is a session of Eircom, Comreg & governemnt bashing. There has been enough of this for the last few years and it does not lead to a solution to the problem.
“Finding money for your start-up”
This is a panel discussion so, apart from giving a quick outline on what’s involved in starting to raise funds by going through a SEC listing with the aim of trading on the OTC/BB, I will attempt to answer participants questions to the best of my ability.