About the rollout
Q. Where and when can I get fibre broadband?
Fibre broadband has been rolled out across South Gloucestershire between March 2013 and March 2015. Residents can use the Openreach website to find out when fibre broadband is available. Alternatively, residents can contact their Internet Service Provider (ISP) directly to find out what broadband speeds/ packages are available to them.
Q. How do you decide the order of the rollout?
The rollout has been designed to ensure that it provides the greatest possible coverage with the available funding, and the new fibre network has been designed on a Value for Money (VfM) basis. BT have taken into account many factors, including geography, planning requirements and the location of the existing telecoms infrastructure. These factors have dictated the order of the roll out. This approach will ensure the best value for money, but it does mean that we cannot deviate from how the network will be rolled out across the area, as doing so would result in a time-consuming and costly project, and would ultimately reduce the number of premises we are able to deliver superfast broadband to.
Q. What happens during the rollout?
The rollout of superfast fibre broadband is a large and complex project. To try to make things easier, we have broken the ‘big build’ and rollout down into five phases:
- Pre-planning: A full assessment of the existing network to provide accurate information for BT’s engineers.
- Exchange preparation: Agree and plan when and where the new equipment will be placed inside the exchange, as every exchange is different. BT’s exchange buildings house the equipment that enables the UK’s telephone and broadband network to operate. Some will require additional space to be created for new broadband equipment, increased power supply or greater ventilation. BT has more than 5,500 telephone exchanges in the UK.
- Surveying: Planning the network, surveying underground ducts and planning where the new fibre, street cabinets and over-ground equipment will go. This work will be co- ordinated between BT, power companies and several teams within the local authority. We will work closely with our planning and highways teams and BT to ensure the locations of all the new cabinets meet all the necessary requirements.
- Installation: Building the new network from the exchange to the new street cabinets and getting it ready for service. This is when you are most likely to see BT Openreach carrying out construction work in your area. The work will include; installing a new cabinet close to the existing one, digging a trench between both cabinets and the nearest suitable power supply and installing a fibre connection and a power supply. A more detailed explanation of what happens is available on the Openreach website.
- Ready for service: Once the new network and cabinets have been installed, the fibre broadband services will be available to order. Residents and businesses will need to contact their Internet Service Provider (ISP) to check when they will be offering the upgraded service in the area.
Q. How do I get fibre broadband once my new fibre street cabinet has been installed?
Once you have checked your line to confirm that fibre broadband is available to you, it is much the same as ordering normal broadband. There are a number of different Internet Service Providers (ISPs) offering the service, so you can just shop around and choose the best deal for you.
Q. When fibre broadband becomes available in my area, will my broadband simply get faster without me taking any action?
No – to get fibre broadband, you will need to place an order with an Internet Service Provider (ISP). This is because fibre broadband uses a different technology (ie. fibre optic cables) and an engineer will need to visit your premises to install the necessary equipment.
There are several ISPs offering fibre broadband in South Gloucestershire, so you can shop around and choose the package that is best for you. If you choose not to upgrade to fibre broadband, you will be able to continue using your existing broadband service as normal.
Q. Can I stay with the same internet service provider that I am with now?
The superfast broadband platform will be open to all ISPs. If your current ISP chooses to offer services on the new platform then yes, you will have the option to upgrade. You will need to contact your ISP to ask.
Q. Will I have to wait for my current broadband contract to end before I can get the new service?
That will be up to you and depends on what your current ISP would charge you for ending it early. Most ISPs will allow you to upgrade your package without penalty.
Q. Will I have to pay more for superfast broadband?
Generally yes – you will be getting a much better service and the new infrastructure needs to be sustainable. However, the wholesale price is heavily regulated by OFCOM to ensure a fair and consistent price. This price will be the same across the country and you will not be penalised because you live in the ‘intervention area’.
Q. How much does fibre broadband cost?
Lots of communications providers offer superfast fibre broadband services for homes, often bundled with phone and TV packages as well.
Residents will need to check out the deals Internet Service Providers offering services in South Gloucestershire have available on their websites, and then choose the one that best meets your needs.
Q. How long does fibre broadband take to be installed after I place an order, and what does installation involve?
The time before installation of fibre broadband may vary from one Internet Service Provider (ISP) to another, but typically it would take about two weeks. An engineer will call and install a new modem at your premises and you will receive a new router from your Internet Service Provider.
Q. The cabinet that I am connected to has reached its capacity and is full up, so I am unable to order the new broadband services. What should I do?
As part of their regulatory commitments, the new fibre network in South Gloucestershire is built and managed by Openreach. Openreach own the broadband infrastructure and are responsible for managing and maintaining capacity for the broadband cabinets, not the council. If the cabinet you are connected to has reached its capacity, please contact Openreach.
Q. What is broadband?
Broadband, or more correctly broadband access, allows permanent, faster access to the internet due to the increased bandwidth. The most commonly used form is ADSL (Asymmetrical Digital Subscriber Line) which uses the existing telephone line and remains connected, so there is no need to dial it up each time, and you can make phone calls while using the internet. Other broadband access technologies include cable TV networks, satellite and radio.
Q. What is superfast broadband?
An access line speed of greater than 24Mbps.
Q. What does Mbps mean?
Megabits per second. Alongside price, speed is one of the key factors people talk about when it comes to choosing broadband. All of the internet service providers quote the broadband download speed as a key part of their advertising. Broadband speed is measured in megabits per second, commonly written as Mbps. It essentially means the rates at which data is downloaded or uploaded.
Q. I find the whole topic of “What speed I am getting” very confusing – can you explain more?
The internet is made up of many connections, all of which can influence the “speed” you see at your home. The Internet (and broadband access to it) is a shared network. The only part of it that is dedicated to your home is the final access line (BT Telephone line or Virgin Media Cable) that enters your home. Hence it is useful to distinguish between different definitions of speed that we use in this answer.
– Headline or advertised speed – This is the speed that Internet Service Providers (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. Only 10% of customers need to be able to achieve this speed in order that the ISP can advertise it. i.e. up to 90% of customers may get less.
– 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. In Fibre to the Cabinet solutions (Such as BT Infinity) this is the speed between your premise and the green cabinet you are connected to. Barring fault situations, this is the most constant speed element in the system and governs the maximum actual throughput speed you will get – hence it is what is talked about most when discussing “speed”.
– 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.
– Average throughput speed – This is an average of actual throughput speed for each different broadband product offered by an ISP.
Apart from your access line, the vast majority of internet connections, links and servers are shared. If there is more than one person using them the speed will be shared between these users – and at busy times there will be many thousands.
This sharing is referred to as “contention” and contention is applied within the BT network – both locally with other users on your telephone exchange and within the BT network as it connects into your ISP’s network.
If you are not getting the speed you expect it can be due to this contention but also to many other factors including the capacity of the remote site you are accessing, the quality and length of your telephone line from the local BT exchange and several other factors that affect speed:
– Remote site speed – the actual site you are downloading from may be busy and unable to supply the download at full speed. In addition some sites will actually use ‘traffic shaping’ to restrict the speed at which single users can download from their site to help ensure a fair level of service for all their users.
– Network congestion – sometimes the interconnecting networks are unable to cope with the levels of traffic at peak times causing some slowdown.
– Illegal traffic – broadband relies on individual users not making unreasonable traffic demands on the network to provide fast access speeds for all most ISPs will immediately slow down or halt a connection if they detect illegal usage.
– Other applications – you may be running other applications (for instance checking your mail or internet radio) at the same time which can degrade download performance.
– Other users – if you have more than one computer or Smart Phone through your broadband connection (for instance if you are using a router or you are on a network), then it will cause your download to be slower than you might expect. If you have not password protected your Wireless network your neighbours may also be sharing your broadband connection!
– Your home network – typically nowadays the broadband service in your premises will be presented to devices in your home by a home “Wi-Fi” network. The capacity of this network will vary all over your building. Even if your device is next to the router it is likely that you will achieve slower throughput speeds, moving to another room will see speeds fall further. This is particularly noticeable in traditional homes where brick or stone construction creates a very strong barrier to Wi-Fi signals.
The quality of the wiring in your house, including the number of telephones and sockets will affect broadband speed – it is essential that you have a broadband splitter in every socket – even if you do not have a telephone plugged in.
Q. I know there is a fibre optic cable in the main street of my village, why can’t I connect into it?
This is a big topic so we have broken the answer down to a number of possible reasons;
– Who owns the fibre?
Most access network fibre in the UK is owned and managed by BT Openreach. In some areas (where you can get Cable TV service) Virgin Media may own some fibre too. There may be other networks – CCTV or traffic control services.
– Where does it go?
Most fibre cables go from one place to another, or point to point – it is generally not laid to each premise. If there is fibre cable laying idle it has to be part of a network going from your home to internet exchanges – usually in London.
– Practicalities and cost
There is a general misconception that having fibre in an area is a bit like having a water pipe i.e. you just “plug” into it and broadband will flow through. Unfortunately it is not that simple.
The fibre cable may be part of BT’s core network i.e. connecting telephone exchanges and carrying telephone calls – this will not connect to the internet. The fibre might be serving the connectivity needs of a local business – either as a leased line or providing internet connectivity only to that business. The fibre will be part of a solution that goes from one point to another and will be for the sole use of that business.
To join fibres together requires equipment which requires housing and probably power. This means either a cabinet, a new manhole or even a small building – all of which adds to the cost of supplying the broadband.
It is important to remember, that although generally a fibre can be laid anywhere, it is done at a cost controlled by OFCOM – the telecommunications’ and media industry regulator. Similarly there will be a charge for any extra work needed to get the fibre to where it needs to go. As described in the question about “the final third” in rural areas there is less existing infrastructure, distance are greater (= higher costs) and there are less people to buy the service to cover these extra costs.
Q. Why does my broadband speed fluctuate?
It is perfectly normal to see throughput speeds that change from day to day, from hour to hour, even from minute to minute. A typical connection in the late afternoon would likely see variable speeds due to exchange-side contention. The same download at 4am when the network is very quiet might give a very steady download speed.
Broadband works as it does because it works on a shared network. The available capacity on the network is shared out amongst all the customers that are using the Internet at that time. This means that at busy times, when more people are using the Internet, each person gets a smaller share of the bandwidth and so lower speeds than when the network is quiet. As different people use the Internet in different ways and have different usage patterns, this can mean that the speed you see can be constantly going up and down, especially when it is busy.
Q. My broadband speed is slow so I have switched from my ISP to another, but the service is still poor. What is going on?
A large number of ISPs use BT Wholesale to deliver their network, so most of the network will be identical. Even if they have their own equipment in your telephone exchange, the telephone line to your house will still be the same length and quality, which will inevitably mean the speed you experience is similar.
Q. What does download and upload mean?
When you connect to the internet, the download speed is the pace at which data (websites, programmes, music etc) is transferred from another computer to yours. Currently, when it comes to home broadband, advertised download speeds range from 8Mb to 100Mb, but this is rising at a pretty quick rate – you can expect a broadband download speed of between 120Mb and 200Mb to become commonplace across the UK over the next few years.
Upload speed on the other hand is the speed at which data (such as your new holiday pictures and videos) is uploaded to the internet – perhaps to put onto a social networking site such as Facebook, or onto a file-sharing site such as Flickr or to a photo print ordering company’s website. Essentially, the upload is going in the opposite direction to the download – from your computer to someone else’s.
Broadband upload speeds are generally much slower than download speeds. The reason for this is that people generally do far more downloading than uploading, so downloading is given priority by the ISPs (who regulate how their networks deal with the various traffic that is competing to be sent across the ether). Upload speeds become more important to someone who is going to be doing large amounts of uploading, such as someone who works from home and wants to exchange files with a remote network, or people who play a lot of online games.
About the GWB project
Q. What does GWB stand for?
GWB is the Great Western Broadband project – a partnership between Wiltshire Council and South Gloucestershire Council to provide superfast broadband to areas where this would otherwise not be commercially viable.
Q. When will the project be delivered?
The Phase 1 fibre broadband rollout in South Gloucestershire is due to be completed by March 2015. The remaining premises within the project area (the intervention area) will have access to a minimum access line speed of 2Mbps by March 2016.
The Phase 2 Superfast Extension Programme (SEP) will continue to push fibre broadband coverage even further across South Gloucestershire. The Government has set a national target to achieve 95% superfast broadband coverage by December 2017.
Q. How can I bring my upgrade forward?
We appreciate that everyone wanted to be at the start of the rollout and fully understand this. The roll out is being designed to ensure the network provides the greatest possible coverage with the available funding (a VfM solution).
The most economical approach is to grow the network from a combination of rural and urban locations. This will involve building out from the exchanges that have already been upgraded, whilst also connecting the smaller exchanges and cabinets in rural areas. Other designs were considered, for example connecting rural areas first, followed by larger villages and towns. However, due to the existing infrastructure, the work needed to be completed in a specific sequence of events.
BT have taken into account many factors, including geography, planning requirements and the location of the existing telecoms infrastructure. These factors dictated the order of the roll out. This approach will ensure the best value for money, but it does mean that we cannot deviate from how the network will be rolled out across the area, as doing so would result in a time- consuming and costly project, and would ultimately reduce the number of premises we are able to deliver superfast broadband to.
Q. I am in the BT commercial roll out area but nothing has happened yet, who do I speak to?
The Openreach website has been designed to provide you with information about their rollout at a local level.
Q. My local exchange has been upgraded by BT, but I cannot receive superfast broadband – will I still benefit from this project?
BT and Virgin both currently supply superfast broadband to a few areas in the South Gloucestershire and Wiltshire areas. When BT announce that they are upgrading an exchange to their Infinity product (fibre to the cabinet (FTTC)) they do not necessarily upgrade all street cabinets, only those that will provide a return on investment to BT (typically 50-85% of street cabinets). There is also an issue of premises served by direct lines (exchange only (EO) lines) that do not pass through a street cabinet at all, and so can miss out on receiving the new superfast service.
Areas that are within a commercial provider’s Next Generation Access (NGA) footprint (e.g. a fibre solution such as fibre to the cabinet) are not eligible for any government/council funded investment under the National Broadband Scheme. In summary, the council is not legally allowed to spend public money in areas where a commercial provider is already offering superfast broadband.
Q. How difficult will it be to build the network?
There are a number of factors that need to be taken into account when upgrading a cabinet to fibre. The main feature is that a new cabinet is installed very close to the existing one. Fibre is connected to the new cabinet, which is then connected to the old one.
– Powering up
BT will have to upgrade the majority of mains and back-up power facilities in their exchanges, as the new equipment will place significant additional demands on them. Sometimes this means working with a local power company and co-ordinating what’s needed.
– Digging down
Some of BTs underground ducts will have been buried for years, some for as long as 80 years, the local surveys sometimes may unearth unanticipated challenges, such as replacing broken or leaking ducting. This will need to be fixed before BT can lay fibre to these ducts. The duct routes themselves may be full of existing cables or BT may be laying fibre in areas where there is no existing duct at all and a new one has to be built.
– Getting permission
We work closely with local councils when it comes to the choosing where a new cabinet should be. In historic towns and cities or sites of special scientific interest, we usually need to get appropriate legal approval and permission before we can begin any work.
– Planning and placing
The whole process takes an average of three months to complete. BT start by assessing the best place for the new cabinet to sit, working within 100 metres of an existing site. Council planning approval is also needed, which can take between 28 and 56 days.
The cabinet is then built on-site, including putting in a concrete base and a connection to the electricity supply. While this is happening, a fibre link is built from the local exchange, the new cabinet gets an electric meter fitted and the new and existing cabinets are linked by a copper cable.
– Building and testing
Cabinet build quality is checked periodically throughout deployment. At the same time, all of BT contractors and suppliers check every cabinet built.
A joint team from Openreach and each of the suppliers independently checks completed cabinets before they go live.
All 240v power connections are tested by a qualified electrician to meet all the relevant safety regulations, particularly earthing the cabinet shell and any other BT structure within five metres of the new network.
Fibre tests, or light tests as they are known, are completed by a precision test officer from the telephone exchange to the final termination point. The tests check that all the connections are up to the required standard and that the fibres are all routed to the correct ports.
BT then hand the individual cabinet to the commissioning teams who carry out further ‘ready for service’ checks with the Access Operations Centre (AOC) to ensure everything is working and that the cabinet can be seen by the AOC for in-life service monitoring.
Q. What will the roll out look like?
The main technology that will be used to provide superfast broadband will be Fibre to the Cabinet or FTTC. This is where the copper cable between the local BT telephone exchange and the local “green cabinet” is replaced with a fibre optic cable, which greatly improves performance. The connection between the premise and the local “green cabinet” continues to use the existing copper wires.
Q. What is the difference between FTTC and FTTP?
– Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC). A part-fibre, part-copper solution, capable of delivering download speeds of up to 80Mbit/s and upload speeds of up to 20Mbit/s. With FTTC, BT overlay fibre on the copper infrastructure (poles and underground ducts) running from an exchange to cabinets in the street. Copper will still be the final link (i.e. from the cabinet to your home or business).
– Fibre to the Premises (FTTP). A pure fibre solution, capable of delivering download speeds of up to 300Mbit/s and upload speeds of 30Mbit/s. This solution uses fibre all the way from the exchange to individual premises, usually delivered using underground cables.
Q. I am not in the area able to invest by GWB, what can I do?
From our analysis, we expect that areas outside of this have already been, or will shortly be, upgraded to superfast broadband by a commercial organization. Your local provider should be your first point of contact.
Q. What if the exchange that serves my telephone line is beyond the borders of the GWB area?
The project covers all homes and businesses in Wiltshire and South Gloucestershire that we don’t expect to be provided with faster broadband without public sector intervention. How broadband or a telephone service is currently delivered is irrelevant.
Q. So am I guaranteed to get the 2Mbps minimum speed when I run a speed test from my computer?
The council’s project is to install infrastructure that has the capacity to deliver faster broadband services. ISPs will use this infrastructure to sell broadband packages (with different advertised speeds) to residents and businesses. The council cannot therefore guarantee that the actual minimum speed measured at the premises will be at least 2Mbps, as this will be dependent on a number of different factors, specific to the individual premise.
Q. Most people only need about 5Mbps to do what they want to on the internet. Why are you trying to get anything faster?
It’s true that right now 5Mbps is sufficient for the majority of people to do many of the things they want to use the internet for (e.g. iPlayer, online banking, and social networking). For many businesses it is sufficient too, however given the speed of technological change over the past 10 years, it is hard to predict what the next 10 years might bring. We need to be ready for that to make sure that we don’t get left behind. That’s why future-proofing our network now will mean we are ready for the future.
This speed is suitable for…
250K to 1.5Mbps
Basic e-mail, web browsing
1.5 to 3Mbps
Streaming music, standard definition video, remote surveillance, telecommuting
3 to 6Mbps
File sharing (small/medium files), internet TV (iPlayer, 4OD etc)
6 to 10Mbps
Online gaming, streaming movies online, instant web page loading
10 to 25Mbps
Telemedicine, remote education, High Definition (HD) internet TV
25 to 50Mbps
HD video surveillance
50 to 100Mbps
Video conferencing(multiple users), remote supercomputing
Real-time data collection, real-time medical image consultation
Q. How much is being invested?
The total investment for the Great Western Broadband (GWB) programme is £35.6million. £4.6million of the funds will come from BDUK, £2million from South Gloucestershire Council, £15.5million from Wiltshire Council, £12.8million from BT and £0.74million from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).
Q. Why are the councils investing, surely the private sector would be much better?
The costs of putting in broadband in some areas make it less likely to be taken up commercially, without this public money backing it. The technological expertise will still need to come from the private telecommunications sector.
Q. Why are fibre optic cables such an important part of this project?
The network that delivers today’s phones and broadband is an all-copper infrastructure. But that means the further from the exchange you are, the slower your broadband speed. That’s because copper was designed to carry the human voice – not large amounts of data. A single fibre is capable of carrying much more information than copper, and doing so in a far shorter space of time. Fibre is a completely different solution. It carries much larger amounts of information as pulses of light over far longer distances, without any reduction in quality. One fibre optical cable can replace hundreds of copper wires.
Q. What are ‘exchange only’ lines?
Most premises connect through a local ‘green cabinet’. Exchange only lines (EO lines) are where this doesn’t happen and the lines from the home or business connect directly to the local telephone exchange.
Q. What does the ‘final third’ mean?
It was estimated that the private sector will cover approximately two-thirds of premises with access to superfast broadband by Summer 2014. As you would expect, they are delivering this service to areas where they will get the most return for the investment. Typically, this is in areas which are more urban, densely populated and closer to main infrastructure routes. The final third is where the private sector will not be deploying superfast broadband infrastructure, and these areas are potentially within the scope of public sector investment to assist with fibre broadband delivery.
Q. What is State Aid and why is this project subject to it?
The European Commission (EC) requires that local authorities can only use public money to invest in areas where they can demonstrate there is no current, or planned (within the next three years) deployment of either standard or superfast broadband. These are the “white areas” and can also be termed “the target intervention areas”, i.e. those where it is possible to invest with public subsidy. This project will therefore be limited to the “white areas” only which is a legal requirement of the European Commission’s State Aid rules.
Q. The completion date for the project slipped, why?
In order for GWB and similar projects to proceed we needed permission or ‘State Aid’ to invest public money. Getting this agreement took the UK government and the European Commission approximately 6 months longer than anticipated. This had a knock on effect on the start and finish dates of our project.
Q. What is happening with the £250million of additional funding that has been announced to increase the coverage of superfast broadband?
The Phase 1 Superfast Broadband Project is nearly complete, and the cabinets that were due to be upgraded as part of the Phase 1 project are nearly finished. Providing superfast broadband remains a key priority for South Gloucestershire Council, and we have already invested £2million into this complex infrastructure project.
In June 2013, the Treasury confirmed that a further £250million of additional funding will be available nationally to increase superfast broadband coverage under the Phase 2 Superfast Extension Programme (SEP). The investment will ensure that superfast broadband gets to 95% of homes and businesses in the UK by December 2017.
The Government has recently made the funding available to Local Authorities and has confirmed that the SEP fund will need to be match-funded locally. South Gloucestershire Council have identified £500,000 from our Capital Programme to use as match-funding for the SEP, bringing the total investment for the Phase 2 project to £1million.
The tender for the Phase 2 project is currently out, with responses due back in March. The Phase 2 project will enable us to push the existing broadband coverage even further across South Gloucestershire, and into those harder-to-reach communities who did not benefit from the Phase 1 upgrades. The programme will help to ensure that those homes and businesses in the hardest- to-reach areas get access to superfast broadband, building economic prosperity and encouraging more social inclusion up and down the country.
More information can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/14-million-more- premises-to-get-superfast-broadband-after-250-million-capital-investment