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Virgin Media making 100 Mbps service its entry level product

Wednesday 22 March 2017 19:02:31 by Andrew Ferguson

Virgin Media has always worked to retain its crown of being the fastest widely available broadband provider and news today indicates that the 100 Mbps product is set to become the standard entry level service and 300 Mbps as the top speed.

The product tiers will be:

  • VIVID 300 300Mbps download and 20Mbps upload
  • VIVID Gamer 200Mbps download and 20Mbps upload (an upgrade to 300 Mbps download is £5/m
  • VIVID 200 200Mbps download and 16Mbps upload
  • VIVID 100 100Mbps download and 12Mbps upload

"By beefing up our bundles we’re leaving our competitors in the rear view mirror, starting where they finish. Eye-watering speeds, a better box and top-notch TV is a winning combination.

More and more switchers tell us they are joining Virgin Media for our faster speeds and we understand why - whether it’s 4K Netflix, box sets in multiple rooms or online gaming, the best entertainment requires the best broadband and we’re making sure our customers are covered with these bundles at incredible value.

Tom Mockridge, CEO of Virgin Media

We feel that the CEO missed an important point when drafting his comment, since a key point of ultrafast broadband is the ability to let you do multiple things, so surely one would expect Virgin Media to be promoting doing 4K streaming, box sets and online gaming all at the same time?

Pricing is of course important to people and also given the size of Virgin Media will have some influence on what prices its competitors feel they will able to charge. Products apart from Solus which is the broadband only service include voice line and are based on 12 month contracts.

  • VIVID 100 solus £32.25 per month
  • VIVD 200 solus £37.25 per month
  • VIVID 200 Gamer £42.25 per month
  • VIVID 300 solus £47.25 per month
  • VIVIV 100 with home phone £40 per month
  • Player bundle with VIVID 100 £45 per month
  • Mix bundle with VIVID 100 and V6 £52 per month
  • Fun bundle with VIVID 100 and V6 £57 per month
  • Full House bundle with VIVID 200 and V6 £73 per month
  • Full House bundle with VIVID 300 and V6 £83 per month

We presume the press release has omitted the classic 'up to' since it is promoting the connection speeds rather than the peak time experience and the behaviour of different areas that Virgin Media cover can be the problem, thus while many are perfectly happy there is it appears a constant churn of people who are chasing reliable jitter and latency performance moving to the slower VDSL2 products. If Virgin Media can get a firm grasp on capacity planning and combine this with an increasing footprint it stands a good chance of heading off any product plans that BT Consumer, Sky and TalkTalk have.

It is not clear if there will be any pro-active upgrade programme as used to happen a few years ago for Virgin Media customers, only time will tell on that topic but we know for sure some will chase to be the first to try and get upgrades and the usual advice of make sure you know what contract changes you are agreeing to applies. Our product listings still feature the old speed points since Virgin Media has not updated its own packages yet.

Ofcom fines Plusnet £880,000 for overcharging customers who had left

Wednesday 22 March 2017 09:46:44 by Andrew Ferguson

Over 1,000 people who had been Plusnet customers were overcharged by the broadband provider Ofcom has determined after a lengthy investigation with the 1,000 customers affected covering a four year period from May 2011 to September 2015.

Ofcom has now levied a fine after closing the investigation, and this means the Treasury gains £880,000 as a result of the fine Ofcom has imposed, assuming Plusnet pay it within 20 days. In addition Plusnet did make efforts to track down those owed money (over £500,000) and some 356 customers were refunded £212,140 (figure includes 4% interest), in the case where contact was not made with old customers the balance has been donated to a dozen local charities.

The fine would have been another 20% higher but apparently Plusnet was willing to enter into a formal settlement which reduced the fine, as by playing ball it saved time and money on the side of Ofcom.

The investigation started by Ofcom on 27th May 2016 and while the Ofcom investigation talks of 'the telecoms company broke a fundamental billing rule by continuing to charge a group of customers for landline or broadband, after they had cancelled their service' it is not totally clear if they mean people left via the preferred migration route or this just affected people ceasing their broadband due to moving out of a property.

We feel we should highlight one aspect of changing provider, the Ofcom mandated migration process means you do not need to contact your old provider when switching provider (and the switch is to a provider that runs over the Openreach local loop), and in cases where people have done this some providers actually interpret the contact as the consumer trying to cancel the service. Why is this distinction important? Because a migration is cheaper than a cancellation and provision due to the cease fees that a cancellation can trigger, additionally cease and provide can mean you are without broadband for an extended period compared to the 30 minutes to 1 hour for a migration. For those worried about billing, the solution is to allow your migration to go through and double check the leaving letter you will have received from your old provider to make sure any amounts owed are correct and then once the switch has completed check that any payments taken are correct.

£100 reward offer on Sky ADSL2+ ends Thursday 23rd March

Tuesday 21 March 2017 11:24:09 by Andrew Ferguson

If you are in the market for an ADSL2+ service, then Sky has just added a big incentive to its broadband offers in the form of a £100 PrePaid MasterCard on its ADSL2+ service for those who order it online before the end of Thursday 23rd March 2017 and don't bundle it with a satellite TV service.

Update 5:55pm 22nd March We have been informed that the offer will end at 8am on Thursday 23rd March 2017.

The ADSL2+ service is the same price as the existing offer was, i.e. £18.99 per month for the 12 month contract term, and if you stay beyond that the phone and broadband bundle costs £28.99 per month. There is a £9.95 set-up charge that also covers the delivery cost of the Sky Hub.

House of Lords report on Growing up with the Internet

Tuesday 21 March 2017 10:01:41 by Andrew Ferguson

The information revolution started in earnest when the first printing press was created, but the creation of the Internet and subsequent invention of the World Wide Web has accelerated that pace significantly. Into this rapidly changing environment there are those that worry about the impact on children and the House of Lords has published a lengthy report on 'Growing up with the Internet' (full 100 page PDF document).

There are various recommendations in the report, but one that is likely to draw the ire of many adults is a recommendation that parental control filters be made mandatory for ALL Internet Service Providers and any service/website/application that is likely to appeal to children should be designed specifically for the younger audience.

ISPA has issued its response and while we usually just quote a paragraph, we felt the full text was a good summary as an industry response.

"Online safety is a priority for the Internet industry and our members have long been committed to providing advice, tools and support to help parents and carers protect children on the Internet.

We believe that self-regulation is the right approach to dealing with this complex and challenging area and so disagree with some of the report’s conclusions. The current self-regulatory regime has led to the UK being a world leader in online safety, with up to 95% of consumer customers having free access to a parental control filter, the virtual eradication of child images hosted in the UK via the Internet Watch Foundation and an industry-funded public awareness campaign and one stop shop advisory site. ISPA is further committed to raising awareness of online safety with its members, including a guide for its smaller members and information at sign up on parental control filters.

However, filters are not a panacea and are only part of a solution that includes digital literacy and sensible policymaking. We therefore agree with the report’s recommendations to improve digital literacy’s standing in the curriculum, commission further research to inform policy and see a joined-up policy from Government that we hope a new Internet Safety Strategy will deliver.

Unfortunately, the report has not understood the full breadth of the ISP market. It would be disproportionate to mandate filters for ISPs providing services to business or machine-to-machine services or those who make it clear that they offer an unfiltered service.

In response to today’s report, ISPA Chair, James Blessing said: “The Internet industry has long been committed to keeping children safe online and the UK is regarded as a world leader in this area. We believe the most effective response is a joint approach based on education, raising awareness and technical tools. The Internet industry is constantly reviewing how it helps customers manage online safety and so look forward to being part of the discussions to inform the new Internet Safety Strategy”.

SPA response to House of Lords Report on Growing up with the Internet: Industry self-regulation has led to the UK being a world leader in online safety

A lot of responses in the report seem to revolve around the concept that children are automatically digital natives and that they are somehow different from the millions of people for whom their lives already are lived in a digital world. The author of this news item has been using the Internet long enough to remember when the WWW appeared and compiling C code when the JPEG standard emerged, and thus has seen things evolve rapidly and whereas the worry of his parents was the violence of kids comics and the number of hours spent watching TV late at night, parents now are worrying about the hours children spend with their phones and tablets.

Looking at the online world as a whole, if we as adults want to demonstrate to the next generation that we are responsible guardians perhaps we need to consider how we ourselves are using the Internet and how the last 12 months or so has it would seem seen a large shift in how adults interact online, the rise of the troll and the politics of fighting it out online without the safety net of the curated press to temper an individuals vitriol.

Many of the tools for ensuring that online social media does not become a drunken corner of a local bar with all the problems that brings are more critically needed in the adult world than the world of those under the age of 18. Or put another way, if children grow up in a world where we adults and those in charge are setting the example of being tolerant, responsible and respectful then children will have the role models to aspire to and emulate, thus ensuring we avoid a dystopian future.

Openreach appears to be taking lower noise margin to trail out across nation

Friday 17 March 2017 14:41:04 by Andrew Ferguson

A trial has been running looking into whether Openreach can squeeze more speed out of VDSL2 for some lines with no hardware changes in the cabinet or by the customers VDSL2 modem and it seems on Monday 20th March, this limited area trial is set to go national.

The trial involved the Openreach DLM system identifying lines that were stable at a 6dB target noise margin, and then lowering the target noise margin in 1dB steps over an extended period and monitoring the error rates and connection speeds. The monitoring is not new, the Openreach DLM (Dynamic Line Management) is constantly running, the change is that while 6dB is currently the lowest target noise margin modems are told to negotiate the connection at and now for lines that look like they can cope with lower margins without undue numbers of errors lower margins will be allowed. The bonus is thus more download speed without any cost.

It is thought the trial involved some 40,000 lines and we presume Openreach has seen positive results from the trial, we are monitoring what we believe is the trail area but to date have not seen an observable difference, but this may be that the 40,000 lines is swamped by those not in the trial but still in the area we've been monitoring. It may be once we run the Q1/2017 analysis in a couple of weeks we can see some indication of a difference, or it may take many more months once things go national.

The way the target noise margin's work mean that if your line is stable, then it does not matter if you connect at 21,232 Kbps or 44,536 Kbps its all about if the DLM thinks the line is stable and suitable for trying a lower margin, what will differ is the amount of benefit different people see and many people may see no change at all. Its important to emphasis that the drop is in 1dB steps down to a minimum of 3dB, and the margin may return back to the 6dB level if things do not look stable.

Sweating the assets to squeeze what might be just be a 2 Mbps average increase seems like a lot of work for little extra speed, but for individuals it might be worth much more speed, and given that across the UK if most users getting 24 Mbps were to see speeds jump to 30 Mbps this could mean that models on performance versus distance would have to change and a 6 Mbps jump for lines in the 1km long region would be worth 0.6 percentage points to the UK superfast total. CAUTION Don't take the 0.6 change as been what we expect from the roll-out, it is just an illustrative figure and we will only change our model if we see a significant change, in the past monitoring experience against our model was more difficult but since Autumn 2016 we have automated this so we can keep a better eye on how all the various changes are affecting the model we use.

Update 7pm While the trial is moving national, it is not happening overnight, but will be done in phases. The phasing is to allow Openreach and the broadband providers to assess how things are progressing. The phased roll-out should complete by September.

BT East Sussex BDUK project declares phase I of project over

Friday 17 March 2017 10:21:02 by Andrew Ferguson

The East Sussex BDUK project with BT working to deliver its phase I and phase II have declared successful completion of phase I, which means its our chance to look at what has been delivered.

The BT press release talks of the project making fibre broadband available to some 73,000 premises, and its should be highlighted that the project area is East Sussex plus Brighton and some cabinets have been delivered in Brighton in areas where commercial operators had previously declared they were not planning to venture when the original Open Market Reviews took place.

There is also the claim that the project when combined with the commercial footprints has made fibre broadband available to 380,000 premises. The eSussex website talks about some different figures, such as 66,500 premises passed (we are assuming the 66,500 postcodes is a mistake) and will install 400 new fibre cabinets.

So what does our tracking show, well we can see 347 VDSL2 cabinets delivered by the phase I project with an additional 45 FTTP areas, so the 400 is pretty good (our aggregation of FTTP in some areas may merge some areas. It has taken a day longer than we expected to start writing up this news, as our initial run was not attributing all the FTTP delivered to the project, and we should add we can see from the eSussex website that more FTTP is on the way that may boost figures by several hundred premises more.

thinkbroadband analysis of Superfast, USC, USO and Fibre Broadband Coverage for East Sussex and The City of Brighton and its component district councils
Figures 16th March 2017
Area % fibre based
> 24 Mbps
>= 30 Mbps
>= 100 Mbps
Openreach FTTP Under 2 Mbps USC Under 10 Mbps USO
Combined Area City of Brighton and East Sussex 99.1% 95.5% 94.7% 32.3% 1.0% 0.5% 1.7%
377,794 premises for combined area 374,299 360,648 357,672 121,992 3,818 1,758 6,577
Delivered via Phase I contract
Excludes cable overlap
100%(*) 86.3% 83.5% 5.2%(**) 5.2% 1.6% 6%
Premises for Phase I 62,685 53,789 51,971 3,382 3,382 1,039 3,896
The City of Brighton 99.6% 99.4% 99.4% 90.9% 0% 0% (***) 0.1%
East Sussex 98.8% 93.4% 92.2% 1.6% 1.5% 0.7% 2.6%
Eastbourne 99.6% 98.9% 98.6% 0.9% 0.9% 0% (***) 0.1%
Hastings 97.1% 96.4% 96% 0.01% 0.01% 0.1% 1.1%
Lewes 98.4% 93.9% 92.6% 1% 0.8% 0.8% 2.7%
Rother 99.3% 89.1% 87.5% 0.7% 0.5% 0.8% 4.2%
Wealden 99.4% 90.2% 88.1% 4.1% 4.1% 1.5% 4.3%

(*) while this is 100%, there are still additional premises where FTTP appears to be planned from phase I, our coverage tracking does not include FTTP until such time as it is live within each postcode.

(**) There is an additional 3.5% (2,272 premises) of cable coverage but as BT should not be paid for overlaps with Virgin Media premises we exclude these from the figures. It is possible given the Virgin Media expansion that some of these cable premises were delivered after the project enabled a VDSL2 cabinet, and thus may account for some of the difference with the BT figures.

(***) while 0% due to the rounding, there are 23 premises we believe with access to only 1 Mbps broadband in the City of Brighton and in Eastbourne just 6 premises sub 2 Mbps.

The difference between the 73,000 of the BT press release and our 62,685 premises for phase I, is a fairly large gap, but given the eSussex project is talking of 66,500 premises it seems there is a not a total consensus and the wording of the BT press release is such that the 73,000 may include phase II which looks like it has addressed some 1,281 premises so far, add the variation due to the 2,272 cable premises and maybe another 800 to 1,000 FTTP on the way things are looking a lot closer. Other factors such as the potential for home based businesses to count as just one premise in our data, does a hospital count as one premise or a premise per building or premise per distinct department to be included in the BT data but excluded from ours may also explain some of the gap between the combined total of 380,000 fibre based premises and our 374,299 VDSL2/cable/FTTP premises passed. Another factor may be conversions of single premises dwellings to multiple dwellings, which with no new postcode being issued are much harder to spot.

Something we would ask BT Group to be better at doing in their press releases is to make it clearer that areas such as Brighton are included are in the figures, it confused us as for a while and may well be misleading the public as to the scale of what is being delivered.

KCOM gains its 40,000 Lightstream customer

Wednesday 15 March 2017 12:35:58 by Andrew Ferguson

KCOM has announced who the 40,000th customer was, and it is Teri Harrison in east Hull and comes among the race towards 75% full fibre coverage for the City by the end of 2017.

"Like everyone else these days I do a lot online. I do internet shopping, play Xbox One Live, keep in touch with my family on social media, download games for my three year old nephew and do a lot of research online too.

I’m hoping to pass my driving test soon so I’ve also been looking online for car insurance quote. So much of what we do is now online that it’s just a way of life. You need to be online.

Since I’ve had Lightstream installed it’s been brilliant. I’ve got an unlimited package, so I keep having my family popping around to use it and everything’s so fast. It’s really good for online gaming.

Teri Harrison, 40,000th Lighstream customer

Our tracking has a few more postcodes to add from the last 24 hours, but the City is sitting on the verge of 50% coverage at superfast and ultrafast speeds.

The 75% target should mean that Lightstream will be available to some 150,000 premises across the city and the surrounding area that KCOM service.

The KCOM press release suggests that Hull will be cemented as the ultrafast capital of the UK, which if you believe that ultrafast speeds can only be delivered by full fibre would be the case, but the level of presence of Virgin Media DOCSIS cable broadband in many cities and council areas (100 out of the 407 regions/nations/councils/counties) means they surpass this level today and while the 300 Mbps product which ticks the Ofcom ultrafast definition is not available everywhere, the 200 Mbps standard top tier is something most people would consider as an ultrafast connection.

Rewards between £150 and £225 available on BT broadband products

Wednesday 15 March 2017 10:33:44 by Andrew Ferguson

The BT Reward cards fluctuate but we think this latest batch of rewards may be the highest that we have seen combined with the lower prices you generally get via the affiliate channel links. In a change to how BT arranges its products a single page now features the ADSL2+, Infinity and BT TV products, though if you are in a native FTTP area and want those faster options you need to use a different link to see Infinity 3 and Infinity 4 options.

  • Unlimited BT Broadband ADSL2+ with £150 reward card on 12 month contract at £23.99/month plus £9.99 setup fee
  • Unlimited BT Infinity 1 (FTTC or FTTP if available) with £200 reward card on 12 month contract £28.99/month plus £59.99 setup fee
  • Unlimited BT Infinity 2 (FTTC or FTTP if available) with £200 reward card on 12 month contract £44.99/month plus £29.99 setup fee
  • BT TV Entertainment Plus with Unlimited BT Infinity 1 (FTTC or FTTP if available) with £200 reward card plus a £25 John Lewis voucher on 12 month contract £36.99/month plus £59.99 setup fee

The main BT Reward card offers end on Tuesday 21st March 2017 and the John Lewis £25 voucher on the BT TV range runs for longer and ends on Tuesday 28th March 2017. After the 12 month contract period prices will rise to the standard prices, but in return for signing another contract term you can undercut the standard pricing, or move on and chase a deal elsewhere.

As usual the rewards need to be claimed once the service is live, so don't forget.

Connecting Devon and Somerset confounds critics by hitting target

Wednesday 15 March 2017 09:53:24 by Andrew Ferguson

The Connecting Devon and Somerset BDUK project was the largest of the ones operating in England and those involved are now celebrating a success and we may not be as fast as some outlets in carrying this news but we wanted to complete the number crunching first to see if we agreed.

"Connecting Devon and Somerset and its partners have been a driving force in solving the challenge of bringing next generation access to businesses and communities in the region.

Completion of our phase 1 programme means that thousands of homes and businesses now enjoy the benefits of having much faster internet speeds, which supports modern day living and working practices as well as being critical to the local economy. We recognise there is still a long way to go to ensure everyone can enjoy the same speeds and benefits across the region. CDS has now launched a further publicly funded programme (Phase 2) to reach even more properties.

Councillor Andrew Leadbetter, cabinet member for economy and growth for Devon County Council

The BT press release gives details such as the project involving a quarter of a million miles of optical fibre and more than 1,460 fibre broadband (VDSL2/FTTC) cabinets. Importantly the take-up is now running at just over one in three (33.5%) for those areas where the project has delivered service and this is double the level of 18 months ago, showing the increasing awareness that better services are more widely available.

thinkbroadband calculation of what has been delivered as part of Connecting Devon and Somerset Phase I
Figures 14th March 2017
Area fibre based
> 24 Mbps
% superfast
>= 30 Mbps
Openreach FTTP Under 2 Mbps USC Under 10 Mbps USO
CDS Phase 1 99.4% 83.7% 81.5 0.20 4% 14%
Premises 327239 275135 267880 6701 13190 30668
Where cabinets overlap with Virgin Media cable broadband which was just 2% we have taken these into account.

There are 16 cabinets we believe are part of the project that we've not seen live yet and we will double check later today, these represent 0.5% of the total project premise count of 328888, thus when you add these 1,600 to the you are extremely close to the 278,000 premises stated by the project itself, though these cabinets may be part of what Bill Murphy is talking about, in which case our figures being slightly under is likely to be down to the pessimistic model we operate for how crosstalk and distance will impact lines. Additionally there may be some more FTTP that is in the final stages of delivery. So boringly it does look as if the project has delivered.

"The target of making fibre broadband available to 320,000 premises has already been easily exceeded by more than 12,000, whilst the target of making superfast speeds of 24Mbps and above available to 278,000 premises has also been achieved and, indeed, we expect to comfortably exceed it in the coming weeks.

The successful roll-out of this exciting technology is great news for Devon and Somerset communities because whatever you do online you can do it better with fibre broadband. When BT’s commercial programme is also included, it means that we have been involved in making fibre broadband available to more than 868,000 premises across the two counties."

Bill Murphy, managing director of next generation access for BT

Go West for CityFibre as it heads towards Finnieston in Glasgow

Tuesday 14 March 2017 10:47:39 by Andrew Ferguson

CityFibre is continuing its expansion in Glasgow with a westerly expansion towards Finnieston. The PR claims that this will bring full fibre connectivity to 300 postcode areas for the first time.

CityFibre does the core network build, but local provider HighNet operates as the Internet Service Provider and to date the roll-out in Glasgow has connected businesses such as The Beacon on St Vincent Street, Robb Ferguson Chartered Accountants, Global Connects Translation and Interpreting Services, (including Glasgow School of English and Lorca Spanish) and the Holiday Inn Express.

"Reliable, ultrafast connectivity is as important to our guests as a comfortable bed and a hot shower – without it, we wouldn’t have a business.

Previously, we were unable to secure an ultrafast fibre connection – we have been waiting for almost three years - so the launch of Glasgow’s Gigabit City project has transformed the wi-fi service we can provide to our guests. The feedback has been fantastic and we look forward to welcoming new and return business and leisure customers who depend on the quality service we can provide.

Chardon Trading founders Maurice and Nicola Taylor, owners of the Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express in Glasgow Theatreland

We did check on what was considered a postcode area, and it is 300 full postcodes, e.g. G1 2JR and while the CityFibre roll-out does not meet the real criteria for passed by Fibre to the Premises it is a lot easier to deliver full fibre from the numerous nodes the metro network provides compared to traditional leased line delivery which are very bespoke solutions.

With CityFibre ploughing on with its own network build, the big pay-offs may come when 5G roll-outs to cities and low cost dark fibre to support 20 Gbps per cell tower will be crucial to ensuring a high density of small masts. In theory regulatory changes like PIA2 mean this sort of thing is possible by installing your own fibres into Openreach duct space, but this ties you into largely following the existing Openreach topology whereas a new network can be built in a more efficient manner with chambers perfectly spaced for pure fibre connectivity. The downside is the increased amount of road works and money spent the work involved.

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