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Village broadband

Broadband Internet – The Next Chapter

We had the bicycle (dial-up modems), the Ford Fiesta (ADSL broadband) and currently have the BMW M3 (VDSL aka FTTC aka SuperFast broadband, such as BT’s Infinity), but the next chapter is coming, starting with the Bentley Continental GT, aka: FTTP or fibre to the premises, promising 200 Mbit and higher download speeds, through to the Porsche 911 with near 1Gbps, and progressing in a couple of years to a Lamborghini Aventador / Bugatti Veyron, or 10Gbps speeds. Let’s call this xFTTP. X being for eXtra :)

Let me illustrate this:

Broadband Type Speed Comparison

Note: Modems and ADSL don’t even register on the scale – an indication on how far we’ve come already.

Why do we need the extra speed?

Well, think of (1) what’s happing in the world today, and (2) it’s not just extra speed, but extra capacity.

  • We are consuming more and more media online, in higher resolution, first HD Ready, then full High Definition and now 4K, with 8K down the road.
  • If you’ve never watched the Wimbledon Final in 4K, or seen the startling detail on Gardener’s World or a theatre play when viewed in high definition, then you should; the experience is such that you’ll not want to go back.
  • How many families with children have multiple media streams all playing simultaneously on their respective phones, tablets and laptops, all wanting it in high definition?
  • Many people, including many of these children now play online, multi-participant games, which requires a fast, low-delay connection for rapid response times,
  • During lockdown, we’ve all got used to ‘Zooming’ or ‘Skyping, or ‘Teaming’, and want/need to see our friends, family, school class, work colleagues and customers in high definition, without the picture breakup, pauses and gaps, and loss of audio and video synchronisation that poor connections cause,
  • Many village groups and committees are also now meeting via video. Even some GP and hospital appointments are moving online, including video,
  • We are using cloud based storage more and more, for all our documents, and higher volume content such as photos and videos,
  • We are working from home more and more, and business IT systems are utilising higher and higher volumes of data, all needing to be communicated without the tapping of fingers whilst we wait, so we are productive,
  • We engage with social media more and more, uploading higher resolution photos and both HD/4K resolution and longer video clips.
  • We are doing more and more shopping online, and shop web sites are increasingly using larger, high resolution photos and video media in their storefronts.

This will continue and the demand on our broadband connections is only going to get heavier and heavier. The current ‘Superfast’ connections are going to start creaking, and fairly soon.

I should note at this point that to experience the full benefit of many of these online services, and to have them operate smoothly, the devices we use can have a significant effect. As some have found, older computers and tablets are themselves a limiting factor, being much slower than newer models, and with low grade accessories, for example the built-in camera, microphone and speakers. A few folk have replaced older PCs, and found that gives an enormous boost to their experience. Even re-installing Windows 10 on a computer can give it a new lease of life (which can now be done without losing all the installed apps – just make sure you have backup up your personal files; on that cloud storage? ).

So what is the next chapter?

This is called FTTP, or Fibre-to-the-Premises. This is when the fibre optic cable comes all the way to your house – no copper cable from the street cabinet that severely limits broadband speeds, especially the further away from the cabinet you are.

Fibre optic cables can carry enormous quantities of data at the speed of light, and equally in both directions, so not only is a fibre connection able to provide vastly higher speeds, there’s also much lower delays in the transmission. This has great benefits for us, whether we are watching online television, plays or films, or whether we are facetiming others or taking part in a large work or social group conference (Zoom can show nearly 50 attendee video streams in its gallery).

Is the Up speed as important as Down speed?

Up speed is becoming more important, especially with video conferencing, sending emails with large attachments, saving files direct to cloud based document storage, and posting social media content online, etc. It’s not just about browsing these days, but bi-direction exchanges increasingly needing to be in ‘real-time’, i.e. without noticeable delay.

So how do we get there?

We achieved getting the current FTTC/Superfast broadband by collective action. A large number of us signed up for it which enabled BT to schedule Little Shelford early in the roll-out program, and at last count, well over half the village now has the service.

We can do the same for FTTP, and I have identified a provider who will react to order volumes to reschedule their roll-out program. They are Cambridge Fibre, and you can see their offering at https://www.cambridgefibre.uk/residential-full-fibre-broadband/. Even their Home Basic package, which offers a 200Mbps download and 100Mbps upload speed takes you to the next level, between 5 and 10 times faster than the Superfast speeds we’re getting now, but significantly, with options to go much faster.

The costs?

As with all these things, and unfortunately not shown on their web site, there is the installation cost. As they don’t use the BT network, they have to lay their own fibre cables, so it’s not zero, but I am told that the cost depends on how many connections they need to do in an area, and how close to a previously installed area it is. With a favourable wind, they inform me it’s likely to be in the region of £125. The proof will be in the pudding though.

Placing an order for the package doesn’t commit you to any expenditure now, but it will register in their systems, and as the old adage goes, the more the merrier, and the sooner and cheaper to get installed. I’ve started the ball rolling, and have my order in.

What about other providers?

Well, BT will get around to providing a service at some point, but having looked, I haven’t been able to find any specific product or pricing information. They may well provide it sometime, but how long that will be, who knows.

There are other fibre broadband providers, but they often rely on communities forming their own collectives to gain grant support, but which is only available to rural communities. This might have been useful for us, but I have also now learnt that Little Shelford is now not classed as a ‘rural’ community!

I will keep an eye on the situation, and will do an update in the online newsletter if there’s anything significant to add (including whether the new Huawei R&D campus in Sawston could help spur things along, but please do send me any information you manage to acquire on the subject. I have also started to look at 5G, but that’s another topic.

So, it seems that Cambridge Fibre may be the path of least resistance for us to achieve full-fibre broadband, and as before, if we tackle this as a whole community, we will achieve it sooner, and keep Little Shelford at the forefront of technology and the benefits of the new services it can bring.

Simon Conway-Smith