Following an approach to Broadway Partners from within the community, we are happy to set out the technology options that we would bring to address the digitally starved Loch Ness community’s broadband needs in areas that have been left as Internet “not spots” with slow, intermittent or no broadband service at all, together with the basic principles under which Broadway Partners could become involved.
On the basis of initial conversations and some preliminary analysis, our understanding is that people living close to the Drumnadrochit Infinity-enabled cabinets receive decent broadband from BT, but that premises beyond a few hundred yards receive very slow service. It goes almost without saying that many people living across the glen to Divach, east along the loch towards Abriachan, Lochend and Dochgarroch and west towards Invermoriston and Fort Augustus receive a very poor service. On the other side of the water some receive virtually no usable broadband at all.
Residential users now require access to the fast growing streaming TV (Amazon Prime, BBC Iplayer, Netflix etc.) and music services, travel and booking websites and government portals etc. School children now do more and more homework and study online and older students need access to distance-learning courses (including video conferencing and interactive online sessions). Economically, the area has a high dependence on tourism (hotels, rental properties), crofting, farms and home-working. This all means that the remote locality is seriously disadvantaged through the lack of adequate broadband infrastructure. Property prices also suffer as prospective buyers now consider a decent broadband service as an absolute essential.
Our understanding is that BT has no current intention to upgrade any more fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC) to remoter locations and that, in the absence of any other initiative, the whole area would be at the mercy of Digital Scotland’s R100 (“Reaching 100%”) programme, scheduled for delivery up to as late as 2021, which may end up offering nothing better than existing expensive and restricted satellite services to “fill the gaps” occupied by many remoter homes and businesses.
Subject to further discussions with the local community and with other stakeholders such as Community Broadband Scotland (CBS), and subject also to a detailed survey, Broadway believes that a dramatic improvement in the speed and quality of broadband services could be delivered to the various communities bordering Loch Ness using fixed wireless technology, both economically and quickly. As a first step, this letter seeks to explain the key elements of the proposal, and invites people to register their interest (non-binding) in receiving service, so that the extent of demand can be determined.
The proposed solution would employ a mix of standard, off-the-shelf (therefore tried and tested) 5GHz radio, alongside TV WhiteSpace radio. TVWS is an important new technology whose particular strength is its ability to operate regardless of tree cover – of which the area clearly has a great deal – meaning that nobody should be left behind because of line-of-sight issues. Broadway is pioneering the commercial development of TVWS, in conjunction with Microsoft and Nominet. The other virtue of a radio-based solution is that it is relatively quick to design and install the network, and also relatively affordable. The installation of a radio solution only requires the mounting (by us, and quite discretely) of a low-profile antenna/receiver on each connected house – typically 20-30cm in diameter, depending on which type of radio. Any masts that needed to be employed would likely be of modest height (sub-3 meters) with low visual impact. The deployment of a fixed wireless network would not preclude the rollout of a full fibre to the home (FTTH) network over time and as the economic case justified it. The key point is that a hybrid 5GHz/TVWS wireless solution would provide very fast speeds today and a pathway to the future for homes and businesses that currently have little or no hope of a modern, decent superfast cost-effective broadband service.
Who is Broadway?
Broadway comprises a group of individuals who are passionate about solving the rural broadband problem, and who have come together specifically to commercialise the opportunity presented by TV WhiteSpace. We work closely with our industrial partners, Microsoft, the original promoter of TVWS, Nominet, the Internet registry for all .uk domain names, and the University of Strathclyde, the UK’s centre of excellence for TVWS.
Our launch project on the Isle of Arran is already providing service in some of the most remote broadband ‘not spots’, and will by the middle of this year be covering the entire island. See www.arranbroadband.co.uk, www.facebook.com/arranbroadband and a short video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b9YKR1Y7nAQ for an idea of what we are up to on Arran. Broadway is a member of the Social Stock Exchange, which means we are committed to delivering a positive social impact as well as a return to our investors.
Proposed service offering
We would expect to deliver 15-20Mbps download speeds for those premises using TVWS radio, and a minimum of 30Mbps for the majority of people served by 5GHz radio – although actual performance should significantly exceed this. Many of our customers on Arran are enjoying speeds of 50-70Mbps. Current indications from manufacturers suggest that TVWS will be able to deliver more than 50Mbps speeds by the end of 2017, with continuous improvements thereafter.
A standard fee of around £25/month would likely be charged for each connected house – this would be a pure ‘broadband only’ charge, with conventional telephone service being provided by BT as now, or via a readily available VoIP package. A ‘fair usage’ data cap of 100GB would likely apply, but would only be policed in the event of obvious abuse. Service contracts would be with Broadway Partners, trading as Connected Loch Ness. Service faults or upgrade requests would be handled via our central UK-based response team; and we would contract separately with a local technical team to provide field support post-installation.
Who pays for the network?
There are a number of potential funding sources that can be explored, the most appropriate of which will depend on the community’s appetite for getting involved in the delivery of the solution. Come what may, it is likely that a significant proportion of the premises in the area would qualify for Digital Scotland’s Better Broadband voucher scheme (receiving a service of less than 2Mbps, and with no prospect of a network upgrade by BT). Our prospective customers could apply for this voucher at no cost to themselves and pass it on to us towards the cost of implementing this project. The community might look to fund the network through a local share issue, under the Community Interest Company (CIC) banner. Alternatively, Community Broadband Scotland might be able to help with some grant support – although the process for applying can be time-consuming. Failing that, Broadway might be able to take on the project funding itself, subject to sufficient customer interest, which is why we are keen for those of you who are interested to register that interest with us as soon as possible (please see how to do this below).
We will require some of our customers to host a “relay” station for us. If chosen, this would involve us installing a small antenna at your property which you would allow us connect up to an electrical supply. A nominal amount of electricity is used per annum (costing you only a few pounds) and you would not be required to carry out any maintenance or upkeep. We take care of that ourselves. As an incentive, we offer customers who are asked to be relay stations one year’s free connection to our superfast broadband service.
Depending on which funding route is followed, construction of the network could begin as soon as three months’ time from the decision to go ahead, with first customers being connected immediately thereafter.
Registering your interest
We hope you are as excited about receiving superfast broadband to your rural home or business as we are. As a first step, it is necessary to determine the extent of actual and potential interest in such a solution. In the first instance, please fill the Registration Form today or email firstname.lastname@example.org who are acting as initial coordinator, with the following information: your name, address and postcode, your current broadband speed if available, and your interest – including whether or not you would be happy to act as a relay station (as described above). Once again, registering your interest with us is not in any way binding but it will greatly assist us with the swiftest possible planning and implementation of this exciting new project.
Finally, please let your family, friends, neighbours and colleagues know about this website. The greater the interest that is registered here, the faster we can hope to proceed towards connecting everyone!
I look forward to hearing from you.