back to article Future imperfect: A UK broadband retrospective

It's astonishing how fast the world changes. It's not so long ago that my internet connection at home was a 64k KiloStream, with an ISDN line that was used for backup, or channel bonding if I wanted to download something at a whopping 128kbps. It was fearsomely expensive, but since I was writing about the net a lot back then, it …

  1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

    About time councils put their foot down

    and insisted that ALL new housing developments have FTTP from the outset.

    A friend of mine moved into a new development last year and could only get 2Mb ADSL. That didn't last long because they (like most of their neighbours) went totally mobile getting 4G connectivity. There was a Mast 200yds down the road so don't tell me that there was no high speed connectivity available locally.

    a few councils putting this as a requirement for granting planning permission might get the whole FTTP movement kickstarted.

    1. jason 7

      Re: About time councils put their foot down

      To be honest I wouldn't move to a property with less than 6Mbps.

      Would cramp my style too much.

      1. leexgx

        Re: About time councils put their foot down

        i would not move there is FTTC was not available (or virgin but extremely ulicky on new estates)

        it should be Mandatory that FTTC and Virgin should be wired in (the first New estate that actually did it has Virgin is Wired to the premises (wires are sticking out of the hole at the house) with BT FTTC as an option as well

        compared to boston boulevard what had like form intermediately working 0.3mb to 2mb ADSL with no FTTC or virgin for last 5-6 years (i do believe they are now installing or have installed FTTC now) mad thing is the area it is connected to is Full virgin area

        1. jzlondon

          Re: About time councils put their foot down

          Maybe you should consider employing a proofreader before you post comments? I'm not sure what you're trying to say and I don't think I'm alone.

    2. Zog_but_not_the_first

      Re: About time councils put their foot down

      With a firm hand?

    3. Nigel Whitfield.

      Re: About time councils put their foot down

      Nice idea, however they seldom manage to put their foot down when it comes to existing rules on affordable housing, so don't go holding your breath.

      The glacial pace of housebuilding in the UK, and our relatively low housing density are both holding back deployment, I think.

    4. Christian Berger

      Re: About time councils put their foot down

      Well or at least running tubes so you can put in any sort of wiring. I mean those current passive optical networks will eventually be outdated and hard to upgrade, but once you have tubes, you can easily upgrade them to dedicated fibres into every home.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: About time councils put their foot down

      "a few councils putting this as a requirement for granting planning permission might get the whole FTTP movement kickstarted."

      Unfortunately this would have a detrimental effect on customers overall. What happens would happen is what happens with the (supposedly) competitive market for new gas & electricity connections. Big builders sign lucrative contracts with a company who often not only provides the connections free, but actually pays money to the developer and this is the world of IGTs and IDNOs - companies (for example GTC) who then have the new housebuyers by the short and curlies, because nobody will lay duplicate infrastructure. The additional costs to consumers are sometimes hidden, sometimes they are not, but these sorts of developments inflate the cost to consumers for something that doesn't need to be any more expensive than the other 99% of the population. In the case of electricity and gas, you're free to switch supplier, but the supplier doesn't have to offer the same price for IGT and IDNO customers (some socialise the additional costs across all customers, some don't).

      And the idea of monopoly non-BT last half mile operators is already here - GTC offer FTTH and claim to reach half a million homes. I can't speak for the cost because I can't find the cost, but I'd be very surprised if they are particularly competitive, and that reflects the IDNO and IGT business models.

      It should be part of the local council's job to make this happen (let's face it, they can't even keep road pot hole free), but it could be easily done through amending the building regulations. But this isn't enough, it either needs LLU for all "last mile" connections (GTC, Virginmedia, Kingston, etc) or it needs full and effective regulation of all broadband infrastructure, and either of these last two would be a big ask, given the fact that politicians prattle on about broadband, but understand nothing about it.

      1. David_H

        Re: About time councils put their foot down

        You're talking universal entitlement.

        There is no such thing for any of the utilities:

        Most people have on-grid electricity

        All towns and most of the countryside have mains water and sewerage

        Most towns and some of the countryside has mains gas

        The largest profit centres have descent broadband

        Of course your local mileage may vary.

    6. Bunbury

      Re: About time councils put their foot down

      You'd hope that councils would want good services of all kinds to be providedon new developments wouldn't you? not only telecomms but power, water, roads, schools, shops and the rest. And to some extent they do.

      But councils have also become commercialised. If they can see a one thousand home development that means 1000x council tax extra, plus of course they have central government leaning on them to provide much needed homes. maximum tax + homes per acre means high density housing with small units.

      If a developer says they have a business case to develop 1000 homes but not sufficient to build out all the supporting infrastructure, councils will often be incentivised to approve. That's why a lot of current developments are done without any improvement to the road network.

    7. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: About time councils put their foot down

      Same as my work colleague. He's moved to a new estate (something like 300 homes) on the edge of Plymouth and can only get 2mb ADSL and has been told by openreach that its not economical to upgrade to FTTC!! Takes me back to the early mid 2000 when BT had that stupid register your exchange to be upgraded to broadband where basically you had to get enough people to show an interest in their local exchange to get it broadband enabled. Think how many potential customers and income BT lost out on with that madness. I remember at the time attending a conference on something or other that I can't remember but BT were taking part in a panel discussion, I thought it was a nice opportunity to talk about their sh1te broadband provisioning, it was quite funny to see the panel squirm as more an more delegates laid in to BT

      1. Bunbury

        Re: About time councils put their foot down

        Sounds to me that the estate developer has trousered the money from 300 homes - what's that £100m or so? - without paying for any infrastructure upgrade. After all, in a new estate they have to deal with someone to get the telecomms in and sounds like in this case it's Openreach. In that discussion the developer could have put some money on the table to upgrade the network infrastructure but presumably chose not to.

        Most developers will happily give information about floor plans, countryside and commuting. But until enough include services in their buying decision developers won't invest in infrastructure.

  2. yoganmahew

    UK Gov superfast broadband advert...

    Am I alone in finding their choice of music amusing?

  3. jason 7

    Hmmm the Alcatel 'Snotblob'.

    I remember thee. A great device for sorting out the men from the boys USB socket wise.

    Basically if you had a VIA USB chipset you were screwed as it didn't push enough power to the snotblob. Spent many a lunch hour down Maplins hunting out NEC USB chipset PCI cards for friends.

    When I had my ADSL installed in 2001 it was still a two engineer job. You had to have a ADSL box installed in the house. Was rather nice to have a proper purpose built box installed just where you wanted it in the living room. Much better than all the poor sods that had to put up with the splitter plugs in the hallway much later.

    Still use the ADSL box today. However, the speed has improved. Back in 2001 it was a staggering 512Kb. Now it's a better 18Mbps and while I can get FTTC, I really can't be bothered. I'll wait till they move me over for nothing due to legacy needs.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Hmmm the Alcatel 'Snotblob'.

      "Was rather nice to have a proper purpose built box installed just where you wanted it in the living room. Much better than all the poor sods that had to put up with the splitter plugs in the hallway much later."

      First thing we did when the engineer arrived, to upgrade us to Infinity 2? We got on our knees and begged him to move the bloody master socket. Fortunately, he assured us that was all part of the service.

      Back in tne 80s, being near a power supply (or a smart TV) wasn't a consideration.

    2. Steven Raith

      Re: Hmmm the Alcatel 'Snotblob'.

      I remember those bloody VIA chipsets, bane of my life when I did pre-release support for the BT Voyager modems (back when it was a combo job between them and AOL back in the very early 00's).

      Ah, the pain, the horror.

      Steven R

    3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Hmmm the Alcatel 'Snotblob'.

      "When I had my ADSL installed in 2001 it was still a two engineer job. You had to have a ADSL box installed in the house. Was rather nice to have a proper purpose built box installed just where you wanted it in the living room."

      Same date, a zero engineer job as far as I was concerned if, by engineer, you mean someone from BT. With the help of a cousin the master was <cough> relocated from the hall to the meter cupboard in the porch (no convenient power near the old location) and a cable pulled back to the hall with a slave socket on the original box, another telephone cable & a Cat 4 (yes, 4) to the upstairs room that was to become the office. Add a single splitter to the master and plug the slaves into that. Let Nildram know the new number & plug in the ADSL box which, IIRC, we'd brought from the old house and add a wireless access point. Also add the phone base station there sitting on top of the cupboard where we can see the missed call indicator when we come in.

      ADSL box in the living room? SWMBO wouldn't want it there & anyway the meter cupboard kept a rat's nest out of site & out of mind.

    4. RoninRodent

      Re: Hmmm the Alcatel 'Snotblob'.


      Sorry, the memories of this thing are still strong in my mind.

      I had bonded ISDN and when I asked about upgrading to DSL the helpful chap at BT informed me that I would have to pay off my remaining ISDN contract, there would be an ISDN de-installation fee (~£200) followed by a DLS installation fee (~£200) and a year lock-in.

      When I finally got that all sorted out one of those horrible green things arrived. Every machine I plugged it into started to BSOD and it happened more and more frequently until I gave in, rebuilt the machine and moved the "frog" to another machine on the LAN. Every machine (a variety of chipsets) worked fine until it had that bloody Alcatel driver installed and worked fine again after a wipe. Many online gaming sessions ruined and being the "techie" responsible for it in a shared house I got most of the blame.

      Eventually I got rid of the frog and replaced it with something else (can't remember what now but I was desperate) and we planned a fitting end to the green thing. We ran it over with a van several times and set fire to the remains.

      Mine is the one with the medication in the pocket.

      1. jason 7

        Re: Hmmm the Alcatel 'Snotblob'.

        The kicker for me getting ADSL installed was BT cancelled my install date twice and then turned up after I paid £200 to have it installed on the Thursday.

        The next day I got an email from BT proudly saying "Apply now for ADSL and don't pay the £200!"


        1. an it guy

          Re: Hmmm the Alcatel 'Snotblob'.

          I remember the stingray much better than some it seems. It sucked if you had it plugged into one computer that someone used and then used Windows sharing to share it with the house. The initial computer got 90% priority on the line, and, at 512k that wasn't very good.

          Take an old PC, install Mandrake and configure *that* to act as a squid proxy server (windows updates included) as well as not be one that anyone uses, and the internet connection ran fine thank you. I left the it running for the best part of two years, with only the internet connection password needing changed once. It actually ran very nicely under Mandrake, once installed (which was a massive pain)

  4. DJV Silver badge

    BT Preregistration

    Oh hell, yes, I remember that - I think I'd signed up to mine for more than a year before they even thought about upgrading the local exchange. By the time they got around to announcing that they were finally going to upgrade it (at some point possibly 6 months in the future but, hey, we're BT so we will take as long as we want), NTL (as it was then) had got their cable broadband system up and running so I went for that instead.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    If you live in tne right area, it's been an interesting ride.

    Urban and inner subbirban seem to fare best, with the outer suburbs and the rest being more spotty. I was with AOL when it started for me. They were one of the go-to ISPs if you wanted unlimited dial-up, and broadband started with a cold call from them. 512Kbps was quite a revelation, but the modem was a clunky solution. A router quickly followed, and this enabled me to effectively work from home for the first time. AOL soon upgraded me to 1024 and then 2048. Then they were taken over by TalkTalk who, to this day, still treat the legacy AOL customers (still on ADSL1?) like a separate, unconnected thing.

    Then the second cold call came, from BT. An upgrade to ADSL2 and 16Mbps (maxed out at 12, for us) and free BT sports followed. That certainly made NetFlix more reliable. Then the new cabinet appeared, just around the corner. Infinity 2 is overkill, but at least we're 4K ready.

    But want about the rest of the poor sods out there? The government has paid a small fortune to the former state monopoly, ostensibly to improve coverage in the not spots? It seems that BT has done as little as they could possibly get away with, for that investment of tax payers' money. I certainly don't buy the idea you should be forced to choose where you live based on broadband quality.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: If you live in tne right area, it's been an interesting ride.

      My local exchanges have all had partial upgrades to FTTC, (the parts where BT have not had to spend much money.) The rest have been left to rot, despite the local County Council waving wads at BT on multiple occasions to get them to do the work.

      For my village FTTP from a small provider would cost 1/3rd of BT FTTC to install!

      The CC have allotted the latest £2.6m to upgrading a couple of town centre's, because BT said that wiring into new Enterprise Zones was not cost effective without intervention.

      Calling BS at County Council meetings only results in eviction from said meetings!

    2. Dabooka Silver badge

      Re: If you live in tne right area, it's been an interesting ride.

      When were AOLever a go to ISP?

      I'm sorry but they were outdated from the off, large home pages, crap software (didn't they buy Netscape to try and improve things?) and other terrible characteristics made then a steadfast no-fo for anyone who knew anything about the fledgling interweb as it was. And that's before we mention trying to get out of their 'contract' with free months and lousy customer service, even for back then. They're broadband wouldn't allow Internet sharing out if the box if I recall, and like you said eventually they relented and moved to routers but by then the damage was done.

      No, AOL were shite. Hearing they were the ISP of friends and family when asked to pp around to sort put a problem filled me and my pal with dread as we KNEW it'd be bad news. A lot of UK2NET installs happened on my watch, along with Freeseve.

  6. Chewi


    …hasn't really gone, that was just the original name of Plusnet. Even though Plusnet appeared as a brand in 2000, I became a new Force9 customer in 2002.

    I currently pay more than most for my broadband from Andrews and Arnold but they have earned the right to charge that much. At the end of the day, they are the only ISP I can trust to not shove their head up the government's arse. I don't even have anything to hide but it's the principal of the matter.

    1. Tony Green

      Re: Andrews & Arnold

      I'd add that their customer service is second to none.

      Things don't go wrong very often, but when they do there's no bullshit trying to fob me off, just competent engineers who want to help AND KNOW HOW TO!

      I could save £500-£600 a year by dumping my BT line and moving to Virgin cable, but what I've heard about their customer service has scared me off. Surely it's time network providers like Virgin had the same conditions applied to them as BT so that you can use any ISP on their wires? I'm no advocate for BT (despite over 30 years working for them and happy to have left) but it seems unfair that they have to open up when the rest don't/

      1. illiad

        Re: Andrews & Arnold

        you may well be one of the lucky ones with BT.. the problem with most tech, is as long as it is working, no-one worries...

        Now if your ISP is ADSL , and it fails or gets to slow, even some BT companies have to wait for the company that manages the *line* to get round to bothering about it... and due to the long chain, lots of time is wasted, lots of promises made, by those who dont seem to care... :(

        I dont know how long ago you last checked virgin, was it one that used to be NTL???

        The current virgin service is great, and even if there are problems, you know there will not be a chain, as it is all *completely* owned by virgin and no-one else!!

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Good article

    Some very telling comments in the article, especially regarding BTs unwillingness to embrace the connected era, doing everything negative that monopolies do, but somehow managing not to be called a monopoly.

    My Internet connection was first via Compuserve's walled garden in 1990. Then we were on a small Southampton-based ISP whose name I can't recall connecting using Trumpet Winsock in the mid 90s. Connected with a Mac Classic too. Later Demon's 0800 access allowed the connection effectively to remain up (although I once had BT disconnect my second, modem line, because they needed it for a new customer in the neighbourhood...) Home Highway was good, but the lack of compression on ISDN meant it often appeared slower in use than a good modem. And while connection was quick, negotiating the link once the connection was made was just as slow.

    Re the 21CN, this always meant much more to BT marketing droids than to anything else. I recall a boring discussion when I finally managed to liven up a 10Mb/s fibre connection via a competitor, the BT droid carrying on about the wonders of 21CN, and how moving to the competitor would leave us left behind, while he was offering overpriced megastreams. It was always, and still is, jam tomorrow. In every company I have been with, moving from BT or keeping them at arms length via a 3rd party made life easier.

    Yes, looking back, we have had to fight every step of the way to a connected world, rather than being led by companies who should be offering us leading options.

    1. jason 7

      Re: Good article

      I remember back around the turn of the century when ADSL was on the horizon as the next big thing BT was stating in every tech site at the time that ISDN was pretty much all people would need and that they had little interest in pushing ADSL. Well what a surprise.

      We had a 'forgotten' 128Kb ISDN link in our office for several years. We used to use it for streaming US radio into the office and a ghetto video conference setup we made (hey...perks were few and far between by then). No one ever asked about it. Probably still there long after we moved on 12+ years ago.

    2. SImon Hobson Silver badge

      Re: Good article

      > especially regarding BTs unwillingness to embrace the connected era, doing everything negative that monopolies do, but somehow managing not to be called a monopoly.

      Yup, I remember it well - the way ISDN2 was carefully knobbled so it couldn't be used to replace cash-cow leased lines. £6k/year for a 64k Kilostream, times 2 as we had two remote locations, ouch. Had D channel signalling been allowed (like it was in Germany) I reckon we could have made do with just ISDN2 as most fo the time the data rate was relatively low (handful of users banging away on keyboards of character terminals). These days we're (different employer) paying not a great deal more (well a lot less after allowing for inflation) for 100Mbps internet delivered by fibre.

  8. Adam Jarvis


    Councils have become like a hermit that sits in their house all day obsessed on counting how little money they have, losing all sense of vision and only grunt back/block you when you ask them to do anything, however rational your request.

    They only rise from the pit to suggest issuing fines to solve a problem (which of course doesn't) to which your greeted by a toothless smile.

    Yes, we need a minimum connection speed for all new developments, (even as part of building regs) just don't expect it anytime soon.

  9. PG2255

    2 Mbps on a new build estate here.

    Or 40 Mbps from Vodafone 4G.

    Trouble is, 4G is just too expensive for large amounts of data - e.g. Netflix, Now TV etc. Therefore I still have my BT broadband and the landline phone I hardly ever use.

    Almost got Virgin Media installed down the road (it is on both the main roads) but the council refused as they didn't want their neat and tidy pavements dug up.

    1. Steven Jones

      Code Powers

      As far as I'm aware council's can't prevent utilities digging up pavements as they have "code powers". That includes VM.

      The council does have powers over the placement of cabinets, but even then those have limits.

      Of course, planning issues are a useful excuse for utilities not to continue with projects which they don't deem to be remunerative.

      1. PG2255

        Re: Code Powers

        It is complicated!

        The council owned the land, the developers built the road/pavement.

        There's a guarantee between the developers and council I think for two years.

        VM could install their services IF they did a full width pavement re-instatement, but thatis too expensive for their in-fill budgets.

        1. David_H

          Re: Code Powers

          You still have to get a permit from the County Council. Our FTTP is held up because our supplier has to share a permit with another utility so that the roads are only dug up once - and the utility is just slightly warmer than glacial (in its speed and what it supplies!)

  10. G R Goslin

    IMHO it's all a con.

    In my area, with a great fanfare, BT announced that my local exchange had been equipped with fibre. I hop[efully waited for the follow-up, the extension of the fibre to the cabinets. And waited, and waited, and waited. Finally I asked a BT engineer, who had come to check an ADSL line noise problemwhy the fibre had not been taken to the cabinet "Oh, that could be months or years away. Ypou're rural. They'll do all the city, town and urban before they get to you". I did manage to get to the marketing manager for Superfast, but was nicely fobbed off with zero content information.

    And did the engineer fix the problem? Did he hell. He spent 45 minutes on the job. Twenty of which was driving off to find a mobile signal (I'm rural, yuo know). Before saying "the line checks out ok. There's nothing I can do. "I npointed out that it was interrmittent noise. But enough to bring my system to it's knees (Think 0.1 Mb/s). I showed him the records of line speed. Not interested. "Call us out again, when you have a problem" Why? After threading the hierarchy, dodging the threats that they might charge me for the visit, and then wait a week for someone to call.

    1. jason 7

      Re: IMHO it's all a con.

      In those cases it's usually been the external wiring out from your house. It gets corroded.

      Had many customers call me about their ADSL suddenly failing and nothing internal seems to fix it and BT India are hopeless (always ask to speak to a lLvel 2 Engineer, that does the trick). So I tell them to call out an engineer to check the 2-3 feet of external wiring and that usually does the trick.

      1. G R Goslin

        Re: IMHO it's all a con.

        I had an engineer call about a year ago. He replaced everything from the pole (It's overhead round here). Which he said was in very bad shape. It didn't improve matters though. I got the impression that the recent caller did not want to do the job, so declared the line OK. I suggested that all he had to do was to connect me, at the cabinet to a spare pair, and again at the exchange. Which would have only left the cabinet to the pole to be faulty. That had been replaced when they fitted new poles a few years back,. So should have been OK.

        1. Bigbird3141

          Re: IMHO it's all a con.

          I had several visits to fix a noisy, slow, unreliable BT ADSL line. Having done everything _except_ check the socket in the house, they unscrewed its fascia. Which fell to the floor. The wires had just been touching the terminals. Are they not trained to check the basics first, before installing new cabling; climbing telegraph poles and jumping into holes in the ground?

        2. jason 7

          Re: IMHO it's all a con.

          Hmmm pulled out the bellwire? No.3 the orange wire with a white stripe?

          You probably have but you never know.

  11. Christian Berger

    Actually ISDN still is popular in Germany

    Though not for the Internet, as the phone company insisted in charging per minute making it _hugely_ expensive. It is popular for telephony as it gives you features like direct inward dialing, 2 voice channels and even in the simplest version multiple phone numbers. So everyone in your family could have their own phone number. Or you could have a phone number you advertise at work so you can selectively ignore it, etc.

    ISDN also gives you considerably better voice quality and faster dialling. Most companies with more than one phone have it, as well as plenty of households.

    Since the ISDN network is going to be turned off in a couple of years, there's a market for CPEs with ISDN ports. The most common ones are the "Fritz!Box" series from AVM with usually one internal S0 bus. If you need more there are less and less companies providing decent ones, unfortunately.

    1. leexgx

      Re: Actually ISDN still is popular in Germany

      ISDN is norm used for phone systems (most places i goto have 2 ISDN lines that provides 2 phone lines per ISDN box all with the same number)

      been looking into FTTP lease lines (100mb fiber berar with but paying for 10/10 with option to go up in speed at any time) you can run Sip lines over it and has a 5 hour SLA agreement

      only down side its about £430-500 (excluding VAT!) its £420 for 10/10 and around £500 for 100/100 (thats before you add each sip line at around £10 each) but some business places cant get FTTC (the DP box in big warehouses units is inside the unit itself)

    2. Nigel Whitfield.

      Re: Actually ISDN still is popular in Germany

      I used ISDN myself for telephony until just a few years ago. I had the a range of 10 MSNs, which made working from home much easier - numbers for work, personal, really personal, and so on. It all ran through a Euracom 141 ISDN PBX, which allowed me to use analogue phones in some rooms, and I had a few ISDN ones as well.

      But, of course, BT's pricing - as ever - was annoying. And when anything went wrong, their engineers seemed utterly flummoxed by the presence of ISDN2e in a residential building; one time they cut it off themselves, because they were doing a different job (which hadn't actually been ordered) and since there was no dial tone in their cans for the ISDN pair, they assumed it was free for reuse.

      In the end, the Euracom died after a power cut, and by that time it was feasible to port the MSNs across to a SIP service, so now I have them all coming in via two SIP trunk channels on my ADSL, and pay a fraction of what I used to pay BT.

      The Fritz boxes are handy; I use one of them as a VoIP/Analogue gateway to my entry phone (wrote about that in Breaking Fad a while back), and for a while also used it to drive some of the old ISDN phones following my switch to SIP, while I hunted around for decent VoIP handsets.

  12. guyh
    Thumb Down

    <interesting> <exciting> oh <sigh!>

    Its been good and bad for me ...

    Moved house from SO19 (1997-2009) to SO51 (2011-onwards)

    - SO19 went from poor, unreliable 512K to a good and reliable (at one point "free" with Orange) 4.5M followed by fast 16M with BE and since I left the house ~70M via FTTC with BT

    - SO51 a "solid" 6M :-(. Still no sign of FTTC available to my cabinet. Virgin is available but it appears expensive to me.

    Of course, my consumption (mainly due to kids!) is MUCH higher than it was ... "praise the lord" for unmetered data!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: <interesting> <exciting> oh <sigh!>

      "Virgin is available but it appears expensive to me."

      If the household is fighting over a miserable 6 Mb/s then I'd suggest you have another look at Virgin, and in particular pricing your full service like for like (so phone rental, phone usage packages, broadband). I've been on cable for over fifteen years and dumping BT for Telewest/VM was one of my best decisions. There's often some good sign up deals, and when your discount runs out you can negotiate an acceptable price with their sales retention team. Obviously avoid anything you don't want in the bundles they push, but IME the broadband and phone work reliably and well, and a particular benefit of Virgin cable (over BT) is that the occasional technical problems are resolved effectively in acceptable timescales.

      A quick check suggests that (ignoring introductory discounts of around £6 a month) you'd be paying £39 a month for phone including "unlimited" weekend calls, 50 Mb/s broadband, and the basic TV service. If you just wanted broadband its about £28, and as a standalone that starts to look pricey, but why would you want to have a BT landline and separate cable broadband?

  13. JaitcH

    UK Fibre Optic Distribution: It beggars belief

    that a geographically small country can boast so little Fibre Optic infrastructure.

    UK ;and mass is 241,930 km2, according to the World Bank; South Korea has 97,100 km2 and VietNam has 310,070 km2.

    South Korea boasts up to 100 Mbyte residential fibre optic service; VietNam up to 40 Mbyte residential fibre optic service.

    VietNam has 5 terrabyte back bone (plus dark) capacity north to south and even in a village of a few hundred people, over 115 kilometres from a large switching centre, we get 20 mbyte service. Our DSLAMS are pole mounted.

    Canada has fibre service even in small towns in northern Ontario.

    The question I ask is; Why is the UK so far behind?

    1. Tony Green

      Re: UK Fibre Optic Distribution: It beggars belief

      "The question I ask is; Why is the UK so far behind?"

      Perhaps (without knowledge of the situation in the other places you mention) because since Thatcher privatised BT its one and only function in life is to return a profit to its shareholders.

      A public utility, on the other hand, would have the primary function of providing service to the people of the country.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: UK Fibre Optic Distribution: It beggars belief

        So you think one expensive national comms provider is a good idea?

        There's not enough competition to the Big Thief, that's the real problem.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: UK Fibre Optic Distribution: It beggars belief@ Tony Green

        "because since Thatcher privatised BT its one and only function in life is to return a profit to its shareholders"

        More likely because emerging economies don't have to worry about a huge installed base built to old technologies, and have fewer constraints on digging up roads in the way of progress.

        "A public utility, on the other hand, would have the primary function of providing service to the people of the country."

        Bwahahahahahahaa! Straight from the David Milliband Champagne Socialism Playbook! I take it you're too spotty and young to remember the god-awful service that the GPO offered to its customers? Six or nine month waits for a line to be installed, shared party lines between neighbours because they couldn't be @rsed to put in proper infrastructure, crummy obsolete hardware, legal protections against so much as moving a telephone connection etc etc.

        But do keep us amused by telling us what a sterling service we'd have from nationalising the railway operators and combining them as a new entity called "British Railways"?

        1. slackshoe

          Re: UK Fibre Optic Distribution: It beggars belief@ Tony Green

          You are aware that prior to BT being privatised, they were planning a national fibre network for TV & phone a la Blueyonder, Virgin etc?

          The plans were thrown out post privatisation because they were scared of becoming a monopoly. (I know, lol)

    2. Nigel Whitfield.

      Re: UK Fibre Optic Distribution: It beggars belief

      Lots of reasons. Some can certainly be laid at the door of the left's favourite bogeywoman, but not all, I think.

      Housing density does have an impact; those figures in the article for Seoul show not only a massive rate of building, but a big change in the type of tenure. The English, historically, tend to deisre houses far more than flats/apartments. So, to provide fibre to the 250 or so houses in the street where I live, for example, means a lot of bits of fibre, and a lot of work

      If all those dwellings were in a block (or even a substantial chunk of them), putting fibre into the block would provide high speed residential service to everyone. Yes, if they wanted a direct fibre connection, there would still be 250 outlets, but more alternatively - as companies like Ask4 do - you would provide Ethernet in each dwelling, and it would still be faster.

      As well as housing density, tenure has an impact, too. Most apartment buildings in England are leasehold, rather than commonhold. When I looked at this back on PCW, one of the points made to me (may have been by Ask4; I'd have to dig out the notes) was that to provide service to a whole building, once it's been built, you have to conclude a separate legal agreement with every single person. That's why it's much easier to put this sort of stuff in with new build, when you can just deal with the developer. Even in social housing, you have to do that, because of the council house sales (see, there's Maggie again), so a block is no longer owned just by one organisation.

      Putting stuff into new build would, on the face of it, be one of the easiest ways of moving stuff along. But we just aren't building homes at anything like the rate we need them. And the ones we do build are all too often designed more as investment vehicles than anything else. Much as people who work in our big cities might long for genuinely affordable flats with great connectivity built in, they're not going to get them when it's easier for housing companies to make swanky pads that can be used by wealth investors to make a killing or launder their ill-gotten cash.

      As others have mentioned, there are issues with the regulation in the UK, which is constantly struggling to enforce competition because that's apparently a universal good, even if it means that the major operator is disadvantaged and may be less likely to invest (the consumers, it seems, don't actually come into it, beyond some policy wonk saying "but competition always works in the best interest of consumers"

      Sorting out the broadband in the UK isn't, in my view, simply a technical matter, or one of investment in the right technology. It is bound up with our dysfunctional housing system, rampant short-termism in the markets, and a regulatory regime that concerns itself more with dogma than with outcomes for the consumer.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: UK Fibre Optic Distribution: It beggars belief

        I live in a new build block of flats in London, not only does it have FTTP, but it has a choice of FTTP. I can get 300Mb up/40Mb down from BT for £80/month, or synchronous gigabit from Hyperoptic for £60/month.

        All the new build flats I looked at in London before buying this place had at least BT FTTP, ie, it's not just this development. Part of the appeal of buying a new place was that it would have modern features and benefits, not just the internet, but district heating, access to transport etc.

  14. Andy Livingstone

    Back to the Futire?

    So long as BT are permitted a monopoly called "Market 1" exchanges, let us not even talk about progress. Is OFCOM even still awake?

    1. Steven Jones

      Re: Back to the Futire?

      Those exchanges are only market 1 because other operators don't seem them to be cost effective to deploy equipment into. LLU operators have the ability to cherry pick which exchanges to enable, and you can't really blame them.

      So market 1 exchanges exist by default, not because they were built that way.

  15. MrHorizontal

    What is the right answer to how to run National Infrastructure?

    BT's primary argument is that 'it's investment needs to be protected'. The problem with this statement is that the bit of BT that needs investment is Openreach that actually owns, installs and maintains the exchanges and lines in the UK - and that 'investment' is cross-subsidized by the entire industry and the government. BT like to confuse everyone by stating that when it comes to putting money on the table, it owns the lot, when in fact it is just servicing the requirements of BT Retail.

    So the answer is we have to take Openreach away from BT. This has some merits, and some issues. The first and most obvious merit is that it's stupid and ridiculous name can be changed. But on a more serious note, is that all ISP's - TalkTalk, Virgin, Sky all the way down to tiny players like Andrew & Arnold would have equal opportunity to demand that Openreach satisfy theirs and by extension their customer's requirements.

    Secondly there is also precedent in the industry: LINX. The London Internet Exchange is basically a nominated datacentre where all ISP's colocate their routers and provides extremely high bandwidth peering between ISP's, and works as a fairly democratic consortium of interested parties, all adhering to pretty sensible rules that they drew up themselves and self govern.

    Of course BT is the biggest player in LINX, but the joy of LINX and BGP is because you may be a small player, you only need a peering agreement with another player who already has a peering agreement with BT and you get to use LINX.

    Granted, applying LINX's model to the nationwide line infrastructure and exchanges is not exactly a 1:1 mapping and doing so would be too idealistic. But the principle remains: Openreach needs to be made so that it answers to a consortium of industry players and not one ring master - just like National Grid, UK Power Networks and Network Rail all have to answer to all the Energy and Rail companies equally.

    While it's not 'nationalising' Openreach (although I appreciate it's pretty similar), you do want ISP's to have a relative 'voting power' on the board of Openreach so that it does have to react to private sector demands as they are their pay masters. Equally, if successful, the combination of Openreach being the 'last mile' carrier and the consortium driving LINX and backbone carriers do converge on their principles, meaning that 'National Backbone' for want of a better word would cover both last mile and backbone transit.

    The issue no one has figured out is how do you get rid of the gratuitous waste when an infrastructure body doesn't have to answer directly to consumers - you only need to look at how tedious it is to get UK Power Networks to move your distribution box or remember what BT was like while it was a Post Office division when you wanted a new line.

    Answer that last question, and you have the answer of what you need to do for *all* infrastructure. Full Privatisation doesn't work (see Railtrack with the fat cats pocketing the lot and running it into the ground), Full Nationalisation doesn't work (consumers would never get anything they want), Regulated Privatisation doesn't work (see Openreach as it is now), so I think the only thing we haven't tried is making Infrastructure a quango - a combination of a consortium of industry interests to be able to effectively lobby and demand how infrastructure needs to be provided and regulation, so as to avoid the ISPs becoming a cartel.

    1. Colin of Rame

      Re: What is the right answer to how to run National Infrastructure?

      "So the answer is we have to take Openreach away from BT. This has some merits, and some issues"

      Exactly right., We have a private monopoly who cannot see further than the end of their nose with a so called regulator who is full of apologists for BT.

      On the face of it LLU was a good idea but badly implemented. In a rural location the economics ruled out any unbundling for years. When Homechoice started unbundling it took Ofcom 6 months to get off their arse and force BT not to delay because BT's paperwork trail was not capable of handing the volume.

      SDSL was never implemented in a realistic fashion because of the massive impact it would have on BT leased lines.

      Instead of extending IP to the cabinet (ie 21C network) BT will procrastinate until forced to because they need to justify £16.50 line rental for every household regardless of the quality of the 100 pairs of bundled cables even when the consumer ( in the shape of public 100% subsidies) is paying for the infrastructure to the cabinet.

      A completely different model is needed for Openreach and Ofcom. Our only hope is for Google to pressure the government :-)

      In case I have not mentioned it before, I FEEL the need after being without service for 37 days even though fibre was installed outside my house 6 months previously and not a penny of compensation.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: What is the right answer to how to run National Infrastructure?

        " BT will procrastinate until forced to because they need to justify £16.50 line rental for every household regardless of the quality of the 100 pairs of bundled cables even when the consumer ( in the shape of public 100% subsidies) is paying for the infrastructure to the cabinet."

        Minor nit: BT Openreach line rental is a lot less than £16, it's actually less than £10 and has been there or thereabouts for the last five years . Line rental ends up at £16 or so when the big telcos (BT Retail and friends) all add an identically-priced near-unavoidable "calls package". Once upon a time (say 2008) there didn't used to be a huge gap between Openreach line rental and retail line rental. Now there is. Source:

        1. MrHorizontal

          Re: What is the right answer to how to run National Infrastructure?

          The line rental is something that should be part of the price of getting broadband just like air fares have to include taxes. While it's less transparent it does cause ISPs to bite Openreach's ankle and ensure the line fee is low enough for them to offer consumers a sensible price, allow them to engage in "loss leader" practices to subsidize line rental and force Openreach to provide value for money since the ISPs depend on it for their revenue.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: What is the right answer to how to run National Infrastructure?

      Some good thoughts there mate. Looking at the rather spotty record and high director salaries of Network Rail post Railtrack, and I think that the problem is not ownership but regulation. The mess they made of engineering works this Christmas is evidence of the fact that some cultural and operational problems transcend who owns the capital behind the company.

      Regarding Openreach, you're bang on that it needs to be separated from the rest of BT. But that's easily accomplished without the inevitable mess from nationalisation, through requiring Openreach to be a separate legal and financial entity. That would in technical terms just be a demerger of Openreach, and initially would be straightforward. Existing shareholders in old BT would now own equal shares in New BT and in Openreach plc. The regulator would have full visibility of the margins and trading arrangements, and cross subsidy would be illegal and very obvious - this is how energy suppliers who still own distribution grids are regulated. This form of demerger has been done before, for example in 1997 when the old British Gas integrated monopoly was split into three separate businesses doing different things: Centrica (energy sales under the British Gas brand), BG Group (upstream exploration and production) and Transco (the gas distribution operation).

      What's required is for OFCOM to understand this and get a grip on the issue. On the plus side there's a new girl in charge, so she might just have some get up and go (unlike Tony Blair's placeman that she replaces), on the downside she's a career civil servant and the civil service is not renowned for doing anything well (or at all).

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: What is the right answer to how to run National Infrastructure?

        Looking at the rather spotty record and high director salaries of Network Rail post Railtrack, and I think that the problem is not ownership but regulation. The mess they made of engineering works this Christmas is evidence of the fact that some cultural and operational problems transcend who owns the capital behind the company.

        Ah, the "Christmas rail fiasco". What a load of bollocks. If there is ever a time for over-running engineering works to take precedence over running trains, it was over Christmas when the train operators carry the least number of passengers and run the least number of trains than over any other period of the year.

        Yes, those travellers had a shitty experience, and I feel for them, but they should be thankful they only rely on trains for travelling to Granny's for Christmas. Much better those 5,000 than the 500,000 that would be affected on a regular day.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: What is the right answer to how to run National Infrastructure?

      BT's primary argument is that 'it's investment needs to be protected'.

      But who paid for most of it, (at least in the countryside where there has been no real investment for years), we did prior to privatisation.

      Who's paying for BT to upgrade via intervention, we are.

      So it's the public's investment that a private company is milking!

  16. Blitheringeejit

    WiMax - yes, what DID happen to that?

    >> In PCW, we boldly asserted that WiMax would start to be more widely available in 2008. Still waiting for that one.

    Areas which get a really bum deal from ADSL include those on copper runs >3Km from the exchange, or indeed areas which HAVE FFTC but where the cabinet is > 1Km from site, so ADSL speeds are stuck around 2Mb/s. WIMAX really ought to be the best option for the last hop in areas like that. So what did happen to it?

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    My story, FWIW

    ADSL wasn't available in my village until 2004. Before that for a year or so I used "wireless broadband" from FDM Broadband (see The Register in 2003: ), later gobbled up by Orange. I had a squariel on the house that connected to a business with a fibre connection 200yds away. Although I only paid for 512kbps, occasionally their throttling went wrong and I'd get the full WiFi bandwidth speed. Moving house 10 years ago coincided with the arrival of 8Mbps ADSL. We only got 20Mbps ADSL2 18 months ago - before that, Three's 3g service was the quickest internet connection c.13Mbps. Now "SuperFast" is on its way, but only for some. The squariel is still on my old house.

  18. Adelio Silver badge

    Virgin Media



    I starting using "Virgin" as soon as they laid cables in out street. aroud 15 years ago. (it started as CableOn-line, then NTL and now Virgin) First of all it was Dual ISDN, then eventually proper Broadband starting off at 512k. Now I'm on 50mb, and I GET 50mb, if I wanted to i could upgrage to 150mb (For a price) no probs. Very rarely have any issues with it, it just works.

    Would NOT move to any house which did not hav at least 30mb broadband (Preferably Virgin)

  19. kmac499

    Demon Memories

    First got involved with Demon back in 90few when they stuck a Disk on a Magazine with summat called KA9Q on it.. I was amazed that it could apparently handle multiple sessions at the same time on a DOS Box.. connected via Pace Linnet Modem, the BT cable running up the stairs, .. via modem pools and Points of presence. Clockwork timers on the modem power supply to avoid the dialup high charging time bands..

    Eeeh tell that to young'uns today and they'd just ignore you as usual..

    Rumour had it that Demon the software company just happened to have bought a fat pipe for itself and was basically selling of excess capacity

    Then TurnPike and my own static IP. The techy guys were always very helpful and knowledgable, the billing was a bit more chaotic, but we kept the faith even after Thus took over. It was only when C&W then Voda got hold of it and after repeated failures to deliver an FTTC service a lot of us just had to leave.. Shame really..

    1. Nigel Whitfield.

      Re: Demon Memories

      I was one of the founder subscribers to Demon. It grew out of a conference on Cix called "tenner_a_month"

      From memory (and it was a long night last night in Dublin, so forgive any errors)

      Essentially Cliff Stanford of Demon realised that if a group of people each contributed a tenner a month, it would be possible to afford TCP/IP connectivity to the Demon office, and then provide access to it using SLIP or PPP.

      The original plan may have called for a direct link to the US; however, Pipex announced the launch of the commercial TCP/IP service, and so Demon ended up with a leased line from them.

      For people who've been around Demon for that long, you might remember there was originally a limit of 8 characters for your Demon host name. All except one, which was nine characters long, and caused no end of trouble with special exceptions in scripts. Because I pestered Cliff and asked nicely, he let me have

      That was, pretty much, the start of domestic internet access as we know it today; there had been other things, like CompuServe, and the IBM PC User Group's service, whose name escapes me. But it was essentially a UUCP-based email system wrapped up in some Windows software.

      (In the past, I've done odd bits of work for Demon and the IBMPCUG; perhaps I should plunder my memories of some of that for more Reg pieces).

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Here, BTWholesale are doing a great job.

    Vast swathes of my semi-rural county now how FTTC, and it works well. I didn't think I would ever be saying that BT have done anything right.

    And with Plusnet doing 40Mb Fibre AND calls for £3.75 a month, it's a good time to be a consumer.

    The only naff bit is the line rental, why am I still paying for a voice line I don't want (we call it the PPI, Computer fix hotline). Surely a cheaper data-only line rental is long overdue.

  21. montyburns56

    All hail the Speedtouch frog!

    I've still got my Speedtouch "frog" modem which Pipex gave me about ten years ago when I first joined them. For some reason I've kept it "just in case" even though I don't know that it would still work with modern OS's. I've never changed ISP in those ten years either as though the company has been taken over by Tisacali and Talk Talk, I've had a good stable connection for most of that time, in fact I can't even remember the last time I had a serious line fault.

  22. Bill Buchan

    Look on the bright side. Premier Inn are rolling out a new countrywide internet...

    With a maximum speed of....


    And yes, its 2015.

    ---* Bill

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