David Kirk writes:


It is a few years since I last wrote about the nature of Broadband provision in this area. I hope now to provide an explanation of the changed context for current and prospective Broadband users in the village.

Broadband Services

The UK’s progress in moving businesses and domestic residences to Direct Fibre Broadband is speeding up. In practice this means fibre cables are being installed alongside the existing copper phone network. Eventually, when the country is fully “fibred”, the old copper cables will be removed.

In our area the copper cables are buried in a thin topsoil often sitting on impervious heavy clay. These cables are progressively failing from their frequent immersion in water due high water tables exacerbated by occasional flooding. Direct fibre, containing long, microscopic strands of glass, are much less affected by water and will make a big difference in the reliability of voice/data services.

The scale of the UK programme is massive in terms of work, costs and timescales. A handful of large telecoms providers, and many dozens of smaller ones, are all hard at work. Whilst there are minor details in the design of the component parts, their resulting equipment configurations generally carry out the same job as national / international standards ensure that each supplier’s systems can be fit for purpose.

So how may this impact our village?

It is really hard to make a prediction about what will happen in Wreningham. Because our existing Superfast service is better than in many surrounding areas, it is possible our village won’t benefit from the government’s “final 15%” subsidy (Boris’ £5bn fund!) to achieve up to 1GB transmission speeds. The government’s subsidy plan is based on an “Outside-In” concept – i.e. implementing new systems for those with (currently) the worst service, first! Wreningham may be more likely to require a “commercial” implementation – from either Openreach or others. The high cost of installing Direct Fibre in a small village such as ours might place us near the back of any queue; the larger telecoms organisations usually look for the bigger opportunities, first.

County Broadband

As I write this, Wreningham households are receiving attention from County Broadband. They wish to offer their direct fibre services to this village. This would be an extension to their other fibre systems already being installed across a significant number of villages in South Norfolk, Essex and Cambridgeshire – funded by the “local” company, AVIVA. Should enough Wreningham households choose to take County Broadband fibre service, we might expect a village-wide installation. County Broadband typically leases the underground ducts and poles belonging to Openreach. As a result, the fibre implementation “on the ground”, from either company, would look very similar.

BT Broadband

This is the supplier for many in the village. Its services are provided over the Openreach infrastructure. Whether Openreach will upgrade their existing service at some point in the future – by replacing existing copper services with direct fibre – remains unknown. This may be the case for many years yet. It’s common for such plans to be a closely guarded commercial “secret”. However, the existing copper-based BT/Openreach service would still be available for those preferring to stay with their existing supplier(s).

Landline Telephones – any change there?

Whatever happens with direct fibre, our landline telephone services will change.

Despite those that describe landlines as old-fashioned the landline phone remains relevant to many people and to many situations. Mobile phones have not yet solved all the phone needs in rural (or indoor) environments even though they can connect to broadband WiFi (indoors) and new lower frequency mobile signals (outdoors).

Expect changes by 2025. From then the traditional landline telephone sockets will cease to function. Landline phones will connect to a broadband router instead, using a new socket or an adaptor. The changeover would probably be heralded by a media blitz so, nearer the time, no-one should be caught out – and most existing landline phones could continue to function. Newer generation phones will offer new and more versatile services – so additional benefits can result, too!

This alternative telephone technology is known as “VOIP” (Voice Over Internet Protocol). You don’t need to wait; should you wish, you could implement VOIP today using your existing broadband equipment. The voice quality can be superior, and the connection method can result in very cost-effective international calls.

Note that direct fibre systems would either provide, or be capable of integrating, these VOIP capabilities.

For those who don’t currently use broadband, it’s likely that simpler interface boxes will be provided by the phone companies to provide a similar solution.

David Kirk