Regional broadband: RipWiRE closes, lopsided speed

Tuesday 7th February 2012
UK Map of Regional Broadband Consortium Network (Courtesy of NEN) tda.gov.uk

An internet service provider RiPWiRE based in South Yorkshire has closed, blaming issues with the roll-out of superfast broadband in the region. Broadband Europe reports notes lopsided gain in UK speeds with Virgin and BT boozing November's average to 7.6Mbps, up from 6.8Mbps in May and news site thinkbroadband.com highlights need for out of town connection investment "Rural areas have an average of 3.3Mbps versus urban at 8.8Mbps," says editor Andrew Ferguson.

RiPWiRE, based in Rotherham said it had experienced a range of issues with Digital Region. Theproject, which launched in 2010, has cost more than £90m. RiPWiRE is best known by many for being one of the retail providers for the FTTC Digital Region service in South Yorkshire has ceased trading according to a post from Liam Winder (right) on the RiPWiRE support forums, importantly for customers their connections are still working.

The communication purported to be from RiPWiRE indicates that while they have ceased trading, they will continue to provide service while negotiating with another provider to sell the customer base. 

RiPWiRE did not solely service Digital Region customers, they also provided a variety of wireless connectivity (28GHz Microwave for heavy lift back-haul, 802.16d 3.6GHz  WiMAX connectivity).

The Digital Region website now lists the four providers, ask4, Origin, unitel and littlebigone and is very much still operating, though the costs of running a new network in the face of increasing competition in the superfast arena from Virgin Media and the BT Group are not helping the project

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The fibre to the cabinet network provided by Digital Region in South Yorkshire, went live in late 2009, but it seems according to a news item published by the Yorkshire Post that the project is not getting the take-up needed to make it self-sustaining.

The original projects aim was to ensure a 97% of premises coverage figure at a cost of £112m, but this has since been scaled back to 80%. Even  reigning in of the ambitions, revenue of £167,000 was overshadowed by losses of £9.2m in 2010-2011, resulting in "material uncertainty" for project survival. 

The original business plan had the scheme starting to make a profit in the same year. Now  RDA Yorkshire Forward is providing a £4m guarantee to give the project breathing space. Digital Region started to go live just at the point when BT Openreach  developed its own FTTC product, and Virgin Media  too has vastly increased its product speeds offering stiff competition for consumer business.

There were are no well known retail names to signed up to provide a service.  The average consumer does not know Ask4, Origin, RipWire, unitel and littlebigone. Srvice cost and setup fees of £70 to £90 dissuade people from switching from an existing broadband service, when they are used to free migrations between providers and the range of services available for £5 to £10 in the densely populated areas that Digital Region operates in.

LOPSIDED UK BROADBAND SPEED GAINS 
The UK's average home download speed is on the rise, reports BroadbandEurope but  could be faster if more users upgraded at minimal cost, according to Ofcom. November's average broadband speed was 7.6Mbps, up from 6.8Mbps in May, says the regulator and upgrades offered by Virgin Media and BT helped boost the figure.

Ofcom says many of the 42% of homes which subscribe to speeds of 10Mbps or less would benefit from a switching deal or provider at little or no cost. The 22% headline speed bump is a notable improvement, according to the price comparison website broadbandchoices.co.uk.

"In reality, the average speed increase of 1.4Mbits will save you around 6 minutes downloading a 2 hour film," said Michael Philips, (left ) the firm's product director. "This doesn't sound a lot but faster connections improve your general web-surfing experience and are definitely worth the investment, for example if more than one person shares the connection in a household."

Ofcom noted that the price difference between many of the so-called super-fast services and current generation connections was "relatively small". It said Yorkshire Plusnet customers could roughly double their promised speed to "up to" 40Mbps by swapping to a service with the firm that cost £5 more a month. It said TalkTalk clients could enjoy a similar gain by paying their provider an extra £10 a month, while one of BT's deals offered an equivalent speed bump at no extra charge.

Marketing restrictions
The figures are contained in Ofcom's sixth study into residential fixed-line broadband performance, the first report since internet service providers were told they would only be able to claim a maximum speed if it was available to 10% of their customers.

The new rules come into effect in April. Using them as a guide Ofcom provided a breakdown of its figures saying that:

 • 6Mbps was the average speed for services advertised as "up to" 8Mbps
 • 14Mbps was the average speed for connections advertised as "up to" 20/24Mbps

The regulator said speed upgrades offered by Virgin Media and BT accounted for most of the period's gains. Virgin Media's "up to" 50Mbps cable deal was the fastest surveyed offering average download speeds of nearly 49Mbps. The firm's 100Mbps service was not included in the research.

BT's roll-out of FFTC (fibre to the cabinet) technology helped boost its statistics. The move involves running fibre from its exchanges to street cabinets which are then linked to homes by normal telephone lines.

Since the cabinets are closer to most homes than the exchanges, users enjoy faster speeds. It has led to the creation of the firm's Infinity offer which promises "up to" 40Mbps. The service was found to provide an average speed of 36Mbps.

The news site Thinkbroadband.com said the research also highlighted  need for investment in out-of-town connections."Rural areas have an average of 3.3Mbps versus urban at 8.8Mbps," said the firm's editor Andrew Ferguson.

The news site November's average broadband speed was 7.6Mbps, up from 6.8Mbps in May" said the firm's editor (rigiht) Andrew Ferguson. 

Ofcom  plans to publish a July , using data collected from tests in May. 

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