Guernsey Fibre – It’s finally here, but is it too expensive?

Last year, it was announced that Sure was finally going to be rolling out an island-wide FTTH service to connect to all properites by 2026.

However, it did take £12.5m of taxpayers money for them to finally do so. Potentially without the States’ intervention, we would be stuck on VDSL forever! Nevertheless, this is a good thing for the island and on balance a bit of public funding for something as important as broadband is probably worth it.

My only minor concern regarding this funding, is exactly what kind of deal the States and Sure have. Unfortunately, it seems the actual agreement between them has not been made public (which isn’t great from a transparency perspective). Was the £12.5m just a lump sum of cash handed to Sure to use however they like? Or, is there some sort of clawback mechanism so that if Sure ends up making a greater profit off the service compared to before, they hand some of the money back? (The UK government subsidy scheme for fibre rollout had a clawback mechanism).

Regardless of the deals that happened behind closed doors, we do instead get to see the end-user pricing for the new fibre services:

Service NameDownload SpeedUpload SpeedMonthly Price*
Basic Fibre30Mbps3Mbps£43
Essential Fibre50Mbps5Mbps£52
Superfast Fibre100Mbps10Mbps£58
Ultrafast Fibre300Mbps30Mbps£69
Gigabit Fibre1Gbps100Mbps£126
*Excludes introductory offer for first 6 months, which is slightly cheaper. Includes landline rental price.

My immediate impression when I saw these prices, was that they were expensive. We have already gotten used to paying more for our telecoms in Guernsey compared to the UK (which is somewhat understandable given our location and smaller market size). However, the new fibre pricing is problematic for I think a few reasons:

  • The top tier, gigabit service costing £126 per month seems extremely expensive. It seems to be set at a level to discourage basically anyone from taking it.
  • The upload speeds across the board are pretty miserable. My existing VDSL service has a 20Mbps upload speed. I have it on relatively good authority that Sure are deploying GPON, which has a technological reason for asymmetric upload speeds. GPON is however cheaper to deploy than P2P fibre. To offer just 3Mbps and 5Mpbs upload speeds on a fibre product is pretty terrible, regardless of the technology used.
  • The ‘Basic Fibre’ and ‘Essential Fibre’ products are very expensive for the speeds delivered. I don’t even think these products should exist at all.

I thought it would be a good idea to do a comparison of the fibre plans against other jurisdictions, namely within the UK (BT and Gigaclear) and within Jersey (JT). Whilst I fully accept that as a smaller island we are always going to pay a bit more for the same level of service, I think the graphs below demonstrate just how big a difference there is in pricing.

The Graphs

I have split my comparison up into 3 ‘tiers’: ‘Budget’, ‘Mid range’ and ‘High range’, to try and compare like products with each other. In order to capture introductory pricing (i.e. a discount for the first x months of service) and also to capture that Sure doesn’t provide a free router (you effectively pay £72 for one) , I averaged the pricing out over 5 years. This gives a fairer idea of pricing.

The bar charts are displayed over two axes. The blue bar represents the 5 year cost, on the left hand axis, whilst the yellow represents the headline speed, on the right axis.

First, the ‘Budget’ services. Sure is undoubtedly the most expensive service in this category. It is also the slowest, by some margin! In fact, the next fastest service to compare with is BT fibre and this is 3x faster. BT is also nearly £600 cheaper over the 5 year period. Note here that I chose to use Sure’s 50Mbps product instead of the 30Mbps product. Whilst the 30Mbps service is slightly cheaper, it is even slower and it didn’t seem right to compare this with services in the 100’s of Mbps range.

Now is probably a good time to mention that in Jersey, JT have usage caps on their services. I have chosen to use their middle tier product offering which comes with a 100GB data cap during daytime use (I assume this is monthly). Sure is unlimited.

Next, the ‘Mid range’ offerings. Sure is again the most expensive here, by some significant margin. JT is over £1000 cheaper in Jersey over the same time period, and is also offering a faster service (caveat: but with data caps!). The UK providers come in significantly cheaper, and in BT’s case faster than what Sure offer. I would actually argue that the ‘mid range’ service is the most competitive area for Sure. Despite the highest cost, the speeds are competitive with the others in this segment.

Finally, the ‘High end’ category. All of the providers here offer 1Gbps services. Again, JT’s service has a 300GB data cap during day usage, the others are all unlimited. In the UK, BT actually comes in cheaper than Gigaclear, but it is worth mentioning that all of Gigaclear’s speeds are symmetric (1Gbps upload and download speeds). Here we really see the high cost of Sure’s 1Gbps service. It is approaching 2x the cost of the UK providers, and 1.5x more expensive than our neighbouring island.

A few quick points that need highlighting:

  • Sure’s 50Mbps service in the ‘budget’ tier is actually more expensive than the competition in the ‘mid-range’ tier! Except we are looking at competitors offering 300 or 500Mbps services in this tier. Sure’s 30Mbps service would be cheaper, but the speed is woefully slow.
  • Sure doesn’t offer a router as standard. You have to pay an additional £3 per month over 2 years to ‘buy’ the basic router. This is pretty bad and for the high cost of this service, it should be free. Note I have included the cost of this in the graphs.
  • Gigaclear and BT don’t offer voice services by default (i.e. no landline rental is included). I would argue that for 90% of people, this is fine. Very few people would use landlines for calling and only have it to support their broadband.

Conclusion

Overall, I do feel that the pricing for fibre broadband in Guernsey is too high when compared to the UK and Jersey. In particular, the ‘budget’ services are very poor value for money and the gigabit service is insanely expensive.

I think a fairer service offering (for the consumer at least) should look something more like this:

Service NameDownload SpeedUpload SpeedMonthly Price
Basic Fibre30Mbps3Mbps£43
Essential Fibre50Mbps5Mbps£52
Superfast Fibre100Mbps10Mbps 20Mbps£58 £43
Ultrafast Fibre300Mbps30Mbps 50Mbps£69 £58
Gigabit Fibre1Gbps100Mbps£126 £99
My proposed service offering
  • Scrap the Basic and Essential tiers, they are slow and should barely qualify as a ‘fibre’ broadband service
  • Make the 100Mbps tier the entry-level one with matching pricing
  • Bump the upload speeds a bit to differentiate it from the existing VDSL services
  • Lower the pricing on the 300Mbps service so it is more similar to the mid-tier VDSL price.
  • Cut the price of gigabit fibre so it is less than a 3-figure number. £99 is still very high.

What do you think? Is this analysis fair, is Guernsey Fibre too expensive or is this just the cost of doing business on a small island?

Sure Guernsey – 100Mbps service now available

It’s here! Sure announced their 100Mbps VDSL2 product back in December. And today it went live on my line:

Finally, my phone line is actually ‘maxed out’. I’m hitting the 6dB target SNR now, which has never happened on my line before. Sadly it means I am 0.08Mbps off the 100Mbps sync speed!

The speed test results are actually very impressive. When I was on the 60Mbps service I would usually only get 45-50Mbps on average, so I was sort of expecting the 100Mbps service to scale similarly i.e. a throughput nearer 80Mbps.

The price of the new service is fairly high – £50.99 per month, or £62.98 per month if you bundle it with a phone line. Compared to Gigaclear in the UK, which offers 100/100 FTTH for ~£47, Sure’s service is effectively 30% more expensive, and Gigaclear’s pricing includes VAT!

I am genuinely pleased though that Sure are at least offering this product on the island. At least users now have the opportunity to choose from 4 different product offerings, priced at different levels.

It will be interesting to see what the medium to long term plans are for Sure. In the UK, BT are beginning their roll-out of G.Fast, whilst in Jersey they will have island-wide FTTH (though, I might add, with fairly draconian usage limits).

But in the short term, I’d really like to see some movement on IPv6!

Sure Guernsey – Some unusual latency & packet loss

I’ve been getting some unusual readings on my latency monitoring graphs these past 2 days.

I was getting this on Tuesday:

BQM-1

And then I was getting this today:

BQM-2

It’s a mixture of increased latency and, in some cases, moderate packet loss!

I’ve restarted the router and it doesn’t seem to have helped. Looking at the DSL stats, there have been only a small number of FEC events (which is expected – the error correction is simply doing what it’s meant to), and no other stats to indicate line instability (SNR margin sitting at a comfortable 16dB).

So this leads me to a few potential conclusions: There is some upstream issue with Sure’s network; perhaps some sort of DDoS attack against my ip address(?); or perhaps a fault with my router?

I don’t think it’s traffic at my end, since that would involve saturating the connection for long periods of time (I mean, 4 hours at 50Mbps continuously is a 90GB download!). Also the shape of the graph, particularly the top one, makes me quite suspicious (it’s a curve, rather than a distinct block).

Sure Guernsey – Superfast Premium Broadband – Speedtest

After 4 years of Sure’s original VDSL product launch, they have finally launched a new home broadband platform, the oddly named ‘Superfast Premium Broadband’. It offers headline speeds of 60Mbps download and 10Mbps upload. If you opt for the ‘Superfast Premium Pro Broadband’ (seriously, who names these?) then you get the same speed but with a static IP and 10:1 contention, which is the same across all of the ‘Pro’ options.

Here is a speed test done in the evening, with no other devices connected to the network:

5798009382

First, the upload speeds are right on target. The download speeds are slightly lower than I expected – I imagined around 50-55 Mbps wouldn’t be unreasonable for a 60 Mbps service. After all, on the 40 Mbps service I was getting around 35 Mbps. The maximum transmissions speed I have observed so far is just shy of 50 Mbps when pulling multiple files from different locations. So not slow by any means, but a bit off the advertised figure.

Obviously the usual caveats apply – not least that this test was done during peak time. Also, just to ‘prove’ it’s not the sync speed itself, here is a router screenshot:

router

Interestingly, my SNR margins are still not maxed out. I have a 16dB margin on the downstream and a fairly large 27dB margin on the upstream. So basically, my line can still go faster if at some point Sure decided to uncap the service.

Another thing I haven’t really talked about is latency. This may be anecdotal, but I’ve noticed a reduction in latency of around 4-5 ms switching to the new service. This may be the new router vs the old one, or it could be a result of the higher upload speeds reducing the amount of (potential) upload congestion.

Overall a good improvement. It’s just a shame very few people will get the maximum speed due to distance constraints, and even fewer will even bother signing up to the service.

Guernsey – 60Mbps VDSL coming soon!

From Sure’s news page:

60mb-broadband-prices

Sure gives notification that it will introduce two new broadband products from the 17th October 2016.

These new products will offer speeds of up to 60MB and will be made available to customers who have line lengths of up to 500m from the exchange or street MSAN.

Well, it’s about time! Finally a speed increase on the VDSL product. It will cost an additional £3 per month for the non-pro service, and an additional £4.99 for the pro option.

The price increase isn’t too bad, all things considered. I’m definitely considering upgrading our connection. It just depends how easy it is to upgrade (hopefully online?).

Gigaclear – Installation & Review

After waiting and waiting for Fastershire (Gloucestershire’s BDUK arm) to finally roll out super-fast broadband to my area, it was finally confirmed that we would not be receiving mere FTTC from BT, but in fact full FTTH from Gigaclear!

The Gigaclear order was placed all the way back in December 2015, before any of the work had even started. Then in June of this year, Gigaclear’s contractors began to dig up the side of the road to lay the fibre cabling. Finally, at the end of August, we received this package through the post:

Gigaclear_box

Gigaclear’s self installation kit

The self install kit can be ordered with different cable lengths, ranging from 10 to 50 metres. You can also request even longer lengths up to 100m, but they will charge you for this. Since Gigaclear only bring the fibre cable up to the boundary of your property, they supply the remaining cable for you to bring it into your house.

The pricing options for Gigaclear are not cheap. You have to consider that you are receiving a premium internet connection, and I feel the price reflects this. On top of the monthly price plan, they charge a flat £100 ‘connection fee’ that is mandatory, and then if you don’t choose self install, the installation fee ‘starts from’ £95. So potentially before you’ve even got your internet connection, you’ve spent £200. Most practical people should be able to easily install the service without paying for the installation fee, however, as we did.

The monthly price plans are as follows (all speeds are symmetric):

50 Mbps – £39.90

100 Mbps – £45.25

200 Mbps – £52.45

1 Gbps – £74.00

I opted for the 100 Mbps plan, since it’s fast enough for pretty much everything. A 50 Mbps connection could become limited in the future with 4K video streaming, for example.

Anyway, back to the installation. Within the installation box you receive quite a lot:

Gigaclear_box2

Power supply, ethernet cable, 2 wall entry points, an external cable duct, cable ‘pusher’, silicon sealant, and 100 cable clips.

Router and internal wall box

Gigaclear_cable

50m of pre-ended Fibre cable

There are fairly comprehensive instructions that come with the box, and at no point during the installation was anything unclear.

To begin with, we started at the Gigaclear junction ‘pot’ that had been placed on our boundary verge by the road:

Gigaclear_pot

Inside, you will find a smaller black box that contains the actual connection point:

Gigaclear_pot2

Inside the small black box, you will find this:

Gigaclear_connection_boxUnfortunately when I opened up the black box, it hadn’t been closed properly, and a slug family had decided to move in. I washed both the box and the lid as best as I could, but you can still see some of the remains in the picture! The lid of the box has a rubber seal that fits tightly against the junction box, and the cable entry points have rubber grommets to prevent water (and slug) ingress. Finally a screw is provided to tighten it together.

Inside the junction box, it looks like there may actually be 2 ‘fibres’ in the orange cable. If you look closely there appears to be both a red and green cable coming out of it. It just shows how thin these fibre cables really are once you strip away all of the insulation (and even these cables have a very thin layer of insulation on). Underneath the screw in the picture, there is a long tube – this is where the fibre cable from the ground is spliced to the cable that goes to the blue connector. You then get the thicker red fibre going into the connector, ready for a customer to plug into.

The connector appears to be the ‘SC’ standard. It clipped pretty easily into the one in the junction box.

Gigaclear_SC_connector

Connector on end of supplied fibre cable

We started by digging a trench from the box to our boundary wall. The Gigaclear ground ‘pot’ has a hole around 2 inches deep behind the hinge, that allows you to feed the cable through. To protect the cable, we placed it inside some hosepipe tubing for the short distance that it was underground. Once at our wall, we drilled a hole through it, and then the rest of the journey we actually just clipped the cable to the back of the wall with the provided cable clips. Digging through hard earth and gravel is extremely difficult without power tools. Plus, the cable is probably safer above ground level in the event of any digging work being done in the future.

Interestingly, I ordered 50M expecting to only use around 30M of it. However, I ended up using almost the entire length of the cable! So I would definitely advise going longer than necessary – fibre isn’t like copper wire so the difference in length of say 25 vs 50 metres of cable doesn’t matter.

Getting the cable inside was easy, so was installing the ‘base plate’ that the router clips onto. The end of the fibre cable fits snugly inside the base unit, and the router literally slides up and makes contact with it. It was all pretty easy for anyone with basic DIY ability.

The finished router mounted on the wall:

Gigaclear_router

With the installation finished, all that remained was logging on to the internet – you have to enter your address details and Gigaclear customer number first, and then it just worked.

Obligatory speed test result:

Gigaclear_speedtest

Pretty impressive! The low latency is probably the most impressive thing, since I’ve had experience of GPON installations elsewhere that had much higher latency. Gigaclear uses point-to-point fibre, not GPON, so you’re not sharing the fibre cable with anyone else (at least up until the cabinet, anyway).

It’s also worth noting that like many smaller FTTH providers, Gigaclear offers symmetric connection speeds on all of their plans. Even though BT offer FTTH plans in some places of the country, the upload speeds are not symmetric (I believe they offer a 330/30 service).

The supplied router is reasonable, certainly much better than Telefonica Movistar’s one provided in Spain for my FTTH there (it had extremely slow wifi). The Gigaclear router comes with  2×2 MIMO 802.11ac, obviously dual band 2.4/5Ghz. This is certainly reasonable, though really a 3×3 MIMO product would’ve been better, considering they do offer up to 1Gbps connections. It comes with 4 gigabit ethernet ports, as well as 2 telephone jacks (not used – unless the Vonage service uses them – I’m not actually sure).

The router interface is somewhat locked down: it lacks a few key features such as Dynamic DNS, bridging, and the ability for it to respond to ICMP packets externally. It’s adequate, but the power user in me would prefer something a bit more advanced. Sadly you have to use the provided router, and unlike Virgin Media, who allow you to bridge the connection to your own router, Gigaclear don’t offer this without having to pay for it (which is ridiculous – £4.17 per month).

If we consider the price of the connection, I would expect a few more options to be available without charging extra:

  • A static IPv4 address without charging £2 per month for it. Also, this option is only available on the 200Mbps and 1Gbps packages (Why?). For reference, PlusNet charged me an £8 one-off fee for a static IP on their standard ADSL product.
  • IPv6 support. Gigaclear claims to have built an ‘IPv6 capable’ network, but seem to have not found the ‘on’ switch yet. Sky broadband, who I am switching away from, offer IPv6 to pretty much all their customers, and BT are very soon rolling it out to their customers. Meanwhile most small ISPs have been offering IPv6 for much longer. It might not be important to many people, but it’s one of those things that should be standard on a ‘next generation’ internet connection.
  • Bridging mode. This is only available to Business customers who then have to pay an additional monthly charge. Why? Virgin Media offer a bridging / router only mode to all of their customers by default, without charging for it. Surely this is a feature that could be enabled without any actual ongoing cost in the router interface itself?

Aside from these minor gripes, the connection is otherwise excellent. It does annoy me that I am downgrading my internet connection in some areas, whilst improving it in others. The lack of a dynamic DNS client built into the router is probably the most annoying of the problems. It just means I have to run a client on a computer all the time.

So would I recommend Gigaclear? The answer is absolutely yes. Despite some flaws that won’t effect 99% of people, it delivers a vastly superior connection compared to pretty much anything else out there at the moment.

 

NowTV – I dispair

In the UK, NowTV is the only way to (legally) watch the current season of Game of Thrones, season 6.

NowTV is essentially Sky on Demand, but without the need for a sky TV subscription.

The monthly price isn’t too bad – £6.99 – but there are some serious problems with it

On Mac, you have to use Silverlight. A horrendously outdated, nearly unsupported, Microsoft plug-in, that even Microsoft has discontinued active development for. Even on Windows, you have to use Internet Explorer, since both Chrome and Edge no longer support the Silverlight plug-in.

Even worse, is that they only offer standard definition content! It’s 2016! Netflix are already doing 4k and offer 1080p by default to most browsers. NowTV is still serving up 576p. In Silverlight. It’s farcial quite frankly. When I watched seasons 1-5 of GoT, I did it through iTunes in glorious 1080p. Now that I’m paying monthly for NowTV, I’m getting a grainy SD image. And media execs wonder why people pirate content?!?

However, if you run Windows 10, you can download a Windows App, which does offer HD (720p – so only half as good as Netflix). However I get random error messages trying to play stuff, and it eats up one of your device limits.

Did I mention there is a device limit? YOU ARE LIMITED TO USING ONLY 4 DEVICES. TOTAL. This means, once you hit that hard limit, you have to wait a whole month before you can actually play anything. Every month, they give you a chance to delete and re-add a device. However, if you use the W10 app, and the IE11 silverlight, that actually counts as 2 devices already. Even worse, their system seems to be very buggy. I only have 3 devices on my account, but it isn’t letting me add a 4th, even though I’m meant to be able to. Since I was trying to get the Windows 10 app to work, I actually REINSTALLED WINDOWS to solve the app problem – and hit the device cap. This now means I cannot watch GoT at all. Ah, I thought. I’ll just wait until today (1st June) when it says I will be able to add a new device. Log onto the site – now it says ‘device limit reached – come back 1st July’. – WHAT?! I’m only on 3/4 of my allowed devices, it’s a new month, and it’s still not letting me add anything. It now means I’m going to have to wait until tomorrow to sort this out. No GoT for me tonight.

I really cannot believe that other streaming companies have managed to do away with ‘device limits’ and the like, but NowTV haven’t. They seem to be stuck in 2008. Netflix at least allow you to view on as many devices per month as you like, offer up to 4k, and you can watch in native HTML5. Did Sky fire their entire NowTV development team and just forget to hire anyone?

It’s ridiculous. What’s to stop me going onto a torrent site and grabbing it in 1080p? It would take about 10 minutes. The amusing thing here is I’ve paid for legal content, and I’m not actually receiving it. Where is the logic in that?

Edit: As soon as 1am BST hit, I was able to add another device. So their servers are still on GMT. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry….

Sky Broadband – LLU competition works

My local exchange in the UK has only ever had BT’s ADSLMax product. Basically that means ‘up-to’ 8Mbps download and a paltry 400Kbps upload speed (on the standard product). There were, until recently, no other options available from this exchange, and so we were stuck on BT’s ancient IPStream platform, with the upload speed ‘cap’ and banded IP profiles that only further reduce your download speeds (see my article here about the travesty of ADSLMax).

Even in 2016, there was still no rollout plan for BT to upgrade it to ADSL2+ and WBC. This is a small to medium sized exchange with 1200+ customers. It’s not exactly in the middle of nowhere – it serves a small village! The cynic in me would say BT are doing this deliberately, to ‘encourage’ people to upgrade to the new FTTC service (paid for by BDUK, nonetheless). But for people not yet served by FTTC or just not wanting to pay more, we were stuck with ADSLMax, a technology introduced 10 years ago in 2006.

Thankfully Sky broadband has just installed LLU infrastructure in the exchange – that’s full ADSL2+, and importantly it is at a substantially lower price than BT’s offering (thanks to Ofcom’s artificial price floor on Market 1 exchanges).

I was paying over £40 per month for ADSLMax with the ‘Pro’ add-on (uncaps upload speeds), now I’m paying just £17 per month for ADSL2+. Look at these Speedtest.net results, they are basically double the speed for half the price:

Plusnet (BT ADSLMax)

Plusnet (BT ADSLMax with ‘Pro’ add-on)

Sky LLU ADSL2+

Sky LLU ADSL2+

I’d also like to point out that the Sky test was done at 4:30pm (nearing a peak time), whereas the BT test was done at 12:50am, not a peak time. This probably explains the ping discrepancy.

Another really nice feature is that Sky are now rolling out native IPv6 to all of their consumer customers. This isn’t a trial, it’s a full rollout. ipv6-test.com result:

ipv6

Top marks to Sky, who are the first ‘major’ ISP to begin a full rollout of IPv6 to their customers. I know a number of small ISPs have been doing it for years, but none of the larger ones have done yet. BT is also (apparently) rolling it out ‘by the end of 2016’, so could 2016 be the year of IPv6 in the UK?