Guernsey 4G switched on, much faster than the fastest home broadband

4G in Guernsey has finally arrived, with Sure activating 4G around the island dependent on location.

This is of course great news for Guernsey, finally catching up to the UK when it comes to mobile technologies. What surprised me more, was that the initial speediest’s coming in seem to be faster than the ‘average’ UK 4G connection:

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I’m not totally up to speed with the LTE ‘categories’ [The different speeds achievable], but it seems that Sure might be using either twice the radio spectrum/bandwidth than many UK carriers, or that their equipment can use more spatial streams (MIMO) than the ‘standard’ amount. They are offering seemingly the ‘up to’ 100Mbps 150Mbps variant rather than the more standard ‘up to’ 50Mbps (resulting in more usual average’s of 30-40 Mbps). Of course as more user’s download on the 4G network, that headline figure will begin to come down, but it’s a very promising start.

Something which is immediately noticeable though, and definitely ‘on theme’ with this blog, is that 4G in guernsey is now at least twice as fast than the fastest fixed line broadband connection that Sure offers on the island. Also, the upload speeds are at least 4x faster than the fastest VDSL connection.

4G data is also priced pretty reasonably: I assume that 4G will be available on the PAYG mobile broadband SIM’s, for which you can buy 50GB of data for £40. I think this is good value compared to the UK, where for example Three offers 1GB for £10. (Meaning 50GB would cost you the equivalent of £500!)

If you compare this cost to fixed line access, which costs £35pm for the 40Mbps service, you might wonder why even bother with having a broadband connection at all! The only reason you might choose VDSL over 4G is if you want truly unlimited data, which I admit is a pretty big deal for some of us (me included!). However for a lot of people, 50GB per month is probably enough, and if you pay just £25 you get 25GB.

So what am I really saying here? Well, there is a disconnect between Sure’s products. If you want the fastest speeds possible, you need to go the 4G route. Not only that, but if you want 4x the upload speeds, you also need to go the 4G route. Uploading a large video to Youtube? Get the 4G dongle out. Backing up your PC files? Yep, 4G dongle again…

It is really time that Sure re-focused on their fixed line product. You might argue that people don’t really need faster than 40Mbps, but then equally do people really need 80+Mbps on their phones? If anything, faster speeds are going to be more beneficial in the home than when you are mobile. Streaming 4K video, more than 1 user at a time, uploading files, cloud access, etc.

At the very least, Sure could split their current VDSL product: 40/10 for home and 80/20 for ‘Pro’, a bit like BT does in the UK. Whilst line length is still of course an issue (and some homes still don’t even have access to VDSL!), it would at least close some of the gap between the blisteringly fast 4G and somewhat slower ‘Superfast broadband’.

Virgin Media: 152 Mbps

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I have Virgin Media at my student property. Because it’s shared between 8 people, we decided to go for the fastest package. And it certainly doesn’t disappoint.

I quite like how they provision the service to be faster than what you actually pay for. The cable modem is synced around 168 Mbps, which allows for various overheads, and results in them selling 152. But it’s clear that 160 Mbps is easily attainable, even during the ‘rush hour’ period around 6pm UK time.

Latency is equally impressive, see this ping graph from thinkbroadband.com:

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The few blips near the end are probably me using Speedtest. Even in the evenings the latency is almost always below 30ms, with an average below 20ms.

The only minor letdown with the service was the supplied wireless router. Even though it was their new 802.11ac one, it lacked effective wireless range, probably due to built-in antenna. I purchased a separate wireless router and put the SuperHub into modem-only mode, which results in far superior wireless coverage. Even though my computer has an 802.11ac card, ac wireless doesn’t work in the 2.4Ghz spectrum, and I can’t use the 5Ghz band since it lacks wall penetration (I get faster wi-fi speeds on 2.4Ghz N rather than 5Ghz, even though 2.4 is very congested).

The best thing, in my opinion, is the price. £39pm may seem steep, but it doesn’t require telephone line rental (around £15 usually). It’s literally a no-brainer to go with Virgin if you don’t require a landline, since BT Infinity is both slower (*apart from upload), more susceptible to line length, requires an 18-month rather than 12-month contract, and is also more expensive once you factor in that line rental.

Fastershire: Andoversford

The Fastershire project is the government subsidised faster broadband rollout for Gloucestershire & Herefordshire.

I decided to do some investigating as to who might be able to receive the new superfast service in and around the Andoversford telephone exchange area. BT Openreach now make cabinet level data publicly accessible on their website, and cabinet information can also be obtained from their DSL checker website. With these 2 sources of information, it is relatively easy to construct this table:

cabs

[Disclaimer: Information provided from BT public sources, and could be incorrect!]

Of the 8 cabinets that I could identify (cabinets 2 and 8 either don’t exist or I just couldn’t find them), 4 of them are expected to get upgraded to Superfast. Of the 4 cabinets to be upgraded, 3 of them are in Andoversford itself. The only ‘rural’ cabinet is expected to be in Sevenhampton, which looking at the DSL checker is in dire need of faster broadband access.

Of course, it is extremely ambiguous as to what “Under Review” actually means. On BT’s website, it states that “We’re in your area but we’re still assessing whether or not we can upgrade your cabinet.”

Let me now provide my interpreted translation for that statement: “We have no idea when your cabinet is going to be upgraded. We’ve probably already written it off, but we say it’s still being reviewed in order to keep your hopes up and deter any other non-BT competition.”

There is of course the small chance that some of the Under Review cabs might get upgraded at some point in the future, or even another solution (FTTP?) might be offered. Additionally, ‘Under Review’ could also mean that the original PCP cab was not suitable to be upgraded and they have to do additional works/checks before they can plan to add a DSLAM to it.

It is somewhat of a shame that the most rural, in need areas of the Andoversford exchange are likely to miss out on Superfast access in this current round of funding. Unless ‘Under Review’ means something a lot more positive (which I suspect it doesn’t), properties just scraping 2Mbps are likely to remain at this speed at least for now.

An interesting find, however, is this image:

adsl2+

Yes, that does indeed say “on Exchange Andoversford” at the top there, and yes, it is stating that WBC ADSL2+ is available at this property. I have not found another single address in the Andoversford exchange area that is enabled for ADSL2+ (Up to 17Mbps compared to the older up to 8Mbps service). It is very odd – it could well be an anomaly in the address checker, or on the other hand, it could be a test property that has been enabled, pending the wider rollout of ADSL2+ to the whole exchange. The VDSL Superfast product, as far as I am aware, runs on 21CN (WBC), so it would make sense that the exchange itself is being upgraded too. However, not all VDSL cabs will link to their parent exchanges – sometimes the backhaul is known to route to alternative locations…

Edit: According to roadworks.org, BT are doing works on ‘PCP8’ in Shipton Oliffe. I wasn’t able to locate any properties connected to cabinet 8, so it could be that Shipton Oliffe properties are in fact going to receive FTTC very soon, not sure why the wholesale checker states PCP10 rather than 8 though… Also, this tallies with the fastershire website coverage map, which shows the area around the village as having fibre access by the end of 2014.

Late night Speedtest (part 2)

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Another late night Speedtest. Upload speeds are very consistent, approaching the advertised 5 Mbps. However download speeds still appear to be lower than the full 40 Mbps, the maximum actual throughput is more like 34 Mbps on a fully synced line.

Interestingly, and this could be a bug, Speedtest.net says this connection is “Slower than 57% of GG”. How this is possible, I don’t know? I can only assume that the reason is leased line customers with much faster connections doing a lot of testing recently.

On another note, this September we are approaching the 2nd anniversary of Sure’s VDSL service launch. Fingers crossed for some sort of upgrade announcement! After all, when LTE launches next year, it wouldn’t ‘seem’ right for their VDSL to offer the same speeds as the 4G mobile network.

Mystery speedtest result

Speedtest.net result

Yes, this is a genuine Speedtest.net result, with a genuine internet connection. No proxy trickery or connected to the test server’s LAN. If only I had this at home…

Downloading stuff on this connection is insane though, I can download entire movies in literally seconds. The vast, vast majority of websites and servers simply can’t send data to me quick enough on this connection. Most downloads cap around 100 Mbps.

4G: The odd state of affairs

In this blog post, 4G = LTE, and not any variant of HSPA…

I have been on O2’s 4G tariff since they launched it back in August, and at the time I knew that their coverage was limited to just a few large cities, but I took the tariff in the hope that they would commence an “aggressive rollout“. Now almost 7 months into the rollout of O2’s 4G network (as well as Vodafone & Three, for that matter), their 4G city coverage is still extremely limited and doesn’t appear to have grown that much. I understand that 4G rollout is just that, a “rollout” that happens over a period of time, but surely when you are trying to play catch-up to the likes of EE (who have far, far superior 4G coverage, albeit due to their massive time advantage), you would think both O2 and Vodafone would be pushing to get 4G to as many cities and towns across the UK as quickly possible.

Now, I might be seeing this entirely wrong, but it seems that O2 in particular have really been pushing their 4G rollout in the north of the country more so than in the south. Not that this is a bad thing, but I would’ve expected a balance of north/south cities to receive 4G in order to get as wide geographic coverage as possible. A list of examples that have yet to receive O2 4G in the southern half of the country, include but are not limited to: Bristol, Southampton, Portsmouth, Oxford, Luton, Milton Keynes.. The list goes on.

In comparison (and I do indeed realise this is very unscientific), cities in the north that have O2 4G coverage (not withstanding Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds) are: York, Newcastle, Nottingham & Sheffield.

In terms of population, the Portsmouth/Southampton area is the 6th highest population in the country, yet it gets no O2 4G as of writing. Bristol, with a population of 600,000, has no O2 4G, yet Sheffield with a similar population already has it.

However, none of the geographic issues actually matter that much when we look at the rollout of Three, the UK’s ‘4th’ mobile operator. Even though they had a later start, and you would think far less cash lying around compared with O2 (Telefonica) and Vodafone, their 4G rollout appears to have been much more aggressive and widespread. Bristol? Check. Oxford? Check. Southampton? Check. Portsmouth? Check. Milton Keynes? Check. Luton? Check…

Three’s rollout, ignoring the numbers, seems more balanced around getting 4G to areas of high population compared with Vodafone and O2. Now, unlike O2, Three has no obligation to deploy their 4G network any further than this, compared with O2’s coverage obligation to cover pretty much the entire country’s population. So this could be a factor, O2 are perhaps pacing themselves and deploying to random rural areas in small pockets (if you look at their coverage checker, there are some rural location masts that have 4G already) rather than deploying to the cities exclusively like Three has.

However as an O2 customer who is paying through the roof for 4G and living in a major southern city, and not receiving the service, and yet customers on Three can get unlimited data and 4G for no additional cost, to say it annoys me is an understatement! The UK’s rollout of 4G has been diabolically slow compared with other countries, which is a shame since we led the rollout of 3G back in the 00’s. I realise that the slow rollout was caused by regulatory incompetence, but it’s not as if the networks didn’t know 4G was coming? Could they not deploy their new masts and equipment before the awarding of the licences? This must have happened to some degree otherwise London and the other ‘starter’ cities are unlikely to have had 4G when it launched in August.

I now move onto the second part of this blog post, which is looking at 4G provision in Spain. If you have read my previous blog posts, you would see that I have been struggling in the past to get decent internet in a rural location in Spain. 2 Mbps internet on an extremely flakey ADSL line  just wouldn’t cut it anymore. The speed wasn’t really the issue, but the constant sync failures and sky-high (150ms average) latency just wasn’t acceptable in the year 2014. Vodafone (Spain) has also begun their 4G rollout in Spain using (I believe) the 2.6/1.8 spectrum, since the 800 spectrum isn’t active until later this year. So imagine my surprise when, I get out a friend’s iPhone with a UK Vodafone SIM in, and discover it has a 4G signal in pretty much the middle of nowhere! Data download was about 30 Mbps down and 15 Mbps up, with around 70 ms latency – this probably because the gateway was in the UK. Ignoring the fact that 4G data roaming on Vodafone actually works , (nil points to O2 for not having this yet – it’s not as if Telefonica, their parent company, owns pretty much all the telecom infrastructure in Spain) I was surprised that I even had 4G signal in my location. According to the coverage checker, there is meant to be zero 4G coverage at all, the nearest transmitter is behind 2 hills and a town. So I imagine the signal is reflecting off something and reaching us. (It’s definitely not coming from our local mast, since that is visible from our house and we only had 2 bars of 4G).

So now my challenge was to get hold of a 4G data sim card in Spain, on a business contract, to make use of their unlimited 4G offer for €49. This is actually impossible – Vodafone in Spain clearly don’t want your custom even if you wave money in front of them. With the endless spaghetti mess of bureaucracy and paperwork and legal shit, it’s no wonder Spain is bankrupt. So the easier solution was to get a PAYG sim card and make use of their 4G PAYG option (Called Vodafone Yu) which offers 1.6GB of data for €20. Although it’s pricey, it has some advantages:

1) It will probably work out cheaper paying 5x€20 in one month when we are in Spain, then to pay €49 per month for a service we aren’t going to use all year round.

2) No paperwork. No bureaucracy. Phew!

So with the PAYG sim on order, I’ll have to update you when I get it and do some speed testing. The plan at the moment is to buy a 4G router with external antenna connectors (Probably Solwise) so I can affix an omni antenna to the roof with a bit of extra gain. Also since 4G is meant to be MIMO, with the right hardware/dual feed antenna, I should be able to get 30-40 Mbps.

So, I’m now in the amusing situation that I can get 4G in a rural location in Spain, on a PAYG sim card, and yet I can’t get 4G on my expensive O2 tariff in a major UK city.

Don’t even get me started about O2’s data roaming policies…

JT Fibre coming to Guernsey?

Over the past year, many Guernsey residents may have noticed the roadworks caused by JT (Jersey Telecom) on the island, for example around the Rohais area and now currently into the Castel area. On the States roadworks website (iris.gov.gg), JT have been regularly appearing with the reason listed as “Improving the JT network”. One can only assume that this is for the process of laying Fibre optic cabling underneath the road.

Now it seems on JT’s Guernsey website that they have announced they plan to connect “Schools and Government buildings” in 2014, and then in the future to connect “one third of residential customers to a Fibre service”. I assume this 1/3 only applies to those premises that the Fibre has been laid next to, and not 1/3 of the entire island.

The prospect of JT further expanding their FTTH network on Guernsey is an exciting one. Currently there is a near-monopoly on fixed broadband access in Guernsey, since all DSL lines are effectively run by Sure. Whilst JT appear to offer their own DSL on Guernsey, it is in fact just a re-sell of the existing Sure service.

By having an entirely separate JT fibre network on island, it will hopefully force Sure into action to provide their own FTTH services or at least an improved FTTC service. Any form of competition in this area is definitely welcome to consumers.

A while back I posted on the blog that Sure planned to increase their VDSL speeds in 2014 to “up to 100Mbps”. However whilst ‘Superfast’ customers received an upload speed bump to 5Mbps, there were no download speed upgrades. I can only assume that Sure are focusing on expanding their FTTC (or MSAN) reach before increasing headline speeds. After all, speeds greater than 40Mbps will only be reached if customers live within 100’s of meters of an exchange or cabinet.

Whilst it may appear that Sure have ‘caught up’ with the UK, the fact is that many customers in UK city areas can get 150Mbps cable with Virgin Media and 80Mbps FTTC with BT. Additionally wireless broadband in the form of 4G LTE is now widely available in many cities, which is still not at all available in Guernsey.

It now leaves the question as to how quickly JT will start to connect residential customers to their FTTH service, and what Sure will do to combat JT’s advance.

Sure Superfast Broadband: Upload speeds increased

Sure Guernsey appear to have silently increased the upload speeds for the Superfast and Superfast Pro broadband products.

The upload speed that the line is now synchronised at is 5 Mbps, up from the existing 2 Mbps. Actual throughput using speedtest.net was recorded at around 3.5-3.8 Mbps upload speed**.

This is a significant improvement in upload speeds, and very much needed in today’s online world of remote & cloud computing.

There is still no word from Sure about the supposed 100 Mbps upgrade that I found in their news section earlier this year, but we will just have to wait and see if anything is delivered.

It is possible that the upgraded upload speeds are simply a precursor to further upgrades later this year, but then why not release your new faster internet product at the same time as increasing the upload speeds, in order to have more impact?

**Edit: This is not entirely accurate. I generally now receive at least 4 Mbps upload, if not slightly more.

Sure promises “100Mbits” by end of year in Guernsey

So I was reading through some of the new sections on Sure’s website today, since the sale of Sure to Batelco from Cable and Wireless.

I noticed that in their news section, there was an interview from Sure’s CEO Eddie Saints, and in one part he said that:

[we] aim of making Superfast Broadband accessible to all Bailiwick properties at speeds up to 100Mb/s by the end of this year at greater coverage and lower pricing compared with our competing jurisdictions.

So this looks like some sort of confirmation (or at least plans ) of 100Mbps internet by the end of 2013.

Now I am not certain if Sure will be rolling out a FTTH network like in Jersey, or if they will simply continue to roll out their VDSL2 network over copper as they have been doing currently.

Copper cable, using VDSL2, is not particularly future proof for the next 20 years  and beyond. Whereas JT have already taken the plunge and created an island wide FTTH network which will be able to cope with speeds in excess of 1Gbps, Guernsey’s VDSL2 and copper network is simply incapable of speeds this fast. In fact, the current technical maximum (assuming you are next to the street cabinet) is about 200Mbps for VDSL2. These speeds drop significantly the further you are from a street cabinet. Additionally, the connection will be more susceptible to noise and interference on a copper cable, compared to a fibre optic cable.

Whilst I applaud Sure’s continued work in delivering high speed internet to Guernsey (and who can forget the dark days of 1Mbps ADSL), I think that if Sure isn’t planning to go down the FTTH route then they are being a bit short sighted. In the distant future when internet bandwidth is abundant and Jersey are offering 10Gbps fibre to every home, with almost just a flick of the switch required, Sure will look back and wish they had deployed fibre to every home rather than just the street cabinet.

[Of course, deploying FTTC does mean that the fibre connection is closer to homes, and they could use this in the future to deploy FTTH from the cabinet connections, but arguably the most difficult bit is the last xx metres into peoples individual properties]