A Year On(line)

Just over a year ago, the last connections were made in the pure fibre optic network that the Northmoor, Moreton and Bablockhythe project delivered, and the first users were already connected and live. Since then the verges have grown back, freshly-laid asphalt has accumulated enough mud to blend in with the rest of the road, and you’ll often find people sat down at the pub – itself a huge success story – checking their emails on the free wifi.

What now exists in Northmoor, Moreton and Bablockhythe is a long-term piece of infrastructure operating reliably and with the capacity required for today’s users and technologies – and with plenty to spare for the future, with a network already capable of providing 1Gbps download and upload speeds to every property as well as 10Gbps for businesses.

After a year, take-up has been better than our expectations, and the new network has transformed the lives of many. Gigaclear, the network installer and operator, revealed recently that the project has achieved 25% take-up across the entire network (counting all 521 properties covered by the project). By way of comparison, other superfast broadband projects around the country have taken several years to reach this sort of take-up, and only four or five have even managed that!

Improved connectivity has certainly lead to improved productivity and effectiveness for the many people in the village working from home or running businesses from their homes.

It has completely transformed my ability to work from home. Our business is international so working from home is often necessary to line up with other time zones. Now I can use video calling, screen sharing, and connect directly to my company’s servers on a VPN, all at the same time. It just simply works, and like having electric light you soon stop even thinking about it. Only when you find yourself in a hotel somewhere with dodgy wi-fi do you get the flashbacks!

Simon Harrison

 

Huge improvement for my paperless, cloud-based healthcare business. The kids are grateful for the prompt digital TV streaming too!

Titus Adams

As well as transforming the way that many of us in the village work and play, the fast connectivity has encouraged new families to the village.

It has been absolutely essential for us. I work at UCL in London but work from home two days a week and use broadband to Remote Desktop into work. This was almost impossible on the previous connection. Indeed, we most likely would not have moved into the village if we had not known that Gigaclear was on the way. The ability to work from home with fast internet was an absolute necessity for me when we were looking for our new home.

As a family, we routinely use it to watch television, browse the net (almost all of our shopping is done online) and even make telephone calls, having moved to Vonage. Overall, our bills have reduced as our Gigaclear broadband is less than the previous broadband and phone line combined.

Rachel Pearson

It’s fair to say that going from very poor connectivity to very fast connectivity can highlight problems with weak links in home networks, and more or less the only complaint that people have had with the service has been the wifi router provided by Gigaclear. Many houses in the village are old enough to have thick stone walls, and while BT’s connectivity was poor (or non-existent) the Home Hub does have quite good wifi for the last few dozen feet! Gigaclear are testing replacements for their currently used router, and both Gigaclear, Boxcom and members of the broadband team have been helping those with tricky wireless environments add additional wifi access points and ethernet cabling where needed.

All I have to say is FABULOUS – so pleased to have done it and the phones and to have put BT behind us for once and for all.

Helen Hutchings

Thanks and Congratulations

The project team would like to once again thank the team at West Oxfordshire District Council, particularly Phil Martin and Will Barton, as well as the procurement team at Oxfordshire County Council, particularly Nicky Atkin.

The procurement exercise for the project was wonderfully executed by them, and the support of West Oxfordshire District Council made the project possible. Four companies submitted bids for the project, and while one bid from a major telecommunications provider was unable to meet our technical or business plan requirements and had to be dropped, the remaining three bidders all provided highly viable solutions and business cases, making it a highly competitive tender. We’re very proud of the process that delivered this outcome, and hope that other government broadband procurements can learn from it.

We are of course grateful for the government and EU support of the project through Defra’s Rural Community Broadband Fund and the Broadband Delivery UK fund, and for the individuals in those organizations who helped us develop and deliver the project.

For some time, to the best of our knowledge, we were the only superfast broadband project in the UK awarded to and delivered by an entity other than BT, much to our surprise. Therefore, congratulations would seem to be in order to Gigaclear, who – after their first brush with public procurement in this project – have now won several contracts under the BDUK Superfast Extension Programme to connect thousands of properties across the UK.

And last but not least, the thanks of the team must be extended to the residents of Northmoor, Bablock Hythe and Moreton for their patience during the construction works and for their support of the project throughout.

Northmoor, Bablockhythe and Moreton project switched on by David Cameron MP

Opening Ceremony

Matthew Hare (CEO Gigaclear), Graham Shelton (Northmoor Broadband Team & Parish Council chairman), Stuart Cope (representing the Red Lion shareholders) and the Rt Hon David Cameron MP

In an event celebrating both the purchase and reopening of Northmoor’s Red Lion as a community-owned pub and the activation of the new fibre to the premises broadband network, our MP, the Rt Hon David Cameron, paid us a visit and officially switched on the network.

Gigaclear’s CEO, Matthew Hare, and members of the broadband team and village residents were also joined by video link by Malcolm Corbett of the Independent Networks Cooperative Association (INCA) and Dana Pressman Tobak of Hyperoptic, another FTTP ISP focused on deployments in cities.

David Cameron and Matthew Hare (Gigaclear) speak to Malcom Corbett (INCA), Dana Pressman Tobak (Hyperoptic) via Skype

David Cameron and Matthew Hare (Gigaclear) speak to Malcom Corbett (INCA), Dana Pressman Tobak (Hyperoptic) via Skype

The project is now mainly completed, with only the relatively straightforward task of connecting the caravans at Bablockhythe Caravan Park remaining before the project is complete. A large number of residents are now connected and enjoying the service, with takeup of the service expected to increase as installations are completed in the coming months.

David Cameron at the Opening Ceremony

The West Oxfordshire press release accompanying this news can be found here. Coverage of the event was also carried by the Telegraph, as well as Cable.co.uk and ISPreview. The Witney Gazette has covered the news in their leader column.

We’ll try and keep this post up to date with any further media coverage.

Fibre to the Premises reaches Thameside

Our initial survey, conducted in early 2013, showed that a shocking proportion of the parish had no internet connectivity whatsoever. The majority of these properties were homes at Thameside Court at Bablockhythe, connected to aluminium/copper lines nearly 8 kilometres long and unlikely ever to receive an upgrade under normal commercial terms. These lines are often totally unable to even achieve ADSL sync, let alone attain speeds above a few hundred kilobits per second. Reliability was another problem – flooding and even heavy rain made whatever service was available disappear.

Outside Thameside CourtToday the first properties in Thameside were passed by the contractors building the network, providing a pure fibre to the premises connection capable of over 1Gbps. Even when it rains or floods. Continue reading

Press release from West Oxfordshire

The following post is a press release from West Oxfordshire District Council on the delivery of the network.

People holding a 24 core fibre cable

David Thrower of Gigaclear, Cllr Richard Langridge, Phil Martin of West Oxfordshire District Council, Matthew Hare of Gigaclear and Graham Shelton, Chairman of Northmoor Parish Council

Construction work to bring one of the fastest and most up-to-date broadband networks to a West Oxfordshire village is now underway.

Driven by the local community and supported by West Oxfordshire District Council, 521 properties in Northmoor, Moreton and Bablockhythe (including the mobile home park) will soon be able to access the new high-speed communications network.

Engineers have started installing fibre optic cables and connection points throughout the village and the new ultrafast broadband technology is expected to go live this summer (2014).

Over two years ago a group of villagers who were frustrated by slow internet speeds and patchy connections, came together to look at how they could get better broadband connectivity.

Following detailed preparation work, the Northmoor Community Project has successfully obtained approval to £186,000 of funding under the Government’s Rural Community Broadband Fund, which is jointly funded by Defra (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) and BDUK (Broadband Delivery UK).

In March 2014, with help from West Oxfordshire District Council, Northmoor selected Gigaclear to build and operate their new broadband fibre network.

Cllr Richard Langridge, Cabinet Member for the Local Economy and Communities at West Oxfordshire District Council, said: “Every credit must be given to the collective determination, hard work and tenacity of the Northmoor Project Group for making this happen. We have been behind them all the way as we are acutely aware of how important it is to have a fast, reliable internet service, particularly for rural businesses. This scheme will make a huge difference to those living and working in Northmoor and the District Council is striving to obtain high speed broadband throughout the whole of West Oxfordshire.”

Graham Shelton, Chairman of Northmoor Parish Council and leader of the Community Broadband Project, said: “This is a historic moment of national as well as local importance. Many so-called fibre broadband projects only offer fibre to the cabinet, but ours offers a fibre connection to every single house and business in the community. I can’t wait for the network to go live next month, and to a celebration of this community achievement in the Red Lion, our very own community-owned pub! It’s been a colossal amount of work, and it is a real pleasure to thank everyone at local, district, county and national levels for the enormous efforts and sheer grit and determination to navigate us through the grant process to goal”

Simon Harrison, a member of the Community Broadband Project team, said: “It is very exciting that after two and a half years of paperwork, planning and negotiations, the actual build process is now moving really fast.  In a matter of months we will have a network that is not just able to meet today’s requirements, but is a long-term investment able to meet the future needs of the community as well.  Many residents will be moving from the misery of no broadband at all to a service that is the equal of anything in the country.  We really appreciate the financial support from Defra and BDUK that has made this possible despite the challenges of building in such a thinly-spread community, and the practical hands-on support of West Oxfordshire District Council that has made our dream a reality.”

Matthew Hare, Chief Executive of Gigaclear said, “Construction of the new pure fibre network here in Northmoor started at the end of May and the crews are making great progress building the new infrastructure.  The project will run on through June, and in July we expect to be delivering symmetric Gigabit Internet access to the homes and businesses of Moreton, Northmoor and Bablock Hythe.  Serving this very rural and spread out community has been made possible through the support of West Oxfordshire District Council and the Rural Community Broadband Fund.  We are confident that this quiet communications revolution will transform the lives and prospects of all it serves.”

Government Minister for Communications Ed Vaizey said: “This is brilliant news for the homes and businesses of Northmoor, Moreton and Bablockhythe who will now be able to access superfast broadband speeds.”

“Taking superfast broadband to the more remote areas of the UK understandably presents us with challenges, which is why we created this fund specifically for these locations.”
Minister for Rural Affairs Dan Rogerson said: “Fast and reliable broadband is crucial in building a stronger economy and fairer society as it enables rural businesses to grow and compete.

“That is why we have given £186,000 worth of funding to support this exciting new project. We expect it will make a huge difference to those living and working in Northmoor by opening up business opportunities and access to convenient services like online banking.”

Additional notes:

The Northmoor scheme is just one aspect of West Oxfordshire District Council’s involvement in rural broadband projects. A ‘Better Broadband’ project is under way to bring superfast broadband to at least 90 per cent of premises in the county by the end of 2015, as part of a partnership between Oxfordshire County Council, the Government’s Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) programme and service provider BT.

BDUK is managing the UK’s superfast rollout programme. For more information visit the DCMS broadband webpage.

The now closed Rural Community Broadband Fund was jointly funded by Defra and BDUK and provides grants to communities to establish superfast broadband in hard-to-reach rural areas. For more information visit Defra’s RCBF web page.

The District Council has agreed to pledge £1.6m to boost the project locally and ensure that high-speed broadband is provided to as many residential and business properties in the District, with the aim of getting as close as possible to 100% coverage. Work on this project continues.

For more information about Northmoor’s chosen service provider, Gigaclear, see http://www.gigaclear.com/
For more information on the Better Broadband countywide project, see : http://www.oxfordshire.gov.uk/broadband