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Similarities between new home building and Enterprise Small Cell provision

HousebuildingComplaints have been lodged by house-builders about delays and difficulties of equipping new-build homes with fibre broadband. They’d quite like to install it themselves if it speeds up roll out. Is there a parallel with Enterprise Small Cell installation by third parties?

 

 

Housebuilders frustrated at pace of High Speed Broadband for new builds

Housebuilders in the UK are up in arms about delays and difficulties of equipping new-build homes with fast Internet broadband. Homebuyers would reasonably expect their expensive new house to come with the latest fibre broadband alongside other utilities such as electricity, fresh water and sewage. Instead, they may be lucky to have wireline internet at all, and if so perhaps only at a basic speed.

This briefing document from one popular UK housebuilder highlights their problems, with some new estates taking over a year to be connected. Often only low speed copper-wire based broadband is available, and even that takes some time to appear. They provide and subsidise cellular service to try to keep their customers satisfied, but data rates aren’t quite up to scratch.

Key factors that impact this state of affairs include:

  • A lack of strategic planning by Openreach (the UK wholesale broadband infrastructure provider), which doesn’t consider any new-build until after planning permission has been granted
  • Timeframe of up to 6 months just to provide a quote for the cost of providing service
  • Regulations which only require basic telephone line service rather than higher speed broadband service, even for new builds in premium areas.
  • Lack of adequate staff and skills within Openreach to meet demand

Build it yourself

Housebuilders already incorporate many utilities into their building programs. They will lay pipes for water, sewage and ducting for electricity. They provide roads which are later “adopted” by the local council for ongoing maintenance.

In some cases, to achieve planning permission, they may build schools, village halls, retail units and/or health clinics as part of the package.

Linden Homes had offered BT Openreach the opportunity to subcontract this work to their own experts, but this was not taken up.

They have also proposed an alternative way of installing the infrastructure similar to “self lay water mains” used in the water industry, allowing the housebuilders teams to do everything apart from the final cable terminations.

They’ve even offered to pay a contribution towards the cost of building out the infrastructure.

Similarities with Enterprise Cellular rollout

I can’t help but see similarities with the current state of cellular service provision in the Enterprise.

Building owners and their tenants want good cellular service within their buildings, whether residential or commercial. It makes a big difference in rental values and the ease with which buildings can be let.

Cellular network operators are under no regulatory obligation to provide good service in any specific area, although there is increasing competitive pressure to do so. Developers are keenly aware of this issue and more proactive about resolving it in good time.

For the largest buildings, organisations such as Wireless Infrastructure Group get involved at a very early stage, designing the wireless solution including cabling and power alongside the architects. These are equipped during initial construction, saving considerable costs. Taking a long term view of 10 to 20 years or more, their upfront capital investment is geared to pay back slowly but steadily. Cellular networks find it worthwhile to work with the largest of developments, but what’s needed is to open this up to all sizes of buildings.

Should the regulator step in?

As with the Universal Service Obligation for wireline phone service, it could be argued that wireless regulators should impose some minimum mandatory service level when spectrum is sold. This is already the case, but usually expressed in terms of percentage population covered rather than quality of service, speed of connection or how those work when inside a modern glass building.

I believe that competition is driving up service quality and network speeds more than regulatory demands. The regulators have set the scene with multiple networks in every country, which has had the strongest effect.

I doubt that regulatory action will be used in the short to medium term. Instead, I expect in-building service delivery needs to be driven by competitive activity.

In the longer term, where regulatory action may appear relates to the use of cellular networks for emergency services/first responders and e911 location. We’ve seen EE announce aggressive targets for geographic coverage of the UK, raising this from about 70% of the land area up to over 90%. Indoor coverage in dense urban areas, especially deep in-building, remains a problem. A possible driver for more rapid adoption may be driven by the need to locate the position of an emergency call. Today it may be feasible to identify the building most of the time, but rarely the floor or office/apartment. That would definitely require in-building systems, and further reinforce the need for a multi-operator solution.

Approving 3rd party installations

Looking again at the similarity with house builders, it would be good to see either network operator directly subcontract to suitably capable building contractors, or to approve/permit connections from deployments by 3rd party installers. Few operators today have an easily accessible process to achieve that, and I would think that this is important to have in place. It would allow substantial network capacity expansion at minimal cost, bringing higher quality service to end users  - a win-win throughout the industry.

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