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Swindon to get superfast broadband via 4G mobile network

Wednesday, April 1st 2015 by Phil Wilkinson-Jones

A council’s plan to extend superfast broadband coverage using 4G is to go ahead despite criticism from opposition councillors.

Swindon Borough Council, as part of Broadband Delivery UK’s (BDUK) Superfast Broadband Extension Programme, is looking to increase coverage of superfast broadband from 80% of premises to 99.4% by next year.

The Conservative-run council chose wireless broadband provider UKB Networks as its preferred supplier and will put up half of the scheme’s £1.9m cost, with the rest coming from BDUK.

Labour councillor Bob Wright said working out exactly how many houses would be covered is difficult.

“The reality was it was not borough wide,” he said.

“UK Broadband set up a company called Now and advertised for public access to the system. Another company Cotswold Wireless now advertises the service.

“Their service map shows borough wide but their advertising states in and around Swindon. It has been very difficult to establish what areas are covered and what areas are not.”

Cllr Wright submitted a motion at last week’s full council meeting calling for alternative ways of delivering superfast broadband to be considered.

“The first part of the motion was to establish what did we get for £1m,” he said, adding it was important to discover if the service offered value for money.

“The second part of the motion concerned the wishes of residents in north Swindon who want a fibre optic system, not a wire-free 4G LTE delivery.

“In addition we wanted the poorly-served areas of town to also benefit from the use of taxpayers' money.”

'Significant benefits'

He said the Labour group supported the use of 4G in rural locations and a review of how to use public money to deliver fibre broadband in the town.

Cllr Wright’s motion was dismissed by the Conservative group, which will now instead push on with the UKB Networks deal agreed at the previous week’s cabinet meeting.

Cllr Garry Perkins, the cabinet member for the economy, regeneration and skills, presented the council’s Superfast Broadband Extension Programme report to the meeting.

He said a wireless broadband solution would bring “significant benefits” to the community, particularly for those living in rural areas.

Cllr Perkins said savings to the council, in terms of its level of contribution, would release funds to identify solutions for the estimated 600 properties that would remain without superfast broadband.

The report itself says that not only will the 4G LTE option bring the borough up to 99.4% coverage by mid-2016, it will also open up further options to hit 100% superfast broadband coverage “at the earliest possible opportunity”.

It also revealed that BT, which is delivering superfast extension programmes in many council areas, chose not to submit a proposal to Swindon’s procurement process but was willing to enter into an agreement using the similar BDUK framework.

The report says BT’s fibre-based network would not offer the same level of coverage as UKB Networks’ wireless system and would be a bigger drain on public resources.

4G, or the fourth generation of mobile technology, provides broadband speeds roughly twice as fast as those found on 3G connections. An Ofcom report published in November 2014 found that average mobile broadband download speeds on 4G were approximately 15.1Mbps.

Update: UKB Networks has pointed out that the 4G LTE 'fixed wireless' network that will bring superfast broadband to Swindon differs greatly from its standard 4G service, which was funded entirely by UKB Networks as part of its commercial rollout. The company also made it clear that if it does not meet its target of 99.9% coverage in the borough, the £1.9m of public funding will have to be paid back.

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