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UK finally makes it onto Europe’s list of the top countries in fibre broadband (right at the bottom)

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UK falling behind in fiber broadband network race
As the UK slides further down the broadband rankings, can a new approach to rollouts fix the problem?

The UK has finally made it onto Europe’s table of top countries in fibre broadband to the home (FTTH) and to the building (FTTB). Admittedly, the UK is still at the bottom of this European table, which requires a penetration of just one percent to qualify. This compares with Latvia, which topped the table for the third year in a row with 50.3 percent, though it’s only 11th worldwide. Happily, Ofcom, which regulates the UK communications market, has plans to improve things.

The table was published at the FTTH Council Europe conference held in Amsterdam this month, along with the FTTH Market Panorama prepared by IDATE.

According to the Market Panorama, Spain added the most new FTTH/B subscribers with 1,858,743, ahead of France with an extra 1,480,220 subscribers.

FTTH European ranking table 2018

Of course, not everyone who can get fibre broadband actually subscribes to it. The average availability for the EU’s 28 countries is 36.4 percent, while the average take-up rate is only 38.2 percent. However, in many countries – including Andorra, Belarus, Belgium, Latvia, the Netherlands and Romania – the take-up rate is over 50 percent. This is obviously important to ensure the profitability that drives investment.

The UK now has a penetration rate of only 1.5 percent and a take-up rate of 13.1 percent. This is desperately poor, but a marked improvement. The report says that FTTH/B subscriptions grew by 83 percent compared to September 2017, and there are now 369,250 UK subscribers out of 2,817,000 homes passed.

In some ways this gives a misleading impression of Britain’s broadband because of the popularity of FTTC (Fibre To The Cabinet) services such as BT Infinity. This uses old copper wiring and VDSL2 to deliver high-speed broadband from the street cabinet, but does not count as FTTH/B. According to Ofcom, the UK ranks second in the EU’s “big five” countries in ADSL. As a result, around 94 percent of UK premises can get “superfast” speeds of at least 30 Mbps, though only 45 percent subscribe to them.

SEE: IT pro’s guide to the evolution and impact of 5G technology (free PDF)    

Ofcom published its £200 million plan to support full-fibre investment in July 2018. Its stated goal is “to deliver full-fibre to 15m premises by 2025 and to all premises in the UK by 2033”. Before that, says Ofcom, the UK government’s Universal Service Obligation (USO) will allow people and businesses the legal right to request a decent broadband connection, “delivering download speeds of at least 10 Mbps and upload speeds of 1 Mbps by 2020”. Currently, only two percent of UK premises can’t get those speeds, according to Ofcom (PDF).

The UK’s progress was reflected at the end of the FTTH Conference when Greg Mesch, founder and CEO of CityFibre, was presented with the first Charles Kao Award (named after a Nobel prize-winner for optical communications) “for his extraordinary contribution to the acceleration of full fibre deployment in the UK, a country that has until recently sat far behind in the European rankings for FTTH/B access” (PDF)

CityFibre and Vodafone plan to cover 5 million homes by 2025.

Other companies are also contributing to the growth of FTTH/B in the UK. TalkTalk has set up a new company, FibreNation, to deliver fibre to 3 million homes, Virgin Media plans to reach 4 million premises by 2020, while Hyperoptic is delivering a full fibre network to 50 towns and cities. As usual, however, BT will be a major contributor, with Openreach planning to cover 10 million homes by 2025. There also are a lot of smaller contributors, many of whom are members of INCA, the Independent Networks Cooperative Association.

Copper switch-off

The real problem with the UK’s slow progress in FTTH/B is that it delays the desired “copper switch-off”. This is essential to avoid the high cost of maintaining two different networks. It will also increase reliability, reduce maintenance costs, cut energy use by 40-60 percent, and increase customer satisfaction, according to an FTTH Council Europe report by WIK-Consult (PDF).

Of course, switching off the copper network is one way to drive users to move to fibre broadband. Without that, idleness and inertia would keep many users on copper forever.

Australia started its copper switch-off in 2014, and New Zealand is also making progress. In Estonia, Telia has already switched off 70 percent of its copper exchanges, and Sweden 42 percent. This may involve using wireless connections rather than fibre for rural areas.

However, copper switch-off is a new idea to most UK users, and it may be another decade before they even have to think about it.

FTTH Global Ranking table 2018

No European country makes the top 10 in the world rankings for the adoption of FTTH and FTTB.


FTTH Council Europe

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Rivian EV configurator opens to all – R1S and R1T Launch Edition sold out

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Rivian has thrown open access to its online configurator, meaning you no longer need to have a reservation for the R1T or R1S in order to customize your perfect electric truck. Set to begin manufacturing and deliveries next year, the two EVs share the same platform – the R1T having a pickup body, while the R1S is a full-size SUV – though are likely to appeal to different markets.

We saw the first results of the configurator last week, when Rivian granted access to those who had paid the $1,000 deposit to stake a place in line. In the process it confirmed some of the options that buyers will be able to pick from, including multiple paint finishes, different interior trims, and some of the more unusual accessories.

The R1T, for example, can be equipped with a slide-out mini kitchen for camping. That has a sink – with a water tank and pump that’s powered by the trunk’s own battery – along with an induction stove for cooking. Rivian even has a custom set of prep and cookware from Snow Peak to go with it.

Arguably more useful every day, meanwhile, is the Max Pack battery. Offered only on the R1T pickup, it’s not inexpensive at $10,000, but it boosts the estimated range from the standard 300+ miles to 400+ miles. Final EPA-certified range is unlikely to be confirmed until next year, closer to the R1T’s summer release.

While it’s nice to be able to tinker with the configurator, there’s also some bad news if you were hoping for a R1S or R1T Launch Edition. Reservations for that special trim are now full, Rivian has confirmed, closing the order books on the very first examples of the two EVs. Priced at $75,000 for the pickup, and $77,500 for the SUV, the Launch Edition is prety much a maxed-out example of each, and offers exclusive options like Launch Green paintwork.

It means that, if you didn’t get your order in already, you’ve some wait ahead of you. The two mainstream trims for both EVs – the entry-level Explore and the better-equipped Adventure – are both available to order, but deliveries aren’t expected to begin until January 2022.

Before then, we may have heard more about some of Rivian’s upcoming competition. Ford’s all-electric F-150 is due in the next couple of years, the first time the bestselling pickup will be offered in a fully-electric form. Chevrolet, meanwhile, has an electric pickup in the works too, GM confirmed last week, tapping the automaker’s new Ultium platform.

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NHTSA: GM must recall 6m pickups and SUVs over Takata airbag danger

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GM will be forced to recall almost 6 million vehicles to repair potentially dangerous Takata airbags, after losing a years-long battle with the NHTSA to avoid the hugely expensive repairs. The automaker had argued that the recall – which covers some of its most popular SUVs and pickups – was unnecessary, given it had undertaken third-party tests to show that the airbag inflaters were not prone to dangerous or abnormal explosions.

The Takata airbag saga has become the most significant vehicle recall incident in the US, and forced the most manufacturer recalls. Commonly used across multiple brands, the inflators are designed to trigger in a crash and rapidly inflate the airbags themselves to support vehicle occupants.

However the chemicals inside the flawed inflators can degrade over time, particularly in conditions of high heat or high humidity. That in turn can cause an increase in force beyond the intended specifications, shattering the metal canister and releasing a spray of dangerous shrapnel as a result. There have been 27 deaths blamed on the inflators worldwide, 18 of which have been in the US, and hundreds of injuries.

GM’s argument was that the vehicles – based on the GMT900 platform from brands like Chevrolet, Cadillac, and GMC, and including the Avalanche, Escalade, Escalade ESV, Escalade EXT, Sierra 1500, Sierra 2500/3500, Silverado 1500, Silverado 2500/3500, Suburban, Tahoe, Yukon, and Yukon XL – actually used different inflator designs, integrated in different ways. It undertook third-party testing by Northrop Grumman’s OATK, among others, in the hope of demonstrating to the NHTSA that, unlike with other manufacturers, a full recall wasn’t necessary.

Now, after a four year back-and-forth between automaker and agency, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has denied GM’s request. “After reviewing GM’s consolidated petition, supporting materials, and public comments,” the agency said today, “NHTSA has concluded that GM has not met its burden of establishing that the defect is inconsequential to motor vehicle safety, and denies the petition.”

The decision will impact approximately 5.9 million vehicles, from model years 2007 through to 2014. Estimates peg the total cost to GM at $1.2 billion.

Despite GM’s validation of its changes to the Takata design and implementation, the NHTSA deemed the risk still too high. “Given the severity of the consequence of propellant degradation in these air bag inflators – the rupture of the inflator and metal shrapnel sprayed at vehicle occupants – a finding of inconsequentiality to safety demands extraordinarily robust and persuasive evidence,” Jeffrey M. Giuseppe, Associate Administrator for Enforcement at the agency, wrote. “What GM presents here, while valuable and informative in certain respects, suffers from far too many shortcomings, both when the evidence is assessed individually and in its totality, to demonstrate that the defect in GMT900 inflators is not important or can otherwise be ignored as a matter of safety.”

The automaker now has 30 days to submit a proposed schedule of how it plans to notify owners of the affected vehicles, and how it will launch and operate the recall process.

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2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E official EPA range confirmed

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Ford has final EPA range figures for its upcoming 2021 Mustang Mach-E, and there’s good news for those waiting for the imminent all-electric crossover. While the company had estimated range numbers for the new EV back when it unveiled it in late 2019, they’ve only been certified by the Environmental Protection Agency today. Turns out, Ford’s predictions were almost exactly on the dot.

The automaker had been targeting 230 miles for the Mustang Mach-E standard range RWD configuration, and 300 miles for the extended range RWD version. The EPA says that’s the case, as is it the 270 mile rating of the Mustang Mach-E extended range eAWD car.

The Mustang Mach-E standard range eAWD actually did ever so slightly better in its official rating. Ford had promised 210 miles; the EPA ranks it at 211 miles. Final testing for the Mustang Mach-E California Route 1 version of the electric crossover is still underway, with that configuration estimated at 300 miles.

It’s a note of good news in the final few weeks before Mustang Mach-E cars actually arrive with preorder customers. Ford says that customer deliveries should start in December 2020, though high-end versions of the EV – like the Mustang Mach-E GT – aren’t expected until 2021.

Though the range figures aren’t exactly the largest in the category, Ford’s argument has been that there’s more to driver satisfaction than just a big number. For a start, there’s ease of recharging. With up to 150 kW charging support (or 110 kW on the entry-level Select trim), assuming you can find a DC fast charger you should be able to add 52-61 miles of range in 10 minutes, depending on drivetrain configuration. Using the FordPass Charging Network, effectively an umbrella access several different third-party networks like Electrify America, actually finding those stations should be more straightforward too.

The Mustang Mach-E will be one of the few electric vehicles in the US to support Plug&Charge, too. That means, at a compatible charger such as those offered by Electrify America, drivers won’t even need to scan a card to begin the charging session. Instead, that digital handshaking – including authenticating the driver’s account – will all be done between the EV and the charger.

Ford’s other push has been around a more accurate range estimate for the dashboard. Range anxiety, after all, isn’t just about total miles of driving left, but uncertainty about whether the number displayed is actually accurate. Ford plans to not only use data from the individual EV itself, but crowdsource better estimates between cars.

The first iteration of Ford Intelligent Range will take into account things like past driver behavior and forecasted weather as it calculates how much driving you’ll be able to do before a recharge. Later, though, Ford plans to light up range data sharing, which will use the EV’s embedded modem to give anonymized feedback of how battery use was affected by things like speed, terrain, and climate conditions. That way, if your journey is going to take you on a new route where other Mustang Mach-E drivers have used more energy than might be expected for one reason or another, the car will proactively take that into account.

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