Archive for May, 2008
In a notice issued this week, Ofcom reached the final conclusion of their broadband market review process. They have found that in 70% of the UK, there is no longer a situation comprising Significant Market Presence for any provider in the wholesale broadband access and backhaul market, leading to the immediate deregulation of those services in the areas concerned.
For many of us in the broadband industry, this signifies that we’re nearing the end of a long and difficult journey. For the past 4 years, representatives from the larger LLU operators have participated in a scheme run by the Office of the Telecoms Adjudicator (OTA) whose brief was to oversee the implementation of robust systems and processes with BT (mostly Openreach) and its LLU customers in order to stimulate and support the LLU marketplace, providing a genuine choice of operator (excluding the ‘last mile’) for wholesalers and consumers in the UK.
This scheme has presided over the complete replacement of Openreach’s order management and orchestration systems for LLU and Wholesale Line Rental (WLR), and supporting the establishment of BT Wholesale’s position as an equivalent to its competitor LLU operators, removing any commercial or technical advantage it had as a subsidiary of BT. New fault management and MIS systems have also been introduced, allowing Openreach to handle the new connection, migration and in-life support for an install base of around 4.5M unbundled lines (April ’08), which is growing steadily at a rate of around 200k/month.
The landscape is unrecognisable from the one we saw in the early days of the OTA scheme. BT had creaky systems, order management processes which invariably involved manual intervention at several stages, their provision of backhaul circuits (which connect an operator’s equipment in the BT exchange back to the operator’s own network) was backlogged, and the rate at which BT could build out racking and power with the exchanges for the other operators to use was way below market demand.
The original OTA, under Peter Black, Clive Fedida and Jim Reilly, presided over months of painful meetings between the operators and BT. Weekly performance reports showed KPIs which were never met, project deadlines missed, operators impatient that their business plans around LLU were being held up by slow performance by BT. The popular view was that this we deliberate gerrymandering by BT – I’m not sure this was actually the case; BT had many hard-working dedicated people working on LLU, but they were frustraated in their efforts to deliver by the inevitable inertia to change within BT’s mammoth operation.
But gradually, things began to improve. A new well-engineered platform was built to handle the order volumes predicted by industry (‘Equivalence Management Platform’ – EMP). The design of the interfaces and processes within EMP was shared with industry over the course of about a year of weekly workshops – quite a departure for BT, who have never in the past involed a customer in their IT development process. A project board, chaired by OTA, oversaw EMP’s development and launch. It wasn’t without its problems at first, but those have been ironed out over time leaving a platform and service wrap that meets industry expectations.
Openreach has also improved its delivery of backhaul circuits and exchange build-outs to within industry KPI targets.
As a result of these improvements, LLU has enabled competition in the marketplace to such an extent that in 70% of the UK, Ofcom finds that no operator has Significant Market Presence – indicating that the playing field is sufficiently level in those areas that no economic or other regulation is required to ensure that the consumer is protected.
The industry as a whole should pat itself firmly on the back. We’ve changed the world in 4 years.
The UK government has made a few gaffes in its time in the area of electronic privacy, but this takes the biscuit. The Times online and BBC News report a proposal by Home Office officials to create a database of all phone calls and emails sent in the UK, to be used for “protecting national security and preventing crime”.
I’ve lost count of the number of reasons this is a ridiculous idea, Here’s a few:
– Its pretty near impossible to make happen, given the diverse nature of the billing/rating and mediation systems in use by telcos, and the non-existant systems in use by ISPs to record email traffic.
– It’s a privacy nightmare. No matter what rules are put in place at the outset to control access to the information gathered, there can be no guarantee that these rules won’t be changed in the future.
– Consider the government’s track record recently with respect to protection of personal data.
The Times quotes a Home Office spokesman thus:
The Bill was needed to reflect changes in communication that would “increasingly undermine our current capabilities to obtain communications data and use it to protect the public”.
Now, the authorities already have powers under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) to procure various records from telcos and ISPs – designated statutory agencies can require an ISP to install Government-specified monitoring equipment, for example, and give up information about the traffic generated by a specific user on demand. While this is clearly still intrusive, it does require legal process to insitigate monitoring and is done on an as-needed basis. What’s different about the new proposals is that the Government would receive data on all traffic without establishing a specific need – and can then use the information gathered at its leisure for any purpose.
The privacy implications make this a classic Governement sledgehammer to crack a nut. It’s in the same vein as the recent fuss about extending the police’s right to detain suspected terrorists for longer and longer periods, even when it can be demonstrated that the police have never used the powers they already have to their fullest extent. It’s a disproportionate solution, and should be stomped on if it ever sees light of day in a Bill before Parliament.
Update: Imran has some more insight in his blog on the same subject.
Techcrunch is reporting a rumour that Google is ramping down on production and sales of its mini search appliance, in favour of a new SME-targetted virtual service delivered from the cloud.
If true, this makes all kind of sense. The GSAs have always been an odd fit with Google’s strategy, involving a very labour-intesnsive sales and implementation process. One can see that the high-end product is necessary in large enterprises to preserve data privacy, but smaller orgs tend to be less sensitive to these issues and can easily be served by a cloud-based service. Hence the transfer of focus away from the tin is logical all round – the customer doesn’t need to maintain it, Google doesn’t need to have it manufactured; the service can be switched on pretty-much instantaneously. A much lower barrier to entry.
Lets’ see if it’s true.
The BBC and others are reporting the ‘news’ that VoIP (I expect they mean SIP) credentials are often passed in the clear (encoded but not encrypted), leading to potential sniffing and replay attacks in (for example) non-encrypted wifi networks.
What this actually seems to be, though, is the re-hashing of a ‘sponsored’ article in Commsbusiness (no permalink available), which seems to be not much more than scaremongering by Newport Networks, who coincidentally sell a range of secure Session Border Controller devices for VoIP.
Now, the BBC article does quote Skype and a researcher from Jupiter playing down the issue – I guess there’s no smoke without fire, but is this a solution looking for a problem?
Update: Newport Networks have posted some more background to this article in their blog. Thanks to Dave Gladwin of Newport for pointing me to this.
Despite all the argy-bargy about GCap closing down and/or selling off its DAB-and-online-only specialist music brand Planet Rock, the station managed to bag the Gold award for Best Digital Station in the Sony Radio Academy Awards.
Huge kudos to the station’s staff for keeping the thing together in troubled times.
Brian Butterworth alerted the BBC Backstage mailing list to this post on the informitv blog. It seems that P2P IPTV operation Zatto now carries the UK terrestrial channels (BBC ONE, BBC TWO, ITV1, Channel 4 and Five) as well as various other UK digital channels. The article has quotes from all of the broadcasters saying they have no agreement to do so, and a Zatto high-up indicates that they’re relying on the protection of the PSB regulations.
Personally, I wouldn’t see this lasting…