Newsletter – February 2024

Over 78,000 properties able to connect to the fibre network

Topics in this edition:

  • CSW successfully completes Contract 3 build programme
  • Thousands of rural homes & businesses set to benefit from Project Gigabit announcement
  • Update on plans for the ‘Digital Switchover’ in CSW region
  • Take-up of cheaper social broadband tariffs rising but awareness of schemes still an issue
  • O2 UK trial 5G from drones with Warwickshire Search & Rescue
  • BT & EE in talks with Starlink to boost rural broadband coverage
  • Copy for your own website or newsletter

CSW successfully completes Contract 3 build programme

CSW can now confirm that we have successfully completed our Contract 3 deployment programme with the final 19 structures due to be built having now gone live. The communities benefiting from these most recent upgrades include parts of:

Blackdown, Bramcote, Dordon, Dunnington, Grendon, Harborough Magna, Hartshill, Ilmington, Kenilworth, Lapworth, Little Lawford, Napton on the Hill, Pailton, Ryton on Dunsmore, Welford on Avon & Wood Bevington.

The conclusion of Contract 3 also marks the completion of the ‘Superfast Broadband’ (30Mbps+) rollout programme across the Solihull and Warwickshire area, which we started back in 2013 in conjunction with Openreach, our build partners for this project.

Since then, we have successfully delivered superfast or ‘gigabit capable’ broadband connections to over 78,000 properties in areas across our region which were deemed to suffer from market failure (i.e. locations that either weren’t expected to be upgraded via commercial supplier’s own build plans or wouldn’t otherwise have got upgraded for many years).

While the project has been a success, we are, however, acutely aware that we were not able to upgrade all of the eligible households and businesses with the money that we had available during that time.

Some of these will benefit from the Project Gigabit work which we are about to undertake (see next article) and we will endeavour to find alternative solutions to bring improved connectivity to properties in our area that will not be upgraded through either Project Gigabit or commercial suppliers own deployment plans.

As always, it is worth remembering that if your property has been upgraded, you won’t get a better service automatically. You need to order the improved service with your chosen ISP to take advantage of the many benefits that faster broadband will bring to your household or business.

To check on your property’s broadband status, enter your landline number or address into the BT Broadband Availability Checker. Our How to use the BT Broadband Availability Checker webpage will help you make sense of the Broadband Checker results.

If you are thinking of ordering an improvedYou might like to use a broadband comparison site such as, Broadband Choices, Compare the Market, BroadbandProviders or uSwitch to find a fibre broadband package to suit you and your family’s needs.

Thousands of rural homes & businesses set to benefit from Project Gigabit announcement

Lightning-fast, ultra-reliable broadband will be delivered to thousands of homes and businesses across Warwickshire and Leicestershire after a £71 million contract was signed under the government’s national Project Gigabit rollout programme.

The contract, which has recently been awarded to independent broadband provider CityFibre will deliver top-of-the-range full fibre connections to around 38,000 rural premises across the two counties and parts of Solihull.

The UK government has ambitious plans to provide world-class, ‘gigabit-capable’ connectivity with speeds of up to 1000Mbps to at least 85% of UK premises by December 2025, rising to at least 99% by 2030.

While much of this is expected to be achieved by commercial builds, government intervention through Project Gigabit is helping to ensure that properties not included in commercial plans do not miss out on the benefits of faster, more reliable broadband.

Cllr Martin Watson, Warwickshire County Council’s Portfolio Holder for Economy said:

“Improving the county’s digital infrastructure is one of our key priorities given the significant economic and social benefits it can provide for residents and businesses and so we are delighted with this Project Gigabit announcement.

This substantial level of investment will promote further digital inclusion ensuring that thousands more Warwickshire residents and businesses will have access to lightning fast, ultra-reliable internet connectivity for decades to come.”

Now that the contract has been signed, CityFibre will begin detailed surveying work with spades expected to enter the ground later this summer. We will be having detailed discussions with CityFibre over the coming months and will provide you with more detailed information regarding the build programme in our area via our newsletter and website once it has been finalised and is readily available.

Update on plans for the ‘Digital Switchover’ in CSW region

As you may already be aware, the UK’s telephone network is changing. By the end of 2025, most phone providers will have moved their customers from landlines served by the old analogue Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) to new upgraded services which use digital technology. This is commonly referred to as the ‘Digital Switchover’.

Why is this happening?

The PSTN or ‘copper landline network’ is nearing the end of its life. It is becoming increasingly unreliable and more expensive to maintain. The new digital network will provide a more resilient, reliable, sustainable and energy-efficient phone service for decades to come.

It will also provide customers with other benefits including clearer calls and extra features that will include blocking most scam and nuisance calls, offering customers better protection against fraud.

When is this happening?

Around 90% of all Warwickshire residents and businesses currently receive their service from one of the ‘big four’ fixed landline providers: BT (BT Business & BT Consumer Group), VMO2, Sky and TalkTalk.

VMO2 have already completed the switchover for the vast majority of their Warwickshire customers, while those in the Atherstone area of North Warwickshire due to be migrated in August 2024.

The situation with Sky and Talk Talk is slightly different. As most of their customers do not receive their phone services via the PSTN network that Openreach is switching off, there isn’t the same requirement to switch their phone lines over.

As for BT Consumer Group – the largest provider of residential fixed line phone services in the UK, they will start the migration of customers to their Digital Voice network in the Solihull and Warwickshire areas in February 2024.

They have a number of drop-in sessions planned across the region in the coming weeks to address any issues or concerns that customers may have about the switchover process. More information on events in your area can be found by visiting: Digital Voice Events | Digital Home Phone | BT

Each of the phone service providers has extensive plans in place to notify affected customers well in advance of their switchover date. This includes providing them with easy to understand step-by-step instructions of what they will need to do on the day to ensure the transition is as smooth as possible.

Drawbacks and further advice:

One of the main drawbacks of the new digital network is that differences between the two technologies means that there is a risk that devices that currently rely on the old network – such as telecare devices – will not necessarily work when switched over to the digital one.

All telecoms providers have plans in place to provide extra support to their more vulnerable customers and all have now signed up to a charter agreeing that they will not migrate vulnerable customers over to the new digital network until they are sure that a compatible telecare solution is in place.

However, if you think that you or someone you know may be affected by this, we would advise that you to get in touch with the phone service provider to ensure they are aware of the situation.

Another drawback is that your new digital landline may not work if there is a power cut. Openreach are working with the government and the power networks to help make the digital phone network more resilient in the event of any power outages.

Those with access to a mobile phone are advised to ensure these are sufficiently charged so that in the event of a blackout, calls – including those to emergency services – can still be made.

Battery back-up solutions can also be purchased and OFCOM has stated that if an ‘at-risk’ customer does not have any other means available, their telecoms provider must offer a solution to allow calls to be made to the emergency services. Your phone service provider will be able to provide more information on this.

Finally, it is worth noting that BT Business are following a totally separate migration rollout plan for their customers compared to BT Consumer Group. If you are a BT Business customer, we suggest you contact them to discuss the migration of your phone services to the digital network.

Take-up of social broadband tariffs rising but awareness of schemes still an issue

Ofcom’s recently published ‘Pricing trends for communications services in the UK’ report has revealed that the take-up of cheaper social broadband and mobile tariffs for those on state benefits has increased to 380,000 households compared to 220,000 six months ago. However, that still represents less than 10% of households on Universal Credit.

While consumer broadband and mobile services are often considered to be quite reasonably priced in the UK, there are always those in the most disadvantaged groups who may struggle with paying their bills. This is made worse by the ongoing cost-of-living crisis, which has pushed more people into financial difficulty – with around 30% of UK consumers reporting difficulty affording their communications services (Oct 2023).

In response to this, Ofcom and the UK government have encouraged more providers to proactively introduce and promote low-cost Social Tariffs. While a number of broadband and mobile operators now offer such plans, awareness still remains a key issue with this latest report stating that 55% of eligible households are still unaware that such tariffs exist.

However, the level of awareness is set to increase this year as ISPs like Virgin Media (VMO2) proactively inform their customers about it.

Awareness is also being boosted by FasterBroadband – one of the few websites which actively promotes social tariffs. Their user-friendly comparison tool allows you to filter by broadband provider, different eligible benefits and by contract length, helping struggling households discover more affordable broadband options.

It is also worth noting that social broadband tariffs typically waive any early termination charges so if your circumstances change during your contract, you won’t be held accountable for the rest of your contract period.

Similarly, if you’re already in an existing contract and your current broadband provider offers a social tariff, you can switch to it without incurring any additional charges, provided you are eligible for it.

To download the full Ofcom report, visit: Pricing trends for communications services in the UK.

O2 UK trial 5G from drones with Warwickshire Search & Rescue

Virgin Media O2 (VMO2) is working with the Warwickshire Search and Rescue team on a pioneering project that is set to save hundreds of lives across the UK.

In rural areas, such as parts of Warwickshire, emergency services and rescue teams often struggle to establish reliable communication when working in the most remote areas not served by traditional mobile networks. This makes it extremely difficult for rescue teams and the police to stay connected on time-critical rescue missions.

Now, VMO2’s 5G Technical Trials team has developed a solution that provides reliable 5G mobile connectivity to rescue teams using a network of low earth orbit satellites, which is small enough to be flown on a drone.

The drone, which can be rapidly deployed in remote areas by the search and rescue team, acts as an airborne mobile phone mast, providing those on-the-ground with 5G mobile connectivity no matter where their mission takes them.

This allows the rescue team to access essential information, communicate with one another, assess situations at speed and easily locate and save those in danger. The Warwickshire Search and Rescue team, which is a 24/7 volunteer force set up to assist police searching for vulnerable missing people, has been called out around 130 times in the last two years.

Across the UK, someone is reported missing every 90 seconds and while many soon return home to family and friends, some do not – often because they suffer from a form of dementia or are at risk of harming themselves.

This solution has the potential to transform how search and rescue teams operate and will ultimately save many lives. It is further evidence of the positive impact improved connectivity can have upon our society.

BT & EE in talks with Starlink to boost rural broadband coverage

In January, a number of news sources reported that BT (EE) is in talks with Starlink to provide improved broadband and mobile coverage to the UK’s more remote and hard to reach areas.

The national telecoms giant has apparently already started testing the Starlink system of ultrafast low-latency broadband satellites in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) at its Adastral Park research and development centre in Ipswich.

Initially, the technology will be deployed for BT’s business customers, focusing on providing broadband coverage for mines and oil rigs to start with. However, eventually, it is expected to be rolled out to consumers to ‘plug the gaps’ in areas of the UK that traditional infrastructure deployment methods have been unable to reach.

Starlink’s network currently has just over 5,300 LEO satellites orbiting 350 miles above the Earth but it has approval to add around 7,500 more by the end of 2027. Its growing UK customer base has increased from 13,000 in 2022 to over 42,000 in 2023 – most of which are in rural areas.

No formal agreement has yet been made between BT and Starlink for the provision of services in the UK and BT may have to seek regulatory approval from Ofcom before it can proceed with any deal.

Starlink is also in the process of launching its new global Direct to Cell mobile roaming service for use with regular unmodified smartphones. Although this would require support from both a mobile network and Ofcom in order to launch in the UK, EE may well be a good fit for something like this, given the BT Group’s wider experience in the field.

Finally, it is worth mentioning that BT is also conducting various government-backed UK rural broadband and mobile trials with one of Starlink’s rivals, OneWeb in their joint quest to find connectivity solutions in some of the country’s more challenging areas.

Copy for your own website or newsletter

As always, we have a range of short articles of around 300 words that can be downloaded for use in your own newsletters / websites should you wish to use them.

Help us to spread the word!

We need to reach as many people as we possibly can. You can help us by emailing this to all your local contacts and encouraging them to email it to all their contacts.

This entry was posted in Project News, Newsletter Archive. Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.