Supplier Evaluation

Choosing a rural broadband partner

RBP believes that long range wireless technology can provide the majority of rural communities with an acceptable broadband service in terms of cost, ease of service provision and suppliers capability to match service delivery to local conditions.  This portal provides a directory of suppliers on a county basis.  Some communities may be better served by a supplier who has their majority of business in a neighbouring county.

Whatever delivery technology is chosen the supplier community relationship should be viewed as a partnership.  The community is seeking a practical solution at an affordable cost and the supplier expects to increase market share through community engagement and the delivery of a profitable service.  When choosing a supplier, consider the following:

  • Supplier longevity – how long have they been operating
  • Size and coverage of the existing broadband network – subscriber numbers, service reference, engagement with similar communities
  • Financial position – the Local Authority may have already checked the suppliers financial position – check their standing with the LA appointed broadband officer or with your county Business Link agency www.businesslink.gov.uk or 08457 171615
  • Ask for subscriber references –community project stakeholders or individual residential or business users

Will the supplier actively assist in the community project by:

  1. determining the community broadband demand –
  2. production of demand survey,
  3. presentation at open meetings,
  4. input to funding applications,
  5. preparation of marketing material
  6. being a community partner or are they just a supplier

Ask the following of your potential suppliers:

  • Are they willing to accept a community agreement in addition to an individual user agreement – do they have a sample community agreement
  • Will the service implementation costs be determined by a community connectivity survey and if so at what stage will the supplier quantify these connectivity costs.  This cost information will be needed for funding applications
  • Do they offer a profit share or pay back scheme of any matched funding
  • Supplier organisational make-up – is there an acceptable level of available resource to cover the following:
  1. sales
  2. administration
  3. service management
  4. installation of service
  5. invoicing and billing
  • What will be the size of the community broadband backhaul bandwidth on day one – at 25, 50 100 subscribers etc.
  • Who will monitor growth and user trends – will the community bandwidth demands be met in the future and how will this be paid for
  • Does the supplier offer competitive broadband tariffs matched to a flexible bandwidth demand regime
  • Examine the suppliers “fair use” policy – this will protect the community as well as the supplier
  • Tariffs offered meet both residential and business user types

Spending time choosing the supplier carefully will save time and avoid potential disappointment in the future.  Look for commitment that is backed up by tangible examples of past achievement.

Set up a Risk Register for the project at the start of the supplier engagement.  Potential suppliers may not have the ideal amount of experience you require but this should not be the sole reason to exclude them.  Each line item of the Risk Register should have an identified mitigation action and an owner to track and hopefully resolve any risk.

Supplier Engagement

Pros and Cons for each category

The table below shows the characteristics between a Self Build and Contracted-In project which in turn helps provide a guide as to what project would best suit the community.

The project team needs to decide on what is right for the community in both the medium and long term.   A hybrid position is possible regarding “self-build” by handing the installed service over to a service supplier for on-going support and service enhancement.

Service Delivery Types

The best form of service delivery for high-speed or super-high speed broadband delivery is by the use of fibre links to each home or business. All future deployments by BT and Virgin Media are expected to use this medium. Any other delivery type will likely be subject to enhancements or speed limitations in the future, however technology improvements are driven by market demand and innovation often quickly follows to overcome technology limitations.

Broadband delivery using Satellite technology remains an expensive alternative and is not expected to provide the route to high-speed broadband of the future in a competitive manner.

A number of broadband suppliers exist that provide broadband services using radio technology. Radio based delivery has been very successful in providing community based services, often at a fraction of the cost needed to implement a fibre solution. This assumes the radio delivery service is provided as a “Contracted In” and not a “Self Build” project. Examples of projects delivered using radio technology are shown here.

It should be recognised that a radio based service is likely to have bandwidth/ speed limitations. Currently radio based services that are correctly designed and configured can provide up to 20Mbps and there are claims for up to 100Mbps delivery being possible in the future. Whilst these later claims do approach some of the fibre based expectations, there are a number of technology and potentially licencing considerations that may need to be taken into account  in order to realise a radio based project that would provide the user with these speeds.

Service Delivery Recommendations

RBP’s primary objective is to provide communities with guidance to enabling a high-speed broadband service for rural communities and businesses or for other areas experiencing broadband deprivation.

In forming a recommendation, RBP believes that radio based delivery as part of a “Contracted In” project will meet or exceed the needs of the majority of rural communities and businesses for at least the next five years.

A “Contract In” approach linked to a suitable contractual community agreement provides the following main benefits:

  • Lower cost implementation
  • Faster service implementation
  • Shorter contractual terms for the end users
  • Can provide the speed/bandwidth demands for a community for the next 5 years
  • Likely to provide a user route to super-fast broadband (more than 20mps)
  • The project team can stand down for most aspects once the service roll-out is started. Community contract reporting and user updates being all that is required of the project team moving forward.
  • Provides the opportunity for closely located communities to combine activities and have a service supplied to support multiple communities. This helps achieve funding support, potentially lower implementation costs, pooling of project resources and is a more attractive prospect for suppliers.