The broadband project - two years on
22 October 2013
The minutes of the Pelham Hall Committee meeting of October 2011 mention that "the broadband currently fed to the village was not especially good and that there was no immediate guarantee that it would be improved upon". These innocent-looking words then triggered a whole series of events (described elsewhere) which led to the formation of the Penallt Broadband Association in May 2012 and, then to the involvement of Spectrum Internet as our partner in aiming to solve the problem.
So, what has been achieved? What have been the successes and failures? The answer depends on where you live and, more particularly, how BT supplies your telephone line.
Although not apparent when the project was started, BT divides Penallt into three main areas:
- residences between the Old Church and "The Birches" which take their phone lines directly from the Monmouth exchange
- residences roughly south of a line through The Argoed which take their phone lines from the Trellech exchange via a cabinet at the top of Whitebrook
- the remaining residences, forming the majority of those in Penallt, which take their phone lines from the Monmouth exchange via a cabinet in Lone Lane
Each area presented different challenges and, despite Spectrum Internet's best endeavours, a viable solution could only be found for the third group. This involved bypassing the 4.5 km of copper wire from Monmouth to Lone Lane by a microwave link into a new cabinet in Lone Lane. Spectrum customers were then connected to the new cabinet and were provided with a new service where download speeds were typically ten times higher than before. Speeds in the range of 10 - 15 Mbps are common, with those living closest to the cabinet doing even better. There is more information about Spectrum's involvement at their Superfast Monmouthshire site.
The great disappointment is that it was impossible to provide such a service for the whole village community. Some of those connected to Trellech have now made individual decisions to install satellite broadband. The cost of this has dropped considerably in the last year or so and has made it much more affordable, but there are issues about download speed being affected by the volume of users.
Those in The Birches area are investigating a bespoke solution involving laying fibre between the houses but this project is still in its infancy. Their properties used to be connected to the nearby Lone Lane cabinet, but BT "re-parented" them directly to the Monmouth exchange fairly recently and there appears to be no prospect of them switching back to "cabinet 20".
What of the future?
Superfast Cymru (a Welsh Government/BT partnership) aims to bring "superfast fibre broadband to homes and businesses across Wales" with a 96% coverage by 2016. At the time of writing, the Monmouth exchange is due to be upgraded by the end of December 2013, but there is no news yet about the Trellech exchange.
The Monmouth upgrade should mean that the Lone Lane cabinet will be connected to Monmouth by fibre in a few weeks time. However, there are some in the know who doubt the feasibility of this, especially with regard to the cost of laying the necessary fibre. We shall see ...
If it does go ahead, all those connected to the cabinet should be able to obtain "superfast" broadband whether or not they are Spectrum customers so, for this reason, Welsh Assembly broadband grants are no longer on offer. Without the grant, Spectrum Internet is unable to take on new customers but will, of course, continue to provide their service to the 70 or so existing customers.
It does seem that, two years on, the Penallt broadband project has come to a conclusion.