In October 2017, 18 months late, the Airband transmitter on Christchurch tower became active, fed from a temporary mobile relay transmitter in the car park of the Brentor Inn. A wooden pole with transmitters has now been erected on the on this site, providing a permanent relay to the church tower. There is also a planning application in progress for changes to the transmitter at Bearwood Farm.
Initially some properties very near to the church tower could not receive an Airband signal, but now that the transmitter on Christchurch has been adjusted more villagers in the centre of North Brentor should be able to enjoy superfast broadband. Residents in the village centre who do not have a line of sight due to tall trees or the position of the transmitter in relation to the four corner finials of the church tower still cannot receive Airband. The many other properties in outlying parts of Brentor which cannot see the Christchurch transmitter, or any of the other Airband transmitters, also cannot receive Airband and there seems little hope of this situation changing in the near future now that the contract period with Connecting Devon and Somerset has expired. A number of residents who have received advertising mailings from Airband stating that they can receive the service have later been disappointed when an engineer’s visit has shown that this is not in fact the case. This is dismaying after a delay of 18 months and the huge amount of public money spent by Connecting Devon and Somerset on the Airband contract.
Use of Airband is, of course, subject to taking out a contract with an Internet Service Provider using the Airband system (your choice is very limited, with no large national ISPs on board).
Parish Councillor Bob Lemon has written to the Editor:
“In order to ensure more accuracy and less bias on the village website, following comments regarding Airband:
1. The antenna on the church has been adjusted and most properties in village centre are now covered.
2. Take up in Brentor has been higher than most other villages, with over 40 properties now being supplied.
3. There was a minor speed reduction during roll out, but now corrected and 30MB is the norm.
4. The planning application for the feeder dish is proceeding and is looking as though it should go through. This is higher than existing so may enable some cover into valley.
5. The customer service has been excellent to date.
The Parish Clerk has received an apologetic letter from the Managing Director concerning the delay to activating the Airband transmitter on the Christchurch tower.
The news carried on our local website about the patchy Airband provision in Brentor has attracted attention across the moor – apparently other parishes are also having a hard time accessing its services.
The Parish Clerk from Harford Parish Meeting near Ivybridge wrote:
” I am the Parish Clerk for Harford Parish Meeting – we are on the southern edge of the moor, just above Ivybridge. I have been following your news on the broadband issue and the promises of Airband to deliver. We have had no end of trouble with Airband, who never did deliver here, as apparently, we are unique! We are a linear community, all living on the side of a valley that has trees. Trees that are taller than their desktop model.
We have now kicked Airband into touch, they no longer wish to communicate with us, which is fine. We have a community fibre project on the go, we have just 40 properties in our Parish and we have an offer on the table from the BT/Openreach community fibre project to deliver Fibre To The Property (FTTP) via overhead telephone cables. Meaning that if the residents are keen then the project is just about affordable. Yes we do have to pay, but we were losing sight of any other option.
We have had Exmoor technology in to the Parish and they are permitting us to use the voucher scheme with CDS to have 4G with EE, this is not the cheapest, but it may offer a stopgap.
We like you have tried to ‘encourage’ CDS to use gainshare money to deliver FTTP, but they won’t budge on it.
Would like to talk more, but I think with all the bad publicity surrounding Airband, we may be better off without them.
Ann Willcocks “
Notes on the Open Meeting held on 18th September
Matt Barrow from Connecting Devon and Somerset (CDS) and Simon Palmer from Airband were present at the meeting hosted by Brentor Parish Council.The following were the main points that came to light from the discussions at the meeting:-
- Brentor is the last parish on Dartmoor where the Airband installation is still being completed.
- The transmitter on Christchurch tower is still not live because the agreement between Airband and the owners of the Bearwood Farm site (which was to have relayed the signal to the church) broke down when Airband asked to erect an additional relay dish to serve the church tower. The Christchurch transmitter cannot now go live until a different relay site is found. The audience questioned why the contract with suppliers of relay sites was not more robust and why a radio relay dish had not been installed when the Bearwood mast went up. Cash flow for Airband appeared to be an issue, so such equipment is not pre-installed.
- Airband are urgently surveying for another relay site and Mr Palmer said that they are looking at the possibility of relaying from a different existing transmitter, from a new roadside pole or from a temporary mobile mast on a trailer. He said that Airband now has ‘Code Powers’ that allow them to erect poles up to 20m high without planning permission.
- It is hoped that the Christchurch transmitter will now go live at the end of October (which is 18 months later than originally promised at the broadband meeting in Mary Tavy in November 2015).
- Because the transmitter mast on Christchurch is below the level of the four pinnacles of the Church Tower these will obstruct the signal, and quite a few properties, even those near to the Church, will not be able to access a direct Airband service. Therefore such properties will have to get their signal via relay transmitters on houses already subscribing to Airband who can directly see the Christchurch mast. Matt Barrow said that Airband users who allow their properties to be used for this purpose are compensated.
- Mr Palmer said that Airband will actively tell Brentor residents by email whether or not they should get an Airband signal by the time that the Christchurch transmitter becomes operational. A postcode search on the CDS website will also provide this information from the end of September 2017. (It should be noted that some residents in Brentor have already gone through the experience of being told that they can get Airband, only to be told after a local survey that it is not available after all due to trees, buildings etc in the line of sight). Matt Barrow said that all of this will be contingent on the contracts of the other landowners of Airband transmitter sites not breaking down in a similar way to the Bearwood contract. He also suggested to Mr Palmer that Airband should come to the village for a couple of days and provide a free surveying service to encourage potential users to take up the Airband service.
- For properties in Brentor that do not have line of sight to any existing Airband transmitter (such as most of West Blackdown) CDS and Airband are looking into alternative technologies to provide superfast broadband, including the new ‘Whitespace’ technology. (This uses the unused band frequencies of the TV channels between those used for Freeview TV channels to provide a sort of ‘long-range WiFi’ that can pass through trees and buildings and does not need line of sight). There is no funding for this technology to be provided in the current CDS contracts.
- Many residents at the meeting felt that it would be better to try to get Openreach to provide a fibre broadband cable across the moor from Mary Tavy, which would increase competition from other ISPs, provide a more reliable telephone service and offer the potential for ultrafast broadband in the future.
- There will be money from ‘Gainshare’ available to CDS to make further improvements to the Broadband network on Dartmoor. This will be under active review from the end of September 2017. (‘Gainshare’ is money refunded to CDS from the public funds provided for the Openreach fibre network on Dartmoor where take up of the service (and therefore income from it) exceeds the original estimates). We were told by Matt Barrow that CDS has an ongoing dialogue with Openreach and BT.
- Questions about the reliability of the Airband service were asked. An existing Airband customer said that he was getting a consistent broadband service of over 30Mbs, although this is interrupted by very heavy rain. Mr Palmer said that all the Airband transmitters have back up power sources so that they do not cease to function in power cuts. He also said that the broadband speed provided by Airband was ‘throttled back’ to about 30Mbs to make it more reliable in adverse weather.
- Parts of Brentor not in the National Park and without superfast broadband, such as Liddaton, will be looked at in the next phase of CDS’s work programme.
- CDS is looking at reintroducing the ‘voucher’ system and this can be used to install an interim solution such as 4G where other broadband is not available. It was pointed out that 4G is an expensive option for everyday internet provision.
- CDS were questioned as to why they have allowed Airband to currently have a monopoly on the provision of not only the infrastructure for superfast broadband but also as an Internet Service Provider (ISP). In November 2015 we were told that the Airband system could be used by any ISP (such as Virgin, TalkTalk etc) but in reality Airband is the only one available. Apparently in reality the big ISPs are unwilling to use such a small network as Airband. We were told that the Airband contracts have a limitation on how much Airband can charge as an ISP, to prevent them from dramatically increasing their charges. Airband have also changed their ordering procedure so that prospective clients do not have to provide details of their bank accounts before being surveyed by Airband. Matt Barrow said that he understood that Airband would be reducing their prices quite considerably in the near future.
- Concerns over the cost of Airband were expressed at the meeting. There is a need for clarity over the cost of VOIP telephone provision. Many Airband users without mobile phone signals will probably opt to keep their copper cable telephone lines to provide a reliable telephone provision.
- Once the Christchurch transmitter is operational CDS will be arranging training sessions for residents on how to get the most out of superfast broadband.
It was impossible for the meeting to provide all the answers to the concerns about broadband provision for Brentor. However it has clarified the likely timetable for the Christchurch transmitter to become live. The question about the provision of a reliable fibre connection between Brentor and the Mary Tavy digital exchange still remains and it would be useful if a similar meeting could be arranged where Brentor residents could talk to representatives from Openreach and BT.
Back in November 2015 we were told at a public meeting in Mary Tavy that Brentor would have a wireless broadband service by mid-2016. Recent information from Connecting Devon and Somerset is that the transmitter planned for the Christchurch tower in the middle of the village will be installed by the end of June 2017 – a year late and it’s still not here in mid-July! The application to the Diocese to install AirBand from Christ Church has been accepted, the church is now waiting for the formal license (essentially, planning authorisation). As soon as that arrives (which should have been by the end of June), the church will be asking AirBand to start work as soon as possible.
Even when this transmitter is installed there will still be a large number of premises in Brentor that will probably not receive any service, due to hills or trees in their line of sight. It also appears that even properties currently described by Airband as being able to receive a service cannot in reality get a signal due to trees etc in the line of sight and will still be unlikely to be able to get one when the Christchurch transmitter is operational.
Some residents currently receiving a service from Airband report that, in adverse weather conditions, their signal is erratic.
At the November 2015 meeting we were told that the Airband network would be an ‘open’ service that can be used by any internet service supplier. In reality only small ISPs are willing to supply a service through the Airband system. It now seems very unlikely that the larger ISPs, such as BT and Virgin, will supply their service via the Airband network as described at the meeting, so there will be very little price competition.
Many local villages and hamlets with overhead telephone cables are having these upgraded to fibre, but the link to Brentor is underground. An email message from Openreach to the editor dated 16th January 2017 suggests that Brentor residents should consider part funding the cost of a fibre link to Mary Tavy themselves – although using the £20 per metre cost that Openreach quote this would cost £40,000 – £50,000 in total…….
There are plans to provide Fibre to the Customers at a distance from the Exchange (in Mary Tavy) however they are in early stages of Planning. I would request you to keep an eye on our website: http://www.homeandwork.openreach.co.uk/when-can-i-get-fibre.aspx, for latest updates.
I understand that you are looking for the options to get Fibre, I can suggest you to get together with neighbours or a local community group and raising the money to help build the network yourself. We offer a community fibre partnership scheme where we work with local communities to jointly fund fibre cabinets. We can’t always guarantee this will be feasible, but we’d be willing to look at it if you are interested. To find out more, visit our website https://www.homeandwork.openreach.co.uk/fibre-broadband/community-fibre-partnerships.aspx.
It should be noted that some other very small local hamlets such as Hornden and Cudlipptown are now connected by Openreach to the superfast fibre network at no extra cost to their residents, despite being in the designated Airband area! Unlike Brentor, their fibre cables are being routed on existing poles. The Government’s policy is that it is supporting investment to provide superfast broadband coverage to 95% by December 2017 – so it looks as if much Brentor will fall into the unlucky 5%.
Since mid-January several properties in the Burn Lane area have been connected to the Airband system, receiving signals from the Henscott Farm transmitter – and they are experiencing good broadband speeds. Sadly other properties at The Court and in Burn Lane cannot see this transmitter due to the height of the moor and there are no plans to provide an alternative service to them – the proposed Christchurch tower transmitter is also out of sight. It should be noted that some other very small local hamlets such as Hornden and Cudlipptown are currently being connected by Openreach to the superfast fibre network at no cost to their residents, despite being in the designated Airband area! Unlike Brentor, their fibre cables are being routed on existing on telegraph poles, rather than underground. Of course the Government’s policy is that it is supporting investment to provide superfast broadband coverage to 90% of the UK by early 2016 and 95% by December 2017 – so it looks as if much Brentor will fall into the unlucky 5%.
Openreach is the company that provides a nework of copper and fibre cables for BT and other Internet Service Providers. In late November 2016 the Openreach website advised the residents of Burn Lane, from The Old School to the old railway bridge, that they could now order Fibre Broadband. This followed the Mary Tavy exchange’s superfast fibre broadband connection going operational. What a great Christmas present, since most of West Blackdown is not even going to be able to receive the long-delayed Airband service………
This could have heralded a superfast, and possible cheaper, alternative to Airband for Brentor if the fibre cable had gone into the village centre. It would also not be at the mercy of trees, hills and the weather. However, the Editor contacted Openreach to see how this was being achieved, expecting to hear that a fibre cable was, after all, being laid across the moor from Mary Tavy to Brentor. Their reply was……
” I’m really sorry, but having investigated our network data, we’re not able to supply you with a Superfast fibre. I understand this is disappointing news. We have received a response from our concerned team and confirmed that your property doesn’t lie within the limit which is 1.8 km. Also, the speed is slow due to distance. Unfortunately the distance between your customer’s home and the cabinet is too far (2.857km) to get Superfast speeds.
Distances are measured by the route our network takes to reach you which could be longer than the actual distance between the cabinet and your home or business. Thank you again for taking time to write to us and although I Understand this isn’t the answer you are looking for, I hope that this position will change in the future. “
What a shambles! It is understood that a fibre cable could be laid to Brentor, but at a cost of about £20 per metre for a new conduit. Apparently the existing copper cable was not laid in a suitable conduit. If Openreach doesn’t do something soon they will find that they are having to maintain their expensive copper cable across the moor for a very few users after Airband takes their customers – it might well make commercial sense to lay a fibre cable ASAP! Openreach invites you to register interest in a fibre connection on their website – it might well be useful to do this wherever you live in Brentor.
Click here to go to the appropriate Openreach website page.
The transmitter at Bearwood Farm has been installed! But it doesn’t have transmitters pointing to nearby residents. Oh well.
Airband are in communication wiith Christchurch PCC regarding a transmitter on the church tower and the PCC has details of what is proposed.
Torbay Telecom, the other internet service provider currently using the Airband transmitters on Dartmoor, has emailed the Editor to say that his company does provide a service in this area, and at a lower price. No other ISPs have apparently joined the party.
On 19th September those residents who registered interest with Airband on their website received an email that states ‘Great news – Airband is now live in your area! Click on the button below to enter your postcode, view our packages and order your broadband connection‘.
On contacting Connecting Devon and Somerset for some more information the Editor was told that the following Brentor postcode areas are live:
PL19 0LN – PL19 0LR – PL19 0LU – PL19 0LW – PL19 0LX – PL19 0LZ – PL19 0NB – PL19 0ND – PL19 0NE – PL19 0NF – PL19 0NW
The two transmitters that Connecting Devon and Somerset told the Editor are now live and serving Brentor are at Henscott Farm (near the A386 north of Brentor) and at Bearwood Farm in Brentor. However, currently there is no transmitter at all at Bearwood Farm and the Henscott Farm transmitter appears to be missing its ‘backhaul radio antenna’ that receives the main data signal, so may not yet be functional. It will be a month or so before the proposed transmitter on the Christchurch tower is due to be working, and Connecting Devon and Somerset inform the Editor that the proposed Wortha Farm tranmitter may not be built at all.
The new tender builds on the phase two National Parks programme already underway in our most difficult to reach areas of Dartmoor and Exmoor. CDS will have by the end of 2016 delivered superfast speeds to around 5,800 premises across the moors, boosting the rural economy.
Airband Community Ltd, the wireless broadband contractor for Dartmoor and Exmoor National Parks, have concluded their network testing on Dartmoor and have begun to roll out the service to selected communities on an incremental basis. The build on Dartmoor is expected to be complete by the early autumn. Meanwhile on Exmoor the network is being installed and we hope to be able to announce the first connections there in the early autumn.
The CDS Broadband Voucher Scheme, which provides anyone with a broadband speed of less than 2 Mbps with a voucher for £500 towards the cost of a new broadband connection, has received in excess of 2,000 applications. Of these over 1,500 have been approved and the first installations have already been completed. 13 suppliers have joined the scheme with more in the pipeline.
Further details can be found on the CDS website at: http://www.connectingdevonandsomerset.co.uk/cds-broadband-voucher-scheme/
You can see the entire newsletter sent to the Parish Council by clicking here.
Following a telephone conversation with Matt Barrow at Connecting Devon and Somerset on 11th August the Editor can pass on the following information:-
- Delays in rolling out the Airband Fixed Wireless system have been due to contractual negotiations with BT and Airband concerning areas where the fixed fibre and Airband systems coverage overlap. This is now virtually resolved.
- Already the system is live to premises in South Brent and Ivybridge. These areas are being used to iron out potential technical problems.
- Dartmoor coverage is being divided into nine sectors, and by 12 August four of these will be live and providing a service.
- Brentor will be served by just three transmitters, at Bearwood Farm, on Christchurch church tower and at Wortha Farm.
- Brentor will go live in two stages. The Bearwood Farm transmitter will go live on 29th August, serving the western side of North Brentor and some higher areas that can see this transmitter, such as Station View .
- The Christchurch and Wortha Farm transmitters will go live on 14th November and will serve the centre of North Brentor and the village of South Brentor.
- Some higher parts of West Blackdown will also receive the service, but much of this area in the valley near the Old Station will receive no service at all and may need to find a way of receiving it through the Voucher Scheme, which pays £500 per household to improve broadband where it is below 5mb per second. Potentially by aggregating this money from 8-10 premises an Airband relay station could be built to serve this area, fed from Wortha Farm or another transmitter. This will require the cooperation of all the residents there to achieve a service. Similar arrangements may be needed for other parts of Brentor outside the range of the Airband service.
- As areas go live on the Airband system Brentor residents who have expressed an intererest in using the service will receive an e-mail confirming that they can apply for the service through their choice of Internet Service Provider (ISP, such as Virgin, Talk-Talk etc).
On 22 April an email from Airband was sent to all those who have registered interest in their wireless broadband. It says that a detailed map of the availability of the system on Dartmoor will be available within 2 weeks on the Connecting Devon and Somerset website. Presumably this will provide us with details of exactly which properties in Brentor will be able to receive the service.
The planning for this project has been going on for some time. A broadband briefing meeting for local parishes was held at Mary Tavy Village Hall on 12th November 2015. This was hosted by the Connecting Devon & Somerset programme. It was reported that the government-funded programme to provide microwave-based superfast broadband in the areas of Exmoor and Dartmoor not being provided with fibre-based services is making good progress. The Worcester-based company Airband Community Internet Ltd has been awarded the contract to deliver this service. It will provide a 30mbs Superfast broadband service to the areas of Dartmoor National Park not served by the BT fibre optic cable network, including Brentor. The company has been contracted to provide the service to a minimum of 86% of the homes and business in these areas.
In late February 2016 the Editor spoke to an Airband engineer about the details of our service in Brentor. High capacity microwave transmitters around the edge of Dartmoor will feed encrypted Superfast broadband signals, via a relay of transmitters starting in Tavistock, to several relay microwave transmitters located around Brentor. These will send the data for our homes to small microwave receiver/transmitter units sited on our individual houses.
We were told at the meeting on 12th November 2015 that the system will guarantee reliable unlimited superfast broadband connections with no slowing down at peak times. Quite different to our current service! We were also told that the service would be no more expensive than that provided through cable and that users could also have their telephone provided via the Airband system. There will be a one-off connection charge (about £100-£150) for installation of the receiver/transmitter on our properties. The actual broadband suppliers who bill users (ISPs) will be the same as for cable, such as Virgin Media, Talk Talk etc. Airband itself could also be a provider.
The caveat is that, to receive the service, the microwave receiver/transmitters on individual homes will need to have direct line of sight to the relay transmitters, with nothing (such as hills, buildings or even trees) in between. This may be difficult to achieve in practice to all properties in Brentor.
During last summer Airband engineers surveyed, in house by house detail, the areas to be served, including Brentor. We were told at the 12th November meeting that by 20th November we should be able to find out which houses will be able to receive the service by visiting the Airband website. In fact this did not happen and according to the Airband engineer there will now be no map published showing reception detail at individual house level.
So far there has been only one planning application for a relay transmitter in Brentor parish, at Henscott Farm near Lydford, at the side of Gibbett Hill NE of Brentor (Dartmoor National Park planning application number 0034/16, which can be viewed on the DNP planning website). There is another nearby application for a transmitter at Cox Tor Farm. However, where installations are on existing buildings, Dartmoor National Park Authority has deemed that no planning permission will be necessary. The Editor has been told that there will definitely be a relay transmitter at Bearwood Farm (West of Brentor village) and others sites are being investigated including South Brentor Farm, the Gliding Club and on the top of Christchurch tower.
It was reported at the meeting on 12th November 2015 that the Superfast Broadband service for Brentor will be up and running by the middle of 2016.
When the Editor spoke to Matt Barrow at Connecting Devon and Somerset on 27th November 2015 he was told that if some houses in Brentor could not be provided with superfast broadband due to their location, Airband has also been tasked with providing a minimum of 12Mbs using other methods, such as satellite or radio technology.
IMPORTANT: Airband reports that Brentor residents have shown the highest level of interest in the proposed high speed broadband service. THE MORE PEOPLE WHO REGISTER, THE MORE CHANCE THERE IS THAT WE WILL GET A SERVICE FOR EVERYONE IN THE VILLAGE. If you wish to register your interest in receiving Superfast broadband via Airband you should register interest on the Airband website at www.airband.co AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.
For more information and dates of information sessions in other parishes you can contact Matt Barrow, Stakeholder Engagement Officer, Connecting Devon & Somerset at firstname.lastname@example.org 01392 382221. You can visit the Connecting Devon and Somerset website by clicking here.
You can still check your broadband speed by clicking here. (Just click the button marked ‘Start Speed Test’ below the two dials).