THE FIBRE OPTIC PLAXTOL BROADBAND DISCUSSION

In response to the letters placed in the March 2015 issue of the Plaxtol Herald by David Watkins and Mike Wood, I would like to add further comment. My intention is to be neutral and explore the pros and cons of what is on offer, and to answer people’s questions in layman’s terms. Both letters were very well written, for and against Gigaclear, and the intention here is to remove the technical speak and offer a view that will hopefully make the situation easier to understand.

First of all, those of you who know me may recall that initially I sat back from the Gigaclear sign-up purely and simply because I have the habit of never “buying version 1” of anything. Rather than dive in, I tend to allow other people to suffer pain first, and if the pain isn’t great, then I might follow providing there is a good benefit of doing so. Therefore, I was never going to be salesman of the year for anyone, though I remained cautiously optimistic. Since December last year I have worked from home and rely heavily on the internet with my own IT business. I copy a lot of data up and down. I am not going to list numbers to blind people with here, I just want my friends and neighbours to know exactly what the hype is all about. Sometimes if I’m uploading a large website, it takes a few minutes, at other times it’s quicker. A few minutes to upload a website isn’t going to lose me work, but I wish it was a bit quicker as I’m impatient.

Many of you have phoned and emailed for my opinion (thank you) but I am not a cabling expert so I have been researching everything that is available in our area, how it should work and how it does work in other areas of the country. This isn’t restricted to Gigaclear and BT, there are many options available though they are somewhat restricted in Plaxtol. If you use an on-line comparison site such as Moneysupermarket.com, then you can enter your postcode and find out which services are available to you. BT will always appear, and often you will see Sky, Talk Talk and even John Lewis, as everyone seems to supply some form of broadband service now. When you see John Lewis, don’t think that they actually do supply broadband, all they are doing is buying into other services, usually BT, and offering you a deal based on the deal they have struck with BT or whoever it may be. Presently, we are not offered any fibre optic services though we know that will change at some stage this year, from both Gigaclear and BT. It is fairly safe to assume that as soon as they are both supplying the area, then others will follow, such as Virgin. Gigaclear has taken the bull by the horns and have clearly shaken BT up and it is now a race to see who will be up and running first. The safe money is on Gigaclear, at least it should be given the carnage on our roads these past few months.  However, BT are not far behind. So then, who do you go with? It is of course up to you, but one thing that has troubled me is the fact that no one has given the advice that actually, you may not need to do anything at all. If you are perfectly happy with your current broadband supplier (and/or phone supplier) then stay where you are. Never forget “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”.

Gigaclear invested a lot of cash and time in what was a fairly aggressive door to door sales campaign, and many of us also received sales calls imploring us to sign up. Many well meaning villagers have also cajoled us into joining the great Gigaclear revolution, and it did seem at one stage that if we didn’t sign up then we’d be cursed and our houses would burn down. Such is the momentum of new innovation. First question then: Is Gigaclear a good thing? Answer: Yes, definitely. Second question: Do I need it? Answer: Maybe.  Why only maybe when people are telling me I have to have it? Well it depends on how you use the internet. If, like me, you are uploading and downloading all day, then its worth looking at. If you are, like my neighbour, constantly downloading films (family films I should add, as I’d like to stay friends with him) then you almost certainly need Gigaclear and you will definitely benefit from it. If you download lots of films then you really ought to sign up for Gigaclear, its a ‘no-brainer’.  What about those of you who use your pc for emails and general surfing, such as checking the BBC website for news, seeing what film is on at Tunbridge Wells, checking why the trains aren’t running again or comparing prices at different stores? Do you need Gigaclear? Not really. You will definitely get faster results, but is it worth ditching your current supplier for the sake of a second or two but a fair bit more cash each month? That’s down to you to decide. If you use the internet all day then you might well benefit from the faster fibre optic system on offer, but you have to consider extra cost versus overall gain. You will gain, but by how much depends on what you are currently experiencing. If your pc takes ages to load a page, then you might have connection issues and will benefit from Gigaclear or BT Infinity, but then again your pc might just need a clean up, or it might be time to replace it if it’s a few years old! Either way, Gigaclear is a huge advancement and if money isn’t a problem and you use the internet constantly, then it’s probably your best option.

Onto BT then. We all have horror stories with BT. Let’s face it, until they brought their customer support back to the UK they were utterly hopeless if you needed to speak with them. “Have you switched it off and on?” Give me strength. However, the arrival of competition in the fibre optic world has woken them up. Their fibre system is BT Infinity, you may have also seen their “Openreach” vans around and about, and that is essentially them promoting their fibre broadband service. They were supposed to have rolled it out around the UK by now, but that hasn’t happened. Good old BT. Virgin fibre arrived in the cities, go into any London office and you will invariably find a Virgin fibre broadband feed. BT missed the boat. Gigaclear burst onto the scene in 2010, they were targeting rural communities, having seen BT and others take their eye off the ball by focusing solely on the cities. They are already expanding in Oxfordshire, now Kent, and next they are off to Northants and Cambridgeshire. They deserve full credit for this. BT have now responded, and they have a mandate to roll out in our area by the end of 2015. In reality, it will be earlier than the year end as they have already done exploratory work and are ready to pounce. As ever with BT, a date is a theoretical group of numbers and may change, but what cannot be ignored is that they are in the area. I spoke to an engineer in The Hurst recently and he told me they are preparing for BT Infinity to be rolled out “in the summer”. Hmm, we’ll see.  So, should you ignore Gigaclear and stick with the big boys BT? Maybe.  BT Infinity will not be as fast as Gigaclear if you are downloading lots of data, such as films. I’m still keen to avoid quoting almost meaningless numbers, but figures quoted as “maximum speeds” are never obtainable via wi-fi, no matter which system you use. Fibre offers fantastic speed and it will be many times faster than your current system, even with the constraints of wi-fi, but you won’t see the top speeds being quoted by Gigaclear or BT unless you connect your laptop or pc to a cable running from your ‘hub’. Its worth remembering that once Gigaclear or BT Infinity is installed in your property and you see a lower number than advertised if you run a broadband speed test. Sorry, I nearly went technical on you there. This is how it is though and you ought to know about it.  BT Infinity won’t be as fast as Gigaclear, but does that mean it isn’t any good? No, not at all, it will be very good. My family ‘across the water’ use BT Infinity and it works very well. They live in a big town so it should be fast, but I have seen it and it is fast, very fast. What is true is that, as has been pointed out on local social media, if you live a fair distance from the BT cabinets, then the service will degrade a little. Now Plaxtol is a fairly small village, so how much degradation will there be? Answer: Not much, but it might be noticeable if you live on the far outskirts of the village going towards Crouch for example. However, that doesn’t mean you won’t benefit by switching to BT Infinity, you certainly will.  The same questions apply though, do you really need to switch? Think of what you use the internet for.

Finally to the question I have been asked countless times: “Are you switching to Gigaclear?”  Maybe.  I won’t be joining the initial rush though. I will, for better or worse, stick with BT for now, and if you use Talk Talk, PlusNet, John Lewis or whoever, and are happy with your lot, then maybe you might sit back and wait as well. I may realise that I’m missing out after a while, but that’s my choice, and at that point I’ll upgrade or switch. I’m not happy with people having their arms twisted to spend money when they might not need to. For those who download films or large videos, then you really need Gigaclear or BT Infinity (yes, Gigaclear will download the film a little faster). Costs are not greatly different, BT is a bit cheaper when considering sign up costs and the packages available. You can do your own research on that as deals are there to be had if you speak with suppliers directly, though we don’t yet know if that will be the case with Gigaclear after a period of time.

So I hope that, despite pouring a little water on the well meaning Gigaclear supporters, this helps to ease a few minds of people I have spoken with who are baffled by technical jargon and the apparent “need” to pay out for a fibre optic broadband service. As with any utility, the choice is yours, you don’t have to do anything unless you really want to.

Finally, one thing that is missing from Plaxtol with regard to communications – a decent mobile signal! If you live south of the Papermakers then you are really lucky if you can use your mobile phone. I cannot send or receive texts indoors, and I have tried all the main suppliers now. Surely this is a more important service to resolve? Broadband already works – poorly in some instances, but it works. Now if someone can come in and put a decent mobile transmitter in, then I’ll break my own rule and will sign up for version 1 immediately. Seriously, it is a problem. People expect texts to arrive, but they don’t unless I leave the village or go the top of the Street. Important messages are being missed and to me this is more of an issue than one of my websites taking 3 minutes to upload as opposed to 30 seconds. I can’t even boil the kettle in the difference in time, but I could receive a text to say “tomorrow’s meeting is cancelled”. Then I wouldn’t have caught that train for nothing….

Jim Riches