Home broadband is important, especially when suddenly we are working from home again. Right now, a fast, reliable connection is more necessary than ever. This is something close to David Sangster’s heart.
Sangster is co-founder of G Network, the company which has been digging up central London streets for months to install the infrastructure for its near-gigabit fibre broadband network.
Fast broadband is something we notice most when it’s playing up. Switch to a fast, reliable connection and the initial reaction of awe is quickly forgotten as people get used to it.
“It’s true. It’s horrendous if you have the problem but when it’s solved, you take it for granted, like turning on a tap,” Sangster tells me.
Sangster has been with G Network for four years, and it seems like it is reaching critical mass right now. The company has laid connections for more than 100,000 premises, of which the slight majority are residential and the rest business.
Of these, 90 per cent have happened in the last 18 months. If you live in London, its advertising may be familiar, using the slogan, “Fantastic news, we’re digging up your street” – indicating that fast broadband is coming.
“We’re trying to get people to realise it’s quite a short period of pain for a lot of gain, and is something that’s going to make a real difference," Sangster says.
"This Covid period has been something we’ve had to think about in terms of noise and inconvenience, especially in central London where people usually aren’t there in the day. But suddenly everybody’s there and there are hardly any planes overhead or that natural hum of London, so, we’re working in a quieter environment. We’ve responded with limited breaking hours, that is, when we do the noisy stuff, starting later and finishing earlier, and putting in acoustic barriers around the cutters. These things have been important for us.”
G Network works closely with local councils: recently a friend told me that the council was about to dig up his mews to lay new cobbles, and that once that was done there was a moratorium on any other works in the mews for two years. He contacted G Network who responded quickly, managing to lay the infrastructure just days before the Council work began.
“Yes, we can do that because we’re a nimble business, because we’re not on the scale of BT, and the pragmatism of working together with the councils can really deliver that. Even if it’s short notice we always try to make these things work. This is a big rollout program and the councils are really sensible and tell us their public realms programmes and we try to slot in with that. Now we’re digging at scale we can be front and centre in a council’s mind.”
There’s a problem that springs to my mind: numerous people have asked me what the difference is between G Network and 5G, or are they the same, they wonder. How much education needs to happen for people to understand that one is fibre broadband and the other is a mobile phone standard?
“Trying to get some of our messages across, especially in a succinct clear way, can be difficult – quite a few people don’t know what 5G really is. Everybody’s talking about it, but that’s a big opportunity for us. Probably the bigger challenge is trying to get across the message about super-fast fibre broadband from rival companies which is really copper or has copper in it compared to what we are offering. You might think you’ve got fibre and you intuitively know that fibre’s good, fibre you think is the future, well, the problem comes if your broadband is not very good. That’s where we’re trying to get the message across that it may be called fibre, but it has some copper in the set-up, between the cabinet and your home, and that's why you're getting slower speeds. What we're talking about is genuine fibre end-to-end and we have to get that across.”
Of course, there are other ways to get fast data speeds and 5G is one of them. Vodafone, EE and Three all have wireless 5G routers which, if you have a suitable mast nearby, can deliver impressive speeds.
The benefit of a 5G router is there’s no installation apart from plugging it into the mains. As a Three spokesperson told me, “At Three, we’ve taken a simple approach with one unlimited data plan to give customers the opportunity to utilise 5G across all their data needs. The ease and immediacy of 5G means you don’t need to pay for a landline or wait for any engineers to install everything, it is literally plug and play. It is revolutionising the home broadband experience, in a world where staying connected has never been more important.”
The unlimited data part is crucial: if you’re using your 5G network to connect your TV, PC, phones, smart security cameras, smart locks, smart speakers and everything else, the amount of data required can escalate quickly. Sangster is quick to confirm, “We don’t put any caps on our services.” Also worth noting is that G Network doesn’t require you to have a landline, either.
G Network’s pricing offers four tiers, defined by speed. The entry level costs £22 and offers 150Mbps downloads, 50Mbps uploads. The top tier costs £48 a month and offers 900Mbps in both up and download. There’s a cunning temptation that when you join, the first three months are automatically at the top speed, whichever tariff you opt for, and after 3 months settles at the speed you choose.
The speeds, of course, are what you get by connecting a device to the router in your home by cable – connect to a device in another room by wi-fi and it can be significantly lower. Mind you, if your top speed is 900Mbps, then you have quite a bit of headroom to play with.
Sangster says the physical system is also designed so it’s not something that will need to be dug up again in five years’ time, say.
“This infrastructure we're putting in we expect to be there in 40 to 50 years’ time. We're very conscious of making sure we're building something that's future-proofed. We need to put proper capacity in there based on projections of size of fibre, using fibre of high quality, so it doesn't break, once it’s there, it's there.
While G Network is encouraging its own customers, Sangster says it is also using its network to share its infrastructure. So, if a customer has a loyalty to TalkTalk or Sky, say, that company could use G Network’s infrastructure, which Sangster sees as healthy competition. It means other networks have an alternative to digging up the roads to lay their own fibre.
Which is good news now that we’re all going to be at home again.