AQL looks for Ofcom approval, maybe more blue hotspots to come?

There’s high speed broadband up north

Regional telco AQL is looking to get Electronic Communications Code (ECC) approval for installing its services, including free Wi-Fi around Leeds, mobile data services, and very, very fast fibre in the ground.

The company has one customer wired up at 100Gbps, lots at 10Gbps and hundreds at 1Gbps, and has applied to Ofcom to have the ECC applied to its activities — the regulator has launched a consultation to help it consider the application.

This is important to the company because it reduces the administrative burden of putting in fibre. Without being covered by the code there may need to be as many as 100 sets of paperwork involved in the excavation and installation work.

The code is a master services agreement. AQL lodges a bond with the local authority – typically £1 million – and that is used to compensate anyone affected by the work if AQL fails to make it good.

CEO Dr Adam Beaumont explained to The Register that AQL is in the process of running fibre through areas of Leeds, Manchester and Sheffield. The company has the right to install Wi-Fi on street furniture throughout Leeds and has been installing classic phone boxes repainted blue to provide Wi-Fi hotspots.

Business connections are often provided through the Government connection voucher scheme, which pays for installation and the first year of connection.

While the initial scheme which marked out pots of cash for 22 cities has now finished there is now a 56-city pot which is spread across the country.

Beaumont told us that users who’ve taken advantage of this for a 1Gb connection generally pay around £75 a month after the first year – although this is usage based.

The company is also cabling up 20 to 30 acres of post-industrial and rejuvenated sites to help build industry in the North, and Beaumont explained that property developers often needed educating on the importance of adding high speed broadband.

While being covered by the code will make it easier to do all of the projects, and assuming the consultation finds in AQL’s favour, Beaumont doesn’t have much of an appetite for expanding beyond the areas where the company is already cabling, since the amount of capital tied up in the bonds would be prohibitive.

The ECC itself is set for a major overhaul. It’s the focus of attention for the mobile operators which are looking for significant changes, which would see them being treated more like a utility and less like a cash-cow for landlords.

The networks want control over what kit they can put on the sites they rent and a major easing of rules on antenna mast height. Being granted access to the code would see AQL gain whatever rights the new code has as well as the existing ones.

AQL was formed in 1998, and expanded into wholesale telecoms in 2003, creating a network capable of supplying “UK PSTN numbering into the broadband industry to fulfill the growing demand for broadband voice VoIP services”, according to its website. ®

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