When E-Health Insider Primary Care launched Fair Deal on Broadband, we asked BT to give its perspective on the issues raised and the particular problems encountered on the ground in primary care.

Here is the company’s response, in full, sent by a BT spokesperson:

N3 is the enabling infrastructure that underpins the national applications being delivered by the NPfIT. N3SP has been rolling out the N3 network successfully for two and a half years. It is ahead of schedule and will achieve its target of 18,000 connected sites by March 2007.

The scale of this broadband infrastructure deployment has never been attempted before in Europe. N3SP and CfH [Connecting for Health] are pleased with the progress made to date, not only in building a network of this scale but how N3 is contributing to making other parts of the NPfIT a success. Without N3, resilient and secure access to applications such as Choose and Book and PACS would not be possible.

N3 cannot be compared to residential broadband. It offers an entirely different level of service. Some of these differences are:

  • Uncontended, meaning that traffic is not competing for available bandwidth (especially at peak times),
  • secure, meaning that traffic entering and exiting the customer’s network is virus free and not prone to attack, and,
  • Resilient, meaning that N3 services have a fall-back path to the core network in the event of a single circuit or component failure (thus ensuring continuous access to national applications).

All the above attributes of N3 DSL based services are essential, given the nature of the applications being supported over N3.

Working with GPs we will always look into any reported issue associated with speed of N3 services. The investigations that we have conducted to date about reported degradation in performance of applications have found it can be caused by inappropriate configuration of local systems. Our performance monitoring also shows that, in fact, the vast majority of N3 services delivered to GP sites are working well below the available bandwidth. In all cases N3 is running to specification. We will of course continue to work actively with CFH and customers at a local level to investigate any problems GPs believe are attributable to N3.

As far as pricing is concerned, the N3 contract requires BT, as the N3SP, to offer best value to the NHS and all quotations are formulated using products, services and pricing negotiated by N3SP with key suppliers. These suppliers include BT, NTL Telewest, Thus and Kingston Communications – this ensures flexibility of supply and best value to the NHS.

With regard to the specific example mentioned in the story, the vast majority of customers will be able to upgrade to a 2MB service for a fraction of the reported quote of £30,000 over three years. Charges that N3SP will set for delivery of an upgrade will equate to its actual and direct costs. As such, all quotations are subject to survey and the charges can only be confirmed when the works are complete.

So, to enable customers to make an informed decision, and to ensure there are no surprises when billing commences, N3SP provides two prices for each

quotation:a capped "Maximum Price" – billed values will not exceed this price and a budgetary estimate of price for the delivery of the requested service at an average NHS site.

N3SP is currently implementing revisions to its quotation formats to ensure customers are clear about the conditions relating to the quotations they receive.

New services can be added, and are being added, to the N3 Catalogue all the time. As a result customers are able to take advantage of technology shifts at the earliest opportunity. As recently as September 2006, N3SP and CFH finalised an agreement that refreshed the N3 Catalogue content with a new range of products and prices that will allow the NHS to further benefit from competition in the telecommunications market. All pricing was updated to reflect current supplier terms.

We remain confident in the levels of service and value we are providing as N3SP and will continue to work with CfH and our customers to develop the service.

The service desk is available 24/7 on 0800 085 0503.