HFT in the Banana land | Part 7

This unexpected new episode of the “HFT in the Banana land” series may also be coined “HFT in my backyard | S02E01”, or “S22E45”, or in more simple terms “Going to the Signal to get signals faster”. This blog has been silent for a while as I really didn’t have the time to write here, but that doesn’t mean there is nothing to say (in fact, there is a lot to write about but as I’ll explain later, I decided to withdraw the season 2 of “HFT in my backyard” as I’ll write a whole book about all my investigation on the wireless networks the HFTs love). But I couldn’t resist to add this new episode of “HFT in the Banana land”, even if it’s not about the banana – but a consequence of what happened in Richborough where the two giant masts Vigilant and New Line Networks wanted to erect there were harshly refused by the Dover District Council (read the previous episode).

Here is the story as I understand it. Let’s start with a general view of the current situation, from Frankufrt to Slough. I take the Vigilant route as the Canadian firm was the first to bid in Richborough to get this beautiful nearly perfect straight line between Frankfurt (FR2 data center) and Slough (LD4 data center):

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Here are the details of the Vigilant towers…

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… one by one, starting from Frankfurt :

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From Frankfurt the path goes to Weibern where there is a high tower perfectly located close to the straigh line between FR2 and LD4 (the good old German industry). Then from Weibern the signal goes to Simmerath, at the Belgium-Germany border:
It seems most of the microwave players (Vigilant, Optiver, McKay Brothers, etc.) put dishes in Simmerath. The wikpiedia page about this tower is amusing. It says: “Am 6. September 2013 wurde der Sendeturm aufgestockt. Der genaue Grund für die Aufstockung sowie die aktuelle Gesamthöhe sind nicht bekannt. Bis dahin betrug die Gesamthöhe 66 Meter.” In short: “in September 2013 the tower was expanded”, as shown on this photo I found in a German newspaper:

The wiki page states that “the exact reasons why the tower was expanded are not known”… but the explanation is quite simple: there was not enough space anymore for all the HFT players, so the tower was adapted to receive all the dishes, as shown on this (wiki) picture took just after the tower was rebuilt: 

HFT dishes colocated in Simmerath

From Simmerath the Vigilant signal goes to Welkenraedt and then to Tienen:

You can watch the Vigilant dishes in Welkenraedt on the antennasite; in Tienen they are probably on this strange water tower:

From Tienen the path goes to Merchtem and Egem:

Since the Merchtem tower is located 6 kilometers from my new home in Brussels, I paid a visit to this tower months ago, and it looks like that:

Here is now the Egem tower, which is the tallest structure in Belgium (if you want to know more about Egem, read again this old post about my trip there, where I wanted to have a coffee in a place which appeared to be a sadomasochist brothel (?!).

From Egem, the ideal Vigilant route would go to a building in Oostduinkerke (ideally located very close to the straight line between FR2 and LD4), and then to Richborough (cf. the previous episodes of “HFT in the Banana land”)…

… but the Vigilant mast in Richborough was refused. The Egem-Oostduinkerke-Richborough path is a dead end (at least for now ;). That means the Vigilant route, from Egem, has to go South to Dunkerque (or to Coudekerque-Branche, where Vigilant has dishes on a tower) before going North to UK (in Tilmanstone, where Vigilant will expand a small tower to cross the Channel – from the grain silo where McKay has dishes in the port of Dunkerque?):

This is the kind of path HFTs don’t like: not a straight line but a triangle, meaning they have to make a detour and that’s not good for latency. The most important detail here is the high-frequency traders can’t cross the Channel with a path close to the straight line (Oostduinkerke-Richborough); they have to do it from (around) Dunkerque (or Houtem, where Jump purchased a now-very-famous giant tower for $5M). The consequence is: if you want to build the best/fastest network from FR2 to LD4, you need to have a straight path from Frankfurt to (around) Dunkerque (the big path in red in the picture below).

This is what the competitors name the “South route”, opposed to the “North route”. The North route was annihilated by the decision of the Dover District Council about Richborough, so the operators need to improve the “South route”. Here is the real beginning of this episode.If you want to build the best path from Frankfurt to Dunkerque (the “South route”), forget Simmerath (which is too far north). You have to find another tower further to the south, inside the square in red in the picture above:

And you know what? There is such a tower there: the famous Signal de Botrange. The Signal looks like that:

In Belgium the Signal de Botrange is very famous for many reasons. First, it’s the highest point of the country: 694 meters above the sea level. Secondly, it’s one of the few ski resorts of Belgium. Thirdly (in my opinion), this is one of the most beautiful places of Belgium. I went there a couple of times to explore the “High Fens”, or “Hautes Fagnes” in French, a very nice nature reserve. 

There is an amazing story about Botrange: for a long time there was nothing in the highest point of Belgium (actually it’s the highest point of both Belgium, Luxembourg and Netherlands), but in 1923 the local governor Herman Baltia decided to erect a 6 meter stairs :“Apparently, clocking the country’s highest point in at just shy of 700 meters was simply too tantalizing, and so in 1923, a 6-meter (18-foot) stone staircase was constructed atop the peak. From its height, on the top step of the seemingly nonsensical staircase, visitors can survey the land from exactly 700 meters above sea level.” The ridiculous thing looks like that:

Eleven years later, in 1934, an observation tower was built, reaching a height of 718 meters above sea level: the Signal de Botrange. Now here is the story of the HFTs around Botrange. I don’t remember who talked to me, three years ago, about a new project of mast in Botrange reated to HFT but last December I have been asked by a firm not to share (here on this blog) the public documents I would find about this project, as the firm didn’t know how many competitors would be aware of what was going on. I said “ok” and instantaneously started to find intel about a story I could not tell about until yesterday. I was surprised when I found this video interview of the local mayor made by a local TV:

Note that the interview as made in November 2013, and the title of the video is “A new 50-meter tower to suport financial operations between London and Frankfurt”, and I think this is the very first press coverage in Belgium on the microwave networks (too bad I missed it before). In short the mayor says that the local community have been contacted by a Canadian firm (that smells Vigilant), by an American firm (that smells Jump, now New Line Networks), by a consortium including French, Dutch and German firms (the French one should be McKay Brothers, the Dutch firm is strange – that could be Optiver or Flow Traders, but both the Dutch firms don’t work with McKay…). The mayor explains the different competitors wanted to erect a towers in Botrange because the fibre is too slow, so HFTs use microwave, etc. At least the local people know exactly why some firms need new towers… The mayor also says that a request for proposals would be made as the total budget is €M2-3. It’s not clear if the mayor states that all this money would be distributed to the local community, but he seems to be very happy with the project as the new 50-meter tower would be higher than anything in Botrange. A new record!

So, back in 21012, some HFT firms were already lurking around the Signal de Botrange. It seems it took quite a long time before the request for proposals was released… on March 3, 2017. The public documents are here. Among the usual boring administrative stuff (but where we learn that the minimum bid amount is €50,000 a year), there is a map of the Signal de Botrange with the location of the future tower:

 

I did a quick simulation with Google Street (of course, the winner will have to put all the different telco dishes which are around the Signal on the new tower). 

The competitors had until last Friday (May 19th) to submitt an offer, and yesterday the Collège communal (the municipal college) started to open the enveloppes. I called the local office to know more about what’s going with the offers, but the clerk told me that they can’t communicate now as the Conseil communal (an other administrative college) will have to discuss the offers too, etc. I was not even able to know how many offers were sent to Botrange. But the local authorities should decide soon about the next dead-lines. Who will be the winner? One can assume the Canadian firm, the American firm and the French firm submitted offers but perhaps there are other HFT lurking around Botrange too… We will see. Anyway, that’s amazing the HFTs want to be on the Signal to get signals faster. Thanks to HFT, soon the highest point of Belgium will be higher than ever, and that’s pretty cool for such a small country!

In the meantime, on the other side of the network, in Houtem, @Nuklearexperte had fun by peeing on Jump’s ground. That is what happens when a man drinks too much Belgian beers…

 

HFT in the Banana land | Part 6

 

Here is the final episode of HFT in the Banana land – or The Case of the Small English Town vs Two Large HFT Towers. No happy end here for the “high-frequency trading”/network providers firms Vigilant Global and New Line Networks who seeked to erect two giant masts in Richborough to improve the Slough-Frankfurt microwave route. Last Thursday the Dover District councilors followed the planning officer’s recommendations and refused both the masts. An interesting moment (sorry for the typos when I was live-tweeting the meeting). It’s important to understand here that the debate about the mast was not about market structure, speed, arm race, the need to save a few microseconds to do arbitrage (or whatever), etc. A comment on Twitter said that “If only SEC and int’l regulators did similar diligence as Dover city council when exchanges want to sell speed” but the meeting in Dover was only about planning applications: the councilors had to decide about the erection of a 2-metre high boundary fence, the installation of a car park charging machine, the erection of a verandah, the formation of a “Juliette-style” balcony, and in the midst of all this, they had to decide about two heavy quasi-identical construction projects in Richborough. I was right to follow the more-than-one-year story of these masts as the most interesting here is the way HFT activities could have had consequences on the daily life of the people (living around the Banana land).

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The Chairman (and his group) was at the centre of the scene, whereas the different councilors were around. On the left side you had chairs for the people who wanted to speak “against” an application, and on the right side you had (far less) chairs for those who wanted to speak “in favour”. For each application the DCC allows only one person to speak out against a project, and one person only to speak out for. Each of them had only 3 minutes to provide its views (that’s short). Unsurprisingly, when a person defended the erection of a 2-meter boundary fence, the nearest neighbor asked to speak against the fence. That said, expected when two women had an argument in the right corner of the room, the neighbourhood quarrels were peaceful. Everyone had precise arguments on each applications, and most of the time the councilors followed the officers recommendations. The meeting started at 6:00 pm and half an hour later the council decided to make a short break before discussing the Vigilant and NLN masts. Then the planning officer who was in charge came in the room with two large folders containing all the documents filed by the applicants (the documents I have been reading patiently for a year).

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The officer started with the Vigilant mast, which was filed first on January 2016. The room was very quiet, the Vigilant team, the McKay Brothers guy, the New Line Networks guy, me, Bass de Banaan and other neighbors – everybody was silently listening to the officer’s speech.

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The DDC officer described the Vigilant application (the banana land area, the need for an optical line-of-sight to transfer data between Slough and Frankfurt, the 322-meter mast, the fact other towers would deviate too far from the direct line between Slough and Frankfurt, etc.) and quickly raised issues about the consequences of such a giant tower. In short, the officer summarized what he wrote in its report: most of the people living there are against the mast; it would be an eyesore in the landscape; the fact a lot of administrations/institutions disagreed with Vigilant’s statements regarding the ecological issues, the impacts on the Roman Fort and on the possible reopening of the Manston airport, the new National Grid project, and so on. The officer also talked about the St Peter church in Sandwich. He didn’t detail but St Peter is a good story: “The Council’s heritage officer has considered in more detail the setting of St Peter’s Church in Sandwich. It is identified that the Dover District Heritage Strategy defines churches as being of outstanding significance, and notes that such buildings have value in their contribution to the aesthetics of the historic landscape and wider rural environment; it states ‘the spires of rural churches can often be seen over long- distances and are recognised and valued local landmarks’.” For a very long time the tallest buildings, in the Western World, were church towers, and they needed a line-of-sight network. The officer: “From the viewing platform of St Peter’s Church, there are far reaching views to the north towards the Church of Saint Mary in Minster. In this view the Proposed Development would draw the eye and detract from the inter-relationship between St Peter’s and Saint Mary.” Here we have a battle between two line-of-sight paths: one between two old churches, the other between two telecommunication towers: “there would be some harm, within the less than substantial range, to the significance of the setting of these churches” wrote the officer. Don’t touch God’s network.

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Then the officer went further in his remarks: the fact Vigilant and NLN did not agree on one mast is not a good sign, and all the benefits promised by the applicant “are minor benefits compared to issues involved by such a giant mast”. At this point it didn’t sound good for Vigilant. The officer concluded and the first speaker was invited to talk. As far as I understood, he is a local resident, a retired engineer, and he did a weird 3-minute speech against the Vigilant mast, saying that HFT is “computerized gambling only”, that this kind of activity could harm the market like the subprime crisis did, at some point he cited the Knight Capital debacle in 2012 – and that is ironic: the speaker said such a mast would improve speed and would have bad consequences (a new Knightmare) but he seemed to ignore that the Vigilant competitor here, New Line Networks, is a joint venture between Knight-Getco (known as KCG now) and another trading firm, Jump Trading. Anyway. After that, a Vigilant representative had his 3-minute speech and advocated for the mast (in short: “we have been working on this project for 18 months, we proposed NLN to share but they refused, there is no problem with the Fort, this mast would be temporary [20 years though], we offer a lot of contributions, we choose the area to mitigate the consequences [true], etc.”.

First reaction of the officer: “I don’t change my opinion”. Then a first councilor said: “Seriously, what does that look like?” (i.e. such a mast is ugly), another talked about the major impacts the tower would have on the landscape, another talked about the consequences  on the Manston airport, another talked about “layering” and, in short, all the councilors said they don’t get the real local (and national) benefits such a mast could provide to the community. “National benefit is minor, public benefit is more important than private [HFT] benefits” stated the DDC chairman. The ten councilors voted and the hammer dropped: 9 against the mast, and one abstention. Boom. Vigilant had the best case, they worked hard to comply with all the issues raised by the DDC, but it was not enough. End of the story. Harsh.

Then came the New Line Networks mast. I won’t detail as the officer made more or less the same statements. The best part was when he said NLN stated “The tower in Houtem is not enough to achieve a perfect route between Slough and Frankfurt” [at this point I thought: “so, why Jump spent $5,000,000 to buy the Houtem tower if it’s not that perfect?”]. Also (and this is an important legal point), the officer emphasized the fact NLN didn’t properly understand the purposes of an obscure thing named “S106” (Bass de Bannan was 100% right on that) and the legal issues about the Community Interest Company (which would collect the money from NLN before flowing it through the local institutions). What the officer was implying is that NLN didn‘t da good job (the way NLN filed a last 40-page document two days before the meeting, answering to questions raised over the last several months, proves that).

Then came what was probably the funniest moment of the meeting (at least for the councilors). Guess who asked to speak against the NLN mast? Vigilant of course, and the councilors had a good laugh as the Vigilant representative was now speaking from the left corner (against NLN) whereas he was sitting in the right corner minutes before (advocating for its own mast). In short, the Vigilant representative criticized the NLN mast with (sometimes) the same arguments the DDC officer had against the Vigilant mast minutes before. Weird moment, even if Vigilant had good points. Then the operations director of New Line Networks, who came from Chicago, had his 3-minute speech to defend its mast. I didn’t envy his position: the Vigilant mast was just wickedly refused by the DDC and he was trying to convince that a similar mast in Richborough would be important for the local and London/FinTech communities in a post-Brexit context. Trying to save a few microseconds in 3 minutes, in front of an angry crowd, is hard. Then the DDC chairman said “we refused the Vigilant application for these reasons, we should refuse this one too”, a Labour councilor had ironic words about the fact the two applications were not exactly the same (laughs in the room), the councilors voted and a new hammer dropped: 10 councilors against NLN, and not even one abstention. Zero.

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The situation around the Channel, January 17

In a way, Vigilant won: they got at least one councilor who didn’t vote against their mast – one point for the better work they did. But overall the “HFT” firms got a slap. Vigilant Global and New Line Networks wanted to erect two giant dicks in the middle of nowhere to save microseconds, and the Dover District Council responded with a “Good bye” (I liked the smile the officer). They just don’t want this thing in their backyard. Landscape versus money. It was too much. Here is the end of the HFT in the banana land spin-off. I assume competitor McKay Brothers (and other HFT firms) are happy. Of course the firms can appeal. I don’t know if they will but with what happened in Dover last Thursday, making appeal for two masts would be indecent and they would certainly get another slap. Vigilant is now walking around Tilmanstone, other are improving their networks elsewhere – latency depends on lots of factors. It’s time to leave Lotus corniculatus alone. After the meeting I ended up in a McDonald’s restaurant (the only one around the DDC offices) with brother McKay and the Vigilant team. They are nice and smart people, I’m sure they’ll find solutions other than putting a 300-meter mast between two churches. Good luck.

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Find the HFTs

 

 

HFT in the Banana Land | Part 5

[This post is dedicated to Bass de Banaan]

A lot of microseconds after HFT in the Banana land, episode 4, here is episode 5. A lot of things has happened around the banana land since January 2016. Two months after episode 3 was posted, a new event occured in Richborough as another HFT-related company, New Line Networks (or NLN, a telco joint venture between HFT firms Jump Trading and KCG ex-Getco) filed an application to build another giant (305-meter) mast close to the Vigilant one. NLN filed the application on May 4 2016, four months after Vigilant arrived in the banana and. A lot has been said in newspaper about the frontral competition between two HFT-related firms in this quiet corner of the United Kingdom, so let’s do it will be as brief as possible. The two applications will be examined today at 6pm by the Dover District Council during the Planning Committee meeting, in Dover, where I just arrived.

THE HFT BATTLE IN THE BANANA LAND 

Vigilant was the first firm to apply for a 325-meter mast in the so-called “banana land” of Richborough. The firm from Montreal decided to erect this tower there because the banana land is close to the straight line joining Slough and Richborouch (cf. the previous episodes). The Vigilant mast would be erected very close to the cooling towers of old the Richborough Power station (the towers were demolished in 2012 but in the picture below you can see them, with the Richborough Roman fort on the foreground). It seems Vigilant choose this area because it’s still industrial, meaning the firm tried to mitigate the impact of the mast on the landscape (old big towers replaced by one very thin tower – quite cleaver).

Then came New Line Networks with another tower, a bit smaller (305 meters), that would be erected in King Ends Farm (KEF), which is located at 1 kilometer from the old power station. That means two HFT firms want to erect two quasi-identical towers in the exact same area (one giant mast seemed a crazy project, two giant masts is obviously too much).

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© NLN

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One of the meeting organized by NLN to convince the local residents © NLN Networks

With NLN applying for its own mast, here starts the “new Eiffel towers” battle in Richborough. It was quite interesting to read all the documents both the firms filed on the Dover District Council website (Vigilant and NLN) to defend their projects (and to attack the competitor) – a one-year battle, or so. The most interesting is the way the local residents/politicians/authorities/institutions have been thinking about the giant towers, and as expected most of the residents don’t want them in their backyards. There are a lot of interesting (sometimes fun) comments, such as: “Such a mast would be an eyesore”, “HFTs are parasite, leading to flash crashes”, and “there is also concern over the visual impact of such a large structure given the proximity of Richborough Roman Fort as well as possible future adverse implications if Manston was to resume as an airport” and so on. At the end, the Vigilant application received 124 public comments (Objections: 101; Supporting: 21), and NLN 202 comments (Objections: 182; Supporting: 14). (At some point I send an ironic comment about the NLN mast, when it showed up in March 2016, I just wrote “I love you!” and you know what? NLN decided that it was a “supporting comment”! Very funny.)

So, the vast majority of people don’t want one (or two) giant mast(s) in Richborough. The local parishes were asked to adopt a position too, some objected, other supported (but the ones who support also say: “However, the Dover District Council would urge any businesses planning to build telecommunication masts to work together, thus reducing the total number of masts”. Note that if this is the Dover District Council (DDC) councillors who will decide tonight about the mast(s), and they do not have to follow the opinions of the parish councils. Also, a lot of “institutions” (Historic England, Natural England, etc.) wrote comments too, saying that, for instance, the construction of the mast would affect a local plant named Lotus corniculatus. There are also some issues about the Richborough Roman Fort (“The Environmental Statement identifies a potential significant effect on tourists and visitors to Richborough Roman Fort”), other issues about the possible reopening of the Manston airport (the masts would hinder the pilots), other issues about the new National Grid project named Nemo (cf. previous episodes), etc., etc. In short, both the firms had to file a lot of documents to comply with the demands – for instance, on June 9, 2016, Vigilant filed dozens of new documents, answering to the first comments/questions, which was a considerable work, and they did it well – kudos.

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One of the dozens of pages from one of the dozens of documents filed by Vigilant on the DDC website. At left, the landscape without HFT; at right, the landscape with a 325-meter mast.

Of course, both Vigilant and NLN have a major argument: “benefits for the local community” – mostly: money. The new masts would offer a lot of benefits to the community: broadcasting equipments for Academy FM; broadband connection to the Phoenix Centre; educational support for at the Sandwich Technology School; a £100,000 financial support to enhance the visitor experiences at the Roman Fort (in fact, the Roman Fort officials does not want any mast around the fort, but if the DDC allows one mast, they will take the money). Vigilant states than a minimum of £2 million would be “transferred” to the local community “for the life time of the project”, i.e. 20 years. That means £8333,33 a month, and that’s not that much if you think about it – of course, I assume the firms will also have to pay rents to the owners of spots where they seek to erect the masts – I found no data about that – but compare £8333,33 a month for a giant mast with the €20,000 (Vigilant) and the €40,000 (NLN) will pay per month in Oostduinerke, Belgium, to put dishes on an existing building. (If you want to know more about the economic benefits of the NLN mast, read this). That said, Vigilant already gave thousands of dollars to local schools, whatever the DDC councillors will decide (or not) tonight, a kind gesture.

If the residents, conservationists and pilots had to fight against the masts, Vigilant and NLN fought against each other too. For instance, on December 2, 2016, Vigilant sent a document to the DDC where they criticize the NLN mast, saying that NLN forget to propose aviation warning lights on their mast (in case the Manston airport reopens), that the location choose by NLN is not good for the migratory birds, that the NLN mast would be close to the Richborough Roman Fort, and bla bla bla. That’s the game: as we can expect that two quasi-identical masts would not be allowed in the exact same area, the better project is expected to win, so Vigilant and NLN had to fight. We’ll see later today who will win – if there is a winner.

Oh, and by the way: beyond the real local economic benefits, what would be the benefits for a trading firm to have mast in Richborough? Simple question, simple answer: 5 microseconds, or so. That means the DDC councillors will have to decide if, as a competitor said, “looking at a 320m mast for 20 years is worth helping a trading firm gain 5 microseconds”. Tough question. Let’s over simplify and say that the total cost of a mast in the banana land would be £5-6 millions (construction, community outreach and goodies, dishes, legal stuff, etc.); that would mean saving one millionth of a second costs ± £1 million. That’s a lot of money for such a short period of time… or not – it depends on the money you can spend on such a project, and of course it depends on the money you can make by saving 5 microseconds (a lot I suppose?). 

MAST SHARING

A lot of public and official comments urgently asked Vigilant and New Line Networks to work together on a single mast, as it’s totally stupid to erect two identical towers for two identical purposes. It appears that NLN and Vigilant talked together for a year, but there are still disagreements between the parties so they never never been able to agree on one project – even if the microwave provider firm McKay Brothers officially agreed to “work with” Vigilant (that means: Vigilant and McKay could share the mast, or even pay for it together), and even if Latent Networks (another microwave provider – let’s put it like that) seems to work with Vigilant now as they just asked for an Ofcom licence for a Richborough Power Station-Oostduinerke path. Too bad there is no agreement between Vigilant and New Line Networks, that’s probably not good for both of them (I think this point will be discussed in a moment).

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Click to enlarge

THE DOVER DISTRICT COUNCIL OFFICER RECOMMENDATIONS

Last week the DCC officer published its recommendations about both the masts. Not surprisingly, the officer recommended that the applications should be REFUSED. Here are the reasons:

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The DDC officer about the NLN mast

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The DDC officer about the Vigilant mast

We will see what is the opinion of the DDC councillors in one hour (they may decide otherwise). The only strange thing here is that the Vigilant application is clearly better than the NLN one (I still think NLN came in Richborough to annoy Vigilant so that no mast would be erected in the banana land)), and Vigilant (unlike NLN) has a competitive advantage: they are ready to work with McKay, Latent and other third parties. Again, all that will be discussed later today.

FROM RICHBOROUGH TO CHICAGO…

On May 18, 2016, McKay Brothers’ CEO Stéphane Tyc gave a talk at the Terrapinn Trading Show Chicago, Exchanges vs Networks: The Intensifying Competition Between Determinism and Speed (watch the video here if you are interested by the microwave business and the speed of light – by the ay, the most interesting part is the second one, not about microwave).

At some point Stéphane started a discussion about the “new Eiffel towers” Vigilant and NLN seek to build in Richborough. After explaining the Oostduinkerke-Richborough path would be 100 km (versus 70 km for the McKay path between Dunkerque and Dover), and after two seconds of silence (this is a really long time for a microwave provider ;), he said about the Eiffel towers: “It’s crazy, of course… if you ask me”. Of course it’s crazy, as if NLN (as a provider) are allowed to build a mast there, they should be faster than Mckay, and that’s not good for McKay’s clients. He added that he wishes the local community/politicians would force Vigilant and NLN (and their competitors, including McKay) to work together to find a solution with one mast (now we know that will not happen). “Vigilant, they are very good” said Stéphane about the way the Montreal firm managed their project in Richborough. “They say, ‘look, it looked like shit before [the old Richborough power station area]… so we are not doing anything bad’” – I wouldn’t have used these words, but that’s a good summary. Then Oostduinkerke and this blog arrived on the screen:

 

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Thank you bro

What Stéphane didn’t know when he spoke in Chicago is that Mr. Eric Bellerive, Vigilant’s Director of Global Networks, was in the room, listening to him, and Eric was amused to see some attendees looked at him whereas Stéphane was saying the Vigilant project in Richborough was “crazy”. A funny moment between two fierce (but fair) competitors.

… TO OOSTDUINERKE

The picture above is the building in Oostduinkerke named “21” where both Vigilant and NLN are fighting to put dishes on the rooftop (read again episode 3 where I explained the Vigilant small mast on section 4’s rooftop would be erected just above an apartment owned by a family whose member is working at Optiver – a pure coincidence Vigilant didn’t know about, they probably had a real laugh when they read that on this blog). NLN is discussing with Section 1 and Vigilant with section 4. Both Vigilant and NLN filed planning applications; it seems like Section 4 is still reviewing the contract with Vigilant (through a law firm) while NLN was granted approval by the local authorities to put 2 microwaves dishes on Section 1’s rooftop on 12/21/2016 (a Christmas gift sent to the residents of this Section):

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Amazingly, a local TV covered the Richborough-Oostduinkerke story (video in Dutch) and conducted an interview with the mayor, who basically said that the first Vigilant application was refused because the mast would have been too tall, so Vigilant proposed a smaller tower, and the mayor also said he’ll not tax the HFT dishes more than usual – Belgian people are cool. Here is the mayor in front of the “21” building:
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The more interesting in Oostduinkerke is that Section 4 (the Vigilant one) received in February 2016 a call from a guy “with an inimitable Nordic accent” who wanted to know about the situation there and sent these words shortly after: “I understand that you have signed a lease option with Vigilant, and I was wondering if you and your lawyer would like to speak to us about the terms of your lease option and what value we might be able to add, if any to your association and others in the building. Let me be very straightforward with you: our outlook on the building is to attempt to lease all available footprint from every association. For the next two years we don’t want to place any equipment on the building, or make any changes. We simply want to pay you and the other associations a fee for this rental commiserate.”. Well. In March 2016 Section 4 received another call, from a Belgian contractor who said he was calling on behalf of a Polish guy working for a company “affiliated to an american firm”, and asked this question: “Do you think we could ask the Canadian firm if they allow us to put our dishes on their mast?”, which is a little bit strange (why they didn’t call Vigilant directly?). The other odd thing is that Section 3 (not involved in the story until this moment) sent a registered letter to Section 4, signed by a lawyer, saying that Section 3 wants to prevent Section 4 to accept the Vigilant dishes. The Oostduinkerke quarrel looked like Dallas at the beginning, now it looks more like a western movie.

THE VIGILANT PLAN B?

Amazingly, the day after the DDC officer recommended to refuse both the Vigilant and NLN masts on January 17, 2017, a new planning application was granted – not in Richborough but in Tilmanstone, between Swingate and Richborough. The application was filed on November 22, 2016 on behalf of Arquiva (a telco company who owns a lot of towers in UK, including the Swingate ones). Arquiva asked for a “5m extension to the existing lattice tower and the installation of 2 transmission dishes on the extended tower”. 

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The tower in Tilmanstone

Given the bearings of the dishes documented in the application, that really smelled HFT as one dish is watching to Dunkerque, and the other one to Slough (the only firms working on such paths around the Channel are HFT-related). Unfortunately, the documents filed in November 2016 mentioned “A new customer”, no name there – while most of the time it’s possible to find the name of the HFT firm asking for new dishes. I think the firm wanted to remain discrete – or they didn’t want a guy like me to find what was going on in Tilmanstone. But, on December 5, the Safety Compliance Certificate was downloaded on the DDC website and…

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© Dover District Council

… a name showed up, Nova Scotia, and Nova Scotia is an alias for Vigilant. I got you ;) Now I could add a new location, Tilmanstone, on my map.

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Click to enlarge

So, it looks like Vigilant has a Plan B to cross the Channel in case the mast Richborough is refused by the DDC councillors tonight. It’s certainly more difficult (technically speaking) to cross the Channel with two small towers (that’s the reason Vigilant wanted a 5m extension to the tower) compared to the 322-meter mast they hope in Richborough, but at least they can be sure that the residents won’t complain, and nobody will ask for Lotus corniculatus’ opinion there. Tilmanstone is not as close to the straight line as Richborough is, but compared to the Dunkerque/Doudekerque-Swingate path Vigilant built to cross the Channel, it’s a little bit better (are they saving 1 microsecond? or half a microsecond?). Looks like a consolation prize if the mast in Richborough is refused.

A LAST MOVE BY NEW LINE NETWORKS

On January 24, 2017, two days before today’s vote, New Line Networks filed two last documents. One is attacking Vigilant’s application on several points:

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Beyond the technical battle about the stay blocks and bla bla bla, the most interesting part is this one:

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First, it’s an answer to Vigilant who stated last year that a 305-meter mast would be too small. This is a fair point as there is no such difference between 305 meters and 322 meters, both the masts should be able to welcome the different dishes (after all, most of the competitors cross the Channel with smaller towers, except for NLN who has the 243-meter tower in Houtem); that’s said, NLN also says they are ready to extend their mast so that it would be 325-meter too. However, the argument about McKay Brothers is a bit facetious : 1/ if the Ofcom licence asked by McKay is indeed for a path from the NLN mast in Kind Ends Farm to Oostduinkerke, the licence can easily be changed to accomodate the Vigilant mast, and 2/ saying that both McKay and Latent want to put their dishes at 250 meters is a bit excessive because when operators ask for an Ofcom licence, the exact location of the dishes on a mast are most of the time approximative until the dishes are physically installed.

The other last file NLN submitted to the DDC is a 40-page (!) document defending their mast in Kings End Farm and the way they would create a “Community Interest Company” (CIC), a is a limited company which is created for community benefit.

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NLN “propose that 50% of the net revenue generated from the lease will be made available to the local communities”. “As a minimum, we would guarantee £100,000 per annum being made available through the CIC, to the benefit of local people” and “if, for example, two additional financial network providers were to take up space on the mast, we estimate that the fund would provide an annual sum of £244,534 to the local community”. “After a lengthy discussion”, NLN “agreed that the six parish councils [impacted by the mast] would each receive a fixed proportion of net revenue, with the remaining funds allocated according to parish population. Specifically: – 5% of the net revenue allocated as a fixed sum to each Town/Parish Council; – the remaining 70% divided amongst them according to population size”, as shown in this slide:

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Should the application for the KEF Mast be successful, the Community Interest Company will enter into a collaboration agreement with the operator of the Mast [NLN] which will regulate the distribution of funds, embed the agreed commercial terms to provide income for the CIC, and distribute income for the benefit of the community”. But that’s not sure money will be enough to convince people and the DDC councillors. NLN requests that a verbal update is made at the committee meeting today. We will see.

THE LAST TRIP

I came from Brussels to Dover first by car (so I visited for the last time the HFT towers in Flanders, including the Houtem tower where all this story started), then I took a ferry from Calais to Dover and I arrived at the Ramada hotel which is near the DDC offices where the meeting will start in 45 minutes. This is the only hotel in the surrounding area, so I guess other people involved in the HFT world are there too. Perhaps I’m surrounded by an army of HFTs, who knows? Now it’s time to walk to the DDC offices. I’ll try to live-tweet the meeting if I can.

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HFT dishes in Houtem, Flanders, Belgium. 01.26.2017

POST-SCRIPTUM

The Dover District Council refused both the masts. Vigilant: nine councilors against, one for. New Line Networks: ten councillors against, ZERO for. Crazy end for the HFT in the Banana Land story. More in a last episode soon.