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BT: ‘We’ll do gigabit fibre for 2m and for 12m by 2020’

BT has pledged to roll out FTTP (Fibre to the Premises) broadband to 2 million UK properties by 2020, provided the right ‘regulatory support’ is in place. 

Alongside its latest set of quarterly figures, the UK’s biggest ISP has unveiled an ambitious plan that will see millions of homes, businesses and new housing developments able to order ultrafast broadband over the next four years. 

Building on plans first announced last September, BT says that it’ll make such services available to a minimum of 12 million homes and businesses. 

Of these 12 million addresses, the plan is for 2 million to be reached with FTTP, while the remaining 10 million will presumably be able to order services. 

BT announces new ultrafast broadband trials: for muggles, gigabit fibre for business wizardsFTTP connections have the benefit of essentially being future proof – in the wild and in lab conditions we’ve seen evidence of such connections delivering download speeds of 10Gbps, 20Gbps and even 40Gbps. Even if by 2020 customers don’t need that sort of bandwidth and it’s arguable that they won’t, it means that ISPs using the Openreach netowrk can easily make such speeds available to customers who want it in the future. 

Tests have shown that can deliver top download speeds of around 700Mbps, but it’s more likely that beyond the confines of the lab, customers can expect to get 500Mbps. While that’s considerably slower than what you could get with an FTTP line, it’s still significantly faster than the 80Mbps theoretical top speed currently possible on BT’s FTTC (Fibre to the Cabinet) connections. Like FTTC and ADSL before it, the top speeds you’ll be able to get down a line is ultimately determined by the length of that ‘last mile’ copper loop. 

Chief executive Gavin Patterson says that BT can pass premises with connections at a much greater pace than it can install new FTTP lines and at a lower cost. 

“Customers want their broadband to be affordable as well as fast and we will be able to do that using,” said Patterson. “FTTP will also play a bigger role going forward and I believe it is particularly well suited to those businesses who may need speeds of up to 1Gbps. My ambition is to roll it out to two million premises and our trials give me confidence we will.” 

Possibly echoing comments made last week by Virgin Media CEO Tom Mockridge, Patterson also appeared to thumb his nose at Sky and TalkTalk, which have been busy trialling FTTP services in York in partnership with CityFibre. The Sky-TalkTalk-CityFibre joint venture was announced in 2014 with the first trialists were connected in September 2015

Patterson said: “Networks require money and a lot of it. Virgin and BT have both pledged to invest and we will now see if others follow our lead. Infrastructure competition is good for the UK and so is the current Openreach model whereby others can piggyback on our investment should they want to.”

BT’s superfast broadband footprint swells to cover 25m premisesBT says it’s earmarked £6 billion for the ultrafast upgrade, something that CityFibre’s chief executive Greg Mesch describes as a ‘reluctant response by a sluggish incumbent’.

“While any business constructing pure fibre infrastructure for our nation’s homes and businesses should be encouraged, focusing on the entrenchment of an incumbent operator overlooks the essential contribution of alternative infrastructure builders like CityFibre,” Mesch added.  

“It is only through the growth of alternative operators and the stimulation of a truly competitive infrastructure market that the UK will see the innovation and better value services it so badly needs.”

TalkTalk’s CEO Dido Harding has claimed that CityFibre’s networks could be used by as a springboard for ISPs like hers to reach 10 million homes with FTTP broadband, though that was back in 2014 and since then there’s been little evidence of that actually happening. 

Both Sky and TalkTalk have been particularly vocal in their criticisms of BT in the past, calling for telecoms regulator Ofcom to forcibly separate Openreach, BT’s network of exchanges, ducts and poles, from the wider BT group. 

Following the recommendations outlined in Ofcom’s recent Strategic Review, an overview of the UK’s telecoms network undertaken every decade, the regulator is now working with BT and the wider industry on how to improve missed service targets and access to Openreach’s physical network of ducts and poles. The regulator retains the right to formally separate Openreach from BT in the future. 


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