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How BT plans to push superfast broadband coverage beyond 95 per cent

BT has teased more details of how it plans to push superfast broadband availability beyond the government-mandated 95 per cent of the population target. 

Primarily, BT will use the £130 million it’s been able to get back from the various regional BDUK (Broadband Delivery for the UK) funds to push FTTC (Fibre to the Cabinet) and in some cases FTTP (Fibre to the Premises) connections out to remote parts of the UK. 

But as well as using this extra coin to pay for more cabinets and fibre optic cable, BT’s CEO of technology, services and operations Clive Silley said that new technical solutions could be deployed to make that money go even further.

As well as ‘long reach VDSL’, Silley said that BT is looking into deploying ‘novel, low-powered solutions’ which could include using copper lines for power distribution and new ruggedised small units ‘that can be more quickly, easily and economically deployed closer to the customers’.

Related: BT’s ultrafast broadband plans: G.fast and gigabit fibre for 10 million before 2021Silley was unable to explain these technical solutions in any great detail, but added: “Continued innovation from the labs ensures we have the right technology at the right cost points… 

“This means innovating in order to find new and more economic ways to expand into the last five per cent of the UK.” 

“As we push into more remote and more sparsely populated regions of the UK, the challenge becomes one of providing power and fibre connectivity to electronics in increasingly difficult locations. The economics of fibre broadband become more challenging as the number of customers served by each of those VDSL structures reduces.” 

BT has said repeatedly that the biggest barrier to bringing superfast broadband to dispersed rural populations is ensuring that deployment of street cabinets is cost effective. This is why it’s keen to champion self-funded schemes like the ones in Ashley, Northamptonshire and Dodsworth, South Yorkshire, which have seen local residents dip into their own pockets to pay for cabinets.  

It’s unclear how many active, paying customers need to be using superfast services for BT to deem a cabinet economically viable but there’s obviously a threshold to be crossed, especially if these units need a constant power supply in the middle of nowhere. 

That said, Gavin Patterson, chief executive of BT Group also announced a new ‘Never say no’ mantra, promising that BT would explore every technical and financial solution in order to bring superfast services to any community that wanted it. 

In the past, BT has agreed to stump up half the costs of siting a cabinet in a remote area if a community agrees to pay for the rest. The amounts of cash vary, but typically they’re in the region of £15-£30,000.  

In summary, it’s all about the money. BT will continue to experiment with cost-effective ways to bump up bandwidth and lend an ear to deep pocketed communities who want to chip in themselves. 

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