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BT could boost universal download speed to 5-10Mbps, if Ofcom lets it

As well as piping ultrafast services to millions of properties, BT wants to crank the universal minimum speed to at least 5 and up to 10Mbps over the next few years. 

BT Group chief executive Gavin Patterson announced that BT would deliver the new minimum download speeds to meet the requirements of the modern household, where customers require at least 5Mbps in order to stream HD video from services like BBC iPlayer and Netflix. 

Patterson said that the different technologies that are being mooted are a factor in why BT isn’t going for a solid 5Mbps or 10Mbps for all target, along with economics.  

Clive Selley, CEO of technology, services and operations at BT Group sketched out the three main solutions BT is currently looking at.

Selley said: “This year we will move 700,000 customers off the older ADSL1 technology [maximum download speed of 8Mbps] improving broadband speeds and allowing more customers to make use of all of those popular Internet services including high quality video streams.”

Despite the efforts of BT’s 21CN plan, some customers still can’t get ADSL2+ which provides top download speeds of 24Mbps. So if you thought your lot in life was harsh because you couldn’t get FTTC (Fibre to the Cabinet), it could be worse. 

ADSL2+, satellites and ‘long reach’ VDSL to the rescue

Customers in some of the remote regions of the UK will benefit from a satellite-based broadband solution which will deliver ‘superfast’ speeds – Selley didn’t talk figures but we know from the likes of Avonline and BeyonDSL that download speeds of 20Mbps are achievable with a satellite connection. Just try not to think about latency and worry about adverse weather, which can have an effect on your connection. Seeing as it almost never rains in the UK, this shouldn’t be an issue. 

Satellite broadband was something that BT was already considering as a way to connect those who weren’t due to get a fixed-line superfast connection under the BDUK (Broadband Delivery for the UK) scheme, so this isn’t strictly new.

Equally, BT has been moving customers from ADSL1 to ADSL2+ since the 21CN upgrade programme began way back in November 2006. Again, not a massive cause for celebration. 

What is new is ‘long reach VDSL’, an engineering solution which promises to significantly raise broadband speeds on very long copper lines. 

Selley said: “[With long reach VDSL] we can take a two kilometre-long copper line, currently achieving 9Mbps and increase this to 24Mbps. And longer term with standard changes, we can achieve even higher speeds… this is very exciting new technology which could play a key role in delivering [these new minimum speeds].” 

It’s worth noting at this point that while the current top speed theoretically possible on BT’s VDSL-based FTTC lines is 80Mbps, speeds decrease as the length of the copper ‘last mile’ increases. At two kilometers, there’s no difference in terms of speed between ADSL and VDSL, which is why this new ‘long reach’ development is significant. 

Before such a product hits the market, more testing will be required, but the above example gives you an idea of what speeds you might be able to expect if this long reach solution is applied. 

On top of that, because other ISPs like Sky and TalkTalk, who use BT’s Openreach network may want access to this new technology, meaning telecoms regulator Ofcom will have to give it the official thumbs up.  

Will BT’s ultrafast ambitions stay Ofcom’s hand?

Speaking of which, Ofcom is currently weighing up the future of Openreach’s position within BT. 

As a result of the Strategic Review of Digital Communications 2015, BT could be forced to spin off its access network arm.

This is the bit of BT used by other ISPs to deliver services to your door. In its current form, Openreach already exists as a separate division of the BT Group, albeit one governed by a set of targets (including ones for missed and late appointments) which are set by Ofcom. 

Despite being required to give all ISPs using Openreach fair and equal access, BT’s network arm has been heavily criticised by Sky, TalkTalk and Vodafone, citing the dominant market position of BT’s retail arm, one that’s sure to be cemented by its EE takeover

An unnamed TalkTalk spokesperson issued the following statement this afternoon:

“Of course we welcome any plans for investment to improve broadband service and speed. However it has taken an Ofcom review and the threat of serious regulatory intervention to win even these modest commitments. 

“BT Openreach has been letting down customers and businesses across the UK for so long that, for many, these plans will come as too little and too late. It’s entirely proper that Openreach is innovating and investing, but it’s far likelier to go further, faster as an independent player in a competitive market than as hostage to a large corporate more interested in profit than progress. 

“Other players are also investing in innovation – for example, our own ultrafast joint venture in York with Sky and CityFibre – but if the industry is to reach its full potential we need a level playing field that encourages competing providers to roll out the ultrafast infrastructure of the future.”

BT has also announced plans to roll out ultrafast services providing a range of speeds, between 300Mbps and 1Gbps, to 10 million homes and firms by the end of 2020

In a bizarre coincidence, it just so happens that TalkTalk’s Dido Harding has spoken of her hopes to reach 10 million UK premises should the partnership with Sky and CityFibre prove fruitful

Ofcom is closing the door on industry responses to its review on October 8

BT is contractually required to deliver a minimum 2Mbps service to all UK addresses under the terms of the BDUK. Should Openreach be split off from BT, the jury’s out on when customers in remote and hard-to-reach areas might get anything better than this from a fixed-line, unless the likes of Gigaclear or B4RN can intervene. 

If you want to check your current line speed, you can use our broadband speed test tool.

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