The CEO of BT Group, Gavin Patterson, has confirmed to the ‘Media & Telecoms 2016 & Beyond‘ conference in London that he will “significantly … accelerate the deployment” of their ultrafast 330Mbps capable Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) broadband technology. But the details remain wafer thin.
Strictly speaking this isn’t a new development and indeed the first hints of an expanded FTTP deployment, which is “likely” to be complemented by a new “premium” 1000Mbps (1Gbps) product variant, came as part of BT’s original G.fast roll-out announcement in January 2015 (here).
We should add that BT intends to begin the commercial roll-out of G.fast during summer 2017 (here), which will follow an expanded pilot this summer, and they’ve pledged to make the new service available to 10 million premises by 2020, with “most of the UK” likely to be done by 2025. Initially G.fast will only offer top speeds of up to 300Mbps, before later increasing to 500Mbps.
Previously BT’s G.fast strategy was in doubt, although the seemingly favourable (to BT) outcome from Ofcom’s Strategic Review (here) appears to be keeping things on-track. But Patterson’s speech is the first time that we’ve heard him make a clear and specific commitment to the wider deployment of FTTP, which is precisely what Ofcom have been trying to encourage.
Gavin Patterson said (here):
“We’re working on improvements to allow Openreach to accelerate the deployment of fibre-to-the-premises significantly.”
Unlike G.fast, which is still a slower speed and cheaper to deploy hybrid-fibre (copper and fibre optic cable) solution, FTTP is a pure fibre optic line and can thus deliver significantly faster and more reliable performance; albeit much more expensive to deploy. The GPON approach adopted by BT has its restrictions, although their 1Gbps FTTP trial confirms that those will be less of a hindrance going forward.
The comments are all the more surprising because those with a long memory will recall that we’ve been here before. Back in 2009/10 BT originally made a commitment to deploy both FTTC and FTTP connections to 40% of the UK and a little later this was pushed to 66%.
The original plan suggested an FTTP coverage aspiration of 2.5 million premises passed, but today they’ve only done over 200,000 and that’s because BT’s original goal was effectively abandoned (here) in order to focus on making the quicker and cheaper to deploy FTTC solution more widely available. It didn’t help that installing FTTP into people’s homes was often tricky.
However the details remain wafer thin and last month Patterson also pledged to invest another £1 billion+ to further improve national broadband connectivity (here), although as we remarked at the time it was still distinctly unclear whether this was truly new money or simply re-announcing an old commitment; much like politicians so often do.
Yesterday’s event confirmed that BT still intends to deploy “a mix of technologies going forward” (i.e. G.fast dominance and a bit of FTTP) and so until we see a clear commitment on the FTTP side then we’ll continue to have our doubts. The language is certainly becoming more favourable, but BT needs to be more specific and set a clear goal.
But for now Patterson may be using this as a bargaining chip with Ofcom’s Strategic Review. “We’re getting close but we’re not there yet – Ofcom’s response has brought us closer to a positive outcome but has still left several unanswered questions … the destabilising threat of structural separation has to be withdrawn,” said BT’s boss.
Interestingly Patterson also told the conference that Openreach would review their approach to connecting businesses where it “wouldn’t have been economically feasible previously,” which at least sounds positive. Hopefully this will all be fleshed out after a final deal can be reached with Ofcom. In the meantime Ofcom are still keeping the option of an Openreach split on the table.