After a long wait Openreach (BT) has today revealed the tentative wholesale cost of their new ‘up to’ 330Mbps capable G.fast broadband technology for UK homes and businesses, which from January 2017 will be piloted in 17 locations across the country (reaching 138,000 UK premises by the end of March 2017).
Under the current plan Openreach intends to begin the commercial roll-out of G.fast (ITU G.9700/9701) technology later next year (technical details), which should reach 10 million homes and businesses by 2020. After that the coverage should eventually rise to “most of the UK” by 2025 and we’re guessing that “most” will equate to around 60% UK coverage.
BT’s long-term plans for G.fast are still dependent upon the final outcome of Ofcom’s on-going Strategic Review. In the meantime Openreach has already confirmed the roll-out of a huge new pilot (coverage details), which will involve 138,000 UK premises. We see this as being the unofficial start of their commercial deployment, even if that’s not how they frame it.
Suffice to say that we now know quite a lot about G.fast, including its top two product tiers.
Pilot product 1
• A peak downstream rate of up to 330 Mbit/s.
• An upstream rate of up to 50 Mbit/s.
Pilot product 2
• A peak downstream rate of up to 160 Mbit/s.
• An upstream rate of up to 30 Mbit/s.
However one thing we didn’t know, until now, was how much the service will actually cost. Thankfully that has today begun to change after Openreach revealed the first wholesale pricing details for their G.fast pilot. But it should be remembered that these are still provisional (subject to change).
Likewise these costs reflect Openreach’s raw wholesale charges, which come before ISPs have added their own costs for service delivery, VAT at 20%, profit margins, capacity and other features on top in order to create the product that you eventually buy.
G.fast Pilot Pricing from 9th January 2017 Onwards
* £49 for Managed Engineer Install with CP Device, £99 for Managed Engineer Install with Openreach Modem
* £9.95/month +vat rental for 160/30Mbps and 330/50Mbps
The fact that the monthly rental is the same for both their 160Mbps and 330Mbps options in our view confirms that this pricing should be treated more like a special offer, although it’s probably nearly the right level for their 160Mbps service. We’d expect 330Mbps to eventually attract a price closer to Openreach’s similar FTTP option (see further below).
The prices above are intended to encourage participation in the Pilot and are not an indication of launch prices for the new product variants. Changes to the Openreach Price List will be notified via ACCN OR468 and will be effective from 9 January 2017. Openreach intends to announce the full launch prices in due course.
For the sake of comparison, Openreach’s top 80Mbps (20Mbps upload) FTTC / VDSL2 based “fibre broadband” product costs about £49 +vat to self-install and attracts an annual rental of £119.40 (also equivalent to £9.95 per month). Meanwhile their top 330Mbps (30Mbps) pure fibre optic FTTP service is £92 for the connection and £355.32 rental (£29.61 per month).
In the commercial market ISPs tend to price their 80Mbps products at around £30 inc. VAT per month (e.g. Sky Broadband), which is roughly double the original wholesale cost and reflects all of the extra things that a provider has to add before they can deliver the service to you. However some, such as Plusnet, will do this for just £19.99 per month (don’t expect top quality).
As a result we can see that G.fast is positioning itself to be roughly in line with Openreach’s existing products, but despite the wholesale cost being close to an 80Mbps FTTC product you should still expect ISPs to charge a fair bit more for G.fast because fuelling a 160Mbps+ package with capacity is expensive (especially for smaller ISPs). We’d guesstimate a +£10 per month premium over 80Mbps at retail.
Once launched the most attractive package for consumers is likely to be the 160Mbps service, which should provide more than enough speed for the vast majority of homes and businesses. The challenge will be in encouraging consumers to pay the extra premium, especially if they can already get a viable 60-80Mbps connection via FTTC.
The other obstacle is the same one that has plagued FTTC (VDSL2), which is the issue of headline speeds vs reality. Signals sent over copper lines degrade over distance and G.fast’s performance falls away much more rapidly than VDSL2, which means that a lot of people could be offered something well below 160Mbps by their ISP. Time will tell.
We should add that Openreach has today also announced an extension of their existing G.fast trials in Cherry Hinton (Cambridgeshire) and Gillingham (Kent), which will begin on 23rd November 2016 (when they were originally due to end) and run until 8th January 2017. After this they will be merged into the pilot as expected. Existing trial customers will benefit from free service rental for 160/30Mbps and 330/30Mbps until 8th January 2017 and after that you’ll have to pay the new pricing or downgrade.
When combined with the on-going FTTP expansion, BT’s roll-out of “ultrafast broadband” should have reached 500,000 premises by April 2017.
G.fast Pilot Locations
* Bolton, Greater Manchester
* Cherry Hinton, Cambridgeshire*
* Cheltenham, Gloucestershire
* Derby, Derbyshire
* Donaldson, South East Scotland
* Gillingham, Kent*
* Langside, Glasgow
* Donaldson, Edinburgh
* Gosforth, Tyne & Wear
* Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire
* Luton, Bedfordshire
* Rusholme, Manchester
* St. Austell, Cornwall
* Swansea, Wales
* Swindon, Wiltshire
* London: Balham / Upton Park, London
NOTE: Several of the areas listed above reflect a continuation / expansion of the earlier G.fast trials (e.g. Swansea, Gillingham, Huntingdon etc.).