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Fluidata MD – Somebody Should Tell BT the Copper Phone Line is Dead

Saturday, May 17th, 2014 (8:09 am) - Score 1,766

The outspoken boss of business ISP Fluidata, Piers Daniell, has predicted that the latest generation of fibre optic (FTTP/H) broadband connectivity will steadily remove the need for consumer to be forced into paying for a copper-line Plain Old Telephone Service (POTS) on top of their Internet connectivity, but for BT it’s still too much of a “cashcow” to ignore.

In the modern broadband-equipped home your fixed phone line is more likely to sit there and remain unused, except for Internet connectivity of course. A survey conducted by ISPreview.co.uk last year unsurprisingly found that 62% of UK respondents prefer to make voice calls over their mobile and 64% said they’d get rid of the line altogether if it wasn’t needed for broadband (we’re still waiting for mass-market Naked ADSL lines).

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By contrast most ultrafast fibre optic (FTTH/P) providers, ironically except BT’s own rival product where Fibre Voice Access (FVA) remains an M.I.A solution for consumers (not that this matters as only a very tiny number of people can get their FTTP), will only charge you for the broadband component. Admittedly you’re still paying rental for a line, be it copper or fibre, but here broadband really does mean broadband and not broadband + a copper line that you’ll almost never use for making calls on.

Piers Daniell, Fluidata’s Managing Director, said:

Surely with the advancement in speeds that FTTP affords the need for a phone line diminishes? With the likes of Skype offering land line style services, mobile phone companies offering millions of free minutes, home signal boosters and so forth the concept of having a POTS (plain old telephone service) becomes less important. Surely the customers who have FTTP and a phone line will be less than those who just choose the fibre? Lets ignore for a moment as to why a 100 year old technology, which has been paid for many times over, actually costs more than it did this time last year.

The problem is nobody has told BT, and through the actions of their retail department recently upping the cost of line rental to £15.99 it has allowed it to market even cheaper broadband services, that surprisingly have to run over it – creating a very important cashcow for the group.

Unfortunately FTTP doesn’t need a phone line. TalkTalk has taken a leaf out of BT’s book and currently offer the cheapest unlimited broadband deal in the UK, apparently, at £3.99 [£3.50] per month. Sounds good. Until you realise that it needs a £15.99 [£15.95] line rental to operate, so actually it is £19.98 [£19.45]. And with wholesale costs of phone lines at £10 per month it actually means the broadband component is £9.98. Ok still good value but surely this dubious marketing model shouldn’t make its way into the world of true fibre to the home?”

Daniell goes on to predict that a future fuelled by more competition from rival FTTP providers, which don’t also force you to pay for an old copper phone line alongside the new fibre one, will encourage BT to “focus on the future, rather than income streams of the past.”

But this will surely depend upon the availability of such services and at present the only ISPs with any FTTP/H ambitions, beyond fairly niche coverage, are Hyperoptic (here) and the joint CityFibre / TalkTalk / Sky Broadband deal (here). Hyperoptic has a firm target to reach 500,000 premises passed by 2018 in dense urban areas, while TalkTalk has spoken about an aspiration for 10 million but that’s yet to be proven and will in any case be a long time coming (let’s see what they can do with 20k in York first).

So for now and probably many more years to come, unless BT suddenly decides to take FTTH/P seriously (no signs of that happening – slower but faster to deploy hybrid-fibre solutions make more economic sense for their model), consumers will be stuck having to pay ever higher prices for copper line rental. A truly serious push into FTTP/H by Sky and TT might change that but it will first take time to prove.

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Meanwhile we shouldn’t forget that Mobile Broadband connectivity is slowly becoming faster and more flexible thanks to 4G and future 5G connectivity. But few can ignore how most of the related tariffs include strict data caps and right now it would be very difficult for mobile operators, with their limited spectrum, to match fixed line capacity.

Never the less a user with basic Internet needs might pay just £10+ all-in for their calls, data and lots of txt’s. It won’t meet the demands of heavy users but we’re already seeing more and more mobile-only connected homes. Still, one often overlooked aspect of this is that several people in a home may have a separate contract, which can actually result in a much higher total bill than if a single fixed line were used. But of course you can’t take your fixed line broadband outside of the home, which you can do on a mobile.

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Mark-Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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