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UPDATE BT Reach 7.4m Broadband Customers as FTTrn Pilot Hits London

Thursday, July 31st, 2014 (8:19 am) - Score 1,304
BT Centre in Newgate Street, London

BT has today published their latest Q2-2014 (calendar) results and confirmed that its retail broadband base suffered a slowing of growth (+104k in Q2 vs +170k in Q1-2014) to total 7,385,000 customers. The operator has also revealed a new trial of superfast broadband FTTrn technology in London and confirmed that its FTTC network now reaches 20 million UK homes and businesses (premises passed).

The slowing of growth is most likely down to the usual end-of-term student movements, which tends to afflict ISPs like BT and Virgin Media more than most. Elsewhere BT’s consumer division also increased their retail base of ‘up to’ 40-80Mbps capable Fibre-to-the-Cabinet (BTInfinity) subscribers by +226k during Q2 to total 2,332,000 (down from the +249k added in Q1).

NOTE: The total number of FTTC subscribers, including those on BT and other ISPs like TalkTalk and Sky Broadband etc., grew by +341k (down slightly from +347k in Q1) to total 3,019,000 (15% of those passed with FTTC). In other words BT’s Consumer division still dominates 64% of all FTTC uptake by ISPs, which is partly due to all the media attention gained through the Broadband Delivery UK programme (now responsible for most of the new FTTC coverage).

Elsewhere BTWholesale reported that their base of broadband lines (those sold to other UK ISPs like Zen Internet but excluding BT itself) decreased at a slower pace by -5k in the quarter to total 1,866,000 (not as bad as the -14k lost in Q1). By comparison BTOpenreach now has 8,013,000 MPF LLU – fully unbundled (+167k in Q1) and 1,353,000 SMPF LLU – shared unbundled (+102k) lines, which are primarily used by ISPs like Sky Broadband and TalkTalk etc.

On the TV front BT’s IPTV (YouView + BTVision) service only added +5k customers (well down from +46k in Q1) to total 1,007,000, although this was largely due to the fact that BT’s base has been “adjusted to remove 35k inactive customers” and that offset against the addition of +40k. Apparently the additional churn came as a direct result of BT’s earlier decision to exchange their legacy set-top boxes in the quarter.

Gavin Patterson, BT Group’s CEO, said:

“We have made a good start to the year. We have delivered growth in underlying revenue excluding transit and in profit before tax, and free cash flow was strong.

Our fibre broadband network now covers more than twenty million premises. We are passing over 70,000 additional premises each week and demand is strong with more than three million already signed up. We have announced a further 2,500 new jobs in recent months to support our strategic investments in fibre and customer service.

I’m excited by the launch of BT One Phone for the business market as well as our other mobility plans. We’ll say more on these later this financial year. The second season of BT Sport is about to start with a great line-up of content and it will continue to be free with BT Broadband. We are building on solid foundations and I am confident we will deliver on our strategy.”

On the financial front BT Group’s revenue reached £4,354m in the quarter (down from £4,748m in Q1) and their reported profits before tax topped £546m (down sharply from £747m). Meanwhile total net debt for the group increased slightly from £7,028m in Q1 to £7,079m now. In addition, BTOpenreach’s revenue remained flat as Ofcom’s new regulatory price changes (Fixed Access Market Review) offset growth in “fibre broadband” (FTTC/P).

Separate to all this BT has confirmed yet another pilot of their Fibre-to-the-Remote-Node (FTTRN) technology, which first reared its head in North Yorkshire earlier this year (here) and is now being experimented with in a number of locations around the UK. But unlike those pilots the new one will take place inside London’s Shoreditch area.

The new solution is almost a mirror for the Fibre-To-The-Distribution-Point (FTTdp) standard, which shortens the run of existing copper lines by running the fibre optic cable nearer to homes than street cabinets and attaching it via smaller remote nodes that can be positioned on nearby telegraph poles, inside manholes or a variety of other locations. The result is faster broadband speeds.

It’s long been anticipated that an FTTdp/RN type solution would be used to help make significantly faster broadband speeds available across the United Kingdom, possibly in conjunction with FTTC + Vectoring (with an improved band profile other countries can deliver 250Mbps using this setup) and or eventually G.fast technology (up to 1000Mbps).

But such deployments would take time and be expensive to deliver, while the related G.fast technology is still a fair few years away. This means that for now the focus remains on FTTC with FTTRN perhaps seeing greater use to fill-in some of the gaps, assuming the trials prove successful. One day though, FTTRN could become part of a national solution.

UPDATE 1st August 2014

In a series of post-investment call comments the CEO of BTOpenreach, Joe Garner, told reporters that the operator sees “upload speeds as our edge over [Virgin Media’s] network” (indeed the top 80Mbps FTTC product can deliver uploads of 20Mbps vs 12Mbps on Virgin’s 152Mbps cable product). Garner also hinted towards symmetrical speeds and alongside that gave a quick mention of G.fast as “lending itself well” to that approach, which is a fairly strong endorsement of that direction.

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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 Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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23 Responses
  1. Avatar adslmax

    Come on BT – get your act out and start roll out FTTC + Vectoring (with an improved band profile other countries can deliver 250Mbps using this setup) and or eventually G.fast technology (up to 1000Mbps) right away, otherwise it will fallen behind again!

    • Avatar New_Londoner

      @adslmax
      Agree vectoring would be good, also a move to Profile 13a, but I think Ofcom decides the latter as it impacts on the frequency plan.

      IIRC vectoring with profile 13a gives about 40Mbps at 1Km, so would be an excellent way to boost both speed and reach.

    • I assume you mean 30a as I’ve not heard of a 13a? The only problem with 30a is ensuring compatibility of hardware as some bits and bobs might need replacing, but it has potential.

    • Avatar New_Londoner

      @MarkJ
      Fair point, 30a, too much haste.

    • Avatar Ignitionnet

      30a is worse at distance than 17a. It is an FTTB/RN/S technology not an FTTC technology.

      It would require new line cards which are expensive and lower port density in order to deliver benefits only to those within 100m of copper of DSLAM.

      Absolutely no value or business case for it at all.

    • Avatar Ignitionnet

      The 250Mb services are not FTTC, they are vectored FTTB/S/RN/DP/whatever with fibre within ~100m of end users.

      Having spent the money on FTTN/C and not caring less about speed contests with anyone as they have a monopoly over fixed lines in the majority of the country there is no drive for Openreach to start spending the 10-figure sum needed to deploy such things.

    • Avatar Raindrops

      All that about profile 30 in addition to vectoring being useless unless you live on top of a cabinet or the exchange for the other products you mention ignitionnet has been over before and explained to the same people before. They still can not comprehend it is not an answer and continue to try to promote that dross as a solution.

  2. Avatar Phil Coates

    Come on BT and BDUK, provide at least access to the Internet here in Staffordshire! Fast go faster, those with zero stay at zero.

  3. Avatar fastman2

    Phill

    is your community in staffordshire in the BDUK build and have you spoken to staffordshifre on this

    • Avatar Phil Coates

      My Community is in the BDUK plan for Staffordshire with a promise of a startling 2Mbps by 2016. Given that BT cannot provide anything other than dial-up speed, I remain perplexed as to what the solution will be.

      We are currently not being considered for the Fibre rollout because its ‘too expensive’ – 7km from the exchange along a single road. We live in a watershed area at the end of the reach of our exchange and the next one.

      I use Satellite BB but at £65 per month, its no joke.

    • Avatar fastman2

      phil so if you are only 2 meg on BDUK why dont you open conversation around private funding infrastructure for your community / Village — see openreach FAQ’s Rural Broadband there are number who have done that —

  4. BT still need to restore FTTP targets formally, and reduce FOD pricing to that when they won the BDUK contracts at £38 pm rather than £100 pm wholesale. They also need to overcome their Lance Armstrong moment on the rural programme. Belgacom (90%) and Eircom will be confirming rollout costs at euros 25k per fibre path and cabinet, and Alnets here in rural are confirming £30k with BT SLU unbundling charges. In the mean time the 44 BDUK contracts say average state aid capital subsidies of £46k per cabinet/fibre path which includes USC and premiums for take up.

  5. Avatar New_Londoner

    @ignitionnet
    The short distance speeds with 30a pls vectoring are nice, but it still gives decent speeds at 1km too.

    • Avatar Raindrops

      No it does not…
      Pages 3 and 6 and that is under ideal situations. No real difference at 1km.

      Enough of this peddling of pixie dust.

    • Avatar MikeW

      Page 3 is for 0.4mm cable, so you need to multiply distances by 1.3 for the 0.5mm cable typical here. 750m in the graph is more like 1km here.

      Page 6 is highly stylised, where the line for plain VDSL2 doesn’t even follow the graph in page 3. It isn’t worth using to document performance of vectoring.

      For better comparison of the effect of both 30a and Vectoring together, this might be better: http://www.broadband-forum.org/marketing/download/mktgdocs/MR-257.pdf

      Figures 7 and 8 show the effect of vectoring on 17a and 30a profiles. The cable is again 0.4mm, so distances must still be factored by 1.3. I’d agree that 30a is having a tiny effect at 1km (750m on graph) over 17a, but the vectoring component is still useful. As NL said, the 70Mbps ish speed is still decent.

      Those graphs include crosstalk disturbers and WT114 noise injection. Definitely not ideal conditions.

      I still don’t think we’ll see 30a used here though…

    • Avatar MikeW

      And for those interested, here’s the kind of kit that telco’s use in the lab, to simulate real line & noise conditions:
      http://www.spirent.com/~/media/Datasheets/Broadband/PAB/DLS/DLS-V2E_European_VDSL2_Integrated_Wireline_and_Noise_Testing_System_Datasheet.pdf

      Don’t ever believe that “in the lab” means sterile, perfect conditions. It isn’t real life, but the manufacturers of this kind of equipment go a long way to try to make sure that it is as close to real life as possible.

    • Avatar Raindrops

      The figures from your broadband forum link are for 26AWG or 0.4mm wire just as my link was. If they are for 24AWG or 0.5mm wire please point out where it says that as all i could see mention of is 26AWG wire.

      It is also highly amusing you use that as a better example when you along with BT fans bash anything broadband forum when it appears on here as a news item. Regardless it shows little difference at 1km acouple of Mb in reality at best.

    • Avatar MikeW

      Ah, Raindrops. First you forget to post a link. Then you forget to actually read the comment you are responding to. Try again… especially paragraph 4: “The cable is again 0.4mm, so distances must still be factored by 1.3…”

      One problem we have is that almost all VDSL2 graphs refer to 0.4mm copper. The useful ones state it (amongst other conditions), while the useless ones don’t bother.

      I don’t recall ever bashing the broadband forum. In fact, that document is one of my go-to places for vectoring performance, though I’m usually referring to figure 6, and the comparisons there for the 17a profile. Though that too is for 0.4mm cable, so we still need to factor results for the UK.

      However, that document is one of the few where you can see direct comparisons between the 17a profile and the 30a profile, including vectoring, and enough extra details to make reasonable extrapolations for the UK. It was worth posting from that regard, even if you need to add 30% to the distance axis.

      One paper for results on 0.5mm copper is by Ericsson research, at
      http://cms.comsoc.org/SiteGen/Uploads/Public/Docs_Globecom_2009/Vector_globecom2009_final_v2.pdf

      Page 9 shows their results for 0.5mm copper, but you have to assume that the rest of the test setup remains as for the 0.4mm tests (ie is a 17a profile, using Annex A). And like many tests performed in 2009/2010, it tends to top out at 100Mbps due to limitations in other bits of equipment.

      Still, it also shows 70Mbps at about 3250 feet, which is around 1km.

      Does that mean we’ll get that speed in the UK? It is still unlikely, as we don’t know what band plan they used (affects the trade-off between upstream & downstream) and we don’t know what PSD masks they used (where speed is lost to prevent interference with exchange-based ADSL2+).

      But even with all that, we still agree on the end result. 30a alone pretty much runs out by 1km. But when combined with vectoring, the resulting speed is still decent.

  6. Avatar MikeW

    30a profiles don’t look to be on the near horizon, with limited support by current CPE. If it were even being considered, it would have been part of the CPE requirements for 3rd party modems.

    Vectoring, SRA and PHYR are all included in those requirements, so look to be much more likely inclusions in the near term.

    At 1km, vectoring still improves speeds (and the range of the superfast threshold), which makes it useful for 90%+ of lines. Above that, bonding would probably be better, but there is little sign of that being used properly by BT (properly means just using a d-side pair; no e-side and no “line rental” save perhaps an SLU-style addition).

    The update from today suggests g.fast/FTTdp is firmly on the distant horizon – which I suspect will be made more likely if the FTTRN trials work fine. If the principle of putting a node deeper than the PCP (and works well when one is already co-located at the PCP) proves workable, that would be better than bonding.

  7. Avatar Raindrops

    Ah, Raindrops. First you forget to post a link. Then you forget to actually read the comment you are responding to. Try again… especially paragraph 4: “The cable is again 0.4mm, so distances must still be factored by 1.3…”

    Which is utter nonsense where you have provided no evidence to show 0.5mm cable is 1.3x quicker than 0.4mm. As said again your broadband forum link is for 0.4mm cable just as my link was.

    “One paper for results on 0.5mm copper is by Ericsson research, at
    http://cms.comsoc.org/SiteGen/Uploads/Public/Docs_Globecom_2009/Vector_globecom2009_final_v2.pdf

    Page 9 shows their results for 0.5mm copper, but you have to assume that the rest of the test setup remains as for the 0.4mm tests (ie is a 17a profile, using Annex A). And like many tests performed in 2009/2010, it tends to top out at 100Mbps due to limitations in other bits of equipment.

    Still, it also shows 70Mbps at about 3250 feet, which is around 1km.”

    Laughable and ridiculous to even assume those speeds happen at those distances, regardless even if they did that chart shows NO improvement with vectoring at
    3281 feet which is 1.0000488 km.
    It also shows the VECTORED line at that distance is slower than one operating in good fashion with no cross talk. That chart also must be some kind of lab test as it states its for six lines and you would not see cross talk affect 6 lines to that degree. So VECTORING at 1km giving decent speeds is still rubbish. It actually has no benefit at distance as you and BT fans have been told numerous times.

    “Still, it also shows 70Mbps at about 3250 feet, which is around 1km.”

    Which is clearly a load of BS if it were not vectoring here would not be needed as those at 1km distance would all be merrily getting that speed or faster already.

    That chart also does not make clear if that vectored speed is with or without cross talk, vectoring does not eliminate cross talk, from my understanding only reduces it.

    Im also curious as to what the actual cable used in the UK is, i doubt it is a consistent gauge considering some of it may be brand new and some of it is decades old. Vectoring for some of it which is decades old will not help either, there are still paper covered wires in the UK and vectoring wont help when you get physical line noise from say water ingress into those.

    OR THE SHORT VERSION…. Vectoring will not help lone lines.

    Oh and FTTdp lets not go over that expensive poop again which is not a consumer priced product.

  8. Avatar Ignitionnet

    Shame for Mr Garner that the upload speeds ‘edge’ over the cable company is not going to last.

    Kinda how things run when you only spend 3 years of the cable company’s upgrade budget on your fibre overbuild.

    • Avatar Raindrops

      What he has to say is funny for numerous reasons…
      1 NO FTTC from BT Retail is advertised as 20Mb upload or runs at 20Mb upload (The maximum up profile is even set just below 20Mb) so no idea where he gets that fantasy from.

      To even think 8Mb more upload on your product gives it the “edge” when the other product is a whopping 72Mb faster on the download is also hilarious.

      I also found the hint of “symmetrical speeds” more than humorous, quite how they are going to do that without another big handout will be interesting.

      You do have to wonder do people like him and the BT workers that comment with more names than a schizophrenic here go on some kind of course to talk utter crap or if it comes naturally.

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