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

Thursday, Jul 31st, 2014 (8:19 am) - Score 1,305

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.

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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