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Key Points from BT’s Oral Evidence to the UK Rural Broadband Inquiry

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014 (4:48 pm) - Score 981

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee has just held an Oral Evidence session for their on-going inquiry into UK rural broadband coverage and digital-only services. First in the hot seat was the familiar face of Sean Williams, BT’s Group Director of Strategy, Policy & Portfolio, whom had a few interesting points to make on the matter.

The BDUK project currently aims to make fixed line “super-fast” Internet download speeds (24Mbps+) available to 90% by around early 2016 and rising to 95% of the population by 2017 (note: this is expected to reach 99% by 2018 when you include mobile/wireless services), while 100% are being promised a minimum speed of at least 2Mbps (USC) by sometime in 2016.

At this point we’re just going to assume that most of our readers already know about the national Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) programme and skip ahead to give a simple summary of Mr Williams most interesting insights and claims. But in case you’re less familiar then it’s worth taking a look at our brief summary of the inquiry’s Written Evidence (here), which we posted yesterday.

BTs Oral Evidence Highlights

* BT said that 97% of premises can currently get speeds of at least 2Mbps, although they anticipated that this would eventually reach 98.5% and anybody in the final 1.5% were effectively then told to get a Satellite broadband connection instead of a fixed line service.

Williams made the point that a basic Satellite service was “not drastically expensive” and highlighted how the European Commission had already used it to tick their universal coverage box (here). Sadly this rather overlooks the cost of hardware / installation, issues with planning permission in some areas, high latency, heavy traffic throttling (on some platforms) and lack of flexible end-user capacity / usage allowances.

* BT warned that there was a possibility that the 2017 target for 95% superfast broadband coverage might still end up slipping into 2018. Likewise they also warned that it could be the end of 2016, as opposed to early 2016, before the first 90% target is achieved. But despite this Williams was upbeat and said that he still felt as though the Government’s current “targets are realistic“, while earlier he had joked about the target saying “we’ll get there in the end“.

Williams also confirmed that no target date has yet been set for achieving 100% superfast coverage, which in any case is perhaps more a matter for BDUK to announce.

* BT admitted that aluminium lines weren’t “fit for purpose for our current needs” and said they “quite often” have to put in a new copper and VDSL (FTTC) street cabinets (Copper Rearrangement) in order to solve this and deliver superfast broadband. But Williams also warned that this could be a very expensive process (they don’t use it everywhere). Thankfully BT doesn’t have that many aluminium lines, but there are still quite a few about.

* BT said the BDUK scheme was currently rolling out to 60,000 premises per week, although they warned that the work “becomes increasingly difficult as you go alone” (i.e. connecting more remote rural areas).

* On the heated question of whether BT should be rolling out pure fibre optic Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) to every home instead of slow hybrid-fibre FTTC solutions, BT said FTTP would “cost five times as much and take five times as long” to reach every premises (it’s unclear if this was a reference to the FTTC cost under BDUK or when combined with their existing commercial investment). Williams also said that he saw “no case” in the future to have FTTP everywhere, adding “we don’t think FTTP is the answer“.

* BT added that FTTC / VDSL lines were good enough and “delivering 80Mbps“, albeit clearly forgetting to add the ‘up to’ prefix. In fairness, Williams did spend a lot of time on explaining how FTTC speed degrades over distance, due to the limits of copper line technology.

* BT also talked up their tentative plans to roll-out Vectoring for FTTC lines and future G.fast (aka – FTTC2) technology, both of which appear to look more and more certain given the anti-FTTP comments made earlier.

* Questions were also put concerning BT’s dominance of the BDUK contracts and its potential monopoly position. Williams responded to say that there were 9 bidders at the opening of the process, although only 2 qualified and all except BT eventually dropped out. BT claimed to have the best and cheapest solution, on top of which they were willing to put in “hundreds of millions of pounds“.

Given the Christmas break, we don’t anticipate a conclusion to this inquiry being published until sometime during early 2015, which may or may not have a tangible impact on a future third round of funding to reach 100% superfast coverage (we wouldn’t bank on it).

Leave a Comment
25 Responses
  1. GNewton says:

    “BT also talked up their tentative plans to roll-out Vectoring for FTTC lines and future G.fast (aka – FTTC2) technology, both of which appear to look more and more certain given the anti-FTTP comments made earlier.”

    This is good, because it is not the way forward, hence this will open up more opportunities for other alternative network providers to build genuine FTTP, the end result being less BT which is always good.

    1. FibreFred says:

      “This is good, because it is not the way forward, hence this will open up more opportunities for other alternative network providers to build genuine FTTP, the end result being less BT which is always good.”

      Good indeed, where have these providers been for the last 10yrs?

    2. Ignitionnet says:

      Waiting for demand to grow and costs, via new construction techniques and pre-built core networks to link the access networks into, to fall.

      You’re a big fan of mentioning commercial considerations when it comes to Openreach, same applies to alternative networks with the caveat that they don’t have pre-existing ducting so costs for them are higher than £400 per home passed.

  2. NGA for all says:

    They also said they were fully occupied with cabinets, so more money is unlikely to speed things up.

  3. NGA for all says:

    No reference to how the USC premiums collected for satellite would be released. But then they were not asked that question either.

    Although if he has declared the USC met, perhaps the £2m-£3m per county project can now be returned.

  4. AluSufferer says:

    does anyone know what can be done if your area is known to have aluminium? does it require council pressure to replace or do they wait for enough complaints in the area?

    1. James Harrison says:

      You’re basically screwed – about half the Northmoor project was on alu lines and couldn’t get even ADSL, BT just weren’t going to bother with them because it was too expensive. Enjoy your satellite link! :/ Look into altnets, talk to INCA, get your parish council and district/county councils engaged with the problem. There are always options, but they rarely come wrapped in the comfort blanket of BT.

    2. NGA for all says:

      That issue was raised yesterday and BT said to join the queue. No resources despite £1.2 bn in state aid.

    3. Might be easier to point out to the local ……. how valuable the cable is and how easy it would be for them to nick it! BT would then replace it with proper stuff 🙂

  5. fttx says:

    “no case” in the future to have FTTP everywhere, adding “we don’t think FTTP is the answer“….

    At this point any possibly credibility went out the window, everyone knows that FTTP is the end game. BT are just seeing how long they can hold it off.

    The Mergers touted for 2015 will certainly raise the stakes. Fun times around the corner!

    1. fastman2 says:

      FTTP is the end game — for who ?

    2. Ignitionnet says:

      Everyone eventually. I presume BT are offering FTTP in greenfield for a reason despite that FTTC would be ‘good enough’ for now. At some point in the future copper won’t cut it anymore.

      I say that though my own FTTC seems to max out sometimes with performance impairments as a result 🙁

    3. Karen says:

      No, I don’t think FTTP is the end game. Computing is becoming more mobile, and with the talked about advances in mobile communication (5G/6G), any landline communication might be obsolete in 10-15 years. That isn’t enough time for BT to get their money back for everyone to have FTTP .

    4. Ignitionnet says:

      Given I can’t even get a GSM signal in my lower floor, have to be in a specific spot in the house to get EDGE on the first floor and hanging out of a window to get a signal on the top floor I can’t say I’m convinced of that.

      Certainly other countries are putting serious money into FTTP both government and private so clearly they aren’t confident of that.

      Whether BT can get their money back or not doesn’t seem relevant longer term. I have no doubt they’ll be dipping heavily into taxpayer funding for G.fast given their reluctance to invest in ultrafast on their own tab this time around.

    5. GNewton says:

      @Karen: “Computing is becoming more mobile, and with the talked about advances in mobile communication (5G/6G), any landline communication might be obsolete in 10-15 years.”

      You may be right, it is quite possible that a new disruptive technology with push BT aside. There are quite a few examples in the history of companies who weren’t able to adapt to new technologies and therefore became obsolete.

      One potential disruptive broadband technology could a mixture of fibre and wireless replace copper, see e.g. https://6ginternet.com/fast-broadband-technology

    6. fastman2 says:

      FTTP) in Brownfield — is just hard , complex and massively expensive — Greenfield is easier as you buuld beofore occupancy

    7. No Clue says:

      “Whether BT can get their money back or not doesn’t seem relevant longer term. I have no doubt they’ll be dipping heavily into taxpayer funding for G.fast given their reluctance to invest in ultrafast on their own tab this time around.”

      Indeed they do not care about cost when they can get the public to pay for there outdated rubbish.

    8. GNewton says:

      “FTTP) in Brownfield — is just hard , complex and massively expensive”

      See what I mean when talking about the ‘Can’t Do’ looser mentality inflicted on by BT in the UK?

    9. No Clue says:

      Its expensive but at the same time we are going to have the best in Europe by 2015…. The idiots want it both ways 😉

  6. gerarda says:

    That was a pretty desperate attempt by the BT guy to deflect from their inability to do anything meaningful for many of the mps constituents. It was a pity they did not have any technical advisors with them or he could have been ripped apart

    1. GNewton says:

      This was really another example of BTs looser mentality it has developed over the years.

    2. Chris Conder says:

      spot on Gererda. spot on.

    3. fastman2 says:

      gerads — more misinformaiton / disinformation as usual

    4. gerarda says:

      @fastman

      So you noticed that as well.

      I counted at least 4 pieces of disinformation, a couple of them repeated several times

  7. none says:

    @noclue

    best broadband speeds in europe would mean beating romania,sweden,latvia and estonia. We all know that isn’t gonna happen.

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