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BT Pledge 2 Million UK Premises to Get 1Gbps Ultrafast FTTP Broadband

Thursday, May 5th, 2016 (7:32 am) - Score 6,407

Telecoms giant BT has today announced a major expansion (“subject to regulatory certainty“) of their “ultrafast” Fibre-to-the-Premise (FTTP) broadband network, which will reach 2 million UK homes and businesses (up from around 200,000+ premises today) and complement their future roll-out of 500Mbps capable hybrid-fibre G.fast technology.

The advantage of FTTP/H is that it offers a high capacity pure fibre optic line, which connects directly to your home in order to deliver ultrafast speeds (currently 330Mbps [30Mbps upload], but 500Mbps [100Mbps up] and 1Gbps [150Mbps up] tiers are being trialled). The disadvantage, versus more conventional hybrid-fibre approaches, is that FTTP is significantly more expensive and takes a lot longer to roll-out.

The operator has been making noises about their plans to boost the roll-out of ultrafast FTTP broadband technology for the past few months (here), with talk of a significant investment often taking centre stage. But until now we’ve had no solid commitment or detail on how much FTTP we’d actually get.

On top of that they’ve been conducting various trials (examples here and here), most of which have been focused on reducing the amount of time, work and number of engineers needed in order to connect homes and businesses to the service. The fact that Virgin Media has just confirmed how they too will be pushing FTTP out to 1 million+ premises is another factor (here).

As such the plan now is for BT to make their new G.fast service available to 10 million premises by 2020, with “most of the UK” likely to be done by 2025 (we’d guess that “most” will equate to around 60% UK coverage). Initially G.fast will only offer top download speeds of ‘up to’ 300Mbps (50Mbps upload), before later increasing to 500Mbps. On top of that we can add the 2 million FTTP premises, which would give us a total of 12 million ultrafast lines by 2020.

Gavin Patterson, CEO of BT Group, said:

“The UK is a digital leader today and it is vital that it remains one in the future. That is why we are announcing a further six billion pounds of investment in our UK networks, subject to regulatory certainty.

Networks require money and a lot of it. Virgin and BT have both pledged to invest and we will now see if others follow our lead. Infrastructure competition is good for the UK and so is the current Openreach model whereby others can piggyback on our investment should they want to.

G.fast is an important technology that will enable us to deploy ultrafast broadband at pace and to as many homes as possible. Customers want their broadband to be affordable as well as fast and we will be able to do that using G.fast. FTTP will also play a bigger role going forward and I believe it is particularly well suited to those businesses who may need speeds of up to 1Gbps. My ambition is to roll it out to two million premises and our trials give me confidence we will.

Customer expectations are increasing all the time and we need to work hard to meet those new demands. That is why contact centre work is being returned to the UK and why Openreach is aiming to halve the number of missed appointments within a year. Customers want higher standards of service and we are determined to provide them with just that.”

Overall BT and EE plan to invest £6 billion into joint network improvements, which includes EE’s recent announcement to extend their 4G network coverage to 95% of the United Kingdom’s landmass by 2020 (here). We should add that today’s announcement will mostly reflect FTTP deployments to business parks, new home developments and probably only a little to BDUK funded rural areas.

BT also confirmed that they expected 95% of UK premises to get access to fixed line “superfast broadband” (24Mbps+) services by the end of 2017 “across all fixed networks” (i.e. including Virgin Media etc.), which is in keeping with the Government’s existing Broadband Delivery UK programme.

BT also reiterated their plans for a number of service improvements. For example, BT Consumer is set to reduce the standard time to fix line faults by 24 hours as well as pledging to handle 90% of its customers’ calls in the UK by March 2017 (EE will also handle 100% of its customers’ calls in the UK by the end of this year).

Elsewhere BTOpenreach will hire 1,000 new engineers this year and aim to halve missed appointments to 2.5% within a year, with an ambition to reduce them even further after that. A case management service team is also being established to step in and resolve problems for customers who have experienced two or more missed or unsuccessful appointments. The provision of dedicated business lines, known as Ethernet, will also increase by 20% year on year. Much of this is being driven by Ofcom’s Strategic Review recommendations (here).

Speaking of the Strategic Review, it’s notable that BT has once again warned that its new ultrafast investment is dependent upon the right regulatory environment. This is BT’s way of telling Ofcom not to split them from control of Openreach and to go soft on them with any voluntary agreement that may or may not be reached in the very near future (we expect a deal will be done).

Mind you it’s not the first time that BT has made a major commitment to FTTP, only to abandon it later. Back in 2009/10 the operator originally planned to push FTTP out to 2.5 million UK premises, but this was then dramatically scaled back due to issues with costly / slow installations and other matters (here). Hopefully history won’t repeat itself.

UPDATE 8:54am

Naturally BT’s arch rival Sky (Sky Broadband) has found a negative side to the news.

Andrew Griffith, Sky’s Group COO & CFO, said:

“Today’s statement shows that BT continues to see copper as the basis of its network for 21st century Britain. Despite BT’s claims, it is clearer than ever that their plans for fibre to the premise (FTTP) broadband will bypass almost every existing UK home. This limited ambition has been dragged out of BT by the threat of regulatory action, demonstrating once again why an independent Openreach, free to raise its own long-term capital, is the best way for the UK to get the fibre network it needs.”

It’s worth pointing out that neither Sky nor TalkTalk sell products using BT’s FTTP network, which is partly because they both have their own trial FTTH/P deployments and BT’s own pure fibre optic network can only reach around 200,000 UK premises (i.e. it would risk confusing consumers to offer a separate batch of packages). But today’s announcement means that both ISPs may eventually need to revisit that decision.

UPDATE 12:43pm

Now Cityfibre are having a say.

Greg Mesch, CityFibre Chief Executive, said:

“This announcement is simply a reluctant response by a sluggish incumbent to the tightening noose of regulatory scrutiny. While intended to grab headlines on infrastructure commitment, BT’s announcement is largely signposting continued deployment of outmoded technology.

While any business constructing pure fibre infrastructure for our nation’s homes and businesses should be encouraged, focusing on the entrenchment of an incumbent operator overlooks the essential contribution of alternative infrastructure builders like CityFibre.

It is only through the growth of alternative operators and the stimulation of a truly competitive infrastructure market that the UK will see the innovation and better value services it so badly needs.”

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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