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Vodafone Attempts to Stall BT’s 330Mbps UK G.fast Broadband Rollout

Wednesday, Nov 16th, 2016 (9:00 am) - Score 4,720

A competition row between Vodafone and BT has erupted once again after the former wrote to Ofcom and complained that Openreach’s trial of 330Mbps (50Mbps upload) capable G.fast broadband tech had broken the regulator’s strict rules, which require a consultation to take place first.

Vodafone has repeatedly called for BT’s network access division, Openreach, to be split from the incumbents control as part of Ofcom’s on-going Strategic Review. Vodafone sees this as a means of addressing “discrimination” within the market and “improving pro-competitive investment” (here), which would also make it easier for them to build their own network if they so desired (here).

Ofcom clearly agrees with some of Vodafone’s concerns (here), but so far the regulator is still attempting to reach a softer voluntary agreement with BT and meanwhile Vodafone’s attempts to make a bolder entry into the market by hooking up with Virgin Media’s parent, Liberty Global, have faltered (here).

Elsewhere BT has continued to tout a proposed £6bn investment over the next few years, part of which will support the roll-out of their 1Gbps capable Fibre-to-the-Premise (FTTP) network to 2 million UK premises, with another 10 million benefiting from 300Mbps capable hybrid-fibre G.fast technology by 2020.

At present Openreach is already conducting several on-going trials of G.fast (e.g. Swansea in Wales, Gillingham in Kent, Huntingdon in Cambridgeshire etc.) and they now aim to launch a major pilot in January 2017, which will reach 17 locations across the UK and cover 138,000 UK premises by the end of March 2017 (here and here).

However Vodafone still has a few rounds left to fire and as a result they’ve written a new letter to Ofcom, which reminds the regulator that their own rules may require a long consultation on Openreach’s G.fast pilot before it can proceed.

A Vodafone Spokesman said:

“We call on Ofcom to discharge its legal duties and carry out a proper consultation into this issue.”

Ofcom’s original 2005 regulatory undertakings agreement with BT was tweaked in 2009 to allow the roll-out of their ‘up to’ 40-80Mbps capable Fibre-to-the-Cabinet (FTTC / VDSL2), but Vodafone argues that this was not a “blank cheque” for all future deployments. FTTP was also part of the original plan and it’s easy to forget that at one point in 2009/10 BT was talking about 2.5 million premises passed, which is similar to their “new” plan.

According to the FT (paywall), Vodafone could also launch a legal challenge if BT presses ahead with its deployment without the consultation, all of which could risk a significant delay. At present it’s likely that G.fast’s commercial roll-out in the UK will begin during the latter part of H2 2017, but such a delay could easily push it into H1 2018 or later.

On the one hand Vodafone’s approach could be considered a touch petty, but on the other hand there is a question mark over whether or not G.fast is different enough from FTTC as to require an additional consultation. The basic deployment approach is roughly similar to FTTC, although G.fast will be largely deployed via extension pods on existing PCP street cabinets.

We’ve also seen Openreach carry off plenty of similar technology trials (e.g. FTTrn, FTT-Basement, Long Reach VDSL2) and all without attracting the same sort of concern, although admittedly none of those are planned for a massive national roll-out.

Ofcom tends to be fairly flexible with pilots / trials (too much paper work might be counter-productive) and they may well argue that part of the issue is already being handled within their existing Strategic Review. Meanwhile rivals believe that an independent Openreach could forge ahead with FTTP/H and largely abandon G.fast, but at present there’s no clear plan for such an outcome.

The official line from Ofcom is that the regulator will consider Vodafone’s concerns “very carefully“, while a spokesperson for Openreach complained that the attempt to “delay the roll-out … is an unhelpful move that benefits no one.”

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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