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BT Reach 9.3 Mill UK Broadband Subs as Openreach Moot “large scale” FTTP

Thursday, May 11th, 2017 (8:01 am) - Score 4,614

The BT Group has released their latest quarterly report (Q1 2017 calendar), which saw their retail broadband base reach a total of 9,276,000 subscribers (up by 29K vs 83K in Q4 2016) and Openreach has begun a consultation on the “potential benefits and costs of a large-scale FTTP deployment.

Aside from the lingering impact of BT Italy’s accounting scandal (here), which has also resulted in boss Gavin Patterson losing out on hundreds of thousands of pounds from his bonus pot, most of the major developments during the first few months of 2017 have been related to their voluntary agreement with Ofcom over the future of Openreach (here). As part of that they’ve had to open up their cable ducts to rivals (here), assign an independent board to Openreach (here) and will have to cut the price of their 40Mbps FTTC product (here) etc.

Elsewhere Ofcom hit BT with a fine of £42 million after they cut compensation payments to other telecoms providers for late installs of high-speed business lines (here). The regulator has also recommended that they cut the cost of their line rental service by “at least” £5 per month for landline-only customers (here).

Suffice to say that BT has recently taken a few hits, although they have managed to hold on to a big slice of premium sports TV content (here) and continue to run some big special offers in order to attract new subscribers.

Otherwise the big news today is that Openreach has announced two significant new consultations. The first will examine how best they can deliver on the Government’s proposed 10Mbps Universal Service Obligation (USO) for broadband connectivity, with Long Reach VDSL (LR-VDSL / FTTC) technology expected to play a role. The second will “look at the potential benefits and costs of a large-scale FTTP [full fibre] deployment.”

At present BT’s roll-out of 1Gbps capable Fibre-to-the-Premise (FTTP) broadband technology is expected to reach 2 million premises by 2020, while their hybrid-fibre G.fast solution will do 10 million premises by the same date and many more by 2025. However Openreach now hint that FTTP could also do 10 million.

Clive Selley, CEO of Openreach, said:

“With the right conditions we could make full fibre connections available to as many as 10 million homes and businesses by the mid-2020s, but we need to understand if there’s sufficient demand to justify the roll-out, and support – across industry, Ofcom and government – for the enablers needed to build a viable business case.”

Ofcom, the EU and the Government all want to see more “full fibre” in Openreach’s future diet and so we could be about to see a change in their plans (we’d expect that this may primarily impact their urban coverage, perhaps swapping out some G.fast for FTTP etc.). Openreach is currently in a scoping phase and anticipates launching a formal consultation in the summer.

Key Highlights from Today’s Quarterly Report
* BT Groups’ quarterly revenue hit £6,122m (down from £6,128m in Q4 2016 calendar)
* BT Group’s reported profits before tax hit £440m (down from £526m)
* BT Group’s total net debt £8,932m (down from £8,981m)
* BT Wholesale’s quarterly operating profit hit £141m (up from £135m)
* Openreach’s quarterly operating profit hit £340m (up from £327m)
* Openreach’s quarterly capital expenditure hit £470m (up from £409m)

As usual we’ll also highlight the latest update with regards to BT’s capital expenditure and clawback (gainshare) from the Government’s Broadband Delivery UK roll-out programme (i.e. public investment returned by BT due to high take-up of FTTC/P in related areas), which reveals that £446m (up from £325m last quarter) of public funding may potentially become available for reinvestment into further UK coverage of “fibre broadband” services.

Over the past few years BT has increased their take-up assumptions for “fibre” on a number of occasions, which is a good thing as it boosts clawback and helps to make the overall economic model for deployment more viable. Most recently we’ve also reported that this latest tweak is having a positive impact upon BT’s Community Fibre Partnerships (here), with many cost estimates being reduced.

Capital Expenditure and BDUK

Capital expenditure was £1,022m (Q4 2015/16: £760m). This consists of gross expenditure of £943m (Q4 2015/16: £741m) which has been increased by net grant deferral of £79m (Q4 2015/16: £19m) mainly relating to our activity on the Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) programme.

Our base-case assumption for take-up in BDUK areas has been increased to 39% following our review of the level of customer take-up. Under the terms of the BDUK programme, we have a potential obligation to either re-invest or repay grant funding depending on factors including the level of customer take-up achieved. While we have recognised gross grant funding of £41m (Q4 2015/16: £60m) in line with network build in the quarter, we have also deferred £120m (Q4 2015/16: £79m) of the total grant funding to reflect higher take-up levels on a number of contracts. To date we have deferred £446m (Q4 2015/16: £258m).

Now let’s take a closer look at BT’s different divisions.

BT Consumer / Retail

BT remains the largest retail broadband ISP in the United Kingdom and they also hold the biggest single share of “fibre broadband” subscriptions on Openreach’s national UK network (details below), which is hardly surprising as they put a lot of money into advertising and their “fibre” coverage has also been boosted via the government’s Broadband Delivery UK programme.

However their mobile base continues to bleed subscribers, although on the flip side they’ve improved their geographic (landmass) 4G network coverage of the UK to 80% (99%+ population coverage) and they aim to reach 92% by September 2017, followed by 95% by the end of December 2020.

Broadband Subs TV Subs Mobile Subs + EE
Fibre Subs
Q1 2017 TOTAL
 9,276,000  1,747,000  30,036,000  4,935,000
Subs Change (Q1) +29,000 +11,000 -132,000 +211,000
Q4 2016 TOTAL
9,276,000 1,736,000 30,168,000 4,733,000
Subs Change (Q4) +83,000 +52,000 -80,000 +260,000

We should point out that EE’s huge Mobile decline largely stems from prepaid (PAYG) customers, with postpaid on the rise. Similarly their 4G subscribers have grown from 18.2 million last quarter to 18.6 million now.

Elsewhere their TV base took a dive, which is possibly attributed to their removal of legacy BT Vision set-top-box hardware (some subscribers may cancel rather than renew) and the recent price increases for BT Sport.

The eagle eyed will notice that BT’s total broadband base hasn’t actually changed since last quarter, which is because they conducted a review of subscribers and this resulted in an adjustment of 29k, with another 26k being moved to BTWholesale and Ventures external broadband.

Openreach & Wholesale

Openreach’s results reflect the wider market, at least in respect to BT’s national network infrastructure and those ISPs that buy services over it (i.e. the total broadband and “fibre” lines below combine customers from both BT’s own ISP and many other providers that buy their lines from Openreach). We should add that Openreach’s “fibre” network now covers 26.5 million UK premises, with 500,000 via “ultrafast” (FTTP/G.fast).

Note: Unbundled (LLU) lines are mostly used by ISPs that have installed some of their own kit inside Openreach’s network in order to gain more control over their own products and services (e.g. TalkTalk and Sky Broadband). Fully unbundled (MPF) lines are more popular because they give ISPs the most control and flexibility to differentiate themselves.

Total UK Broadband Lines
Fully Unbundled MPF Lines
Shared Unbundled SMPF Lines
Fibre Lines (FTTC/P)
Q1 2017 TOTAL
20,390,000 9,047,000  1,181,000  7,698,000
Lines Change (Q1) +82,000 +24,000 +37,000 +520,000
Q4 2016 TOTAL
20,308,000 9,023,000 1,144,000 7,177,000
Lines Change (Q4) +189,000 +73,000 +50,000 +498,000

It’s worth noting the quarterly increase of +520K in new “fibre broadband” (FTTC/P) lines, which includes the +211K added via BT’s own ISP. The outcome means that BT’s retail rivals (e.g. Sky Broadband, TalkTalk, Zen Internet etc.) accounted for +309K of the total increase (up sharply from +238K in the previous quarter).

Separately, BTWholesale delivered a total of just 886,000 external broadband lines for other ISPs, which has fallen by -5,000 in the quarter (better than the -17,000 in Q4 2016).

Gavin Patterson, CEO of BT Group, said:

“This has been a challenging year for BT. We’ve faced headwinds in the UK public sector and international corporate markets and must learn from what we found in our Italian business. Openreach also received a fine from Ofcom after an investigation into historical Deemed Consent practices revealed it fell short of the high standards we expect. We take these issues extremely seriously and are putting in place new measures, controls and people to prevent them happening again. Learning from the challenges of this year will make BT a stronger company for the future.

We aspire to be the UK’s digital champion. To achieve this, we’re ready to invest in the UK’s digital infrastructure, in continued improvements in our customer service, and in new technologies to further enhance customer experience. To that end, Openreach has today announced that it’s consulting with customers and industry stakeholders on the business case that could support better rural broadband and a large scale Fibre-to-the-premises rollout across the UK.”

The tentative aspiration by BT to do more “full fibre” is most welcome, although there’s a clear hint in the report that this may require more direct support from the industry (i.e. TalkTalk, Sky Broadband etc.). At the same time Openreach will no doubt also want Ofcom and the Government to ensure that any such investment is protected against aggressive regulation, particularly since the payback period for FTTP can be very long.

Overall BT has had a rough few months but they’re far from unhealthy and continue to hold a commanding position in the market. Mind you if you’re one of the 4,000 or so members of staff about to lose your job via BT’s Global Services division then you might well have a different view.

UPDATE 12:38pm

A comment from Openreach rival Cityfibre has just arrived.

Greg Mesch, CEO of CityFibre, told ISPreview.co.uk:

“It is laughable that Openreach claim to be the nation’s digital champion when it is responsible for the UK being stuck in the digital doldrums. It has fallen to CityFibre, an independent communications infrastructure builder, to lead the charge to deliver the UK’s full fibre future not Openreach. We have been in consultation with the service provider community for over three years. It was CityFibre, alongside Sky and TalkTalk, that set out to prove the viability of Fibre to the Home with a trial in York, demonstrating over 27% of homes taking a next generation full fibre service in just over a year.

It is now abundantly clear that infrastructure competition, supported by targeted regulation and government support, is the only mechanism that will guarantee the innovation and investment needed to catch up and compete with other countries. This is CityFibre’s role and our model – expanding on our core fibre infrastructure in 42 UK cities, delivering the UK’s full fibre future and demonstrating the true value of competition.”

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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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39 Responses
  1. Bob says:

    Surely somewhere some boffin has been able to invent a card/upgrade for the DSLAMs that uses all the gfast spectrum/vdsl spectrum and ADSL spectrum in one hit… surely that is the obvious way to go…? Hell, why not put in a voip converter at the DSLAMs, digitize the voice calls and then release the POTs frequencies for data as well.

    Come on boffins, we need you now more than ever.

    1. TheFacts says:

      LLU is one of the problems.

    2. 3G Infinity says:


      That could be a possibility, however there is an issue of crosstalk between lines that means frequency planning has to be done to ensure minimal interference. Its also the reason, at times, why speeds are not quite what you’d hoped for because the frequencies available have had to be reduced.

      On ADSL2+ cabinets/lines, its often that only 2/3rd of a rack of line cards can be installed because of crosstalk.

    3. Steve Jones says:

      POTS frequencies will not make any significant difference. Then it would mean all those voice-only lines would have to be re-homed onto cabinets and I doubt there would be the slots for it.

      Whilst I’ve no doubt its possible to design cards which use the entire frequency band, I can guarantee that they can’t be retrofitted into the existing cabinets as they wouldn’t be able to handle the g.fast bandwidth. It might be that the entire cabinet electronics could be replaced, but it’s a lot more than just line cards.

      In any event, none of this could possibly work with exchange ADSL, VDSL2 and G.Fast all sharing the frequencies at the same time. Not to mention ADSL & VDSL2 use frequency division whilst g.fast uses time division for up/down separation. Additionally, g.fast requires vectoring and there are limits to the numbers of lines that this can be cone over at the moment.

      Such a thing would require the elimination of exchange-based ADSL in favour of an entirely cabinet-based solution first (which means eliminating LLU from those lines which causes industry/regulatory issues). Then this proposed hybrid card would have to work in a legacy mode until all the user equipment was swapped out with equipment that could support this new standard but still work with the old. Not to mention making sure all the cabinets had enough capacity. Finally, some switch could be pulled and everything would work on this new standard that used the entire frequency range (whatever that standard might be).

      In all, a huge amount of work and lots of complications and organisational things that could go horribly wrong.

      At the moment, LR-VDSL looks like the better bet and if ADSL can be eliminated it would allow for somewhat higher VDSL2 throughput. Some sort of long range g.fast is a long way off, even if the standard would allow for it.

  2. Patrick Cosgrove says:

    I see it’s only the ‘potential’ to repay £446m clawback. Has any money actually been handed over yet?

    1. Steve Jones says:

      Several of the BDUK projects have announced and commenced expansion projects using the gainshare money which has been attributed. I suspect the actual transfers of funds will be a paper exercise. Not that with interest rates as they are it would make much difference.

  3. NGA for all says:

    Nice to see the Capital Deferral climb to £446m!- £121m in a quarter. How long before we see a plan to convert these monies into coverage? Huge opportunity for FTTP deep in rural. Let’s hope BT can eventually resource this work and LA’s stay interested.
    Money also needs to re-distributed to the more rural constituencies!

  4. gerarda says:

    I wonder how much uncertainty, complexity, expenditure on multiple OMRs etc would have been avoided had BTs original take up assumption not been so pessimistic.

    1. AndyH says:

      Were you criticising BT’s take up assumptions at the start of the BDUK process or just retrospectively now?

    2. FibreFred says:

      🙂 Indeed

    3. Calum says:

      Let’s all join the after-timing party! All aboard!!!

    4. gerarda says:

      I criticised them at the start. 20% take up was ludicrously low when taking broadband into not and slow spots.

      As I have said before, this is the same Openreach that required publicly funded demand stimulation and exchange trigger levels before rolling out ADSL.

    5. gerarda says:

      And I was certainly not the only one that was questioning the assumption years ago


      and Mark Jackson described it as “surprisingly low” here http://www.ispreview.co.uk/index.php/2015/07/government-activates-clawback-reinvestment-for-broadband-delivery-uk.html

    6. AndyH says:

      Criticised who? It was not BT that dictated the 20%, it as set by BDUK as a standardised level for all LA contracts with BT.

      The level is also not an estimate of take-up, it’s the point at which the claw back mechanism comes into effect (obviously the ROI changes for BT from 20%). LAs are free to do what they want with the claw back – there is no commitment to reinvest with BT and this has been clearly shown.

    7. Steve Jones says:


      The 20% take-up was not a BDUK assumption. It was what BT had used in their commercial business cases and carried into their bids for the BDUK products. That, in turn, fed through to the gap funding albeit that the effect is unwound with “gainshare”. Of course, if BT had a higher penetration assumption in the first place, then the commercial roll-out would have continued further and covered some of the BDUK areas.

      However, BDUK was put out to tender. Other suppliers could have made more optimistic assumptions. In any event, it looks like BT was able to de-risk their involvement with a conservative penetration assumption (as the first NAO report noted).

  5. Chris says:

    Well, BT can rot as far as I am concerned. BT has cherry picked the market and has had the dominance to do so. I understand that it is driven by shareholders and doing what is right by them. Ofcom need to do a lot more to open up the market so that more providers can tackle urban areas.

    As for rural broadband, BT has done very little indeed. Again Ofcom should have provided more pressure. Fortunately alt nets are taking up the challenge and I have Gigaclear on the way. In the short term I have Voneus wireless so I am ditching BT for good.


    1. Good luck with using your own router on Gigaclear FTTP.

    2. New_Londoner says:

      Surely your comments about cherry picking are far more pertinent to Gigaclear. Aside from its BDUK contracts, it only seems to be interested in the affluent parts of affluent rural communities in clusters of at least 400 premises. Hardly connectivity for the many!

  6. Graham Long says:

    To quote Patterson: “Openreach has today announced that it’s consulting with customers and industry stakeholders on the business case that could support better rural broadband and a large scale Fibre-to-the-premises rollout across the UK” is BT speak for saying BT will find ways of getting customers to pay for replacing copper with fibre in the local loop final mile just as they are currently blackmailing small rural communities to pay for getting any form os fast broadband through their “Local Community Fibre Partnership” which squeezes huge amounts of money from small communities when they are the monopoly supplier. BT have passed their sell by date and it is time for them to move over and let the altnets provide depsterately needed fast rural broadband. The fact that BT Openreach capital investment was held flat by BT for 8 years when Openreach’s turnover more than doubled was a criminal act but the politicians have been incapable of forcing Bt to invest in their own infrastructure.

    1. AndyH says:

      Very interested to see your evidence of flat capex and doubling of turnover. Looking at the results since Openreach was created, turnover was higher back in 2006 than it is now…

      As for the allegations of blackmail – are communities forced to use BT? Do you have some evidence of the blackmail?

      Strong words, but no fact and lots of gibberish.

    2. Steve Jones says:

      Openreach’s turnover has NOT doubled. It has remained flat at £5bn a year. You keep repeating this lie which a cursory examination of the financial reports reveals.

    3. RuralBroadband says:

      Regarding AndyH’s comment “As for the allegations of blackmail – are communities forced to use BT? Do you have some evidence of the blackmail?”

      It feels like blackmail and/or perhaps extortion from my ‘individual within the community’ perspective.
      I am now anticipating AndyH or some other BT enforcer who lives in an urban location, and is in the middle of their 3rd ultrafast upgrade, to smack down my response with a reference to how much it costs for the 3rd class citizens in rural locations.

      Back to my the reasoning on the blackmail bit is as follows:
      I went to change providers, and found that it was almost impossible to change and I had a very limited choice of 2 other providers, one of which I believe is owned by BT. There was also going to be substantial extra charges to ensure that I was going to get shafted if I did change.
      I also found it surprising that I could not revert back to providers I had broadband from previously.
      I found this strange, and when I did some digging I discovered (via samknows) that I am on a Market 1 exchange, and BT are the sole provider of broadband services.
      Seems like Ofcom are just another one of BT’s hand puppets.

    4. New_Londoner says:

      Surely your gripe is with the ISPs that are not interested in offering their services to you? Oddly you appear to be complaining about the ones that are, rather than calling out those that are not.

    5. TheFacts says:

      @RuralBroadband – your complaint is with Sky and TalkTalk who can’t be bothered to put LLU into your exchange and with Gigaclear and with your community who cannot organise themselves like others.

  7. Graham Long says:

    You clearly don’t believe me Andy H. This is the graph from the Wall Street Journal proving the BT Openreach kept capital investment flat for 8 years while turnover more than doubled: https://issuu.com/gglong/docs/bt_investment
    And this is the story of a villave in Devon that BT included in their commercial roll out for BDUK Phase 1 via CDS and then changed their mind close to the end of the Phase 1 contract period and after the Phase 2 programme was committed resulting in the village being left out of BT Commercial, BDUK Phase 1 & 2 state aided programmes and then BT said no problem, pay us £48,000 and we will connect you!!! That’s what I call blackmail!

    1. Graham Long says:

      Sorry Andy H – forgot the link to the item about the village – here it is: https://issuu.com/gglong/docs/public_participation_question_conce

    2. AndyH says:

      Rather than relying on some random internet graph, why not look through the BT accounts? The picture doesn’t even look like WSJ infographics!!

      I can tell you the graph is totally wrong. Openreach’s revenue is around £5bn per year and this remains fairly constant (most of Openreach’s revenue is regulated).



    3. Steve Jones says:

      You realise that graph shows external revenue (that is excluding internal revenue from sales within BT?). The reason why the external revenues have gone up is due to the increase in unbundled lines and has been matched by a corresponding reduction in internal sales. Total Openreach turnover has been flat at £5bn for several years with only a slight upturn in the last year, primarily due to GEA-FTTC sales. All the other OR products are price regulated. Fixed line wholesale prices are, in real-terms, reducing and OR’s private circuit fibre wholesale prices are on a very aggressive price reduction regime.

      Capital expenditure by OR has gone up in the 2015/16 of £1,447 million on a turnover of £5,100 million (up from £1,082 million and £5,011 million respectively in 2014/15). That OR’s turnover has been about flat at £5bn for several years is not a matter of debate. It’s one of public record.

      I suggest you read the annual reports. That graph wholly misleading as it refers only to the sales to external (non-BT companies) and not total sales. In any event, it would be astonishing if a mature business like Openreach sustained a level of capital expenditure that was well over half its total revenue. You can only do that with a company in an enormous growth phase which typically happens at startup (Gigaclear’s accounts might show such a thing), but it is unsustainable in the long run.

      So go read the accounts and pay attention to little words like “external”.

    4. Steve Jones says:

      I should have added the link I found to the latest version of that graph )which shows another year) and it’s clearly annotated as external revenue.


      Of course it isn’t actually sourced and it’s not obvious why it’s relevant. It appears under para 167 without any explanation.

    5. Steve Jones says:

      Another item showing this nonsense you propagate about Openreach’s turnover doubling. This is the link to the 2009 annual report. There’s a revenue breakdown on page 92. It states that in that year, total Openreach revenue was £5,223 million of which £685 million is external and £4,538 million is internal.


      So, Openreach total revenue has decreased over the intervening eight years by around £100m (even before allowing for inflation). Yes, due to LLU (and other unbundling) external sales have increased, but the internal sales have decreased at an even higher rate. The result – turnover is lower, not higher. The reason being the tight regulatory price controls.

      Frankly, you are an embarrassment to yourself as you take a graph completely out of context and continue to repeat a falsehood which is completely contradicted by publicly available documents which anybody with the slightest motivation to find the truth could have checked.

  8. Graham Long says:

    The graph is totaly right – read the Wall Street Journal article yourself. BT’s 2015 accounts were published on election day 2015 which ensured the UK press didn’t do a full analysis. Don’t believe the BT spin believe the facts because the graph is totally right.

    1. AndyH says:

      Spin? Yes…one of the world’s largest telecoms companies makes a few billion £ magically disappear from its accounts each year.

      It’s very clear that graph is completely wrong.

    2. Tom Bartlett says:

      Judging by their Italian accounts it’s highly probable

    3. AndyH says:

      It’s highly probably that for 10 years, a company has been hiding several billion £?

      Keep them coming.

  9. Bill says:

    Let’s not get too excited about BT throw-away lines or targeted propaganda. FTTPoD was announced as a potential game-changer many years ago and yet the product is so unnattractive that ISPs don’t want to go near it.

    I would really like to see BT/OR develop a realistic plan for a proper national internet service, rather than a patchwork of Alt-nets and grumpy rivals all competing and overbuilding. I personally don’t care whether it is 100% fibre, hybrid or whatever as long as a high standard of service is delivered.

    Sadly as the Cityfibre comment shows, real competition does seem to be the only way to kick BT into action. Or perhaps BT are content to let the small fish do the initial work… with a view to acquiring them later. Of course the only result of something like this is higher costs for the customer.

    1. Chris P says:

      so why are sky or talk talk not offering fttpod?

      For real competition, Virgin will have to open up and offer their rivals access to their network. It would focus BT to do fttp properly and give sky some real competition. ironically it would likely boost BT vision & other OTT adoption.

      Virgin are the only other major provider that has a chance of competing with OpenReach.
      it will be interesting to see what Vodafone do if they merge with Virgin.

  10. Ivor says:

    Don’t see why CityFibre thinks that they can grand stand over this – pretty sure Openreach’s pitiful FTTP network still dwarfs their cherry picking (and some of it predates their York network, too).

    Infrastructure competition is not the way to go – that’s just going to result in extreme cherry picking and vast resources wasted on overbuilding. It didn’t work for our mobile networks (the four operators have paired up to share various bits of their networks) and it isn’t going to work here. NTL/Telewest and predecessors couldn’t do it without falling into bankruptcy, and they were considerably better resourced

  11. FastInternetPlz says:

    I am still waiting for Openreach to fit a Fibre Cabinet and its been over 4 years now I need the better Internet and it seems everyone else in the areas surrounding us has better Internet. It just upsets/frustrates and infuriates me that its taking so damn long for them to even build the thing. Seems like by the time we get connected everyone else will be far ahead of us and we will be left behind……

    1. fastman says:

      could be a number of reason wh the cab has not been built , siting issues for example — no wayleave granted all sorts of things, you’d be surprised what might cause a cab to fail to be delivered

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