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BT Details Plan for UK’s First Converged Digital Network by 2022

Wednesday, May 16th, 2018 (1:23 pm) - Score 3,151
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Last week BT talked about their aim to have a “single integrated all-IP fibre network” that enabled seamless converged access across fixed, WiFi and mobile services. Today BT’s consumer division, which includes ISP Plusnet and mobile giant EE, has explained more about how this will all work.

Crucially the new ‘Best Connected‘ plan is not a simplistic bundling of services, it’s much more radical than that and will play to the strengths of both BT’s fixed line ADSL, FTTC, FTTP network and EE’s mobile (4G / 5G) infrastructure in order to provide “seamless connectivity” via a smart converged network by 2022 (supported by hybrid technology to dynamically combine both sides).

In keeping with this BT will launch two new products so that customers “never again have to think or worry about which network they’re connected to” (assuming you’ve ever felt a need to “worry” about such things – we haven’t) – the BT Plus service and the Keep Connected Promise.

New Product Summary

* BT is launching BT Plus, bringing together home broadband, mobile and Wi-Fi capabilities into one converged plan, with one simple bill. BT Plus customers will benefit from the fastest speeds from BT on broadband and mobile. BT’s Keep Connected Promise means that if ever there is a fault with a customer’s home broadband, BT enables unlimited data on their BT mobile plans and will send a 4G Wi-Fi Mini Hub with unlimited data so the customer can stay connected while their broadband is repaired or installed.

* EE is launching new converged ultrafast home broadband plans over broadband (FTTP, G.fast) and 4G, which include 4GEE Backup and Home Move, keeping customers connected if there are issues with their connection or when they’re moving house. EE broadband customers also enjoy data boosts on their EE mobile plan, with up to 20GB of mobile data that they can gift to family members on the same account.

* EE is also showcasing a prototype for a new category of converged broadband – EE Hybrid Broadband technology. The UK’s first truly hybrid home broadband combines a superfast broadband network with a 4G network to give customers consistent and reliably fast broadband speeds, even in areas with traditionally slow broadband speeds or at peak times. The hybrid technology ensures customers are always connected, as one technology will take over the other in the unlikely event of a fault.

* EE is becoming the first UK network to support all major Smart Home ecosystems with new, strategic partnerships with Hive and Nest plus a wide range of smart cameras, thermostats, sensors and lighting – providing options for customers whether they prefer Hive, Google, Apple Homekit, or Alexa smart home ecosystems. EE’s new Smart Home range will be available online, in select EE stores and over the phone from 1st June 2018.

* EE is launching the UK’s first mobile plans that allow families to gift their data to anyone on their account. Families can turn their data into digital pocket money, monitor and control their children’s usage online, and stop them ever running out of data without having to spend an extra penny, all with a few taps through the My EE app. The My EE app also allows parents and carers to monitor and control how much their children are online and what they’re accessing with easy-to-use content filters.

* EE is also launching new ‘Flex’ mobile plans – perfect for those who want the control and flexibility of pay as you go with the simplicity of pay monthly plans. Flex customers can increase or decrease their allowance or even take a month’s break, and receive mobile data boosts every three months of consecutive payments.

The BT Consumer division has also announced a number of other improvements, such as a new self-service app from Plusnet, an aim to answer 100% of BT customer calls in the UK & Ireland by the end of 2020, the addition of BT products to EE’s expanding footprint of more than 620 retail stores and a commitment to increase mobile customers’ Time on 4G to 99% by 2020.

Meanwhile EE will seek to be the first UK network to offer a superfast same-day smartphone delivery and expert set-up service, which will launch in London first, and they’ll boost their customer support via augmented reality (AR) customer service tools, EE Remote Support and EE Virtual Support.

On top of that BT TV will include the Amazon Video (Prime) app in addition to Netflix and customers will also be able to access NOW TV (Sky) from 2019.

Marc Allera, CEO of BT Consumer, said:

“BT runs the UK’s most advanced mobile and broadband networks, but our customers demand better connections, and the best service no matter where they are. We’re investing across BT, EE and Plusnet so that we can provide our customers with the widest choice of products and services, on the best networks, and with the best service in the UK.

We’re beginning our journey to create one converged, smart network built on our world-leading fixed and mobile networks – going beyond 4G, 5G, Wi-Fi and ultrafast broadband to seamlessly connect our customers wherever they are to the things that matter most to them.”

The big question is whether or not consumers actually want all this, particularly as the BT Plus service seems set to be positioned as a premium offering and prices are expected to start at around £80 per month (expensive but then we are talking about throwing seamless mobile and ultrafast broadband connectivity into the same bag).

Personally we like to keep our fixed line and mobile services as separate and thus flexible (switching) as possible but others may have a different preference. However it would currently be very difficult for BT’s rivals to match what they’re aiming to do with seamless indoor and outdoor connectivity (limitations with MVNO arrangements and fixed line access etc.).

Another interesting question is over how such close convergence might eventually impact the existing branding, particularly with respect to EE as it may become harder in the future to distinguish between them and BT. Meanwhile Plusnet will no doubt retain their position as a low cost niche.

We will also be interested to see how a “bonded” 4G and fixed line broadband network (Hybrid Broadband Technology) will work in practice, not least with respect to potentially improving overall data speeds for those on slower lines (i.e. it uses the capacity of the fixed network first, then tops up the speed via 4G) but also in terms of managing usage allowances (fixed lines tend to be unlimited while mobile is usually capped) or tackling port forwarding flexibility when playing online video games.

At the time of writing it’s already been suggested that if your fixed line went down then the 4G would take over and adopt an “unlimited” data allowance, which could create a big strain on capacity during major fixed line outages in busy areas (we’ve asked if any limits would be applied to performance etc).

Apparently this new hybrid solution will be supported by BT and EE’s Hybrid Access Gateway, which harnesses multi-path TCP (Transmission Control Protocol) technology as part of their Smart Network vision. The operator aims to offer a single box and a two box solution – the two box solution is effectively to enable existing broadband customers to ‘upgrade’ while keeping the same broadband equipment and contract.

Expect products in 2019.

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Mark Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he is also the founder of ISPreview since 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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26 Responses
  1. Nic Elliott

    I think it might be premature to call this a bonded service, but we’ll wait and see how it works in practice. From what we’ve seen BT announce through other channels, they are integrating cellular connections into their smart hubs, so that they can provide service before a fixed line is installed, and also to cover outages.
    I would call that a failover option rather than bonding, which would need to aggregate the two permanently and be able to deliver the total throughput of both at all times.
    Of course that’s possible now, and without dealing with BT, and with any combination of lines, fixed or otherwise, but it’s always interesting to see a major player adopt technology to try to address a key issue – reliability.

    • Andrew Ferguson

      They are pretty sure it is bonding, not just failover

    • MikeW

      EE might be the first to show the hybrid wired-4G connections in the UK, bonded or otherwise, but haven’t DT been doing this for some time in Germany?

      I recall them getting 500Mbps+ out of a hybrid super-vectored (now profile 35b) and LTE device a couple of years ago.

  2. R BT

    I work for BT, Where do you get the idea that the Plus service will cost £80+? What we’ve been told as there will be no price hikes who have Plus and that no existing customer will pay more than a new one and that “85% of existing customers moving to BT Plus will get a better deal than they had before”

  3. AnotherTim

    I assume things like static IP won’t be possible as EE don’t offer that on 4G (as far as I know) – but then BT don’t offer that for residential lines anyway, so I guess this is aimed at residential use rather than business use (where failover would be useful).

    • A_Builder

      @AnotherTim

      You can have been able to get EE 4G fixed IP SIM cards for about 2 years.

      I have 4 EE ones, amongst others, them to enable remote usb dongle logins for diagnostics if the main connection fails.

      The only catch is don’t try and buy them from EE sales they ha e no clue what you are talking about I had to go via Anvil mobile who did!

  4. Alan

    “On top of that BT TV will include the Amazon Video (Prime) app in addition to Netflix and customers will also be able to access NOW TV (Sky) from 2019.”

    So pretty much what a fire stick, android box, Nvidia shield and more has had for around 4 years.

  5. 3G Infinity (now 4G going on 5G)

    I note:

    In one sentence they are offering up to (I thought average was the new speak) 300Mbps across platforms but only guaranteeing 100Mbps for Ultrafast customers.

    In the offering above, we will send you a free 4G router if your fixed broadband goes down, we only get mobile (3G/4G) from the Signal box connected to broadband – no broadband then no mobile

    • Joe

      For the majoirty of people a 3G/4G fallback would work if their own BB was down. Obviously not all but for many this would be a big improvement.

  6. FibreFred

    Some good USPs there. Not sure anyone else in the UK can do the same.

  7. MikeW

    BT’s USP is the ability to offer these kind of converged services. It seems to have taken a while to get these products out the door.

    In this case, the convergence only needs to happen at the marketing/billing level. It doesn’t require the technology to be converged, but that’ll start getting there.

    There’s nothing mentioning their FON capability in here… as that offers an alternative path for your data when either your wired or 4G connection goes down.

  8. AnotherTim

    @Joe, I disagree, I don’t think FON is a significant move. Given that lots of people complain about wifi within their own home, I can’t see that relying on wifi inside somebody else’s home is going to be significant. FON was a good idea a decade ago, but 3G/4G has come a long way since then, and I think it is an anachronism now (much like ADSL, but then ADSL is still the only option for many so it has a few years of life left).

    • A_Builder

      @AnotherTim

      There may be a little more to this.

      They could be envisaging a mesh type network to give multi pathing and therefore bandwidth deeper into an area of failure. This might also mean that MIMO is better engaged to get bandwidth from a 4G cell tower(s) into the depths of the failure zone. This might also mean that the mesh is both WiFi and 4G femtocell based.

      Total speculation on my part. But BT have been open about their interest in micro and femtocells (you have to use these for 5G to get the coverage) and the mast sell off reported in today’s Telegraph points to BT moving in this direction. Smart move, dump an asset while it’s worth something and use capital to invest in the next Gen asset.

  9. Avaya

    Hybrid broadband – surely the LTE data will cost a fortune. Only those that have shoddy fixed speeds might consider it. This might limit it to affluent rural households that are close to a mobile base station (very niche). MikeW is right, has been in Germany for a while.

    Failover concept is odd, surely you’d want the LTE backup to be from an entirely different operator.

    • FibreFred

      Depends on the type of failure you are looking to counter.

      If its locally physical, or at your exchange, having the same provider shouldn’t really matter.

      If its an issue deeper in the network (eg routing/peering) then having the same provider could be a problem.

      That said.. even if you went with a different provider it still might use the BT network and be affected in the same way.

  10. Nic Elliott

    This isn’t a first.
    Evolving Networks has been bonding different tail technologies including 3G and 4G for years. With a static IP across any combination including leased lines and FTTP and soon G.fast.
    What’s great is to see that approach finally going mainstream. People have been saying for over a decade that no one will want to bond and that no one wants resilience with multiple lines. They do.

    • CarlT

      Be interesting to see how it is delivered. Whether it’s an overlay network as yours and others are or is using some secret sauce.

      I imagine their response would be that they are the first to offer everything in one on-net, which is perhaps strictly true though fully managed SD-WAN services deliver a similar end user perception.

    • Nic Elliott

      I’m intrigued to see how they are using Multipath TCP. There is a lot of internet traffic that isn’t TCP…

      Our own Multipath Ethernet technology is designed for any protocol, and this is why I hesitate to call something bonding when it doesn’t aggregate all the bandwidth for all possible applications/protocols.

  11. Jon

    I’m on bt business and have a 4g failover device as part of my contract? not Needed it but handy if the worse should happen, don’t know if they offer it on residential

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