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Fibrestream UK Calls BT a Digital Drug Dealer for Failing to Future Proof Broadband

Posted: 30th Nov, 2010 By: MarkJ
fibre optic broadband uk cableAn East Yorkshire based community network specialist in Next Generation Access (NGA) broadband ISP solutions, Fibrestream ( NextGenUs ), has likened BT to a "Digital Drug Dealer" for not promising to deliver a true super-fast fibre optic broadband service to everybody in the future.

The remark follows last week's comment by BT's Director of Strategy and Policy, Liv Garfield, whom said that there was "no point" in spending more money to deliver a true 110Mbps FTTP ( FTTH ) fibre optic service when an area could already get 40Mbps FTTC technology (full quote).

FTTC delivers a fast fibre optic cable to BT's street level cabinets, while the remaining connection (between cabinets and homes) is done using VDSL2 (similar to current ADSL broadband but faster over short distances) via traditional copper cable; FTTC can deliver speeds of up to 40Mbps, rising to 60Mbps in the future (uploads can reach up to 10-15Mbps).

However critics quickly pointed out that BT's 40Mbps Fibre-to-the-Cabinet (FTTC) service couldn't deliver that speed to everybody. Indeed the operator recently had to introduce a new 5Mbps tier to support those who lived at the farthest reaches of their "local" street cabinet (here). Despite being beneficial, it also highlighted the limits of existing FTTC solutions.

Fibrestream's Boss, Guy Jarvis, said:

"To maximise profits, the enterprising last mile Heroin dealer must find the least amount of active ingredient with which to just maintain the customer’s habit and keep them coming back for more of the same, rather than seeking an alternative source and cutting the current supplier out of the loop."

Mr Jarvis also noted that the government's Communications Minister, Ed Vaizey, has long since been promising to give Britain "the best superfast broadband network in Europe". However, Jarvis warned that to achieve such a feat we would first need to beat countries like Holland, Sweden and Finland, which already have true fibre optic broadband in the ground.

Guy Jarvis concluded:

"On the basis of what Liv Garfield is reported to have stated, BT clearly then has no intention of helping deliver that policy goal and a visit to Holland, Sweden, Finland today, never mind in 2015, will swiftly deal with any illusions that FttC is fit for UK PLC policy purpose.

The logical conclusion must be that the £53M of public subsidy proposed to be used to build BT’s assets in Cornwall is not fit for policy purpose either.

Perhaps it is time for Kernow folk to rise up, object on grounds of state aid being used for commercial gain against the community interest and demand that future generations are not saddled with the fag end of copper make do and mend that is Fibre to the Cabinet aka Copper to the Home.

Future-proof Fibre to the Home – settle for nothing less!"

According to BT the "vast majority [of homes on FTTC] get between 33 and 38Mbits/sec", although the operator has not released any clear statistics to support that statement. Indeed it's not even clear how many people live further than 1km from their street cabinet. FTTC solutions tend to break down at 2km from the cabinet.

It would certainly be interesting to know how FTTC fairs over different distances, although at present the customer base is still too small to provide a strong enough real-world assessment of performance. However we will be looking to cover this more in the near future.

In reality BT would need to spend significantly more than it could afford to deliver a true 110Mbps FTTP solution to everybody, with some reports putting the costs at around £25bn or more. Likewise FTTC still has scope for improvement in the future; DSL Rings (here) could deliver symmetrical speeds of above 150Mbps via two twisted pairs (unpowered).

The government could solve a significant part of this problem by correcting the imbalanced Fibre Tax and allowing smaller providers to compete on a level playing field with BT. This would go some way towards fostering more private investment and making it cheaper to deploy faster fibre optic services, even into rural areas. To date this hasn't happened.

However it should be said that headline speeds, even with true FTTH services, don't always stack up with real-world experiences. South Korea has heavy national deployments of fibre optic infrastructure and yet its average speeds are still hovering around 30Mbps. Capacity remains an ever present and often hidden barrier to performance.

Meanwhile consumers still historically prefer cheaper services and most, at least for now, would be happy with a 10 to 20Mbps connection provided it could actually deliver that. Sadly, whatever your thoughts on BT FTTC or Virgin Media UK's cable platform, neither cover the "Final Third" communities that don't mind paying extra for something better than 0.5 or 1Mbps.
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