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By: MarkJ - 21 February, 2011 (11:08 AM)
fttc uk broadband exchangebt ukThe national UK telecoms provider , BT , has yet again come under fire after reports claimed that the operator was skimping on their country-wide rollout of superfast ('up to' 40Mbps) Fibre-to-the-Cabinet ( FTTC ) based broadband ISP services. Sources claim that, in some supposedly FTTC enabled areas, up to 60% of street cabinets have been left off their rollout.

The PC Pro news follows hot on the heels of a similar story earlier this month, in which many residents covered by the Poplar (East London, UK) telephone exchange discovered that they too had been excluded from the new FTTC service, despite their local exchange getting the upgrade (here).

FTTC delivers a fast fibre optic link to the operators street level cabinets, while the remaining connection (between cabinets and homes) is done using VDSL2 (similar to current ADSL broadband but much faster over short distances) through existing copper cable. In order to support FTTC BT must upgrade both the local exchange and street side cabinets, yet it's often incorrectly assumed that all cabinets in a covered area will get the upgrade when in fact they will not.

Stuart Watson, Broadband Product Manager at UK ISP Zen Internet, said:

"BT Openreach describes an exchange as in progress if there are ten cabinets live, but there could be 70 or 80 or more cabinets in that area – customers are seeing when their exchange is enabled but not when their cabinet is going to be, or even if it’s going to be upgraded, because only about 40% or 50% of cabinets in a given area are scheduled or are likely to be upgraded.

BT needs to make it clearer what an enabled exchange means, make clear that a rollout can take place over three, four or five months and make clear that just because an exchange is enabled the actually coverage in that area could be 40% or 50%."

BT does admit that a significant chunk of an areas (telephone exchange) associated street cabinets could indeed be left out of their deployment, although a spokesperson for the operator claimed that, "on average the figure is around 85% of an exchange area - this may be higher or much lower depending on the infrastructure and the market."

Sadly there is no easy independent way to check BT's coverage claims and we suspect that this issue will only get bigger as the operator expands its coverage, with many residents and businesses finding that the "FTTC Enabled" status on their telephone exchange does not always equal service availability.

As before, BT continues to blame this issue on a mix of both technical and financial factors. For example, FTTC only works over short distances from the street cabinet and some residents may simply live too far away to receive it. In other cases BT will upgrade the exchange but will not upgrade all of the associated local cabinets due to high costs, which can cause a great deal of frustration and confusion.

Most of the confusion stems from BT's continued focus upon announcing telephone exchange upgrade dates, which when taken on their own can be highly misleading. The solution would be for BT to release cabinet upgrade details alongside their exchange rollout data, even a simple cabinet upgrade summary would initially suffice. Sadly BT has shown no sign of doing this.

UPDATE 2:08pm

Here's the full statement that BT Group has just sent us.

A BT Spokeswoman said:

"A number of the statistics quoted are at best misleading and in some cases totally inaccurate. Openreach averages 85% coverage of homes and businesses within an enabled exchange area.

The economics of deployment dictate that the cabinets serving the largest number of homes and businesses are most likely to be enabled, though the costs involved in enabling each cabinet are also very important.

However, the 40-50% figure quoted is inaccurate - on average, well over 70% of cabinets within an exchange area are enabled, though it is worth re-stating that this is not directly proportionate to the number of homes served, as cabinets serve different numbers of premises."

UPDATE 22nd February 2011

Not that it adds anything new but BT has just issued us with a revised statement.

Revised Statement from BT

"BT says there are only a handful of exchanges with between 40-50 per cent of cabinets enabled, and that in many of these cases this equates to actual coverage of up to 70 per cent of homes and businesses in an exchange area. In the roll-out overall, on average well over 70 per cent of cabinets are enabled within each exchange area, covering, around 85 % of homes and businesses."

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