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BT UK Frustrated by Lack of Superfast FTTC Broadband Uptake in Cardiff Wales

Posted: 11th Mar, 2011 By: MarkJ
wales uk broadband mapbtBT Openreach, which is responsible for ensuring that all rival UK ISPs have equality of access to the local BT network, has this week been forced to admit that the take-up of its new superfast (40Mbps) FTTC broadband services has, at least in parts of Cardiff (Wales, UK), been poor.

BT stated that it had "spent millions of pounds" upgrading the area with some of the country's "best access to modern broadband technology", yet it also confirmed that residents in "some enabled areas" had shown little interest. In fairness this problem is not isolated to Cardiff and it's not as if BT hasn't been running a massive advertising campaign for several months.

The operator noted one exception, Whitchurch, where 7% of premises had already adopted the service "in just eighteen months". According to BT, 7% is "one of the best adoption rates ... in the UK", which is actually a bit worrying. At least that's "significantly ahead" of other parts of Cardiff.

BT, as you might expect, are keen to solve the problem and have teamed up with Cardiff Council. The operator plans to raise awareness through local marketing initiatives, such as stickers on the new fibre cabinets, radio promotions and the presence of new, fibre-liveried Openreach vans on the streets of Cardiff.

Richard Hall, BT Openreach NGA Deployment Director for Wales, said:

"Cardiff has been given a head start by Openreach but some fibre-enabled parts of the city are proving to be a bit slow out of the blocks to take up the opportunities fibre presents. With the notable exception of Whitchurch, residents are proving slow to take advantage of the technology on their doorstep and so we are working with the local council to raise awareness and drive demand.

Cities, towns and villages across the UK are clamouring for fibre broadband and look at Cardiff with envy. It would be shame if the city proved reluctant to be a digital leader but we are confident that, with the right encouragement, people will embrace the technology and never look back."

Admittedly the coverage of BT's FTTC service is still quite poor and it won't even reach 50% of homes until well after 2012 (target of 66% for 2015). However that doesn't explain why FTTC, which according to BT can deliver average download speeds of 31Mbps (8Mbps uploads) and a top rate of 40Mbps, has been so poor in covered areas.

Some reports have speculated that it might be because people want a true 100Mbps FTTH fibre optic link and not BT's half-way house FTTC solution. However, we suspect that this is more of a standard economic issue, one not uncommon to all new services. It probably doesn't help that much of Cardiff can already get superfast broadband from Virgin Media UK's cable network.

The simple fact is, if you want an FTTC connection, then at present the only major ISP to offer it is BT (note: their website doesn't always make it easy to find). A number of smaller and medium sized providers, including the reputable Zen Internet and IDNet UK, also offer it but they do not have the same mass market awareness, prices or advertising budget to attract millions.

Meanwhile the big boys of Sky Broadband , TalkTalk , O2 / Be Broadband , AOL UK and Orange have yet to launch an FTTC based solution or anything even remotely similar (TalkTalk is about to launch one). Some 8,000,000+ people do not want their broadband and or phone services from BT, which is why most consumers have switched to cheaper, and often more flexible, unbundled ( LLU ) ISPs. A further 4 Million+ take Virgin Media (cable) services.

One of the reasons for this is because BTWholesale's existing FTTC products don't give the big ISPs enough flexibility to offer original products and at lower prices. BT is attempting to solve this with Virtual Unbundled Local Access (VULA) for FTTC services, which is different from physical/traditional LLU services.

Physical LLU allows rivals to install their own hardware at the telephone exchange and to even take full control of a telephone line. By contrast 'Virtual' LLU means that BT still retains some control over the physical line but gives rivals much more management freedom over the connection.

However BT has been slow to get this out of the door and the big ISPs continue to lobby for more flexibility and better prices. Unless BT can do this then rival ISPs may find it hard to adopt FTTC and as a result BT would face serious problems. Luckily progress has been made and the first big provider, TalkTalk UK, is about to enter the FTTC market.

Still, until FTTC becomes widely adopted among the other big ISPs, then uptake is likely to remain poor. Competition drives everything, especially lower prices. So, once again, we don't all want our broadband and phone services from BT. Fix that and the situation should improve.
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