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By: MarkJ - 13 April, 2011 (9:42 AM)
uk_fibre_optic_broadband_developmentukThe Japanese multinational computer hardware and IT services company, Fujitsu, has revealed plans to work alongside several major UK ISPs, including Virgin Media , TalkTalk and network developer Cisco, on the development and delivery of a new superfast fibre optic broadband network that could reach 5 Million homes in rural areas and act as a vital alternative to BT Openreach's national platform.

The news is likely to surprise BT, which recently shrugged off related concern that access to its own Telegraph Poles and Cable Ducts (Physical Infrastructure Access) had been set too high (here). BT then accused several rivals, which included Virgin Media , TalkTalk , Geo , Vtesse Networks and Fujitsu, of spending "more time talking about this process than actually working on it".

A BT Spokesperson told ISPreview.co.uk last week:

"Finally, BT is the only company who has installed broadband equipment in exchanges serving the last ten per cent of the UK and so we would question whether these companies are genuinely interested in serving rural Britain given their track record."

Today's move by Virgin Media , TalkTalk , Cisco and Fujitsu would appear to be their reply. According to the details that we've received, the Fujitsu Open Access Wholesale Network will be underpinned by Cisco’s technology.

Meanwhile Virgin Media and TalkTalk will access wholesale products via this network in order to retail next generation services to customers in remote parts of the UK. The network will also be open to other ISPs on wholesale terms.

Fujitsu certainly has some experience with building 100Mbps+ capable Fibre-to-the-Home ( FTTH ) broadband networks, though they haven't always gone quite to plan (Dundee example). However, the new collaboration promises to transform rural broadband in the UK in a number of important ways.
The Fujitsu Open Access Wholesale Network

* In the vast majority of areas, Fujitsu will run fibre optic cabling directly to the home (FTTH), rather than to the local street cabinet. As a result, the Fujitsu network will be one gigabit (1Gbps) symmetric capable from day one with potential to go to 10Gbps and beyond.

* Fujitsu’s network will be truly open access to all ISPs offering the end customer an unrivalled choice of services over a single physical network connection.

* Deployment across a wide range of underground and overhead infrastructure means that the Fujitsu network architecture is entirely independent of existing street cabinets. This model enables public investment to be targeted in areas where broadband provision is poorest.

* The collaboration will actively support the involvement of local community broadband groups, enabling dynamic and flexible solutions in rural communities for the first time.

* Superfast upload and download speeds can enable entertainment, remote healthcare, education and future government services without the need to travel. This future-proof infrastructure will shrink distances and will bring to rural Britain the services that the rest of the UK can enjoy today.
Fujitsu crucially claims that their plan relies upon Ofcom being able to successfully impose its regulatory remedy upon BT Openreach, which would give the ISPs crucial access to BT's underground ducts and telegraph poles on "fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory" terms.

The Governments Communication Minister, Ed Vaizey, said:

"Superfast broadband is already helping businesses grow and improving the lives of those able to access it. But many rural and hard to reach areas are missing out. The whole of the UK should be able to share in the benefits of broadband and we are determined to make that happen by the end of the Parliament. That is why the Government is investing over £500m in taking superfast broadband to everyone.

I am delighted that Fujitsu along with Virgin Media, TalkTalk and Cisco share the Government's vision. The collaboration between these companies was exactly the sort of ambition and innovation the Government wanted to stimulate by removing barriers to broadband rollout. Fujitsu and their industry partners are pledging a substantial investment in the UK and it represents a deep commitment to the future success of this country.

Creating this superfast broadband network will help improve the economic and social prospects of the homes and businesses where high-speed internet access remains just a dream."

Duncan Tait, CEO of Fujitsu UK and Ireland, said:

"There is a unique opportunity for the UK to re-establish itself as a world leader by having the world’s most advanced fibre network. If done correctly this can be a key vehicle to accelerate recovery in the UK and bring genuine choice to generations of communities starved of participating fully in the UK economy. We believe our approach, in collaboration with these major industry leaders, will provide a future proofed network for at least the next 20 to 30 years."

Virgin Media’s CEO, Neil Berkett, said:

"Virgin Media’s involvement in this ground breaking project is part of our on-going drive to rapidly create a step change in the UK’s digital evolution. Fujitsu’s vision and global expertise provides an opportunity to change the game in terms of broadband provision in parts of the UK that are otherwise being left behind. We now have a once in a lifetime opportunity to make the ambition of a digitally-enabled society a reality beyond the country's cities and towns."

Dido Harding, CEO, TalkTalk Group said:

"TalkTalk believes that high-speed internet access must not become the preserve of the few. Fujitsu’s investment will stimulate competition and allow us to deliver affordable products to the widest possible range of families and small businesses in all parts of the UK. Furthermore, accessing a Fujitsu network will allow us to extend our superfast broadband footprint while complementing our existing FTTC strategy."

The whole project sounds very promising but still lacks crucial details, such a timescale, coverage information and a specific financial commitment. At the very least this move should place a significant amount of added pressure upon Ofcom and the government to ensure that BT is forced to lowers its prices. For its part, BT claims that its trial costs are already lower than most of its European rivals. The battle lines have been drawn.

UPDATE 12:41pm

It's been noted that Fujitsu could spend up to £2bn on building the network, with a sizeable chunk potentially coming from the governments Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) office (budget of £830m by 2017).

UPDATE 14th April 2011

More details coming in. Fujitsu aims to have its first retail customer in 2012, with 5 million being reached in 3-5 years. That takes us up to about 2016.

Separately a lot of sites have been touting the top FTTH speed figure of 1Gbps, which is perhaps a bit misleading. Having a capability and actually offering that speed as a normal part of any home service (i.e. not "boosts") are two very different things. That's why we mentioned 100Mbps instead.
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