BT announces high-fibre diet

July 17, 2008 at 11:17 am Leave a comment

It’s been a while coming, but BT has finally responded to industry, press and regulator calls to share its plans for higher-speed broadband. In a press release dated 15th July 2008, the company revealed that it plans to invest £1.5bn in fibre infrastructure to reach up to 10 million homes by 2012, enabling broadband speeds of ‘up to 100mbit/s’.

That super-fast figure, though, will only available in those areas where BT elects to deliver FTTH (Fibre to the Home), which will primarily be in new-build areas, such as the lucky pathfinder community at Ebbsfleet, Kent, where BT has already commenced FTTH trials. FTTH is expensive, and requires new distribution plant and a new connection to every served premises – which is unlikely to make economic sense in the general case.

The alternative approach that BT has announced is FTTC – Fibre to the Cabinet (or Curb if you like). This relies on a single fibre connection from the local exchange to the end-of-street cabinets or distribution points (DP – the green boxes that Openreach engineers set their tents up at). A home’s existing copper connection to the DP will be driven from a mini-DSLAM installed in the green box. Since the copper length is small, new technologies such as VDSL can be deployed instead of the more common ADSL or ADSL2+, allowing real-world speeds of up to 40Mbit/s to be achieved. FTTC provides an attractive compromise between cost and speed, and needs minimal disruption at the customer premises – an upgraded xDSL modem or router will be needed to take advantage of the higher speed, but the phone line and other connections remain the same. FTTC, then, is an attractive option to upgrade existing residential areas.

BT is careful to emphasise that the fibre investment is dependent on Ofcom coming up with a suitably supportive regulatory environment in order for the company to get an acceptable return on its £1.5bn. The commercial model must depend on BT having price-setting flexibility, and not be constrained in how it plans to offer access to the fibre network to other communications providers. Expect to see much deliberation behind closed doors at Riverside House on that aspect.

So the lucky BT-supplied consumers who are currently starting to enjoy the first BT ADSL2+ up-to-24Mbps service, along with those C&W and Be Unlimited users who’ve had it for a while, will only enjoy their position at the top of the speed charts until BT comes along and fibre-enables their exchange – then it’s upgrade time again.


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