BT has said it wants to provide a new broadband speed minimum of 5-10Mbps for the entire UK and to ensure 10 million properties can access ultrafast services of between 300Mbps and 1Gbps by 2020.
BT chief executive Gavin Patterson outlined the plans at an event in London, where he touted the importance of boosting broadband to the UK as a whole.
“The prosperity of the nation depends on strong digital communications,” he said.
“Our pledge to government is that we stand ready to deliver this [5-10Mbps] so that every home can enjoy the most popular internet services such as iPlayer and YouTube, in high-definition.”
Patterson explained that BT needs more policy clarity from government so that it can fully prepare for any new minimum service commitment.
“I think the debate is still ongoing on what the right number is [for a minimum speed]. Government set out in spring they were looking at 5Mbps, but we know in consultation with Ofcom that 10Mbps is the number they think is right. We’re happy to work to both and hope it begins to crystalise in the future,” he said.
Patterson also used the announcement to urge Ofcom and the government to ensure they create the right market conditions to help BT make such a network upgrade viable.
“This needs the right regulatory environment and needs government policy support on planning,” he said, explaining that the cost of ensuring a new minimum speed was not something that BT could “shoulder” on its own.
At the other end of the speed scale, Patterson said BT wants to embark on the rollout of so-called ultrafast services of between 300Mbps and 1Gbps, based on superfast fibre and G.fast technology on copper connections.
BT Technology chief executive Clive Selby, who oversees research and development at BT, said the company would do this in two ways – firstly by rapidly increasing the rollout of fibre to the premises (FTTP) services.
“At the labs we’ve demonstrated changes to our architecture that remove three hours from the engineering tasks of delivering fibre,” he said.
“We’re also applying advanced software to the planning for fibre broadband deployments and so we are increasing the volume of FTTP in the UK.”
The second area is G.Fast, BT’s attempt to breathe new life into its ageing copper network and remove the need to provide fibre connections to boost speeds.
G.Fast works in two ways. It takes fibre closer to the premises by running it from a cabinet to a telephone pole or footway box, complemented by a new transmission technology that reduces the ‘crosstalk’ from other copper lines.
“This is the most exciting advancement in the labs in some years,” Selby said.
“BT Labs and the UK are genuinely leading the way to produce the technology that I am confident will be the bedrock of networks not just here in the UK, but around the world.”
Satellite and fibre
Another major aim outlined by Patterson during his speech was to boost fibre broadband services past the current 95 percent target, although again this came with a call for the government to support this ambition.
“We believe fibre broadband should be extended further should the current funding model be continued. We’re willing to support the government to ensure homes and business in the most difficult commercially accessible parts of the UK are connected,” he said.
“We are willing to contribute funding to assist with that process […] we do not assume all that funding goes to BT, and we welcome contributions of other players.”
Selby revealed BT is working on another new network technology called Long Reach VSDL that can increase the speed along a 2km copper line from 9Mbps to 24Mbps, and that this could go faster with more research.
Selby also revealed that BT would launch a satellite broadband service by the end of the year, in conjunction with government, that would offer superfast speeds. This should mean speeds of at least 24Mbps.
Finally, BT outlined new ambitions for its Openreach division, saying it would introduce new self-imposed targets to speed up installations and fault fixes, and revealed that it has created a new ‘View my Engineer’ service to track the location of engineers.
“Customers can receive text updates on progress of the engineers and the name and mobile number of the engineer,” explained BT Openreach chief executive Joe Garner.
Garner also said he was open to the idea of letting users ring Openreach directly to deal with issues – rather than having to go to their provider such as Sky, TalkTalk or BT Retail – if Ofcom and the telecoms sector is open to the move.
“We are a wholesaler, not a retailer, so we don’t have a direct sales relationship with customers but I understand the frustration. We will be consulting on this.”
The future of Openreach is currently under debate between BT and its rivals, as Ofcom reviews the current state of the telecoms market.
Firms like Sky and TalkTalk want Openreach to be turned into a separate company, arguing it is unfair the biggest telecoms firm operates the UK’s biggest network, which it inherited when the firm was turned into a private business.
However, Garner said that Openreach would serve the UK best by remaining within BT.
“Our open access enables any communication provider [to offer services] and has helped to give Britain the fastest, more extensive and affordable broadband connectivity in Europe.”
Analyst Paolo Pescatore from CCS Insight said that it was clear from BT’s announcements that it is hoping to head off some of the criticism coming from its rivals.
“Its latest pledges will address some of the shortcomings raised by its rivals, notably investment and service quality. However, this is unlikely to satisfy its rivals as they will still call for full separation, lower prices and greater access to BT’s network,” he said.
“While there are merits to BT’s acquisition of EE and retention of Openreach, regulators will be duty bound to listen to the comments of their competitors who will feel less positive about the transaction and the increasing monopolisation of the telecoms sector.”