BT Extends ADSL2+ Deployment, But Deadline Slips

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BT is extending its ADSL2+ copper network deployment, meaning faster broadband for more people

BT has announced it is extending the upgrade of its copper-based network so that more people can benefit from a doubling of their broadband line speeds.

Back in April, BT Wholesale announced that it was extending the rollout of ADSL2+, which can offer possible broadband speeds of up to 20Mbps. Of course the vast majority will not see anything like this upper 20Mbps limit, because of factors such as distance from the telephone exchange, the level of ‘line noise’ etc.

BT’s April announcement was that the deployment would be to roughly 80 percent of UK premises, and that this would be completed by the end of 2011.

Deadline Slip

BT now plans to extend this deployment to around 90 percent of UK premises, but this will cause the deadline to slip quite badly. BT is now quoting Spring 2013 – thirteen months later than the date it originally predicted back in April.

BT did not provide a reason for this lengthy deadline slip at the time of writing.

Despite the delayed deadline, the ADSL2+ deployment will benefit an additional 800 telephone exchanges serving 2.5 million premises, and BT said that 400 of these exchanges would be located in rural areas.

“The deployment builds on BT’s strong track record in making broadband available in rural areas,” said the carrier. “BT has invested significant amounts installing broadband in almost every one of its 5,500 exchanges and remains the only active operator in the vast majority of rural exchanges, despite all of them being open to other companies.”

BT has a point here. The company recently told eWEEK Europe that BT is the only active operator in around 66 percent of the UK’s 5,500 exchanges. This is because other companies have deemed it not economical to invest in more rural parts of the UK.

Ofcom Price Cut

In an effort to encourage other ISPs to invest their own equipment in BT exchanges, Ofcom earlier this month announced that it was “significantly” cutting the broadband wholesale price that BT can charge other ISPs in rural exchanges, where it is the only broadband service provider.

Virgin Media said that Ofcom’s change to broadband pricing did little to address the main problem associated with rural broadband.

Of course, the cynic will argue that the main reason BT has opted to extend its ADSL2+ deployment, is that ADSL2+ will be exempt from Ofcom’s wholesale price cut, as the cut only applies to BT’s IPstream service, which offers speeds of up to 8Mbps.

BT said that as it completes its ADSL2+, it will “retire” its legacy broadband products by spring 2014, namely the 8Mbps IPstream service.

Rural Commitment

“This is a significant expansion of our roll out plan and is further proof of our commitment to serve rural areas. The faster speeds will support the government’s aim of enhancing broadband speeds for both town and countryside,” said Alex Pannell, director of product management at BT Wholesale.

Of course, while it is commendable that BT is upgrading its ageing copper network, the inherent problem of rural broadband still remains. BT is of course rolling out super-fast fibre-based broadband to two thirds of UK premises by the end of 2015. But this is mostly in urban areas.

Fibre promises to solve the distance problem associated with rural broadband services, but despite this, BT has opted to upgrade its copper service rather than blow new fibre down the ducting that exists for its copper-based network.

The main reason for this is of course economics.

“In reality it is far more challenging to roll out fibre than copper,” said a BT spokesperson. “For example it is much easier to deploy fibre in rural areas where the premises are suitably clustered around a telephone exchange, but this is not the case in many rural locations.”

The BT spokesperson said the carrier is looking at alternative strategies including the use of LTE and frequency whitespaces to bridge the so-called digital divide.

And the carrier said it is happy to engage with local residents and authorities to investigate ways to extend the deployment of fibre in their region.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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