BT is to increase the speeds of its FTTC and FTTP offerings, but questions remain over its reach
The broadband arms race continues, as BT looks to leapfrog Virgin Media by announcing a significant increase in line speed for those lucky enough to be connected to fibre.
BT Openreach has officially launched its Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) service, which is initially offering speeds of up to 110Mbps. FTTP is where a fibre cable runs from the telephone exchange directly into people’s homes.
However, there are currently only six locations in the UK that will be able to enjoy this full-fat FTTP service. BT says these lucky few will be able to receive download speeds of up to 300Mbps from spring next year.
This FTTP service will be available on a wholesale basis so that rival ISPs can take advantage of these high speed lines.
Residents in Ashford in Middlesex, Bradwell Abbey in Milton Keynes, Highams Park in North London, Chester South, St Austell and York, who are to receive this FTTP service from next year, can start rejoicing now.
However of more significance to most of the British population is BT’s announcement that it will double the speeds delivered by Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC) broadband, from the existing 40Mbps limit, to speeds of up to 80Mbps.
FTTC is much more common in the UK and therefore more relevant to most of us. FTTC is where a fibre optic cable runs from the telephone exchange to a street cabinet. From there, a copper-based line is used to connect to people’s homes (the so called ‘last mile’).
BT is spending a whooping £2.5 billion to roll out fibre-based broadband to two thirds of UK premises by the end of 2015. The company said that already more than five million premises have fibre access and tens of thousands are being added each week.
“Today is a significant step in the UK’s broadband journey. These developments will transform broadband speeds across the country and propel the UK up the broadband league tables,” said Openreach chief executive Liv Garfield.
The government was keen to add its two pence worth on the subject.
“These are significant announcements and good news for the UK,” said Communications Minister Ed Vaizey. “High-speed broadband is essential for economic growth, which is why we want the UK to have the best superfast broadband in Europe by 2015.”
“Improving the UK’s broadband infrastructure will help our high-tech, digital industries grow,” he added. “It will ensure the UK is an attractive place to start-up and base the businesses of tomorrow.”
Yet despite the fine sounding rhetoric from the government, it has yet to commit significant amounts of public money for this vital infrastructure for ‘economic growth’, preferring instead to let the private sector carry the financial burden, whilst it provides relatively modest grants for local councils to put fibre into the ground.
It is also clear that these announcements will only benefit two thirds of the UK at best, and there exists a gaping hole in the UK, with semi-rural and rural areas set to be consigned to the broadband slow lane for the foreseeable future.
“300meg broadband will revolutionise the broadband industry and could create significant steps in changing how consumers and businesses use the Internet,” said John Hunt, at Thinkbroadband.com.
“Whilst this announcement is a great achievement, considering where broadband speeds were just a few years ago, it is worth noting that this product will only be available to a limited portion of the country with only 25 percent expected to receive fibre-to-the-home coverage by 2015, and this highest speed product will no doubt come with a premium price tag in the short term.”
“A large portion of the country will benefit from the FTTC speed increase to 80Mbps however, allowing many family members to get the most out of the Internet at the same time,” he added.
To be fair, BT is spending what it can as a commercial entity and it acknowledges there is a problem with installing fibre in more rural areas, where it is less cost effective.
“No-one is keener than us to extend these super-fast speeds to rural areas and so we will be bidding for public funds to help extend these services even further,” said Openreach’s Garfield. “The challenge is a tough one but by working with the public sector it is within our reach.”