BT Promises Super-Fast Broadband To London By 2011

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Eighty-seven percent of London homes will be in reach of fibre broadband by the end of Spring 2011, says BT

BT has promised that most Londoners could be able to have fibre-based broadband by the end of Spring 2011, and released maps of the proposed coverage.

In a major boost to previous plans, the operator will enable 114 exchanges, to handle fibre links to street cabinets. This will offer speeds of up to 40Mbps in around 87 percent of the capital’s homes.

An “Olympic sprint” for broadband

“London is already one of the best connected cities in the world, and our investment plan will ensure that it stays ahead of the pack,” said BT’s chief executive Ian Livingston in a statement, which described the accelerated roll-out as a “broadband sprint”, designed to get coverage well before the Olympic and Paralympic games reach London in 2012.

The announcement of a faster roll-out in London follows the news in May that BT is to invest £1 billion more in its fibre network, taking its total to £2.5 billion, and promising to cover two-thirds of the UK by 2015. (In 2009, it reckoned on hitting 40 percent of the UK before the 2012 Olympics.)

The move will be welcomed by the government which views broadband speed as a political aim, with Culture Secretary Jermey Hunt promising faster broadband for all last week, after a study ranked the UK 33rd in the world for provision of fast Internet services.

“Speed is the essence of so many Olympic sports and, as the Games return to London for a third time, it’s vital that we should be able to access and enjoy them at record speeds,” said Boris Johnson, mayor of London. Johnson has already pledged full Wi-Fi coverage for London.

London's fibre broadband provision by Spring 2011 (Source: BT)

BT’s fibre roll-out will not stop the improvement of copper broadband, which is being upgraded to ADSL 2+, allowing up to 24Mbps – though this depends heavily on how far the customer is from the telephone exchange. ADSL 2+ is currently available to 90 percent of London, and the gaps should be pretty much filled in by Spring 2011, according to BT

BT’s plans reckon without industrial action, of course, which is apparently still a possibility with a strike ballot of the Communications Workers Union planned. 

The race with Virgin

BT is racing to provide fast services in the most populous and profitable areas of the UK, against Virgin Media, which has demonstrated 200Mbps broadband.

BT’s fibre network, unlike Virgin’s, will be shared, although the sharing will be on a less open basis than the copper network, as terminating equipment will be installed in the exchange by BT’s Openreach division, and BT will set the price for access to the fibre network.

While BT and Virgin race to provide faster fibre broadband to areas already covered, efforts continue to bring coverage to “not-spots” where there is no conventional ADSL broadband – for instance, earlier this month BT announced a deal to provide more coverage in Wales. An earlier BT announcement promised 200,000 homes in Cornwall would get fibre-based broadband.

The previous Labour government proposed a “broadband tax” to pay for improving broadband services, but this was thrown out before May’s General Election.

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