news British incumbent telco BT revealed overnight that its fibre to the node network has passed more than 16 million premises since the network rollout was commenced in 2009, with more than 1.7 million customers having signed up for active connections to the infrastructure.
BT first started deploying fibre to the node throughout Britain in January 2009, with a number of trials being conducted around the country that year, and commercial services launching 12 months later in January 2010. At the time, the platform was dubbed ‘BT Infinity’. The deployment of this kind of service can broadly be considered analogous to the 2005 plan outlined by then-Telstra chief executive Sol Trujillo to upgrade Telstra’s copper network to FTTN, in that the rollout is predominantly being conducted by an incumbent telco which already owns its own copper network and all associated infrastructure, and which already has tens of thousands of engineers in the field to help deploy new infrastructure.
That same year, 2010, BT’s infrastructure arm Openreach, announced it would deploy FTTN to some 19 million households across the UK, and in October 2010, UK regulator Ofcom announced that BT would be required to provide open access to its fibre infrastructure, in the same way that telcos such as Optus, iiNet and TPG access Telstra’s network in Australia.
In May 2012, OpenReach announced it had passed the 10 million premises mark, and the end of June 2014, Openreach expects to have completed its rollout, although it has also already announced that it will extend the rollout to new areas, beyond the two thirds of the UK that it had initially planned; and it seems easy to predict that some rollout work will progress indefinitely.
Overnight, BT revealed just how fast its network rollout had progressed. “Fibre remains at the heart of our plans and take-up is strong. Our fibre network now passes more than 16 million premises with more than 1.7 million connected,” BT chief executive Ian Livingstone said at the company’s first quarter financial results briefing session. The FTTN service allows download speeds of up to 76Mbps.
BT’s Openreach division also commented separately on the rollout. “We achieved 265,000 net fibre connections, an increase of 56%,” the division stated. “Other service providers are now more engaged in marketing and selling fibre and their net additions in the quarter have more than trebled. More than 1.7m homes and businesses are now connected.”
Openreach is also working directly with the UK Government to fund improved broadband to rural areas. “We won a further nine Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) regional bids to deploy fibre broadband including Cheshire, Durham, Coventry, Solihull & Warwickshire and West Sussex,” the division noted. “We have now won a total of 29 regional bids. The programme will have a long payback but, unlike other companies, we have committed the capital and are focused on helping the UK achieve its short-term goal of more than 90% fibre availability. The UK is seen in many countries around the world as an exemplar of what can be achieved by government and private sector working together.”
In addition, BT is also pushing ahead with improvements to its technology in terms of its network infrastructure. Juliette Garside, a technology reporter for the Guardian in the UK, reported from the financial results briefing session that BT is shortly to start live trials of vectoring, which ups home broadband to 100Mbps. “Street cabinets that run it already ordered,” Garside wrote on Twitter overnight.
However, the news is not all good for broadband consumers in the UK. PC Pro reported overnight that of the 1.7 million customers connected to the telco’s fibre to the node network, 1.5 million were connected with BT’s Retail division. We recommend you click here for the full article.
“BT Retail’s early dominance of Openreach fibre is mainly down to the fact it began selling and marketing fibre connections ahead of many of its rivals. Companies such as TalkTalk and Sky have only recently begun to aggressively market fibre connections, while BT Retail has been doing so for well over a year,” PC Pro reported. “… Last week, TalkTalk chief executive Dido Harding told the Public Accounts Committee that BT Retail was driving down fibre profit margins to the point where rivals were finding it difficult to compete.”
The news of BT’s success with its FTTN rollout comes as debate continues to swirl in Australia regarding the FTTN technology which the telco is using.
In Australia, the Federal Government’s National Broadband Network Company is using a technically superior fibre to the premises model, which sees fibre extended all the way to customers’ premises rather than merely to neighbourhood nodes (FTTN requires reuse of some of the existing copper networks operated by BT and Telstra). However, since it was setup in April 2009, NBN Co has only successfully passed a total of 207,500 premises to fibre, and a further 27,300 in terms of fixed wireless services. In addition, the company has admitted that a number of those premises are not actually able to connect to the NBN, due to issues with the connection to the actual premises — such as when the NBN needs to deal with a strata authority to connect up a block of apartments.
The slow speed of the NBN rollout, and issues around the perceived cost of FTTP rollouts, has led the Coalition to propose a FTTN model similar to BT’s in the UK. FTTN has also been deployed in the United States by AT&T, France by France Telecom, and in Germany by Deutsche Telekom, although other countries, such as Singapore, Korea and Japan have preferred to deploy all-fibre networks similar to the Government’s NBN project.
However, there are also key differences between the two countries when it comes to broadband. The UK has a much higher population density than Australia, concentrated in a much smaller area, easing some of the broadband rollout challenges found in Australia. In addition, it is currently unclear to what extent Telstra’s copper network is maintained at a similar level to the copper network operated by BT, with some claiming that Telstra’s network is inferior and not as capable of supporting high broadband speeds under a fibre to the node-style rollout. The Coalition has pledged to remediate Telstra’s copper or extend fibre all the way to premises where necessary.
This week, Communications Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Anthony Albanese severely criticised the Coalition’s rival NBN policy, describing its reuse of portions of Telstra’s copper network as “bizarre” and “neanderthal”.
“You know, the idea that you have fibre to a fridge on a corner, and then use the old copper network of not last century but the century before to connect up to the home, with all of the unreliability that copper brings, is quite bizarre,” said Albanese during a NBN launch event in Melbourne yesterday.
“You know, in 1910 in the Federal Parliament there was a debate about copper versus iron. And during that debate there was a fantastic speech by a member of Parliament saying, we don’t need this new fandangle copper stuff. The iron, wire we’ve been using for 30 years for the telegraph, it’ll do. It’s good enough.”
“It wasn’t good enough. Copper was good enough in 1910. It’s not good enough in 2013. In 2013 it is fibre first and Neanderthal land second. It really is. It really is. There isn’t a debate anywhere in the world which says copper will do. And we need to compete in this century of growth in our region, by using the best technology possible.”