July 9, 2009
BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA) is accelerating its next-generation broadband rollout in the U.K., and now plans to pass more than 1 million homes and businesses with its new fiber-to-the-cabinet (FTTC) and fiber-to-the-premises/home (FTTP/H) access network by March 2010, twice as many as originally intended by that date.
The announcement comes as British service providers, politicians, and users ponder the U.K.'s communications future following the recent "Digital Britain" report. (See Britain's Broadband Tax and Digital Britain Disappoints.)
BT first announced its so-called "super-fast fibre broadband" strategy a year ago, and since then it has fleshed out its plans, received the green light from the U.K. regulator, and made a number of audacious claims. (See BT Unveils $3B FTTx Plan, BT's FTTH Conceit, BT Gets Green Light for Fiber Plans , and BT's Fiber to the Hype.)
BT says a total of 1.5 million homes and businesses will have access to the services by "early summer 2010," and that 10 million potential customers (40 percent of British homes and businesses) will be able to access the services, via a retail ISP, by 2012. The carrier expects about 90 percent of the coverage will be FTTC, and about 10 percent, or 1 million potential end users, will have access to FTTP/H.
BT says its FTTC services –- up to 40 Mbit/s downstream and 5 Mbit/s upstream delivered over a fiber connection to a remote DSLAM in a street cabinet, which then delivers ADSL2+ or VDSL2 broadband services over a copper line to the end user -– are now live in two locations (Muswell Hill in London and Whitchurch, South Wales) following a series of trials with ISPs. (See Entanet Trials BT's FTTC.)
The operator also tells Light Reading that it will soon reveal two "brownfield" locations (so not new housing developments) where it will build out FTTH/P lines to 40,000 homes and businesses. These will deliver broadband services of up to 100 Mbit/s downstream and 40 Mbit/s upstream over an end-to-end fiber connection.
BT has stated previously that it intends to deploy GPON infrastructure rather than point-to-point, dedicated fiber lines for FTTP/H, but won't reveal which access equipment vendors it's currently working with on its fiber-based broadband rollouts, though it has confirmed Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. as a supplier. (See Huawei Eyes UK LTE Trials.)
BT also took the opportunity today to make a thinly veiled dig at broadband services rival Virgin Media Inc. (Nasdaq: VMED), which has more than 3.4 million cable broadband customers, has just begun promoting a 50 Mbit/s downlink offering and testing a 200 Mbit/s service, and is not obliged by the regulator to provide wholesale access to its network. (See Virgin Picks Moto CMTS for Wideband, Virgin Bonds With 200 Mbit/s Trial , and Virgin Boosts UK Broadband.)
"Unlike other companies, BT will offer access to service providers on an open, wholesale basis thereby supporting a competitive market," BT stated.
BT put further pressure on Virgin by stating that cash handed out from the Digital Britain NGA (next-generation access) fund, which is being set up to help extend "fibre-based broadband to parts of the country where otherwise it would not be economical to do so," should "only be available to companies that are prepared to open their networks."
So is BT just getting busy and speeding up its rollout to meet customer demand? Heavy Reading chief analyst Graham Finnie said it's more likely to be a response to increasing competitive and political pressure.
"It looks like BT is reacting both to the potential threat from Virgin's super-fast broadband," which Finnie believes is also being misleadingly promoted as a fiber access service, "and the undercurrent of rumbling about the U.K. falling behind on fiber-based broadband. I think BT needs to be seen to be 'doing something'," stated the analyst.
As for how much these new broadband services will cost, BT says that is up to the retail ISPs that will buy the wholesale product and then sell the services to residential and business customers. It has, though, published its wholesale prices: The FTTP/H prices can be found here, while the FTTC wholesale pricing is here.
— Ray Le Maistre, International News Editor, Light Reading
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