Wednesday, March 28, 2012

BT: FTTP on demand developments

In his presentation at the NextGen12 Roadshow in York yesterday, Bill Murphy, Managing Director NGA, BT Group, mentioned BT's plans to offer fibre to the premise (FTTP) services on demand in areas enabled with fibre to the cabinet (FTTC) technology. This new fibre overlay system extends the fibre already deployed to the street cabinet all the way to the customer's premise, providing much faster speeds as a result.

I obviously haven't been paying enough attention recently, as this was the first I'd heard of it; in fact, the on demand option was announced back at the beginning of February, as part of BT's third quarter 2011 results. From the related BT press release:
"BT today announced it has held successful trials of “FTTP on demand” in St Agnes, Cornwall. This solution allows additional fibre to be run on demand to a home or business in a Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC) enabled area, providing the customer with ultra-fast Fibre to the Premise (FTTP) broadband... BT has developed a solution that takes advantage of the fibre it has already deployed between the exchange and the street cabinet. The technological development has the potential to transform the UK broadband landscape. This is because FTTP – which will soon offer end users speeds of up to 300Mbps - could be made available anywhere in BT’s fibre footprint where a customer requires it. BT will conduct further trials of FTTP on demand this Summer with a view to making the service commercially available to all communications providers by Spring 2013."
The service is envisaged as being likely to appeal to businesses and "the affluent" in the first instance, given likely installation costs. This from BT's financial results news release, in the section about Openreach:
"The accelerated investment in our fibre roll-out programme was offset by lower spend on DSL, resulting in capital expenditure reducing by 1%. We recently announced 178 new exchange locations across the UK for the next two phases of our fibre roll-out programme. More than 7m premises now have access to fibre-based broadband and we expect  to roughly double the download speeds  provided by fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC) broadband from up to 40Mbps to up to 80Mbps in the Spring. We are rolling out our fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) service offering speeds of 110Mbps and are on track to launch our 330Mbps product in the Spring. We are also testing a 1Gbps FTTP speed variant. In addition, we have successfully tested, and are trialling, a  new technological development that enables FTTP to be provided in FTTC-enabled areas in response to customer demand."
From the same press release:
"We added 146,000 retail broadband customers, representing 56% of the broadband market net additions (DSL, LLU and fibre, excluding cable) of 262,000 taking our retail broadband customer base to 6.1m at 31 December 2011. Take up of our super-fast broadband product, BT Infinity, increased with 95,000 customers added in the quarter and we now have more than 400,000 customers."
ThinkBroadband, ISP Review and the FT ("BT set to launch ‘ultrafast’ internet") all offered commentary  at the time on BT's FTTP on demand offering. The FT ran an additional piece on the impact of BT's trial in St Agnes in Cornwall ("Cornwall leads the high-tech revolution"), highlighting the benefits of the technology for local businesses. Estimates of likely install costs mentioned in the press coverage included "in the range of £500 to £1500" and "in the high hundreds of pounds", and costs will surely vary significantly from premise to premise, given the different distances involved. More on Openreach's FTTP service here, with related information here and here on Fibre Voice Access.

It will be interesting to monitor the demand for and takeup of BT's FTTP on demand service when it's launched; clearly in the first instance it will only be available where FTTC has already been deployed. And I would guess many people will be content with the significant bandwidth upgrade that FTTC services will deliver. But...if enough people and businesses register interest in areas outside current and planned FTTC deployments (especially those areas where FTTC isn't appropriate, as premises are too far from their serving cabinet to support FTTC services), could such a financial commitment be enough for BT to consider extending its roll-out further, but so as to deliver FTTP rather than FTTC services? 

I would guess individuals and businesses in such areas would have to pay more than those in areas where FTTC has already or is going to be deployed. But could such contributions to the cost of delivering fibre from the cabinet onward to premises make an area otherwise uneconomic for superfast broadband viable instead?

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