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Openreach makes big FTTP statement, but with strings attached

broadband fibre cable

Openreach, the UK’s dominant fixed-line wholesaler, has vowed to ramp up its fibre-to-the-premises roll-out to hit three million premises by the end of 2020.

As everyone knows, you can’t make a grand public statement without giving it a name, so BT-owned Openreach came up with the ‘Fibre First’ programme, presumably to distinguish it from the previous strategy of combining FTTC with copper augmentation via Gfast. The underlying point seems to be to virtue-signal about its new-found commitment to fibre.

“Through the Fibre First programme, Openreach is getting on with the job of building an ultrafast Britain,” said Openreach CEO Clive Selley. “We are accelerating our plans to build FTTP to three million premises by 2020 which sets the course to reach ten million by the mid-2020s with the right conditions. Where possible going forward, we will ‘fibre first’.

“Working closely with central and local government and our communication provider customers, we will identify the cities, towns and rural areas where we can build a future-proofed, FTTP network that’s capable of delivering gigabit speeds to all homes and businesses at an affordable cost.

“We’ll continue to invest in our people and we’re already in the process of re-training and upskilling to make Fibre First a reality. We plan to hire around 3,000 engineers in 2018/19 to kick-start Fibre First and further improve the reliability and performance of our existing networks.”

In case it wasn’t obvious, Selley is saying he’ll commit to the first three million (presumably where he feels healthy ROI is most guaranteed) but needs to see some public and CSP cash before he’ll do any more. Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Leeds, Liverpool, London and Manchester are flagged for the first wave, which Openreach nebulously said could also connect ‘up to’ (they just can’t get out of that habit can they?) 40 UK towns.

To further demonstrate its tear-jerking altruism Openreach reckons the cost of all this fresh fibre will be £300-£400 per premise, making the total cost £1-4 billion. The clear message is that if you want the spend to get anywhere near to the top end of that range we all need to chip in. Having said that the capex estimations seem to be coming down.

In a somewhat contradictory position the Openreach announcement also stressed how into Gfast it still is. “Openreach remains committed to rolling out Gfast at speed,” it said. “Openreach will employ a Fibre First ethos and will not build Gfast and FTTP to the same locations. So, in summary, Openreach is committed to fibre unless it’s a bit too pricey and/or it fancies going with Gfast instead. Great.


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