BT celebrates the return of live collaboration at BBWF 21

UK operator group BT was prominent on the first day of Broadband World Forum 2021 as the telecoms industry welcomed the opportunity to meet in person once more.

Trade shows have been among the sectors most heavily hit by the lockdowns and general restrictions associated with the Covid pandemic. While we still have to jump through countless bureaucratic hoops in order to travel and gain access to live events, at least we’re finally allowed to have them. Pretty much every keynote speaker on the first morning of BBWF 21 reflected on this.

BT had a couple of representatives, the first of whom was Rob Shuter, CEO of BT Enterprise (pictured). He was one of the many speakers to advise that the pandemic has brought about a fundamental shift in the ICT environment. From remote collaboration and video conferencing, to the push for ‘zero-touch’ digital transactions with an eye on hygiene, Covid seems to have served as an accelerant for the process of digital transformation that was already underway.

Shuter characterised this evolution for BT as moving from a telco to a techco, a strategy it shares with Vodafone UK and, presumably, other operators. He stressed that, before operators can embrace all the presumed B2B opportunities presented by 5G, they need to get their own digital house in order. BT Enterprise has created Division X specifically to target strategic verticals and flog them whizzy digital services.

Of course BBWF is primarily about fixed-line stuff, which is why BT so often plays such a prominent role at the event. Shuter stressed that “you can’t have 5G without fibre” and used that premise as an opportunity to big-up the BT and Openreach fibre roll-out. Having said that, he conceded that the UK, at a current fibre coverage of 24% of premises, is well behind the Western European average of 43% so we need to seriously raise our game on that front.

Soon after we heard from BT Group CTO Howard Watson, who talked more broadly about the company’s progress towards “building an innovative converged network infrastructure for the UK”. He echoed his colleague’s observations about the transformational effect of the pandemic, especially when it comes to customer expectations of their connectivity services.

Watson gave us some more specific numbers on the Openreach FTTP roll-out, with the total number of premises passed set to hit 4.6 million this year and still targeting 25 million by the end of 2026. We also heard that BTEE is aiming for 50% 5G population coverage by 2023 and 90% of the UK land mass by 2028. There might even be a bit of help from LEO satellite connectivity provider OneWeb in hitting those numbers.

We then heard about BT’s shiny new 5G core which will be launched on its Network Cloud infrastructure by 2023 with a bit of help from Ericsson. Inevitably this topic was illustrated by one of those enterprise architecture slides that use a baffling array of stacked rectangles and arrows to show how under control everything is on the software front. Watson concluded by vowing to treat the hassle and expense of having to swap out all BTEE’s Huawei kit as an opportunity to optimise each cell site he is compelled to visit. There was only fleeting mention of OpenRAN.

The 5G/full fibre era is all about collaboration, both in the roll-out of the infrastructure and the delivery of novel digital services to a variety of industries. Watson reflected that, ironically, there’s still no substitute for meeting up face-to-face to make all this happen and celebrated the great opportunities created by events like BBWF to do just that.

  • Private Networks in a 5G World

  • 5G Networking Digital Symposium

  • LIVE: Getting the Best out of 5G

  • 5G Ecosystem Digital Symposium

  • 2020 Vision Executive Summit

  • TechXLR8

  • BIG 5G Event

  • 5G World

  • 5G Latin America


  1. Avatar Birdy sahibji 13/10/2021 @ 2:24 pm

    Good summary. Thank you.

    I believe that BT will be hindered by the British Govt to please and support BT’s competitor e.g. Virgin. Why do I say this? Historically , BT was not allowed to roll out optical fibre, operate mobile network ; “Cellnet” only became part of BT as their partner, Securicor, was unable to sell their share in Cellnet to other companies. BT has always been forced to fight with their hands tied behind their backs. No doubt the future will still be politically weak for BT till it’s almost demise.

  2. Avatar Maff 16/10/2021 @ 7:13 pm

    BT’s problems are from mainly incompetent CEOs. From Ian Vallance through Peter Bonfield, to Ben Verwaayen these men made huge errors and because of this were not supported by the city. Dept is the biggest issue and this is only getting worse under the present incumbent of the role. Hate to say it but BT is going to the wall and will not exist as we know it by 2025.

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