Director Network Investment, Openreach, UK: “The potential of fibre is huge at a technical level but economics of deployment are very important”

Dr Peter Bell, Director for Network Investment, Openreach, UK is speaking in the Access Evolution track on Day One of the Broadband World Forum, taking place on the 22nd – 24th October 2013 at the RAI Exhibition and Convention Centre, Amsterdam. Ahead of the show we find out how Openreach makes its investment choices and what his views are on the realistic timeline for FTTH deployments.

How investment choices are made and balanced between BT retail and third party networks?

Openreach has more than 70 communications providers using our fibre network, and several hundred using our copper products. That includes not only BT’s wholesale and retail divisions, but also major players such as TalkTalk and Sky, and we provide all of our products on an equivalent basis to all CPs. BT Retail and Wholesale are important customers, and clearly we take their requirements very seriously, but they are not the only scale players we serve, so it is important for us to make product and investment decisions which benefit all our CPs – we have regular working group meetings to discuss product evolutions across all our product sets, and canvass our CPs opinions on a regular basis. We are core to their business, and they are core to ours – it is in our interest to work collaboratively.

The Broadband World Forum is taking place on the 22nd – 24th October 2013 at the RAI Exhibition and Convention Centre, Amsterdam. Click here to download a brochure for the event and here to register for a conference pass.

What growth potential does technology provide?

If by that you mean, “is there potential for higher speeds over our FTTC network?”, then absolutely, and we are actively researching a number of technologies such as vectoring (we currently have a trial running in Barnet and Braintree), which is primarily a speed assurance technology, and G.Fast, which has the potential to significantly boost speeds. However, it is important to remember that few people require, or are willing to pay for, speeds over and above those offered by our current generation FTTC network at the moment. That said, it is important to be ready, and future proof the network so that it can cope with increased demand, and be scale-able once people’s demands change.

What is the potential of fibre and can you provide any realistic timelines for FTTH in the UK?

The potential of fibre is huge, at a technical level, but the economics of fibre deployment are also very important. Unlike some other countries, and contrary to some of the recent media headlines, the majority of investment in fibre in the UK has been made on a commercial basis – BT has spent £2.5bn on its FTTC deployment, for example. However, deploying fibre to the premise would take an investment many times that figure, probably in excess of £25bn, and there is currently no mass consumer demand for the sort of speeds that pure fibre can deliver, so making a business case for that level of investment is impossible without massive state support – even countries like Australia are now having to reconsider their deployment options due to the economics. It is more likely that fibre networks will evolve, over time, to meet consumer demand, and technologies such as Vectoring, G.Fast etc all potentially have a role to play.

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