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TalkTalk: We will beat BT on fibre broadband take-up rates

As it connects its first trial customers to its Ultra Fibre Optic network in York, TalkTalk says it can beat BT on customer take-up and cost of roll-out

TalkTalk Business boss Charles Bligh has said he hopes take-up rates for the internet service provider's 900Mbps Ultra Fibre Optic (UFO) fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) network will easily surpass that seen by BT on its fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC) products.

Speaking to Computer Weekly as the firm connected its first business customers to the network in the city of York – as part of its continued network roll-out, which is a joint venture with Sky and CityFibre – Bligh said TalkTalk wanted the roll-out to go national, but it would need to meet certain thresholds to do so.

Currently, superfast broadband take-up rates are hovering at around 30% nationally, which was also the level of take-up required for BT to release extra cash into the Broadband Delivery UK programme.

“The two things that are really driving it are the cost of build and uptake. These are both unknowns, but we’re getting a good handle on the costs and working with our engineering partners to get on path to reduce that,” said Bligh.

“We won’t have a clear idea of uptake figures until March 2016, but our base floor is as high [as BT’s]. Certainly we can get 30-40%, and we think we can go higher. The costings only really start to work at 30%, and modelling the business case for investment becomes incredibly complicated if you drop below that level,” he added.

Bligh declined to go public on the cost of roll-out of FTTP per premises, although he hinted TalkTalk was undercutting Openreach, and the firm has already set its UFO price packages at a remarkably low level.

Two small businesses – one small office/home office (Soho) and one retail customer – as well as a small number of consumer customers, are now testing out the state-of-the-art FTTP network in York, said Bligh.

This figure is expected to grow to the low 100s through to November 2015, when TalkTalk and its partners will move to wider customer trials, and “unconstrained roll-out” early in 2016.

Bligh said he had been pleasantly surprised by the amount of interest and enthusiasm for the project, which to date has passed 2,000 businesses and homes in the Rawcliffe, Clifton, Huntington and Groves areas of the city.

“The reality is that this only works for us if we get high uptake so we need to get community engagement first,” he added.

TalkTalk has been running network open days at local supermarkets to garner interest, and over the summer announced it would provide free connections to nominated local charities, something Bligh said he hoped would help generate a groundswell of support for the project.

TalkTalk is also keen to make community relations a key differentiator in the UFO roll-out, an area where Openreach has often come in for criticism, he said.

The firm has been putting a heavy emphasis on aspects of the dig such as site safety, courteous behavior, and following procedures to the letter in terms of notifying the public of works, and so on. “We want to change the customer experience not just from the time of connection but from the time of the network build itself,” said Bligh.

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