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BT has committed to extending superfast broadband coverage to a minimum of 10 million homes and businesses by 2020, and says an additional two million will receive a full fibre-to-the-premise (FTTP) broadband connection.
The telco announced the measures to coincide with its year-end results, which saw revenues up 6% to £18.9m and adjusted pre-tax profit up 9% to £3.47bn compared with the previous year.
The funding for the ambitious roll-out will be partly met by its arm’s-length infrastructure business Openreach and the recently acquired EE mobile business, which between them will fork out £6bn over the next four years to extend superfast broadband and 4G coverage beyond 95% of the country by the end of the decade, said BT.
The company plans to focus its FTTP roll-out largely on new-build housing developments, high streets and under-served business parks, it said.
“Networks require money, and a lot of it,” said BT CEO Gavin Patterson. “Virgin and BT have both pledged to invest and we will now see if others follow our lead. Infrastructure competition is good for the UK and so is the current Openreach model, whereby others can piggyback on our investment should they want to.
“G.fast is an important technology that will enable us to deploy ultrafast broadband at pace and to as many homes as possible. Customers want their broadband to be affordable as well as fast, and we will be able to do that using G.fast.”
Patterson added: “FTTP will also play a bigger role going forward and I believe it is particularly well suited to businesses that may need speeds of up to 1Gbps. My ambition is to roll it out to two million premises and our trials give me confidence that we will.”
However, broadband analyst Dan Howdle from comparison site Cable.co.uk said that by extending the FTTP roll-out to new-build homes and business parks, BT is missing an opportunity to help either the remaining rural areas of the country where people cannot even receive a fit-for-purpose broadband connection, or those who live too far from a cabinet to take advantage of superfast speeds.
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“BT absolutely must seize this opportunity, not only for the sake of those who suffer daily with appalling broadband speeds, but also for its own sake, since failure to do so may contribute towards a future in which it is forced to give up Openreach,” said Howdle.
BT’s change of heart on FTTP technology – hinted at in March – comes after Ofcom’s market review heavily criticised the telco for its laser focus on slower fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC) technology, put in place new incentives for BT’s rivals to invest in FTTP, and retained the threat of separating Openreach from BT as a further incentive for the company to step up.
Few broadband stakeholders now reject the idea that FTTP – which promises to deliver speeds of up to 1Gbps – is the right solution for the UK’s connectivity needs if the government’s ambitions to forge a truly digital economy are to be realised.
However, BT will continue to sweat its copper network for a while longer, and alongside the FTTP roll-out will be using G.fast technology to bring ultrafast speeds to more people at lower cost. Customers trialling G.fast are currently receiving speeds of 300Mbps down, which counts as ultrafast.
BT claimed that lab tests of variant G.fast tech XG-FAST could deliver 5Gbps down over copper.
Other providers have been quick to capitalise on Ofcom’s newfound interest in FTTP in recent weeks, with Virgin Media announcing its own major network expansion at the end of April, and TalkTalk reporting promising results from trials of a fibre service in York.