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Openreach CEO Selley emphasises broadband delivery technology

Joe Garner’s replacement at Openreach, technologist and engineer Clive Selley, discusses VDSL, and pure fibre as elements of the future for UK broadband

Clive Selley, the recently appointed CEO at BT Openreach, has vowed to take a technology-led approach to the running of BT’s arm’s-length infrastructure division, while not letting up on the customer service-focus that was a key plank of the strategy of predecessor Joe Garner.

“My background is engineering and that will flavour my approach to running Openreach as a business,” he said.

Selley – who previously oversaw BT's technical side as CEO of Technology, Services and Operations – discussed a number of technologies he saw as key to Openreach’s evolution over the next few years.

He also doubled down on BT CEO Gavin Patterson’s recent comments about enabling fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) broadband as a key element of the Openreach strategy.

At the time, there was speculation that Patterson had made these comments only because Ofcom CEO Sharon White had thrown her full backing behind FTTP as the broadband delivery technology of choice in her February 2016 market review. Selley insisted this was not the case, and said: “I devised that strategy before Ofcom devised their recommendations.”

Selley said he saw FTTP as a plan for business parks and high streets first and foremost – replacing exchange-only lines in some cases.

“FTTP will be positioned nicely between very high bit rate digital subscriber lines (VDSL) and Ethernet and I think it will power a lot of businesses. We can craft business propositions that will be very attractive feature- and price-wise to businesses,” he said.

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Mix of technology

FTTP will continue to sit alongside technology, and an enhanced long-range version of VDSL broadband that has already demonstrated significant improvements in download speeds on copper loops of up to two kilometres, said Selley.

“We’ve been super-focused on delivering VDSL. The previous team has a proud track record but got very focused on that objective,” said Selley.

“Now is about the right time to acknowledge we can see demand exceeding the threshold numbers and, while VDSL will serve many well for a number of years yet, we need to put in place ultrafast for businesses and early adopter consumers.”

Customer service still on track

The renewed focus on delivery technology does not mean Garner’s customer service project is being thrown on the scrap heap, insisted Selley.

Openreach is still trying to halve the number of missed appointments, and complete on half of those missed appointments in 24 hours. Selley claimed that Openreach is performing well on that metric, and misses about half as many appointments as its communication service provider (CSP) customers do.

He plans to recruit 1,000 engineers into the business, with a particular emphasis on cross-skilling, meaning they can adapt to different jobs more easily – for example, working underground in a duct requires a substantively different skillset to working on an overhead pole.

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