Millions spent on DSL no help as BT seeks rural NGA broadband answers
BT is treating the UK’s rural areas as new build sites for the purposes of next generation broadband, Openreach CEO Liv
Garfield told delegates to the NextGen12 conference in London on Monday.
She said she had taken a look at “vast chunks of rural UK, and there is nothing there to assist” Openreach in rolling out fibre-based broadband access.
“There is just ground, and we’ll have to go through that ground, or we’ll have to use aerial poles, and that’s the way rural broadband will be connected. It will not be based on what’s already there,” she said. “It will be brand new provision.”
This is despite BT spending tens of millions of pounds 10 years ago to install ADSL broadband in rural areas. Critics, including former BT CTO Peter Cochrane, say BT’s current choice of fibre to the cabinet (FTTC) is a technological dead end that means BT is likely to ask taxpayers for more money in a few years as its implementation can’t deliver fibre to the home (FTTH).
Garfield went on to say that the present cost is not “the few hundred grand” it costs to upgrade a cabinet, but the millions it costs to upgrade an exchange to support fibre-based broadband.
BT has faced questions over its proposed costs of upgrading broadband in rural areas. Leaked documents prepared by former BDUK contractor Mike Kiely show a stead rise in the cost of cabinets from around £12,000 to £30,000 since BT began rolling out next generation broadband. Garfield’s “few hundred grand” marks a massive escalation in cabinet costs at a time when it is the effectively the only firm likely to win BDUK contracts.
Garfield said putting next generation broadband into rural areas “requires taking a look at an area like Wales, and (seeing what’s there) and saying there is nothing in the ground that is going to help us – there’s directly buried copper in most rural areas, that’s the reality, so there is nothing to benefit (us).”
She said BT had looked at this issue and made sure that it is not holding back consumer rural broadband provision.
She added that BT provides various options to communications provides, but dark fibre is not one of them. “I think people would like to use dark fibre not for consumable provision but to make it cheaper to provide business customers with different options. That’s not something (we) choose to do, if I’m honest, right now.”
Garfield equated different ideas about symmetrical and asymmetrical upload and download speeds to “religious beliefs”. BT had chosen to provide 80Mbps asymmetrical broadband to millions of people quickly using FTTC rather than 1Gbps symmetrical, which is likely to be a fibre to the home (FTTH) network.
She said she had seen stuff in BT’s labs that would make broadband speeds “dramatically higher” without resorting to fibre to the home. 1Gbps upstream is not what consumers need, she said. Nothing the labs had modelled so far required more than 24Mbps, she said.
One such technology is Genesis Technical Systems’ copper-based DSL rings, which at the show were running at 400Mbps. BT is expected to start trialling the technology towards the end of the year, with Genesis planning a commercial launch in mid-2013, probably with a European operator.
Garfield said Openreach would start work on the BDUK contracts it had already won “the day after” Brussels approves state aid under the BDUK procurement framework.