BT claims it could soon be able to offer customers broadband speeds of up to 300Mbps, following successful trials of fibre-to-the-premise technology in St Agnes, Cornwall.
Most of BT's fibre deployments are fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC), meaning that fibre optic cables are laid to street cabinets, and then traditional copper cables are used to connect homes and businesses to the street cabinets. This “last mile” copper connection can reduce broadband speeds significantly.
Fibre-to-the-premise (FTTP) continues the fibre link from the street cabinets to the premises, which is a much more expensive option. With FTTP, however, end users can get connection speeds of up to 300Mbps, as opposed to FTTC, which currently offers speeds of up to 40Mbps.
BT now plans to make FTTP commercially available to all communications providers “on demand” by Spring 2013, after conducting further trials this Summer. This means that consumers in FTTC enabled areas will have the option to get FTTP, as long as they are willing to pay for it.
BT expects the service to be of particular appeal to small and medium-size businesses (SMBs) that need to send and receive large amounts of data. Prices have not yet been announced, but a BT spokesperson told Techworld that companies will not necessarily have to pay for the last mile fibre link themselves.
For example, some service providers might choose to pay for the fibre connection themselves, and then work the cost into service contracts over a period of two years. The government has also pledged a pot of £530 million to help councils provide fibre connections to areas where it might not be economically viable for telecom companies to do so, so this could also be used to fund FTTP.
“FTTP on demand is a significant development for Broadband Britain. Essentially, it could make our fastest speeds available wherever we deploy fibre,” said Openreach chief executive Olivia Garfield. “This will be welcome news for small businesses who may wish to benefit from the competitive advantage that such speeds provide.”
BT also said it will introduce a new faster variant of FTTC broadband this Spring. This service will deliver speeds that are approximately double those on offer today so downstream speeds will be up to 80Mbps rather than up to 40Mbps, and upstream speeds will be up to 20Mbps.
Commenting on the news, Andrew Ferguson, editor of Thinkbroadband.com, said installation fees for FTTP could be as high as £1,000, while subscription to a 300Mbps service could cost more than £80 per month. Unlike with a copper connection, however, this is a guaranteed connection speed.
“BT has had lots of criticism over its largely FTTC roll-out to date, but today’s news is a major game changer, and gives people an option at least now,” he said. “For sure the digital landscape of the UK is changing, and today’s news may put us on course to being the best in Europe by May 2015.”
In December 2011, BT announced plans to add a further 178 fibre exchanges, covering more than 1.8 million homes in areas such as Yorkshire, the Midlands and the South East. Once these and previously announced exchanges have been upgraded, BT will have completed around 80 percent of its commercial fibre footprint, which will cover two thirds of UK premises by the end of 2014.
A report published yesterday by the communications regulator Ofcom found that the UK's average broadband speed is now 7.6Mbps, up 22 percent since May last year. Virgin Media's “up to” 50Mbps service has the highest average download speeds of 49Mbps. Meanwhile, BT Infinity – the provider's fibre-based service – offers an average download speed of 36Mbps.