BT is set to trial a new broadband technology in London’s Tech City this autumn in a bid to combat the slow internet speeds that have plagued the area for so long.
The pilot, due to kick off in October, will include a number of businesses in Shoreditch that have the potential to benefit most from improved broadband speeds.
Details of the trial were brought to light today by Joe Garner, the incumbent CEO of BT’s Openreach division, which is responsible for building and maintaining the company's broadband network.
“We’re announcing that we’re going to pilot our fibre-to-the-remote-node (FTTRn) capability in Tech City,” he told Techworld at the company’s headquarters next to St Paul’s Cathedral in London.
BT's fibre to the remote node (FTTRn) broadband offering involves taking fibre optic cables from the local telephone exchange and connecting them to a small box on the street. From there, copper wires carry the signal a relatively short distance to a person’s home. It’s thought that FTTRn is capable of delivering internet speeds of up to 80Mbps, which is comparable to the speeds offered by BT’s standard superfast service.
BT said it will ask Tech City UK, an organisation set up three years ago by prime minister David Cameron to support London’s tech start-up community, to submit a list of 100 companies that could benefit from the new technology. Garner declined to reveal how many of these will be involved in the pilot but he did reveal that BT would be choosing a couple itself.
But when Techworld contacted Tech City UK, the organisation was keen to stress that it won't have the final say in which companies are picked for the trial.
Gerard Grech, CEO of Tech City UK, said: "Tech City UK has recently been asked by BT to help promote a trial of new broadband technology in London to the digital business community. Whilst the selection process (including the type, location and number of companies involved) and implementation of the trial will be owned and managed by BT, Tech City UK’s role will be to ensure that digital businesses are aware that they can apply for the trial and to ensure their needs are well understood.
"We completely understand that broadband infrastructure is a critical requirement for digital business growth. Earlier this year, Tech City UK collated feedback from the digital business community on broadband issues which it shared with BT Openreach and Ofcom."
Entrepreneurs have been criticising slow internet speeds and lengthy connectivity times in and around Shoreditch and the City of London for some time now.
Labour MP Meg Hillier, who represents Hackney South and Shoreditch, attended a roundtable in Tech City today to discuss the problem with start-ups and ISPs.
Ahead of the event, she said: "As I have said to the prime minister in the past month, broadband is a national embarrassment and action is urgently needed. In Tech City, the much trumpeted European hub of technology, businesses are moving out because they simply cannot access high-speed broadband."
But BT said it is determind to improve the situation, with Garner pointing out that he wants fibre optic broadband to be available to 90 percent of companies in Tech City within the next three years, adding that it is currently available to 33 percent of businesses in the area.
Many start-ups in Tech City opt for residential broadband packages, which cost around £25 compared to the £250 it can cost to lease a business line directly from BT.
Garner said: “If you are a start-up, isn’t your internet worth a couple of hundred pounds a month? Wouldn't you rather have a symmetrical upload and download rather than hanging off the back of a proposition that’s really designed for consumers sitting at home watching TV [online]?”
FTTRn technology is also set to be trialled in rural areas across the UK, where homes are situated a long way from the cabinet and even further away from a telephone exchange.
For example, BT has selected Leyburn in North Yorkshire for a trial pilot, in which will 5,000 premises in and around the market town will be connected with FTTRn, with speeds in excess of 25Mbps.
BT refused to reveal how much the new FTTRn technology would cost if launched commercially.