back to article Attention metal thieves: Buy BT, get 75 MILLION miles of copper

British Telecom is, as a telecoms company, worth minus £30bn. Yes, that's a negative number there. And yet it is literally sitting on top of billions in assets. It all starts with this point made in relation to cable theft: BT’s network relies on more than 75 million miles of copper cable People are stealing the cable, as we …

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Anonymous Coward

But, but, but ...

assuming they buy the company using borrowed money (like all the best asset strippers do) - is it called a "leverage buyout"? dunno - how much interest are they going to accrue while they drip feed the stuff onto the open market. I mean, they can't dump it all at once either wise the price is going to fall big time.

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Anonymous Coward

Incidental Costs

You forgeot to include the cost of buyings suffient MPs to overturn the various 999 and public service committments. (They may be cheaper when purchased wholesale).

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Re: initiative

El Reg» Really, why is anyone bothering to go and nick a few miles of the stuff when you could buy the company and take it all?

Personally, I blame the banks. If they would only start lending again then we could engage in such enterprises and get people off the phones and onto the streets.

I'd do it myself but I'm down to my last billion.

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Holmes

I blame red tape.

It's the paperwork that holds them up: you don't become a criminal because of the healthy outdoor lifestyle, it's that you cannot bother with following procedure and getting paper in order. Usually, starting with failing to collect GCSEs, however simple these are.

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75 million miles

I rather suspect this is the total length of all the conductors they use, so one mile of ten pair cable will contain 20 miles of wire.

Assuming that it's all 24AWG (817.7 feet to the pound) cable, then it worth about £1bn.

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exactly.

This smacks of Journo's forgetting to reverse the PR peoples' automatic mutiplying up of their wiring milages. Of course 1 mile of 10pair will have 20 miles. That is the maths the PR people do to make out how fantastic their network is, and also coincidentally the numbers they will supply to the insurance companies.

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Anonymous Coward

re. 75 million miles

It really could be 75 million miles; my broadband performs like the wire to the next village goes via India.

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Happy

@Ed 13

Spoilsport.

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Happy

Optional

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Economics-Dummies-Peter-Antonioni/dp/0470057955/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1316695020&sr=8-2

Hope this helps.

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BT got there first

Back in about 1987, BT came round to my high school to show all us cool kids in the GCSE Control Technology class how to splice fibre optics with a fusion welder. One of the things we learned was that when BT replaced all the old copper trunk lines with fibre optics, the scrap value of the cable bundles they were ripping out more than paid for the whole process.

We also learned never to look into the microscope of the fusion welder whilst it is welding. Some people just never listen DO THEY, HEADMISTRESS?

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So for 24 years they've been sitting on a proposition that improves the network *and* costs less than nothing. How much are these guys paid again?

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Off topic....

Control Technology was CSE. Totally my favourite subject, but looked down on because I was supposed to be doing O levels.

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I heard this at around the same time

while I was working for an AT&T and Phillips joint venture that was selling fibre-optic kit to BT.

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FAIL

Control Technology

certainly was *NOT* a CSE when I took it.

One of the best subjects I ever took and, as it turns out, the most useful.

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Facepalm

I'm sure all the trunks *have* been replaced

As bad as BT is as a company, I'm pretty sure they will have replaced all the *trunk* connections with fibre by now. They did offer to lay fibre to the consumer throughout the country (well, except Kingston) back in the late 80s, but were refused permission by the government as that would give BT too much power (over telephony, and other services such as TV) that could be delivered over the fibre... since of course once they'd invested the multiple billions of pounds into replacing the copper cables, they wanted to be able to recoup that investment by selling services using them.

Remarkably good thinking by BT, in hindsight remarkably poor thinking by the government, but back then BT really did want to try to take over the world.

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Anonymous Coward

I used to get 38K (money, not broadband speed), which isn't bad outside of London. Though before you all get your high horses out of the stable, I was a programmer/web dev and nothing to do with broadband as such (I worked in a telephone exchange so I could poke my network connection with a stick - didn't make it any faster though)

I'm sure there's some joke in there about bits and PCs too, but obviously I'm a slow poke.

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'freak accident'

That's not the blind headmistress who was blinded in a 'freak engineering accident' by any chance, is it?

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Stop

It probably doesn't help that the copper has to be shared with other companies. That must mark its value down a lot.

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Thumb Up

Wow...

I am truly awed. In the truly Monty Python-esque style, this article is so close to the truth that it is toying with blurring the line between terrifying and funny. Bravo!

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Pirate

And what would happen to the copper price

if 10 megatonnes of the stuff suddenly turned up on the market? You didn't think this through, did you?

C+. At least you showed your workings.

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True

It's about 50% of global annual consumption. Could be fed in over a few years but not all in one dump I agree.

But it's all much too fun to really, really, analyse, isn't it?

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Happy

Plan B.

Do it, but short sell the living shit out of copper futures first.

With a bit of luck the initial short sale will put the price on a downward trend and the subsequent dump will end up making it worth peanuts. Then you not only get to cover your position and turn a tidy profit, but could well end up cornering the market in copper.......

......then you get to sell the actual stuff at whatever price you feel like, holding the world to ransom for ONE HUNDRED BILLION DOLLARS!!111!!!!

<Googly laughter>

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Anonymous Coward

ONE HUNDRED BILLION DOLLARS!!111!!!!

Think small, why don't you? You can barely bail out Greece with that; the first tranche of the USoA bank bailouts started at 700-odd mrd, I recall. Now, a hundred long count billions is starting to look more like it, but it's still a bit on the low side for the whole world, I'd say.

I ought to invent me a Q-bomb, I really should.

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Somehow...

Somehow I don't think the government would let them... but then perhaps the government should buy BT outright, strip the copper cable, lay fibre as its replacement and use the copper cost to cover the fibre cost.

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Devil

You really didn't think that one through, did you.

If you get the government to lay the new fibre it will cost 10 times as much as necessary, and come in ten years late. Just the point the copper price hits rock bottom.

But who could we find that can afford BT and can run a profitable business. Richard Branson - but then he already has an infrastructure company

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FAIL

Timing of the sale

Not to mention that the boneheaded chancellor will announce the date when he (or she) will dump the copper on the market, allowing the price to get artificially deflated in the meantime.

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WTF?

Ofcom taxman...

I do believe that BT are not recovering this valuable asset because Ofcom want to slap a penalty tax on any profit realised.

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Oh Please,

Somebody do this!

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How does the defence plead...

"to the petty theft of Britains entire telephone network?"

"Not guilty, yer honnor, the vulture made me do it."

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WTF?

Landed

BT ownes a lot of prime land in the centre of many towns ideal for office, retail or housing space too. They currently use their empty concrete piles to house a couple of servers, park a few vans and rent out bags of roof space to mobile telecom people! Surly that must make them worth something?

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Unhappy

They're currently applying for planning permission to turn Martlesham into a housing estate. I assume they don't plan to do much research in the future.

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Maybe at one time... Didn't BT sell off and lease back a good proportion of their property? Regardsless, it's not if there's a shortage of vacant commercial units at the moment.

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Anonymous Coward

@Chris Miller / Martlesham

Yeah, but they're looking into it, so it may take a few years. (Cruel comment of mine since I worked there for a bit)

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Anonymous Coward

BT leases its buildings

Basically yes, and of course the miniturisation of tech means they don't need as much space.

But of course they still need wire of some sort to connect people to the www. And won't someone think of the children - they still need access to YouTube.

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Coat

"OK, OK, yes, this isn't quite right. There's labour involved in digging up all that copper"

But if you have to dig it up anyway to lay fibre then it becomes a feasible proposition.

I'll get me donkey jacket and shovel.

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Anonymous Coward

Risky.

Best advice my old man gave me before they took him away was never get yourself caught up in a plan involving coppers.

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Anonymous Coward

Why would you buy the company when you buy its liabilities too?

E.g. the pension fund black hole (£3B to £10B, depending on who and when you ask).

Not to mention whatever they invested (and will now never get back from) the NHS National Project for IT, or whatever the just-abandoned national rollout was caused,

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Anonymous Coward

Pension Black Hole

Just hold on a little while until they get rid off TUPE inconvenience (to "help business") and then you can buy them and offload all the pension crap.

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Mushroom

Liabilities? What liabilities?

When you've sold off all the copper (at a ridiculously low price, because so much of it has depressed the market) you go bust because the telephones don't work any more.

Bancrupt BT - no pension liability.

(Of course you sold the copper to a friend of yours who's going to dribble it back out when the price goes up).

Everyone in Britain starves to death in the resulting economic crash so you get other benefits.

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Thumb Up

Dragon's Den

I shall immediately take this idea to the Den.

'I just need a small investment of a few billions... I'll let you have 20% share.'

Short pause.

'I'm in.'

'Me too!'

Yes please!'

Win!

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Thumb Down

Just copper coated steel

Alas my magpie friends. Much of what is in the air is actually just copper coated steel, and worth a lot less than just pure copper. Even then the copper content may not be as useful, although it may contribute a little in terms of the skin effect (even with the blazing data rates they don't have) but has more of a use as to reduce the corrosion.

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And also a lot of the 'final mile' stuff is cheap and nasty alumin(i)um, which causes so many problems with ADSL.

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Gold badge

My overhead feed used to have 2 twisted pairs of solid copper (~26AWG), plus 3 stranded steel gold (WTF!) plated wires that seemed to be for strength, all with PVC insulation.

Living very close to the exchange I got fairly good rates on that, but not as good as what it replaced; 1 pair stranded copper (~18AWG) with rubber insulation, wrapped in cotton then twisted and within a continuous lead sheath. They don't make wires like they used to!

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Silver badge

Dropwire

The dropwire (the bit from the pole to the house) used to be coper plated steel as the conductors had to provide strength as well as act as electrical conductors. The problem with these was that any nicks in the copper plating and the steel would rust.

Current dropwire consists of 4 wire (0.5mm copper) with a steel catenary for support.

I don't know if there is much aluminium cable left, but it certainly was a right pain in the ass. It was used during the '70 when copper was scarce and expensive as aluminium is a fair conductor and is much cheaper than copper. Unfortunately it was prone to age hardening and became brittle. The upshot was that a technician fiddling with one circuit in a cabinet is almost certain to bush against others. If these used aluminium wire they would often snap. Another problem was in joints between ally and copper cable. Electrolytic action would corrode the ally wire until the joint fell apart.

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Re: Ally...

Oh there's plenty of it left, believe me. A large part of my home town has it.

Luckily we've now got FTTC, so the crappy Ally only has to carry the signal a couple of hundred meters, which it seems far better at than carrying the signal 3km from the exchange.

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FAIL

Maths fail

The figure of 132kg per mile is the whole cable. Cable is mostly insulation, so the copper weight is a lot less than that. A lot of the cable is older stuff laid in the 1970s and is hair thin.

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Devil

OK here we go ...

Do a British Rail. Buy the lot then sell off the phone services to Virgin et al so they can take care of the lazy fuckers who would rather pick up the phone than get off their fat asses then lease to the phone operators the right to use your copper. Net acquisition cost : zero.

Then slowly strip out the copper (so as not to disturb the market price)(and incidentally reduce The sheer number of conduits). Now we are in profit.

Then bump up the leasing charges to the phone companies to allow them to use your cable as you replace the copper. EVER SO SLOWLY.

Now we are in serious money and the only problem is how to spend it all.

In the meantime the phone service is crap but Hey! I've got a business to run!

Cheers

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Anonymous Coward

Privitisation

They obviously didn't take this into account when the company was privitised... or perhaps copper was really cheap back then...

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Future

"Fibre makes more sense now, as does going entirely mobile and ditching a landline network."

Er, no, going wireless is of limited capacity because the radio spectrum is limited. Yes, you can get closer with time, but there is a *fundamental limit* to usable channel capacity.

Going fibre is a much, much better idea as long as the oinks realise its not copper and stop digging it up. Of course you don't have power along a fibre (of any real amount) but for most of us having to power our home modem end would be no issue if it gave us gigabit speeds with negligible contention.

p.s. +1 for those who point out a lot of the cable is not solid copper.

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Channel capacity

Channel capacity's not a problem. Just divvy the country into little bits and put up big walls/cages made out of all the spare metal you have lying around.

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