back to article Copper-obsessed BT means UK misses out on ultrafast fibre gold

BT has once again been blamed for Britain's failure to penetrate the Fibre-to-the-Home (FTTH) market, leaving the country lagging behind its European neighbours. New research shows that, as of June 2012, only 0.05 per cent of households in the UK were connected to the superior technology. But the figure is hardly surprising …

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Errm...

How are ~60Mbps and sub-10ms pings not real broadband?

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Stop

Re: Errm...

10 years ago you'd have said "how is 2Mbs not real broadband". Infrastructure investment should be for the long term.

Do it once and do it right.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Errm...

"Do it once and do it right."

R I I I I G H T! Lived in th UK long?

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Re: Errm...

Sometimes reality intrudes. When I bought my first house it was a mid-terraced two bedroom property. Probably like most people. I now live in a detached, three bed property with garage. There are times when you have to be sensible and prudent and go for what you can afford rather than the best available.

This is one of those times.

I think it's rather sad that after five years of the worst recession the country has ever known (within living memory certainly) people are still advocating spending money they don't have to achieve something with intangible benefits over a cheaper and perfectly capable solution.

BT have already said that very soon now anyone on an FTTC enabled exchange can order fibre if they want it. Based on current take-up for NGA broadband I doubt many people will bother because, frankly, most people can barely see the need for FTTC speeds let alone fibre speeds.

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Re: Errm...

You mean advocating spending someone elses money so that little Jack or Lucinda can torrent more stuff.

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Re: Errm...

>> "Do it once and do it right."

>>> R I I I I G H T! Lived in th UK long?

lol, have one internet sir!

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Re: Errm...

Actually fast broadband really helps web startups. You can park a server on your desk and run your business off it without paying silly money for colocation or other hosting costs.

A few thousand of those around the country might not turn around the economy, but it would be good for a fair few jobs.

In other news, the BoE's quantiative easing program has cost £375bn.

So don't give me any nonsense about the UK not being able to afford stuff.

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Re: Errm...

But 70mb spread over 3 devices simultaneously is still quite a fair bit. I doubt the majority of normal folks streaming their ultraviolet and iplayer and 4od simultaneously will max that connection out. Throw into that the wireless connection and the bottleneck will be your hardware not the broadband (again, normal folk not techies with hand picked components and multiple SSID ubiquiti wireless in their house).

FTTC can also be upgraded to FTTH over time too. The expense will be almost the same. The majority of ducts will have been cleared in the path to FTTC and give BT a good idea of problem areas. Cant really see the problem with mass rollout of FTTC.

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Right...

But high speed connections to the Internet - including fibre based ones - are available widely, from many suppliers.

I think what you're talking about is using a consumer broadband product to run a business from.

Consumer broadband is very cheap because it's, in pure technical terms, not very good. Business grade high speed Internet access is expensive, because it's much better technically - zero contention, guaranteed uptime, all that. If you gave consumer broadband all the features of business Internet access no consumer would be able to afford it and what would be the point of that?

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Re: Errm...

"...anyone on an FTTC enabled exchange..."

And that is still quite a restricted percentage in comparison with what would be equitable...

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Re: Errm...

So having fibre to the cabinet and then copper into your house limits you to what Gig-E?

I can see why Silicon roundabout has failed if I can't have 100Tb/s to my netbook

If only BT had delivered ATM to the house in the 90s Facebook would have been British.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: TheOtherHobbes

But I thought the cloud made everything cheaper? /sarcasm

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Re: Do it once and do it right.

My reading of the article (and knowledge of the history) is that BT have not done anything to the (majority of) lines between cabinets and homes, even once. As and when they do, they will "do it right" with a fibre. The issue is not "upgrading to last century's technology". It is "not upgrading everything everywhere all at once".

Unless you know of some magic pixie dust that makes financial realities goes away, rolling out FTTC across the country before rolling out FTTH seems perfectly defensible to all except the "You've got birds in your garden so you deserve shit broadband." wing of the Me Me Me party.

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Re: Do it once and do it right.

Apart from the fact they shelved our 24Mb upgrade so they could run off willy-waving at Virgin Media.

Email sent to OpenReach:

"As advised by BT Wholesale Customer Services, I'm now writing to you to ask the same question. Please find that original question below: I wonder if you could answer why I can't find our exchange Dunoon (WSDUN) in any of the literature (eg WBC_SFBB_Dataset_060312.xls) or on the Openreach website http://www.openreach-communications.co.uk/superfast/where-and-when/ (coming_soon.xls and future_exchanges.xls)? Other similar exchanges are listed even if it's only a tentative date so it's as if we've been forgotten! Thanks,"

(an updated version of that document is available from here https://www.btwholesale.com/pages/static/Library/Network_Information/21CN_Broadband_Availibility/index.htm, for those that are interested.

And the reply:

"If an area is not included in the above schedule, as is the case here, then there is no timescale for that location. The Government through their BDUK agency has made funds available to improve fibre coverage and is inviting applications from area Councils for funding. Local Councils are submitting requests to their area Councils for them to include nominated locations in their funding applications and would suggest speaking with your Council on this."

I just checked the current availability document and WSDUN is at least listed now, although only to pencil in an earliest possible enablement date of 2013 for FTTC.

So we've gone from having an RFS date of 31/03/2011 for ADSL2+, to waiting at least, realistically, 2 years, though probably much longer for FTTC.

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Facepalm

Correction

"given that national telco BT is committed, for PROFIT reasons, to rolling out most of its fibre cabling to its existing infrastructure"

There, fixed it for you.

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Re: Correction

A company daring to make a profit? Shock, horror. Whatever next. I guess you're too young to remember telephony before BT was created. PO control was not pleasant. We all know the problems with the Post Office at the moment - it was much the same kind of lackadaisical over priced naff service running on old technology when they ran the phone system. But you'll be pleased to know they didn't make a profit.

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WTF?

Re: Correction

"A company daring to make a profit? Shock, horror. Whatever next. I guess you're too young "

Evidently you've not read many of my other comments, but do feel free to jump to unsupported conclusions. I believe it essential that businesses should aim to make a profit, and I'm certainly old enough to remember the sh1te service that the GPO provided. And I'm certain that state ownership is destined to destroy any credible industry.

The issue here is that Openreach look to me to be obfuscating their accounts to hide the generous margins that they make, rather than allowing the regulator to see and set a credible reward on what is largely a monopoly infrastructure, and should, on the basis of lower risk, earn fairly low profits. I very much doubt that Openreach could commit to universal FTTH, but there's a fairly strong smell of doing the absolute minimum that they want to do in both LLU and fibre connections. And speaking to a friend who works there, that's his view.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Correction

If that were true, the market would fix it. If Openreach prices are too high, someone else could install a rival network, undercut them and take the business. No-one has succeeded to date - the cablecos and then NTL/Virgin have been trying for years and have still to make sustainable profits.

We regularly read on here of companies installing fibre networks in a city using the sewers or whatever, and it never works commercially. If your argument then is that BT is using predatory pricing to drive them out of business, they can't be simultaneously charging too much - so which is it?

There are lots of successful companies selling their fibre to businesses - Colt, for example. What no-one can make work is the economics of FTTH - the price households are willing to pay for broadband is not enough to justify the cost of installing it. Until that can be sorted, it just won't happen. It doesn't matter which company has the purse strings and makes the investment decisions, if there's no way to make a return a private business won't invest, nor will anyone lend them the money.

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FAIL

Re: Correction

The fundamental issue is that BT is delivering services with cables laid in ducts that have existed for a very long time, so that their costs are lower than a new entrant who would need to install their own ducts and negotiate their own wayleaves.

This is what broke the cable companies in the 90s, they had to dig up everywhere they wanted to provide service, it led directly to the mergers and debt restructuring and while there is competition in the areas where VM supply service that's only about 50% of the population who can benefit.

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HMB

Re: Correction

What Brian Morrison says is very true.

I believe in market corrections and such, but this isn't a free market. BT were given a goose that kept laying golden eggs. They inherited around 100 years worth of capital investment. It's simply not the sort of thing that you can just go out and copy.

As if that weren't bad enough, eye watering taxes make starting up a national network super hard. This is one of the government's most sickening bit of hypocrisy in my view.

Cable services do incredibly well, but their efforts to roll out as far as they have has left them saddled with so much debt even the greeks would feel sorry for them.

In the 60's we were building motorways like there was no tomorrow. These days, due to much higher real term costs to build, we can barely afford to maintain the existing ones. In telecoms terms, we can't pay irish navvies peanuts to put up telegraph poles like we used to.

BT definitely do the minimum they can get away with. Market 1 exchanges still don't have good enough backhaul to support 8Mbps ADSL connections while they're rolling out 80Mbps elsewhere.

I watched ADSL2 and then ADSL2+ come out and it took years for BT to unstick it's thumb from it's arse and decide to offer an ADSL2+ product.

VDSL2 (FTTC tech) was finalized in 2005 but BT's FTTC came much later. It's not just about deployment time, look at other national telcos. BT are just plain slow at rolling out new tech. They're far more interested in milking their investment for as much as they can without laying out new investment. Sure that sounds perfectly reasonable for a business, but that's what competition drives, new innovation and the only competition that BT genuinely has is Virgin.

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Re: Correction

Well it's partly true about the ducting. However the assertion that it's been there for 'a hundred years' doesn't really wash in my opinion. Just how many properties actually had a telephone line in 1912? And how many lines have been installed (new properties built) since BT was formed?

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Holmes

Remember cable installs anyone????

This is a bit hard on BT regarding FTTH. doesn't anyone remember the chaos with cable infrastructure? The damage to road/pavement the endless roadworks?

Not everything BT has runs in nice clear ducts - the copper still works as long as it's been down yonks. Beat them over the head over FTTC, yes but not FTTH. If you look at most of those countries beating the UK; most haven't half the density; age; shear quantity of infrastructure to negotiate compared to the UK.

disclaimer ; I have just had Infinity installed; works great for me but my house is 120yrs old; no nice front garden to for BT to dig up - just a dual carriageway by-pass; public back ginnell to the rear of property and a hefty pine BT pole with ~ 100 ft of copper running to my house!

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Re: Remember cable installs anyone????

"disclaimer ; I have just had Infinity installed; works great for me but my house is 120yrs old; no nice front garden to for BT to dig up - just a dual carriageway by-pass; public back ginnell to the rear of property and a hefty pine BT pole with ~ 100 ft of copper running to my house!"

And I bet 120 years ago it was all fields too.

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HMB

Re: Remember cable installs anyone????

So FTTC is much easier to deploy in other countries because there's less population density? Like in the rural areas of the UK where there isn't enough density? How does this work?

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Re: HMB

I'm guessing that one was an honest misstype. "have over twice the density" was probably what he meant. Half the population, twice the density, half the distance etc is much much less than half the cost as well.

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Re: HMB

The population density thing is quite complicated, because in rural areas you have to go further per property, but you've got far more chances to dig in unmade ground (not concrete or tarmac), and that reduces the cost per metre of the cable and ducting by almost an order of magnitude if you've got the access and the rights. Then you've got any necessary repeaters and cabinets for the longer distances, and (possibly) fewer customers per cabinet which puts the cost up.

To chuck in some numbers - if you were putting some 125mm ducting into an urban environment under tarmac, then it can cost £300-£400 per metre. If you do this in a soft verge in the countryside it can be done for £40 a metre. But then you need to work out both the backhaul distance, plus the average duct length per property to see what the numbers come out at.

However, this £40 a metre isn't so clear cut for anybody but BT - they don't need much in the way of special permissions to replace existing damp string with fibre, whereas if you were a new entrant, then you've got to sort out the necessary access rights, and (yet again) you've got the BT threat that can bankrupt you when they suddenly deciding to "bring forward" a network upgrade.

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Ummmm

Why is anyone surprised by this?

It does seem that the only people that were surprised, were the senior staff at BT that only wanted to try to sell services that they knew little about instead of concentrating on their core business.

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FTTH is a waste of time

Current FTTH is a waste of time just have a look at BTs current service offerings.

Infinity Option 2 (FTTC) 76Mb down 19Mb up £26 per month (plus telephone line rental)

Infinity Option 3 (FTTH) 100Mb down 15Mb up £35 per month (plus telephone line rental)

The FTTH service isn't worth it until they offer symmetric upload speeds which should be one of the benefits of a fibre connection. Of course the other benefit should be that you no longer need a phone line but for some reason BT make you take one anyway.

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Re: FTTH is a waste of time

I think you need to be careful about the above numbers.

Infinity Option 2 (FTTC) 76Mb down 19Mb up £26 per month (plus telephone line rental)

Those speeds are probably only valid if you live within throwing distance of the cabinet and have nice clean copper lines. There will probably be 80% of customer that get +-20MB due to the age/distance of the copper.

At least with FTTH you know you are going to get the speed rather than some vague up to amount

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Rob
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Re: FTTH is a waste of time

Exactly the reason I haven't signed up for it, I pay £7.50 for unlimited on Sky with on average 8Mb speed, which does fine for our daily use (streaming, gaming, VPN's etc.). What will make me want to pay more for speeds I probably won't max, especially if my router doesn't support 100Mb WiFi constantly.

Even taking the fibre option with Sky see's the bill jump up to £20 a month.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: FTTH is a waste of time

You are lucky. I have BT broadband at ~5Mbps whereas my neighbour has Sky and only 0.5Mbps, After seeing the speed for standard broadband I was getting they moved providers and are now at ~5Mbps same as me.

The Infinity isn't an option yet - it was supposed to be end of September but is now end December.

Agree with the above posters though - when NTL dug up the roads etc to put cable in they made a right mess of the roads. Cable installs into the home aren't the prettiest, I prefer it just to cabinet and then no major cable changes past that.

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Re: FTTH is a waste of time

Not for me, used to have a max connection of 1.5MB due to length of line from exchange, now easily get 40MB (Measured over wifi) with the new cabinet round the corner.

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Re: FTTH is a waste of time

I think your estimate is woefully pessimistic. I live 500 metres away from my cabinet and get 77 down, 17 up. Based on walking around my town I'd say that distance was fairly typical. On that basis I reckon most people will get at least 60Mb/s. Cabinets are going to be close to the properties they serve otherwise there'd be no point having them. Brackley has around 2,000 residential properties and at least 35 PCPs. Checking on Google maps shows that the average distance between my three nearest cabinets is 315m. Now geographical location is not necessarily an indication of line length but clearly they are quite densely packed around a typical town.

I think the only people seeing 20Mb/s or less from FTTC are going to be remote properties or those on aluminium cable. I reckon well over 75% will see 50MB/s or better.

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Re: FTTH is a waste of time

You might want to try it wired sometimes. In a typical urban setting wifi doesn't have enough free channels to do justice to FTTC. On wifi I only get around 30Mb/s. Switch to wired and it jumps to 77Mb/s :)

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Re: FTTH is a waste of time

Lets face it, you aren't going to get 1GB broadband from coax or twisted pair. This is all about planning for future capacity, broadband isn't going to stop at current speeds.

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Happy

Re: FTTH is a waste of time

We have a cabinet at the bottom of out road, unfortunately the pair for our house is served from a much more distant cabinet. I get 14Mb/s down and 3Mb/s up from FTTC, which is still much more than I used to get with ADSL and two connections aggregated. I'd consider FTTP if it reduced the latency significantly.

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Re: FTTH is a waste of time

> Agree with the above posters though - when NTL dug up the roads etc to put cable in they made a right mess of the roads. Cable installs into the home aren't the prettiest, I prefer it just to cabinet and then no major cable changes past that.

OR are having to tear up roads/footpaths to run the fibre in a lot of cases.

Decades of neglect mean that the ducts are collapsed or blocked with tree roots every 10 metres or so around my neck of the woods.

Fibre in my street was going well when OR only had to dig up footpaths to deal with blockages. Now they have to deal with a cross-road duct that's almost completely destroyed, they're waiting on council permission - and because the road has been torn up 5 times in the last 4 years (Gas, water, power, gas again and water again), they're dragging their heels.

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Devil

Re: FTTH is a waste of time

Use 5Ghz, It's less crowded.

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Re: FTTH is a waste of time

Out here in the colonies, I'm 10km from the center of a city of 2M people that is allegedly the high tech hub of the country.

I pay $35 for ADSL 5Mb down / 0.5Mb Up and achieve exactly half that.

I could pay $70 for cable and get 15 Mb down / 0.5Mb up

For "cultural and security reasons" we are limited to a choice of one telco and one cable company.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: FTTH is a waste of time

I think the point of FTTC is that most subscribers *do* live within throwing distance of the cabinet and it's also a stepping stone to full FTTH, chuck the fibre infrastructure to the cabinets in, milk it for a few years and then advertise the latest greatest FTTH tech for only a minor increase in monthly subs or connection fee. Cost of the upgrades covered in stages.

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Re: FTTH is a waste of time

"Out here in the colonies....For "cultural and security reasons" we are limited to a choice of one telco and one cable company."

That'll teach your great grandad not to steal a loaf of bread, then, won't it? But to make amends I'll offer you a country swap. You come here, and have possible access to decent broadband, we'll go over there and have slow broadband, cheaper property, better weather, and lots of barbecues?

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False Economy

This is going to hurt OpenReach in a few years when people begin to realise that fttc is a dead end technology and for a reasonable sized family is only really just good enough for today's usage. As bandwidth requirements appear to increase massively OR will be forced to scrap all of those nice new cabs and install fibre to the home.

Even more ridiculous is that new estates are being built with no fibre provision whatsoever and because most of these are on the edge of towns, the ADSL speeds are very poor. Ours included. Took a massive effort for OR to admit that when they surveyed the area for fibre there was just a farm there.

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Happy

Re: False Economy

@ Mark Wilson,

I just moved into a new estate where there is a little ISP (See the light) who have a bit of a monopoly going on. Fibre to the house, good pricing, no need for a phone line

So I dont think it's true to say ALL new estates are built without fibre provision, it just might not be from the usual suspects!

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Re: False Economy

Unfortunately, you're wrong. Currently OR are trialling "FTTP on demand" which means, for a price, you get fibre to the home from the existing cabinet (the fibre will be spliced off at the existing junction near the cabinet). Mass rollout is due to start next year.

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Re: False Economy

Of course it's not - they bring out their begging bowl again to get the copper local loop upgraded to fibre (and then no doubt also charge the person asking for it for another £500 installation charge)

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Re: False Economy

Likely reason is the overburden. Getting the copper out will sometimes involve tearing something up to get at it. Need to pay for the tearing up, not to mention the putting back once you're done. Cable thieves are opportunists and will usually only go for easy-to-reach cables. I would think BT will be focusing on them first for logical reasons.

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Re: False Economy

What do you mean 'again'? 75% of the country is being done at BT's expense with BT's money.

BDUK is the government's idea for covering those parts of the country BT can't do by itself. BT didn't 'beg' anyone. It's the politicians and customers who do the begging. BT just said "Nah, can't do there" and was happy to forget about it. The BDUK money is being made available to anyone that thinks they can cover those areas and I think it says a lot that only one company has won the bids so far. No-one else is apparently capable of using those funds to come up with a bid that anyone wants.

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Given the soaring price of commodities such as copper i'm surprised it isn't cost effective to pull the cable, sell it and replace it with fibre from the proceeds.

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Anonymous Coward

Typical British clusterfuck

In 1990, Videotron (as 'twas) ran cable down the 'rents house, in Harrow. Amusingly, the sales guy was 2 days ahead of the diggers as they went down the street. We signed to get cheap phone for dial up.

Meanwhile, a friend moved into a brand new build home, a mile away. When I I went to see her, they hadn't laid the road to the rest of the houses. It would have been an hours work (judging by how fast they laid the cable outside our house) to have cabled the entire estate - no pavements to lift.

When I asked my friend if she'd asked about cable, she had - they were due to roll it out to her area in 1993. IN the end Videotron were bought out, bought out, bought out, and the cable never got laid.

Currently, I live in a "deprived area" as designated by G. Brown (thanks Gord - no stamp duty). To this day, no one can explain why we were cabled in the 80s, and yet the in-laws who live in a 12 year house a mile away weren't cabled, and won't ever be.

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Re: Typical British clusterfuck

Because there is no commercial incentive and we have no "public service" company to do it. Even if it were a government project, it would have been done by now if it was profitable.

The problem is that it's not profitable to spend £100,000 on permits, street repairs, cabinets, cable, hourly wages, etc. to get £20 a month from 100 people (if you're lucky and sign a load of people up). Not for years. And then you barely eek a profit because of the upgrades and support those users demand without paying much more. All the business plans would basically see a pittance for a lot of effort.

Whereas some roads, or just buying up companies who went bankrupt thinking the pittance would sustain them as in your example, are much more profitable. You know you're going to make money from day one no matter how many sign up.

The % of people affected who would buy broadband from you.

The % of those people who would buy something other than bare-basics broadband.

It just doesn't add up even for a lot of quite "good-looking" streets. You won't make a profit, and if you do it will be at enormous risk.

If we had a state telecoms operator, they would have been told to "just do it", and it would have taken years but it would have happened. As it is, while there's no profit to be made from cabling your in-law's street, nobody will step up and do it and CERTAINLY not when they can just ADSL over existing copper (which you have to compete with).

That's why Virgin push the "fibre" aspect - the speeds, etc. Because, over ADSL, most people wouldn't ever bother to choose them and they're hoping to dig up pavements, gardens and god-knows-what to install fibre for you to do it (which isn't fibre most of the time either, but at least technically better than ADSL even so).

Some things are just not profitable, for small or large companies, even including state subsidies. It probably costs more in copper or fibre to activate that road than you'll see back in 25 years from its residents, if there's a competing ADSL service. Where there is no competition, you'll still only see a pittance after a few years.

And the less people on the street, the further from other streets, the longer the runs, and the most satisfied people would be with just a basic service, the closer you get to making a loss by even bothering.

But in high-density inner-city areas that are well-catered for if you bought up, say, NTL, or Videotron assets - easy money. Guess where the focus goes.

Off-topic, the school I work for was just quoted for a leased line. We are literally 20 metres from the BT exchange (hell, I could lob a patch lead out of the window, it's so close) but their ADSL2+ product is so poor that we've given up trying to balance their dodgy connections over multiple ADSL2+ business lines (my solution of building a Linux-based load balancer / failover router gained us three years of leeway but the modems are so often down or not passing traffic now that it's pointless trying to compensate any more).

The leased line provider undercut Virgin by 20%, and sent us a map of the street cabinet they will run from - it's 12 metres away. The hilarious thing? The cabinet is owned and underlying cable will be supplied by Virgin anyway. They got undercut by their own reseller on a 3-year leased line contract. But we only have that option by either paying a lot of money or being INCREDIBLY close to a huge exchange in the middle of a populated town.

I wouldn't like to think what a leased line costs to some place out in the sticks, for the same reasons as cable and fibre being expensive or unavailable in those sorts of places.

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