back to article Ex-BT boffin Cochrane blasts telco's 'wholly inadequate' broadband vision

Professor Peter Cochrane OBE, the former head of R&D at BT, has dismissed the former incumbent telco's trumpeted “vision for Britain’s digital future” as woefully inadequate. Current BT CEO Gavin Patterson spoke to a conference in London recently promising a number of improvements, arguing BT would tackle slow speeds in hard- …

UFOs in York

I've had a chance to see the Ultra Fibre Optic stuff in York and have to say that the idea of "up to" being dismissed as a thing of the past is amazing. When the only thing slowing your connection is how fast you can connect to your router things get really interesting and seeing a speed test which say 959Mbit/sec is just weird when you come from using xDSL or cable.

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ZSn

Same ol' same ol'

Cochrane sang just the same song as the current mob at BT when he was there, he certainly didn't upset the applecart. BT didn't roll out ADSL with any speed because it cut into their leased line business which was still quite profitable in the late 90's early noughties. Once their was any competition they then implemented it. It seems that they are back to their old tricks again, the ADSL it the UK seems to be twice the price of the equivalent services in the rest of western Europe.

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Joke

maybe

maybe someone should tell him to quit faffing about with telcos and help his cousin Zephram with that warp drive thingie...

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Meh

It's a bit unfair to compare us to Asia, that's kinda oranges and apples.

* UK: Upgrading an old and extensive national network. One that at the time was doing everything the customers thought they wanted to do.

* Asia: Building a network where in a lot of cases none exists.

Which is the easier discussion: "Boss, I need a new computer because I think mine might not be fast enough in a month or two." v. "Boss I can't do any work until you get me a computer."?

Another factor is a difference in housing stock and density. A lot of Asia lives in blocks of flats so a single fibre can supply dozens of families. Most people in the UK live in individual properties so you have to run a lot more fibre. It's also easier to dig a trench in Asia whereas digging almost anything in the UK requires careful planning to avoid smashing through something important.

Sweden v UK might be a more fair comparison at least as far as upgrading an existing network is concerned but this page suggests they might also have an advantage in their housing stock. If I'm reading that right it implies that over half of dwellings serve more than one person whereas I don't think it's anywhere near that figure in the UK.

It's always a bit dodgy comparing different countries as the only conclusion you can usually draw is that 'Different environments produce different solutions which produce different results'.

However I would love to know why FTTPoD was so expensive and eventually abandoned. A couple of people in the know have said it was understandable and BT never really stood a chance but it does make me wonder.

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Ok compare us to Romania

Creaking infrastructure, large countryside but still has dense conurbations.

"According to a top made by Bloomberg in 2013, Romania is ranked 5th in the world and 2nd in Europe in terms of internet connection speed, being surpassed by Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan. Average peak speed 37.4 Mbit/s.[3] In Akamai's The State of the Internet Report covering the fourth quarter of 2012, Romania came 4th on average peak connection speed by EMEA country/region.[4]"

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Meh

Romania is still not a very good country to compare. As you say it had a creaking telephone system. I'm also pretty sure it wasn't available to everyone. Choosing to tear down and start again just isn't a big deal if what you currently have is crap or incomplete.

The UK's problem is that our telecommunications network was superb. It was available pretty much everywhere to anyone who wanted it and (at the time of broadband planning) did everything 99% of people wanted and did it well. Tearing it down was out of the question. Building something to replace it was pretty silly as well.

No we should be compared with our peers: France, Germany, the US. On that scale we actually come out quite well. The best last time I checked the stats. Perhaps more importantly we have greater use of the internet per capita than our peers. In fact we've been in the top ten per-capita for a long time. Our internet access might not be the fastest in the world but is hasn't stopped us becoming one of the world's top consumers of the service.

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"We just wanted to add a bit more functionality on top of what we already had."

Exactly. They want to avoid any true investment, yet still reap whatever advantage, maybe subsidies for some areas, the Government may allow.

It's this will to avoid any true investment that will doom broadband. They have those lines, who probably have been repaid several times over the years. Now it's time to throw them away and rebuild them from scratch with newer technologies. It's exactly what many companies do when they production lines becomes obsolete and can no longer stand the competition. Invest to modernize them, not try to get some little improvements from machinery fifty years old which could never reach the performance actually required.

But like any company obsessed by the financial market (and executive bonuses), they see large, multi-year investment like a plague. Far better to try to beat a dead horse to extract some money from customers and government as long as somehow it works...,

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ZSn

'our telecommunications network was superb' - nope. The core network was good admittedly, however once you got into the copper/aluminium mess out in the access network it wasn't. The problem was that it was planned in the 90's that it would all go to PON (yes really), and to save costs (perhaps disingenuously) they cut costs to the access network. This meant that the pressurised air was cut off to quite a few main cables (so water ingress became a problem). Plastic covered cables started having whereas cables that were looked after like the paper lined pairs under the main highstreet in Newmarket that were over a hundred years old were still ok.

The access network (last mile for the merkins) was left to rot, so that the cost of network repair became twice that of people with a bit more foresight like KPN.

Don't get me started on the amount of aluminium in the network either.

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But not for much longer

Agree, we have one of the best phone networks in the world, and some fantastic engineers trying their damndest to keep it working. We can't stay ahead much longer, we are dropping fast, and the current patch up of FTTC is leaving more people having to either cough up for expensive satellites or remain analogue. Its time to get some real fibre in, moral and optic. We can't stay in the caves much longer.

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Yes, at one time it was great. At the moment if you are close to a cabinet which has been enabled, which still has capacity, at most times of the day if you aren't a heavy user it is still great, but not for much longer, which is what we have been yarping on about since the digital britain report. If we want every citizen digital they have to have a fit for purpose connection, and in giving them that we have to give them one that will grow with their needs. Only fibre can do this, and wasting public money patching up copper is sinful. We need the fibre, moral and optic. If a bunch of farmers in a really rural area can do it, laying 500 miles of duct to reach 1000 properties from a standing start with no government help, and still be sustainable then a monopoly telco with existing infrastructure, wayleaves, workforce and equipment can do it too.

In any case, we shouldn't ask what it will cost to do. We should ask what will it cost if we don't.

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Re: But not for much longer

Oh let's be clear here. I'm not saying that what we have is great and we shouldn't aim for better. We are in danger of having a network that isn't fit for purpose. BT have just about kept ahead of the curve for most people but it's a close run thing and they are still letting down around 10% of the population.

But..

If you have an old, crap and inadequate network then it's sensible to make the case for ditching it and starting again. That's good engineering. It will help your company grow and increase in value.

If you have a network that you have just spent a decade modernising and that (as far as most of its customer's know) is doing a brilliant job then demanding that it be ditched and replaced with something else entirely is not good engineering. The accountants will scream - they may never trust your suggestions again (because it was probably you who initiated the modernisation just completed). The company will probably struggle to get funding from the stock market. You might even damage the company's stock if you go around telling people that it's biggest asset is, in fact, about to become obsolete.

So of course the UK should be trying to get FTTP rolled out everywhere. As techies we can't disagree with that aim. However as engineers we also have to be mindful of costs and other practicalities. Ironically the PO in the 60s suggested a fibre roll-out (there's an promo video knocking around somewhere). BT tried again in the 80s but wanted the right to broadcast TV and Maggie blocked that.

So there we were. A wonderful voice network recently modernised at great cost and now we have to try and get it to carry data. Damn.

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I really don't think your argument makes any sense at all. The fact that a quirk of history leaves us with creaking and outdated broadband infrastructure does not mean we are insulated from those countries in Asia and Scandinavia that don't. It's like football team only comparing its performance to teams in the bottom to middle of the league table instead of the top 5 teams. Its a distortion of reality.

The stats you mention are again shifting very quickly. Unless we move to more than barely incremental infrastructure updates we will inevitably slide downwards irrespective of what stats we choose to measure ourselves against. The other effect of incremental infrastructure upgrades are that they make it ever more costly and unlikely that we will ever catchup or overtake the broadband speed leaders of the world.

The world is one big market even more than it has ever been and we compete as a country with countries in Asia just as much as those in Europe. We need world class broadband speeds otherwise we will increasingly not be able to compete with other countries in any of the new digital industries or even in the old ones.

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Meh

I really don't think your argument makes any sense at all. The fact that a quirk of history leaves us with creaking and outdated broadband infrastructure does not mean we are insulated from those countries in Asia and Scandinavia that don't.

I know, and I never said that it did. Clearly you've completely misunderstood my point. This isn't about 'who's better' nor suggesting that we can survive with a worse network than them. This discussion has nothing to do with that at all.

The ex-CEO's assertion is basically that we should have been able to do what they did because they did it. My assertion is that we had a completely different situation so such a comparison is invalid. You can argue that the UK ought to have a better network than it does (and I'd agree completely) but what you cannot do is say that 'Because Romania built a high speed fibre broadband network the UK should also have been able to'. That's invalid. It's like saying 'Because AndrueC could get to Banbury in fifteen minutes, Andrew Heron should also be able to'. The fact we both need to get to Banbury this evening (gawd help us) and I can get there before you is a different discussion. I'd be more than happy to join in your lament at being unable to visit its delights but that's not the subject of this particular discussion.

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FAIL

Gavin Patterson continues his tradition of being totally out of touch

Whilst Gig to the home is a reality in come countries, Pstterson's pronouncement is no surprise from BT.

As one BT guy shouting to a few of us not so long ago ..... "8 meg is still faster than dial" !!

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Look, It's all very simple

Ensure that all BT Executives, Directors and the like are limited to the minimum quality of service provided by their Company, including of all their noms de plumes such as Openreach, Plus.net, etc.

Ensure that all BT offices are provided only with that same limited service.

Once they all enjoy those reductio as absurdum levels, watch them run.

I've only just noticed that EE is a subsidiary of BT Group. Might as well throw their quality of service into the mix too.

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Re: Look, It's all very simple

A relative was a pretty senior executive in BT. He moved out of London to a place with about 2.5MB d/l five years ago. Still has it (he gave up even trying to get it sorted after a few years).

They are a lot worse than you think.

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Quite right

Quite right, BT's vision is a joke. We should be aiming for Gigabit connections across the country. How else will we get multiple 4K streams, so a family can watch what they want in high quality video? Build a better mousetrap, and they will come!

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Anonymous Coward

G.FAST none announcement

Well from my research if they are saying G.FAST will be deployed to 40% then that *ROUGHLY* equates to all the properties in my town that are near enough to the FTTC cabinet to get 65Mbps+. This same 40% would get 300-500Mbps if G.FAST was installed in or next to the existing VDSL2 cabinet. Yes I have cranked the numbers for each property! Remember we can presume this because we know the Mbps line rate vs distance for both G.FAST and VDSL2.

So in a town such as mine with around 100,000 houses around 40,000 could 'potentially' get 300-500Mbps. However, the key is that they can 'potentially' order it. It doesn't mean for a second that 100% of the lines on PCP can order FTTC or G.FAST.

The idea that BT are going to deploy large amounts of FTTP is also laughable. BT have been laying FTTP in my hometown at scale since 2010. The promised tens of thousands of properties and seemed to plan for that. In the end, they have delivered a lot but most areas the coverage is patchy. You can live in a house with exactly that same ducting into the living room (no dig required) etc as a neighbour with *NO* physical limitations to stop installation and BT will class your property as not covered by the FTTP deployment. Even if Openreach see fit to acknowledge that you can order, if you dare to actually place an order they will VERY likely cancel it. Although this is regarded by some people as a problem with my hometown specifically I now understand similar problems are occurring in other areas where FTTP is available. Basically, Openreach are not capable of providing FTTP at scale and they know it. Forget all the excuses, they REALLY are NOT capable of doing it.

BTW I actually have working FTTP so it's not that I'm bitter about it. Mine has been fine after taking 4 months to complete the order and 2 months to get it to work above 20Mbps. However, people very close to me have been subjected to multiple fibre breaks. So saying it is more reliable is a bit questionable.

Utter shambles.

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The real problem

The real problem (and bar to major investment in fibre) is quite simple - why would any company spend millions, if not billions, of $currency burying glass, just so their competitors can immediately go whining to the local regulator demanding access to it at some randomly determined cost?

If you want serious investment in fibre-to-the-hovel then the investment has to be protected to the extent of being profitable for the investor rather than made available to competitors at an uneconomic price - alternatively it has to be a government funded investment with equal access at the same price to all providers.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: The real problem

The other problem is that spending that money doesn't earn you any new revenue, so why would anyone lend you the money to do it?

Where high speed broadband is available today, from Virgin, BT or an independent, only one in seven of the premises that could have it actually buy it. Where's the demand?

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Anonymous Coward

The cost of laying fibre is huge compared t9 the cost of the fibre itself.

With this in mind, and an eye on the future, I would hope that any la8d access would put in at least 4 physical fibres per premise.

Also many UK homes have two copper pairs run in by BT today. Will we see a product using them both together?

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But

The cost of not laying fibre is greater

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What would be the cost of laying FTTP for the whole country? Not just densely populated cities but the whole country - isolated farms included. And the true cost, not the sort of estimates that are used to get the contract so that the difference to the true cost, along with the profits, can be added in as extras.

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Look into the future

I would love to see Openreach split off from BT Group and allow it to open its infrastructure to all.

Mobile operators, community groups, local councils could collaborate on improving the fibre in their locality without spending millions on BT overpriced charges.

I would be prepared to DIY a trench through my garden, for fibre to the neighbourhood, if the outcome included I was able to get FTTP.

Once speeds reach 1Gb/s to homes, then I would consider that should be fast enough.

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Re: Look into the future

Can someone please tell me exactly why I might want 1Gbps download speeds?

I currently have >30Mbps via FTTC and it is more than fast enough for my needs. I don't want my TV provided via the internet; neither do I want to play games. Given that a faster service would involve greater cost (why wouldn't it?) I simply cannot see the general population rushing to fork out for very fast broadband once they realise the financial penalties involved.

For the avoidance of doubt "I" actually means "we" because there are two of us; even if there were offspring in the house I don't think I would be greatly motivated to hand over much more money so that the kiddywinkies could do their own thing at the same time.

Clearly I accept that ADSL speeds are not good enough, but I honestly cannot see the real need for some of the speeds being suggested; note the use of the word "need" rather than "want".

Broadband speed has become something of an obsession, and an unhealthy one at that. It is the modern equivalent of penis envy... at least of the "size matters" variety.

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Re: Look into the future

Because you might want to watch your favourite movie, sporting event, or whatever in 4K, and your wife and kids might want to watch their favourites, at the same time, and then have the bandwidth to spare if your great aunt Nelly from Australia wants to video call at the forthcoming 8K.

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Re: Look into the future

From my own perspective none of those apply; see my original post.

It must be agonising to realise that your 'phone (fixed line or mobile) can only make one call at a time.

I am still at a loss to work out why broadband capabilities "have" to be scaled so that "n" things can take place at the same time. Do you expect your neighbours to pay over the odds so that your "needs" are met? I certainly don't.

I cannot go to the toilet, cook, wash the car, sleep, and so on simultaneously so why should B/B by definition be multitasking? I'm sure if you asked BT (or whoever) to provide multiple lines at your location they would do their best to oblige, provided that you agree to pay for it.

Just don't ask me to subsidise your needs by paying for more bandwidth than I will ever require; that would be the only way in which BT (or whoever) could roll out a super duper network. Better by far, IMHO, is that the maximum number of people get some sort of usable service than a few getting eye - wateringly fast speeds.

You can buy a really nice sporty Italian car if you want, but it will cost you. My motoring ambitions are more modest, and it costs me less as a result. Ditto broadband.

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Average deployment cost to *any* property, for FTTH, from urban to rural and remote, figures from multiple countries now give £600-800. 20million properties in UK so £12bn-16bn starting from scratch. Deduct all properties already connected, factor in some cheaper civils (eg property owners and communities digging) and you are getting closer to the rumoured internal BT estimate of £10bn for FTTH to all, nationwide, regardless of location.

The £28bn figure of over a decade ago was disingenuous then and even more so now when Bill Murphy spouts it off to justify inaction. For starters, fibre and CPE costs have dropped noticeably in that time. Compare the figure with HS2 guesstimates and the minimal reach and impact of that infrastructure, and you wonder why Osborne isn't just asking the Chinese to fund a national open access fibre network instead.

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Anonymous Coward

Something like £50 billion, based on an average of £2k per property and 25m properties, though the last 5% is going to really cost some money. That ignores the cost of electrical work though, lots of premises have phone sockets by the front door well away from any mains. Hell, some installations have no electricity available - think about the weatherproof emergency phones you sometimes find in remote places that dial the coastguard or mountain rescue - they'll need mains as well as fibre and some kind of voip adaptor to continue working. There are also burglar alarms that won't work over fibre, so the cost of replacing or upgrading all of those needs to be added.

For people that want broadband it probably could be made to add up with some fancy maths and 20 year payback on investment, but for phone only users all you're doing is spending a fortune for zero benefit.

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To say a Hyperoptic circuit is not an Openreach circuit is rubbsh

Hyperoptic use Openreach's last mile fibre for a lot of their customers.

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