Following Openreach's launch a month ago of a scheme to allow its ISP customers to nominate exchanges for fibre broadband upgrades, BT Retail has announced it is looking for help from the community at large to help it uncover the areas of highest demand.
BT Infinity (the brand name for the BT Retail fibre products) is now looking to identify the hot-spots where demand for fibre based broadband is greatest. The survey will run until the end of the year and the five exchanges with the most demand will then see fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC) or a mix of FTTC and fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) services being made available by early 2012. Demand is defined as a minimum of 1,000 votes, and for exchanges passing this threshold they are then compared on the percentage of premises served. This means that a 5,000 line exchange will stand a reasonable chance against a 10,000 line exchange, but the 1,000 minimum vote level will exclude the smaller exchanges. If the exchange was one that Openreach deems to not be viable, BT Retail has set aside funds to ensure the exchange will get added to the roll-out.
The story for smaller exchanges is not entirely pessimistic as BT are saying that where 75% of premises express an interest in fibre broadband they are happy to engage in discussion. Whether local and/or regional funding would be needed for these smaller exchanges depends greatly on the costs for that exchange; alternatively it may simply be that if BT can see demand is unusually high in a region, it may in the future add the area to its roll-out plans.
There will be concern from some quarters that this high profile campaign could be seen to be promoting BT Infinity as the sole Openreach FTTC-provider whilst many other providers are ready to offer fibre based services via BT Wholesale. The previous demand led ADSL roll-out some eight years ago was ran by BT Wholesale at a time when unbundling was almost unheard of, and was fairly provider agnostic. A list of providers offering fibre broadband packages is available on our site. This campaign may start to ramp the pressure up on the providers like Cable & Wireless, O2, Sky and TalkTalk to start using the Openreach products.
"The Race will map demand for fibre across the UK and so will help to influence BT’s future deployment plans. BT Retail is also committing funds to help enable the five winning exchanges and so there’s an added incentive for people to vote."Gavin Patterson, chief executive, BT Retail
The various fibre services based around the Openreach products are often criticised over the usage limits they are sold with. Comments on the fact it is possible to use a month's usage allowance in a matter of hours are frequently recounted. While this is true to some extent, at least with providers flagging usage allowances in a clear fashion, it is possible that we won't see a rush to subscribe to more 'unlimited' services as was the case a year or two ago, resulting in progressively heavy traffic management. The lower backhaul costs that the LLU operators can leverage may improve the selection of packages for the small number of users who regularly use more than 100GB in a month. The problem faced by LLU operators is the combination of whether the control offered over the VDSL2 part of the connection by Openreach is sufficient, and enticing a public that is used to pay just £5 to £10 for its broadband into paying £15 to £20 a month.
More information is available on BT's Race to Infinity website.