A new collaboration between Fujitsu, Virgin Media, TalkTalk and Cisco plans to deliver next-generation broadband to 5 million homes and businesses in rural areas of the UK. Fujitsu will create an open-access wholesale network which will be underpinned by Cisco technology, and will deliver fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) broadband capable of 1Gbps (both upstream and downstream) from day one. Virgin Media and TalkTalk have agreed to use the network to help expand their next-generation broadband offerings.
The new network will rely on using BT Openreach's Physical Infrastructure Access (PIA) product which opens up access to ducts and poles for deploying their own cables. The collaboration are planning to provide an alternative to BT where local authorities and communities are biding for money from the £530m of government money for investment into next-generation broadband.
"There is a unique opportunity for the UK to re-establish itself as a world leader by having the world's most advanced fibre network. If done correctly this can be a key vehicle to accelerate recovery in the UK and bring genuine choice to generations of communities starved of participating fully in the UK economy. We believe our approach, in collaboration with these major industry leaders, will provide a future proofed network for at least the next 20 to 30 years."Duncan Tait, (CEO) Fujitsu UK and Ireland
This new access network could provide a vital alternative access network to give BT a run for their money. Currently, BT are only really deploying fibre to cabinets (FTTC) which can only currently offer speeds of around 40Mbps but this could be increased to 60Mbps in the future (they are estimating around 16% of users will get FTTH). This technology will soon be obsolete though and by investing in installing fibre connections all the way to the home, Fujitsu will have an access network that is truly future proof and shouldn't require upgrades for many years. Whether the group will only deploy to rural areas or also duplicate their network to areas where BT are deploying FTTC will be interesting to see.
Of course, viability of such a new network deployment remains in question- Fujitsu, Virgin Media and TalkTalk all recently signed a letter addressed to Ed Vaizey, Communications Minister, asking him to intervene in pricing for BT Openreach's PIA products which it believes are high enough that it would be cheaper to duplicate this than pay rental to BT.
In terms of operator involvement, this will provide Virgin a key opportunity to expand their network to areas where they don't currently have deployments which should offer a significant chance to increase their user base and encroach upon Sky's dominant position in the pay-for television market.
"Virgin Media's involvement in this ground breaking project is part of our on-going drive to rapidly create a step change in the UK's digital evolution. Fujitsu's vision and global expertise provides an opportunity to change the game in terms of broadband provision in parts of the UK that are otherwise being left behind. We now have a once in a lifetime opportunity to make the ambition of a digitally-enabled society a reality beyond the country's cities and towns."Neil Berkett, (CEO) Virgin Media
Deploying an open network is key to allowing other network operators and smaller ISPs to be able to compete and give consumers the best choice of service available. This may even mean that BT themselves will purchase from the collaboration to increase their reach of next-generation services to more users.