The digital landscape of the UK is changing rapidly, and Openreach has upped the ante with its latest product trial, which will hopefully see FTTP On Demand launched in Spring 2013. FTTP on Demand is the same FTTP as Openreach is rolling out in limited areas, but will be available as an option to those in an areas where their Openreach street cabinet is providing an FTTC service.
In our overnight item, we were unsure if the fibre overlay system would lessen the Openreach FTTP roll-out, but that will continue and in particular the expansion into Multiple Dwelling Units (MDUs i.e. apartments and flats) will continue, with the aim of 25% of the BT fibre deployment being FTTP. The on demand nature of this new product means it is down to us the consumer and small business to decide if we want to make that figure higher.
A trial has already taken place in St Agnes, Cornwall, with further trials planned for the summer of 2012. FTTP already offers a speed option of 110 Mbps, and is due this year to support 330 Mbps, with further trials planned of 1 Gbps. A key difference between fibre to the premises is that it totally removes the copper (or aluminium) local loop from the equation, and thus if you pay for a 110 Mbps connection speed that is what will be delivered (whether the ISP can supply data to fill it is another matter), the news of the launch of Fibre Voice Access completes the puzzle, meaning people can dump the antiquated copper loop if they want.
Unfortunately there is a cost implication to the on demand nature of the product, though pricing has yet to be announced, in terms of the monthly costs it is likely it will follow the GEA fibre pricing we already know, where the Openreach segment is £36.36 for a 110 Mbps download 30 Mbps upload service, no pricing has been announced for the 330 Mbps segment, but something around the £80 mark seems likely. The biggest issue will be the installation cost, as the fibre is only ran from the FTTC street cabinet, it should be lower cost to install than fibre based Ethernet solutions, but a price in the range of £500 to £1500 seems likely. There are indications that this could be spread over a time frame, rather than having to be paid up front.
The implications for BDUK projects are wide, there is now scope for local authorities to deploy FTTC to serve the 90% of households and businesses, and in areas where FTTC is slower to perhaps deploy FTTP on Demand to some businesses. What many don't realise is that there are rules on how the BDUK money can be spent, for connections to homes, the BDUK and council money should not be used to provide the last mile for consumers, but can be spent on the digital hub and other aspects of the project. Essentially if a local authorities opts for a full FTTP for homes, the commercial partner can end up shouldering more of the cost.
By the way in case people forget, BT has officially announced what most people knew, that an up to 80 Mbps FTTC product is coming this Spring, with 20 Mbps upload speeds. The scale of the FTTP on Demand announcement overshadows this, and while we understood the FTTC deployment did not pre-clude this sort of fibre deployment, we did not expect it to be announced for another few years.
Once the product is launched in 2013 it is going to be an interesting time to see how much demand there is for the fibre overlay, obviously the price is going to be a sticking point for many, but if your home is the property in the area with the best broadband then it might be considered an investment for home-owners and landlords.