While there are many critics of the Openreach fibre optic roll-out, it is actually happening and at a fast pace, with the network now available to some 15,000,000 premises, though it is still a 99% Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC) network.
"Fibre broadband is at the heart of our business and so it is great that we have now passed more than fifty per cent of UK premises. This is a significant milestone and one that our engineers can be proud of. They have worked through many months of appalling weather to bring the benefits of fibre to cities, towns and villages and this is making a genuine difference to how people live their lives.
Fibre broadband can play an important part in stimulating and supporting an economic recovery. Our investment, together with that of our partners, is helping to generate thousands of jobs and give small businesses the speeds that were previously the preserve of larger ones based in cities. These speeds will help them to become more nimble and responsive and that in turn will help them to expand. We are already seeing this in areas, both urban and rural, where fibre is available."Openreach chief executive Liv Garfield
The commercial roll-out that was centered around £2.5 billion of investment by BT is set to finish in Spring 2014, but with some 18 BDUK projects now on board the engineering teams and contractors are set to remain busy for the next three or so years. Plus if the Fibre on Demand product proves even vaguely popular with business users further expansion of employee numbers may be required.
The criticism levelled at Openreach is largely two fold, you have providers like TalkTalk complaining that the cost of the FTTC-GEA service is too high (around £9 per month for LLU, or £16 a month from BT Wholesale) or others insisting the Openreach roll-out is just a patch up solution. Openreach already talks of the commercial roll-out having a 12 year pay back term, so reducing Openreach revenue from the new service would lengthen that, and perversely would probably mean any ideas of a full fibre (FTTP) roll-out are pushed further away.
The fact that Openreach has not gone for a full fibre roll-out, actually leaves the commercial market open for some of the people with the money to roll-out their own FTTP and FTTB networks, and while there is a lot of movement in this area it is largely the smaller operators, rather than a large operator looking to target millions of homes.
For no clearer sign of what difference the FTTC roll-out is making to UK broadband speeds, compare the average speed of BT Retail customers (Fibre and ADSL2+) at 23.8 Mbps with those of O2/Be (just ADSL2+) 7.6 Mbps in a blog article we posted a month ago.