Openreach looking at towards a more symmetric future
Joe Garner joined Openreach as its Chief Executive in 2014 and has held his first large briefing to world of tech journalists this week on the same day that the latest BT Group financial results appeared. For those who feel they have had a poor deal from Openreach in terms of fault repairs and quality of service a few important things were stated by Joe Garner.
- He wants to change the concept of homeowners being considered 'end-users' and the providers being the Openreach customers, he wants Openreach to consider everyone an important customer.
- Some 25,000 applications were made for the 1,600 vacancies at Openreach and he wants to try and ensure that of the 100,000 home visits per week for installs/repairs that lots more are down by Openreach staff, rather than contractors.
- The Openreach Where and When website is due a revamp, and will have information at a more granular level to help people learn more about the roll-outs. He also highlighted that dealing with just postcode level information will not give the full story, due to the size of postcodes and things like exchange and cabinet coverage boundaries mixing up inside a postcode.
Fibre to the Remote Node and G.Fast combined with vectoring were the two main techie messages to come out of the briefing. While we have known that FTTRn was to be trialled in North Yorkshire via the NYNet project, down in London a few nodes will be deployed around the Tech City area to see if there is actual demand beyond the many thousands of words of complaint. FTTRn will deliver a GEA-FTTC based service, but since the node itself is self-contained and can be shoved in pavement chamber on a pole there is more scope for it being located closer to the properties it covers.Vectoring on the standard GEA-FTTC services got a short mention, but is still in the test phase, with the current self-install process and the need to ensure that all the various modems providers sell and consumers can buy from elsewhere will play nicely is the reason why nothing has appeared yet. Mr Garner was non-committal on the possible speeds, but the thinkbroadband crystal ball suggests we might see a 110 Mbps maximum speed product eventually, with longer lines still benefiting from an uplift.
Looking further into the future it is clear that while Openreach is doing some FTTP roll-out still, technologies that exploit the copper assets are still popular simply because it avoids the need to totally re-work the network and looking at it from the viewpoint of a busy road closing it as you string up overhead fibre over the last 50m of drop to each home is going to be expensive and unpopular, and as Sky has recently found out even bringing symmetric Gigabit to an area does not stop people complaining about new telephone poles. What we can expect is G.Fast combined with vectoring to deliver 500 Mbps symmetric type speeds, with the hardware placed on the last pole or pavement chamber before a group of properties.
We asked if there was a specific timeline for announcements on the £50m of extra funding that was found to extend the commercial roll-out, and the FTTRn stuff for Tech City around Old Street tube is part of this, but otherwise no specific dates or areas are available as yet.
What we look forward to now is the other telecoms operators coming up with news on how they plan to help areas like Tech City, London has a wide range of both fixed wireless and fibre based solutions available. The problem from what we can see is that Tech City is a rapidly changing area and a common feature we have seen has been landlords and other building owners asking for expensive wayleave agreements and being slow to respond delaying the install of better services. For a business balancing, rent per sq ft, nice cocktail bars and quality of Internet access are key things in the decision making tree on where to locate an office, maybe Tech City is not the best place for a start-up that wants cheap, symmetric fast Internet access.
The diversity of connections in the Old Street area is shown by the White Collar Factory that looked like a building site when we dropped by on 31st July, but lists AboveNet, BT, Cable & Wireless, Colt, Verizon and Virgin Media as all having fibre running past the site and available on the doorstep. Whether the raw and exposed aesthetic will involve getting this fibre into the main building so that start-ups can quickly rent a chunk of bandwidth or whether they will each have to negotiate from scratch a new connection is unknown, but they will be able to run around the rooftop 148 metre running track once the building is complete.