The increasing pace of roll-out of full fibre from Openreach
The FTTP roll-outs are happening now from a number of providers and Openreach is stepping up the speed it is building, with a lot of the increase coming from the Fibre First programme and the Fibre Cities. Once the BDUK and new build homes FTTP footprints are combined with the Fibre Cities they are rolling out to around 13,000 premises a week.
The infographic is extracted from a presentation to investors and shows that the roll-out of Fibre Cities has ramped up a lot during 2018 and is starting to put Openreach on track for its 2 million and 3 million FTTP premises target in 2020 and 2021.
Of course from our tracking of the superfast broadband coverage levels in the UK we can share what we have been tracking for Openreach FTTP builds since 2014 and the chart above does show that 2018 is looking very different to previous years. The positive notch in the chart is when we learnt of a chunk of FTTP overlaid on the existing VDSL2 network in Northern Ireland and in a very short period found a large amount of FTTP, our procedures for spotting likely FTTP speed tests have subsequently changed and this is seeing us start to spot more FTTP appearing in areas where VDSL2 was already offering superfast speeds. An example of two cabinets with overlay recently spotted is cabs 6 and 66 where some premises on Leighton Road, Hamilton Road and Birch Road in the Bedminster area of Bristol now have an ultrafast broadband option.
There is generally a lag 6 weeks in us picking up delivery of fibre to the premises, especially in areas where superfast speeds are already available, so we expect that if we publish an updated graph at the end of 2018 we will see the rate of roll-out increase even more.
For those not aware the Fibre Cities roll-out is a purely commercial operation and we are seeing a mixture of areas benefiting, including exchange only lines gaining FTTP, cabinet areas without VDSL2 and some cabinet areas with good VDSL2 speeds gaining FTTP. We should add that the FTTP roll-out does not use the existing VDSL2 or copper cabinets, the fibre route may in many cases pass close to existing cabinets due to the re-use of ducting but the FTTP architecture is very different relying on aggregation nodes to bring together the different parts of the PON (Passive Opitical Network) before heading back to a larger central handover node (located in an exchange building). By bypassing existing cabinets it does mean that in future decades after a massed copper switch off removal of street furniture may be possible.
Upgrades to FTTP are not automatic and rely on the public electing to upgrade to a FTTP service, which will generally mean buying an ultrafast speed service and paying more each month. Ofcom regulations mean that in areas where good VDSL2 speeds are available the Openreach GEA-FTTP services are a few pounds a month more expensive, though we have not spotted this in the retail pricing as yet. We are not expecting massed migrations of customers from VDSL2 to FTTP in areas where both services are available, the reason being that as each shift to FTTP happens it needs the fibre installing into the premises.
Update 4:45pm We need to highlight that the build figures per week from Openreach may not always translate into immediately ready to order FTTP, i.e. it is possible for streets to have all the work there completed but the fibre is still waiting to be lit up due any of number of issues e.g. waiting for a roadworks window to splice fibre at a busy road junction. We only count those postcodes where the majority of premises have access to WBC-FTTP i.e. the native service.
For those comparing the total number of FTTP premises we report versus the figures from Openreach, Openreach has a premises count that is higher than ours, we think that reasons for this are differences in how items like traffic lights, ice monitors are counted and other things e.g. rooms in a care home. The key thing takeaway from this item is that Openreach is saying it has increased the rate of roll-out and we are seeing a rise in our rates too for adding Openreach FTTP to our checkers i.e. reasonable verification of what Openreach are delivering rather than just accepting at face value a list of addresses. This verification is the prime reason for tracking coverage since we started since the public consensus was that BT and Openreach would simply not deliver.