Openreach is testing a "fibre on demand" service that will provide 330Mbps broadband connections, before making the service commercially available from Spring 2013. The problem isn't the technology but the cost of the deployment, which involves laying a fibre optic cable from the local cabinet to the home or business premises. This is a variable cost, but could well be over £1,000.
Openreach said in a statement that CPs (communications providers, such as internet service providers) "will be able to order the service where there is interest and then assist Openreach with the cost of deployment. It will then be up to the CP to decide whether to absorb that likely one-off charge, recover it through higher monthly prices or pass it on in full to their customer."
Users cannot deal with Openreach directly.
Presumably, ISPs will want to co-ordinate their FTTP (Fibre To The Premises) offers so that they can enable groups of customers at once -- the approach used by cable TV networks. Buildings that house multiple businesses must be prime candidates, along with residential apartment blocks.
The pilot FTTP service will be offered in eight areas that already have Fibre To The Cabinet (FTTC) services. The first trials were run in St Agnes, Cornwall, with High Wycombe and Bristol South next in line. Edinburgh’s Waverley exchange will be added in September. The second phase, running from March to May 2013, "will see the pilot extended to parts of Watford, Cardiff, Basingstoke, and Manchester Central", says Openreach.
Openreach’s Mike Galvin says:
"FTTP on Demand has great potential and so we are proceeding with these pilots. Whilst we believe FTTC will be our mass market consumer product for some time yet, FTTP may be of interest to small and medium sized businesses and so we want to make it accessible throughout our fibre footprint. This development can potentially help SMEs to compete both at home and abroad as well as maintain and create jobs across the UK."
FTTC can already support 80Mbps broadband downstream and up to 20Mbps upstream, and Openreach is optimistic about offering even faster speeds in the future. My own experience with a 40Mbps BT Infinity business service at home is that the law of diminishing returns sets in well before this, and that only businesses are likely to need more in the near future. How much they'll be willing to pay for it is, of course, another matter.