BT to plug fibre in London, Wales

Next steps in next-gen broadband plan...

Next steps in next-gen broadband plan...

BT has picked Muswell Hill, London and Whitchurch, South Glamorgan for the next phase of its next-gen broadband strategy for superfast internet access.

The telco is piloting fibre to the cabinet (FTTC) in the two exchanges starting from summer 2009.

Back in July, the telco announced it plans to spend £1.5bn to give 10 million UK homes fibre access by 2012, promising download speeds of up to 100Mbps - and potentially as much as 1,000Mbps in future.

Customers in Muswell Hill and Whitchurch will be able to get speeds of up to 40Mbps regardless of whether BT decides to proceed with a nationwide FTTC rollout or not. A BT spokesman said: "[The equipment] will all remain there whatever happens. We're not taking it all out again."

After having installed fibre to the premises in Kent's Ebbsfleet Valley which delivered speeds of up to 100Mbps, the telco now wants to "conduct pilots of a significant size in terms of [FTTC]", the spokesman added.

The telco will also conduct a small technical trial in the Foxhall exchange area of Kesgrave, Suffolk in early 2009.

A recent Broadband Stakeholder Group report into the cost of rolling out fibre in Blighty estimates a full fibre to the home rollout would cost almost £29bn, while a FTTC deployment would have a price tag of just over £5bn.

Asked whether the two pilots will pave the way for a national rollout of FTTC, the spokesman said BT's next-gen broadband strategy is dependent on "a number of factors", including being able to ensure a return on its investment; evidence of customer demand as well as an appropriate regulatory environment from watchdog Ofcom - "which would involve not just a suitable return on our investment but a certain amount of clarity and flexibility going forward in terms of what we might be allowed to charge other people".

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He continued: "We've said that, unlike any other European incumbent… we are going to wholesale it [fibre] on an equivalent basis to other communications providers and therefore we need to establish some sort of regime around that."

David Campbell, BT Openreach's director of next generation access, added in a statement: "We expect to announce detailed plans for the initial market deployment of the Openreach product in early 2010, again following consultation with all interested parties."

The two exchanges were chosen from a shortlist of 20 - and were picked after the telco consulted local authorities and communications providers on where they believe demand might be high or where there is a particular need for fast broadband. BT also had to take into account "certain operational factors", according to the spokesman.

"Both of these areas serve the right sort of amount of customers - we were keen to get to around 15,000 customers with each area and both of them do that and it gives us a good mix," he said.

Not everyone is convinced fibre is the way to go, however. An independent review of the UK's next-gen broadband needs, which reported its findings last month, recommended a patchwork of fixed and wireless technologies - rather than an all-fibre deployment.