BT is out in force at this year’s Broadband World Forum, preaching the benefits of a mixed technology approach that majors on G.Fast.
The UK-based operator is being hammered by rivals in the media who claim it is underinvesting in fibre, while it remains at risk of losing control of its Openreach arm amid an ongoing review by the regulator.
Against such a backdrop, BT wanted to open the event in London with a big bang announcement.
However, in an unfortunate twist it was forced to downgrade from a world first to a European first on the eve of the summit.
The “first” in question was the trial of an FTTP network that can deliver 40Gbps, 10Gbps and 2.5Gbps speeds simultaneously over a single fibre optic cable using a next generation PON solution.
BT said this improved on the most common FTTP deployments available currently, which have a single fibre transmitting 2.5Gbps of capacity that is shared between customers.
Huawei provided the kit for BT’s trial, but the two companies were beaten to the punch by Nokia who announced it was doing the same thing with SK Broadband a day before the event started.
Unbowed, BT Chief Executive Gavin Patterson used his appearance on the main stage to say that there was “no question” that fibre was the end goal for BT’s network.
“It’s just a matter of time,” he said.
While rivals insist that BT is selling the UK short by continuing to invest in FTTC-related technologies, Openreach CEO Clive Selley used his keynote to explain why his company’s approach has merit.
“A mixed fibre technology ecosystem is the way forward, Selley said.
“It’s a pragmatic approach [that serves] the greatest number of customers in the shortest time.
Selley is getting used to being wheeled out to ram home the upside of BT’s strategy as the company tries to regain ground in the PR battle with Sky, TalkTalk and Vodafone.
To boot, he said: “Had we embarked on a large-scale FTTP roll out in 2009 [rather than VDSL], we would have spent twice as much for fewer than half the premises that are covered today.”
BT has around 330,000 premises with access to FTTP currently, with a stated aim to reach two million homes and businesses by 2020.
In contrast, the operator plans to pass 10 million homes with G.Fast technology in the same timeframe.
Selley said there remained “plenty of headroom” to boost the technology’s performance.
He cited Nokia’s XG-FAST product, which can take speeds from around 330MBps to beyond 2GBps, as an example.
Peter Bell, CIO at Openreach, is the man tasked with deploying BT’s G.Fast roll out.
He is currently working on getting the tech deployed to 25,000 people in Cambridge, with the first customer set to get connected next month.
The average G.Fast deployment takes 3-6 months, Bell said, with the biggest implementation challenges related to working out how to fit the tech into BT’s street cabinets.
He reiterated Selley’s belief that there is “stuff in the tank” to boost the capabilities of G.Fast to cope with new services like 8K TVs and virtual reality down the track.
For the moment, however, he said that the 80MBps BT offers with VDSL technology “serves the vast majority of customers well”.
But he admitted that the company had to “plan ahead” and “look at the longer term game”.
Like Patterson, he thinks there is “no doubt” that FTTP is future proof but said it was “labour intensive”.
It was on this topic that the subject of Brexit reared its head.
Selley voiced fears that a “hard” Brexit could hinder efforts to hire people from Europe to help with its broadband rollout.
A BT spokesperson was unable to give any figures on how many workers the operator employs from the European Union.
Many are hired via contractors that BT outsources engineering work to, the spokesperson said.
Just like planning for the result of an EU referendum, BT’s approach to broadband is attempting to cover every eventuality.