Rory Cellan-Jones

BT goes high fibre

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 15 Jul 08, 11:59 GMT

BT has announced a big investment this morning in fibre, promising to get Britain into the broadband fast lane. It's aiming to bring 10 million homes within reach of fibre-based broadband by 2012. That's going to cost a whopping one and a half billion pounds - though some of that cash was already in the investment pipeline.

Cables going into computerIt looks as though this could be the moment broadband enthusiasts have been crying out for, when the UK starts catching up with countries who've already started the move to ultra-fast networks. BT was keen to celebrate. "This marks the beginning of a new chapter in Britain's broadband story," according to the new Chief Executive Ian Livingston.

But hold on a minute. We were told that digging up Britain to lay a fibre-to-the-home network would cost £15bn, ten times what BT is spending, so how can they do it for the money?

Well first of all the plan is to reach 40% of UK homes with fibre, with the rest served by the new ADSL2 network, which is going to offer up to 24Mbps. And then in most cases they're planning not fibre to the home, but "fibre to the cabinet" - in other words that box on the street where you sometimes see an engineer fiddling. That will deliver up to 40Mbps, with BT saying its technicians believe they can eventually get up to 60Mbps.

Some places - like the Ebbsfleet development in Kent - will get fibre right into the home, with the promise of up to 100Mbps soon, and 10 times that in the future. Who gets what will depend on an assessment of demand from both consumers and the retail broadband suppliers who will be using the BT fibre network.

And BT is making it clear that the regulator must play its part by allowing it to make a decent return on the cash. Within hours of the announcement, Ofcom had put out a press release welcoming BT's plans, and talking of providing "the right incentives for operators to invest" in fast broadband, so I think we can assume that the regulatory side will be sorted.

What we don't know yet is what this will cost consumers. But after a bitter price war which has left many broadband providers struggling to provide a decent service at a profit, there looks certain to be more mergers - and with fewer, bigger broadband players, that could mean we all end up paying a bit more to get the kind of speeds BT is now promising.

So this may not be quite the bold step into the future painted by BT - and remember the likes of Virgin Media are already promising ultra-fast broadband - but it is a sign that money is beginning to flow to fibre. And let's not underestimate the risk involved for a major telecoms business in promising extra expenditure in the current environment. Stockmarket analysts did not seem too surprised by the the BT announcement - but the share price was still down more than four percent the last time I looked.


  • Comment number 1.

    As a customer I'll be quite happy to pay more for faster broadband!

    At the moment you're lucky if you get half the advertised speeds (I'm getting slightly less than one third), but you pay the same amount whatever speed comes down your line.

    If they can multiply my actual broadband connection speed by at least five times, or something like that, and only charge me two or three times as much as I'm paying now, I'll be a happy consumer and they get three times as much revenue.

    Everyone wins!

  • Comment number 2.

    About time BT caught up, although this investment is small. BT believes itself to be up there with the world's telecoms giants but in reality it's positively parochial. One can only wonder how many years we'll be behind the rest of the world when BT finally gets its act together and upgrades the UK to anything approaching world class broadband.

  • Comment number 3.


    whats a ludicrous comment. BT is a private company and under no obligation to upgrade then entire country then watch as all the other isp's use the infrastructure its invested heavily in. it has shareholders just like everyone else

    Wholsale should be spun off from BT Group and placed under semi public control, and allow them to provide a fibre network. if that failed, only then could someone complain that BT is trying its best in this field. You cant make a public company private and then expect it to still perform all the public companies functions, especially if that means runnign at a massive loss.

  • Comment number 4.

    I suspect that once again those of us in rural areas who need high speed broadband the most, will miss out.

    If telecoms had originally developed under the current cherry picking ethos, many of us would still be waiting for a landline!

    David Mitchell

    Deepest Suffolk

  • Comment number 5.


    Agreed. Thast why I say a public wholesale provider wiht govt funds, with private retail sellers. Think that would be the best solution for all. Would keep the prices down without the need for any single company to run a national network.

  • Comment number 6.

    Welcome news that BT has finally stuck a toe in the water. As one might expect they are favouring a cheaper and lower performance FTTC solution, which will only need to be replaced in 5 or 10 years time when everyone will be demanding 300 Mbps or more. FTTH would be able to deliver this without major reinvestment, but that would mean more cash now from BT, and is therefore not likely.

    Now is the time, given BT's aim of 40% coverage to look long and hard at how we deal the the remaining 60%. Islands of fibre, interconnected, locally owned and and run, could deliver a far more consumer focused network, with far lower end user costs, better social benefits. And with an open access model which BT (to their credit) appears to support, could see an end to the monopoly once and for all, the creation of real market, and early retirement for the boys and girls at Ofcom.

    Is that not a far more attractive proposition than sitting around waiting to BT to reach the rest of us sometime in 2020?

  • Comment number 7.

    How comes they can give out such information? For unless they allow other Operators to use this fibre network, then OFCOM will impose strict rules on the laying of fibre and who else CAN use it, at a cheaper rate. For years this has been a thorn in BT networks side. Who will pay for this massive capital outlay I do not know. But to be told that others can use it, at a cheap rate. Well the customers of today will start to pay.
    And I am sure this may have been slipped in under the guise, that the UK needs to be 2012 Olympics alert now. (Given the nod by the Government too).
    Not that I am worried, for I do not have B Band, and am in no position to afford it.
    As a former staff member, I wait to see this come about.

  • Comment number 8.

    Enticing BT to roll out this upgrade is a major item on the government's wish list. BT can use this leverage to loosen the regulatory framework. How obliging will the government be?

  • Comment number 9.

    The Government should intervened and done something about this issue years ago.

    All we have had is consultation after consultation after consultation with no action.

    Everything barrylane says of BT is correct; but of course BT is under no obligation to carry out these works as it is a private company.

    The issue is how long it will take the rest of the country to get Fibre.

    colnevalleyfibre, this is BT we're talking about, so 2020 is a very generous time frame!

  • Comment number 10.

    The announcement on fibre is a positive step. A big improvement could be achieved today by insisting that our broadband services are properly labelled, so we know what end user experience to expect, and what resources are allocated for each broadband package. The Ofcom Voluntary Code of conduct is a measure to reduce mis-selling but not to educate customers. I have had a go at a label here, Feel free to improve it. Speed is only one dimension of service, each application does not need that much, but a good deal more transparency is needed on the makeup of packages if we are to understand what actual perfromance is achievable and the tradeoffs we as users need to make in order to get the most from our connections.

  • Comment number 11.


    I remember when the internet was newish, BT offered to wire up the country with fibre for free....

    'Free' meant their condition was they would be allowed to sell content over it.

    Of course this was unacceptable to the ideologues in the government who insist competition is the only way.

    And, twenty years on, competition is still keeping us waiting.

    Good call...

  • Comment number 12.

    Good to see BT finally wake up. I look forward to the day I can pay for a 40/60/100Mbps connection with a 50gb cap. :)

  • Comment number 13.

    Sorry Guys and Girls, it’s too late for BT to wake up. Some ADSL routers now have a USB socket, 3G wireless is coming. Why pay BT for line (voice) rental? Soon to be a thing of the past. I live in a rural area, as soon as 3G hits the mark BT can kiss me goodbye. When 25M other households do the same they will be hit massively – it’s not far away.

  • Comment number 14.

    Try living near Hull were we have NO choice about which ISP we use. Zero choice. Not exactly inspiring is it?

    Karoo have a monopoly here and charge £29.99 for an "8mb" line. Total rip off and they state that other ISPs can enter the area.

    What they don't state so publicly is the HUGE price that another ISP would have to pay.

  • Comment number 15.

    viranp -
    Good grief; why? You can comfortably shift several times that amount in a month over current ADSL lines. What are you trying to do that needs such modest amounts of data, but really, really quickly?

    OneSandal -
    Love your optimism. Why is it that the mobile companies are going to install high bandwidth 3G kit in areas that don't have enough customers to make it worth installing (rather cheaper) high bandwidth wired kit?

  • Comment number 16.

    Sorry OneSandel, but as someone who's been forced to live off a 3G net connection for the last 6 months, I can assure you it is no better than being on BT. The throughput is no-where near as advertised, and the mobile companies have oversold on their capacity to provide. I shudder at the thought of 25 million people clogging up the 3G network, it will bring it to it's knees.

  • Comment number 17.

    So how many BT shares does MR CJ own. I cannot get excited about this as it is not really going to affect that many people is it. 1 million homes by 2012 - whoop de doo - and will they all be in the south ?? I think they will. The BT broadband network is a bag of old spanners required costly re-development to its infrastructure. I live in the centre of manchester and routinly I have no broadband access because of BT line issues. This is a joke, and a very bad joke at that.

  • Comment number 18.

    You have mis-read the article patch2649..

    It is 1 million homes who will have fibre upto the house, the rest will be fibre to the PCP (green cabinet you see around the streets).

    BT provides phone lines to about 22 million homes and businesses so about 10 million of them will benefit from this...

    You were right about those 1 million homes being down south though... But don't foget BT is a business and the whole point of that is to make lots of money so I should imagine BT will provide Manchester (one of Britains largest cities) with fibre, it is those living in the middle of nowhere like Wales and Scotland who shouldn't bother holding their breath...

  • Comment number 19.

    15. At 00:43am on 16 Jul 2008, _Ewan_ wrote:

    viranp -
    Good grief; why? You can comfortably shift several times that amount in a month over current ADSL lines. What are you trying to do that needs such modest amounts of data, but really, really quickly?

    It was sarcasm aimed at BTs advocation of caps, as broadband capability increases. One reason I left them.

    Granted, I should have added notification of sarcasm as it doesn't come across too well on text, especially if done badly ;)

  • Comment number 20.

    BT goes fibre, 10 million homes...

    Well I hope London enjoys it, meanwhile the rest of the UK will have make do.

  • Comment number 21.

    I don't agree that the telecoms companies don't require funds, to roll out their fibre optic networks they do. The uk government need not give them any money what they can do is prevent councils from charging the companies, when the roads are dug up and in turn the companies should connect all landline users to the fibre optic networks free of charge. It's also important that all the exchanges are modified to enable them to carry the new technology, so the best can be made of it . if the firms are given a loan by the government to do this, so be it.


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