BT's fibre-optic broadband rollout starts today

By Dave Bailey
06 Jul 2009 View Comments
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BT Openreach van
Openreach provides new optical fibre product to support Digital Britain

Residential customers and businesses will start to gain access to next-generation broadband connectivity today as the first operational pilots spearhead BT's push into optical-fibre network access for the UK, as outlined in Lord Carter's Digital Britain report.

Muswell Hill in North London, and Whitchurch near Cardiff are the first two locations for BT's rollout. ISPs participating in Openreach's new optical fibre-based access product include BT Wholesale, Carphone Warehouse, O2 and Sky. The initial project will enable 15,000 premises to try out the new service, with more than 100 of BT's green street cabinets becoming fibre-enabled.

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BT's access arm Openreach is providing the new product supporting the connectivity trial. Generic Ethernet Access over Fibre to the Cabinet (GEA-FTTC), has performance of up to 40Mbit/s download and a standard upload speed of 2Mbit/s, with an optional upload speed of 5Mbit/s. BT strategy and portfolio group director Olivia Garfield said that upstream speeds, "would be adjusted by Openreach as service rollout proceeds in the next six to 12 months."

But there are concerns from smaller carriers and ISPs about the recently published Ofcom consultation, "Variation to BT’s Undertakings under the Enterprise Act 2002 related to Fibre-to-the-Cabinet. " The major effect of this variation', "allows BT’s Openreach division to control and operate electronic equipment necessary to provide super-fast broadband services using FTTC."

An important aspect of this change concerns what kind of service-level agreement (SLA) applies to the new product. With ADSL-based broadband systems, that use twisted copper pairs to carry data as well as narrowband voice traffic (standard PSTN phone calls), SLAs were limited to "best endeavours". This meant that in times of high download traffic, users could find download speed capacity decrease significantly, to lower speeds than they thought they were legally entitled to.

At a recent roundtable on BT's plans and its roadmap for FTTC rollouts, Openreach managing director for next-generation access David Campbell said that although Openreach would rectify faults with downloads speeds dropping below 15Mbit/s, "any SLAs provided would be the responsibility of the ISP providing the service to users premises, from the street cabinet," he said.

Cable & Wireless said in the consultation that it would like to see " SLAs offered by Openreach should address the requirements of business users."

Broadband Stakeholder Group chief executive Antony Walker said that download speed was not the determining capability of the new BT product.

"You have to look at the full characteristics of this offering, the better upload speeds on offer gives businesses a chance to open up new markets and services, whilst the improved latency gives you better interactive performance, for example with videoconferencing," he said.

Fibre-based broadband connectivity is already available to premises within the reach of Virgin Media's cable network.

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