Openreach CEO: Now Is The Time To Go From Superfast To Ultrafast Broadband

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Openreach CEO Clive Selley says his engineering background will influence his tenure as BT starts its rollout of G.Fast and FTTP ultrafast broadband

It’s impossible for Openreach CEO Clive Selley to completely ignore the wider debate surrounding the future of BT’s open access network division and whether it should be made independent, but he’s clear about which direction he wants to take it.

Unlike predecessors Liv Garfield, who joined BT from Accenture before becoming Openreach CEO, and Joe Garner, who was at HSBC, Selley’s promotion was internal, having spent decades at the company and previously heading up research as the head of BT Technology, Service and Operations (TSO).

“My background is engineering and I think that will flavour my tenure at Openreach,” he says. “I came through the ranks. I didn’t have a degree – I was an A-level joiner and [BT] sponsored me to go to university a couple of times.”

Ultrafast broadband

BT TowerEver since Ofcom indicated formal separation was an option for its once-in-a-decade review of the UK communications market, BT has made noises about ultrafast broadband and has held trials of both G.Fast, which speeds up copper connections, and fibre to the premise (FTTP).

In May, it delivered concrete plans of how it planned to deliver ultrafast to 12 million properties by 2020 in a £6 billion rollout.

“I took a look at what we were doing and reset our strategy,” he explains. “This is the year we make the technology shift from superfast to ultrafast.

“I think I’m reasonably component to lead us through the [transition].”

BT has been heavily involved in the development of G.Fast, which derives from a technology connection distribution poles. Its researchers have made changes to the standard, which has been finalised by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), and the commercial rollout will see speeds of 500Mbps delivered over copper connections.

Rivals have accused BT of sweating its legacy copper assets rather than investing in FTTP, but the company makes no apologies for doing so, arguing the use of fibre to the cabinet (FTTC) and G.Fast will result in faster speeds available to more people more quickly and cheaply than a pure FTTP rollout.

“We’ll blend [G.Fast] with FTTP,” adds Selley. “I’ll put G.Fast [equipment] into the [cabinet]. It will be a pod on the side of the copper cabinet and will leverage the fibre backhaul so is quick to deploy.”

Cost and FTTP

BT Cumbria Fell End fibre broadbandHowever Selley admits he’s not entirely sure how much the rollout will cost as no one has ever deployed G.Fast as such scale.

“Based on the sums we’ve done, we think by 2020 we can do ten million homes,” he says. “I will be the first big purchaser of this equipment. With this new equipment, you will see a falling price over time … but I don’t know how much it will cost to definitively deploy it.

“I do [have a ballpark figure].”

The other two million properties will be connected via FTTP. Just two percent of the UK has an FTTP connection, but despite rollouts by the likes of CityFibre, Hyperoptic and Gigaclear, as well as pledges from Virgin Media, BT is actually the country’s largest pure fibre provider.

But for the wider rollout, a series of trials is helping BT estimate demand and determine the most effective way to deploy the technology in terms of cost in rural, suburban and urban settings

“I have a new way of delivering FTTP for different environments and an understanding of different price points that I think are achievable,” he elaborates. “I’m going to deliver FTTP to most new builds in the UK. It’s a no brainer because otherwise I’d be laying copper cables. Why lay copper when I can lay fibre?

“I plan to take FTTP disproportionately to business customers.”

Coverage expansion

BT infinity house 2Coverage is another major pillar of Selley’s vision for Openreach. He claims 25,000 premises are being past each week but he wants to exceed the government’s target of 95 percent superfast broadband coverage by 2017.

“As an industry, as a country, we must figure out just how much faster we can go,” he says. “Our aspiration is to get it further and close the gap to up to 100 percent.”

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