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Saturday, 14 February 2009

Lack of FTTH in UK

Twas a fairly long journey back from Copenhagen, and plenty of time to think. Of the many press releases issued during the conference, the global FTTH rankings is the one which has caused most thought about the UK situation.

Just to summarise the implications of that report once again. There are now 20 countries who have connected more than 1% of their populations with FTTH. Those connections are symmetrical, and generally greater than 100Mbps, with some being 1Gbps. 13 of the 27 EU member states are included in this set of 2008 rankings, and more are expected to be in the next rankings this summer. The UK is nowhere to be seen on the rankings and even with planned developments in the UK, most of the planned connections will not be FTTH, therefore the UK is not likely to achieve even 1% FTTH before 2011-2012 without a new entrant taking everyone by surprise. (Virgin Media connections are only fibre in the core and middle mile, not the first, so VM connections will not count in the rankings until the coax is replaced with fibre).

There have been plenty of media and independent reports recently about fibre developments in the UK. For instance, the Ofcom Consumer Panel (as was) produced their report on community-led next generation access initiatives. This lists some 40 projects, but there are no in build FTTH projects listed, and many are business park and public sector connections not FTTH - the clue is in the last word of that acronym!!

On a more positive note, should all of these projects come to fruition, there will be a good basis for FTTH connections in the future if the business and public sector connections are then shared with homes.

BT's involvement at Ebbsfleet is often cited as being an important step forward for FTTH. In fact,I read with interest in a broadband magazine at the conference that BT have apparently installed 10,000 FTTH connections there. Some journalists need to read their background material more carefully - this is not the first time that this claim has been made in the press! 57 actual connections so far was the number being cited at the conference by some claiming to be in the know, and the Ebbsfleet Valley development was expected to take 20 years to construct even before the economic problems hit.

The point is that many of the projects being described as next generation access in Britain are FTTC or FTTN, not FTTH, which is what NGA is, and what other countries have already deployed and are continuing to deploy. Whilst we pursue what are, as defined by FTTH councils worldwide, "copper-based access technologies", we stand to fall behind. Not just a little behind in 2012 or 2015, but a long way behind already in 2009.

We allow the telcos to take a term, such as 'broadband' and constantly redefine it downwards until it fits what suits them and their shareholders. We are allowing the same process to occur with 'fibre' and 'NGA', and not just by the telcos. This does no favours to anyone.

*It results in mis-leading of the general public (who include MPs, RDAs etc who also see the adverts on TV and forget that expensive ad agencies are behind them, not facts). Reports calling Wimax or FTTC NGA also contribute to the deception.
*It results in people assuming that the job is done or is 'in hand'.
* It prevents people realising that elsewhere the definitions of these technologies are on a scale (of connectivity speeds) of 2-20 times greater already than what we are being offered, now and in the next few years.
*It fails to bring the necessary technologies to Britain to encourage recovery, regeneration and innovation when we most need them.
*It panders to shareholders of telcos who are reaping dividends at the expense of the development of the whole nation and UK plc.
*It allows a continuance of unnecessary negative environmental impact through the use of outmoded and environmentally expensive technologies such as ADSL, VDSL etc.
* And worse still, it prevents us competing with our closest neighbours on a level playing field, let alone taking on the Asian markets etc.

Anyone else got any thoughts on what the rankings mean to policy, this country, and how we should be proceeding?

1 comment:

markpurdom said...

I could not agree more on the situation in the UK. I was another of the (very) few UK attendees to Copenhagen and while I found the growth of FTTH around Europe to be exciting it does hit home hard that we are hurting our chances of remaining a leading economy in the future.

So what can be done? Well, I am involved in selling to BT and know that there is little point in trying to divert them from the FTTC cause. Same for other leading telcos. Cost is cited as the reason, although if they had attended CPH they would have seen statistics such as 80% of cost needed for the last 20% of connections. Guess what the easy answer to that issue is!

For me there are two ways forward: add to that list of DIY projects and start some serious political lobbying. Now, having never lobbyed about anything in the past I don't know how one goes about that but my starting point will be my local MP. Clearly this is not a one man job and there must be many others who feel similarly disappointed by our situation - what we need to do is unite those under a common goal.

On the DIY theme, I am seriously looking into a new project in the Bucks area and would love to know if there is anyone out there who would support this or even become involved.