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Fibre broadband take-up will increase 'pretty rapidly' - BT Openreach CEO

Friday, May 8th 2015 by Ellen Branagh

More and more people will sign up to fibre broadband as the need for faster speeds and more bandwidth increases, the head of BT Openreach has said.

Openreach CEO Joe Garner said the take-up of fibre broadband, which in the last year was 19% – meaning one in five premises passed by fibre had chosen to use it – was a “success”.

Mr Garner’s comments came as BT yesterday announced its best-ever quarter for customers connecting to the Openreach fibre network.

Publishing its financial results for the fourth quarter and year to 31 March 2015, BT announced that the Openreach fibre network is now available to more than 22m homes and businesses across the country – more than three quarters of all UK premises.

Around 1.5m new customers connected to the network in the past year, taking the total number from 2.7m to 4.2m – meaning that 19% of the premises passed by fibre have chosen to use it.

Asked about the take-up figure and whether more people were choosing to remain on a copper connection than subscribe to fibre, Mr Garner said that number would increase “pretty rapidly”.

“We’ve grown to 19% very rapidly, and if you think that 4.2m announced today is an increase of 50% year on year, and if you look at the shape of the graph, it’s a success,” he told Cable.co.uk.

“Ask yourself how many other things have gone from zero penetration to nearly 20% in a matter of very few years, I don’t think it’s very many.”

He said the development of 4G and 5G networks, and a world where modems effectively become “in-home” mobile masts, would bring “deeper fibre penetration” because people would need faster speeds that fibre can bring to use all their mobile devices at home.

'Gathering pace'

Mr Garner said: “I think moving from 0% to nearly 20% over a few years is a fast adoption and it’s been gathering pace as we go.

“I’m struggling for a benchmark because it took telephones about 50 years to do that, it’s not really a relevant benchmark.”

Ian Lawrence, chief engineer for Openreach, said devices would drive the need for fibre connections as people need more bandwidth to use them.

He highlighted smart TVs as one example, saying: “Devices will drive it, so as people buy smart TVs, new devices for the home, or require different types of TV boxes, that will just drive the fact, ‘actually I do need more bandwidth to get it’.

“I think the device will be key because now you can’t buy a TV that’s not connected.”

Describing Openreach’s progress over the last 12 months, Mr Garner said there was a “slew of records” in what the organisation had achieved, but there was also “much more to do”.

He said they had reduced the time it takes to fix faults by nearly eight hours, and cut the number of missed appointments by around a quarter.

“Those are really customer meaningful outcomes,” he said.

“But perhaps the biggest thing I would call out is I that I think for the first time in Openreach history, throughout the winter we were able to do repair and provision all through, on very good timing. And I think that was a significant achievement.”

BT Openreach is the organisation that looks after most of Britain’s broadband infrastructure.

It is operated by BT Group on the basis of an agreement with Ofcom that it provides the same products, support, and levels of service to all internet service providers.

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