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Is BT's latest broadband innovation just a 'quick fix'?

Monday, November 2nd 2015 by Ellen Branagh

BT's latest broadband technology shouldn’t be seen as the answer to providing consumers across the country with faster speeds, an infrastructure expert has said.

Mark Collins, director of strategy and public affairs at gigabit provider CityFibre, said G.fast – which uses a combination of fibre and conventional copper – is a “quick speed fix” that will allow BT to compete with Virgin Media in urban areas.

BT is championing the technology as a way of delivering ultrafast speeds to consumers without the disruption or expense of laying fibre all the way into someone's home.

Revealing the results of trials in Huntingdon and Gosforth at Broadband World Forum, held in London last week, the company said customers are getting up to 330Mbps download speed – more than 10 times the UK average – which could rise to 500Mbps.

BT also unveiled its latest development, dubbed XG.fast, which it said has reached speeds of more than 5Gbps in lab trials.

But speaking to Cable.co.uk at the conference, Mr Collins said G.fast would be unlikely to work well where long copper distances are involved, so would probably not be suitable for rural areas.

“I think the view is that probably BT’s strategy will be to focus G.fast in urban areas to compete with Virgin, so it’s kind of a quick speed fix to be able to compete with Virgin. But it doesn’t really provide the appropriate long-term solution.

“Our view is that G.fast is a compromise technology that shouldn’t be employed, that there is a business case that works to move to fibre to the home, to the premises, and that’s the technology choice that the country should be moving to, and that’s what we’re actually building," he said.

CiyFibre is working with Sky and TalkTalk to provide a new Ultra Fibre Optic network in York that will use fibre to the premises technology (FTTP) to deliver speeds up to 1,000Mbps.

Mr Collins said York is providing the “test ground” for models and strategies needed to get a high take-up of fibre and providing gigabit speeds at prices similar to those for superfast broadband brings a “clear benefit” to the consumer.

'Unreliable copper connection'

“Having that broadband connectivity and capability to homes and small businesses will enable a whole range of new services to be developed as we move to 4K televisions, the internet of things, connected homes, all of those – if you have the capability of the connection then all those things are possible.

“If you don’t and you have a fairly unreliable copper connection then those things are quite frustrating.”

He said competition between alternative providers like CityFibre, and BT, is good for consumers because it encourages investment in infrastructure.

“Increasingly now the local authorities and the city councils want to embrace alternative investment because they know it will also encourage greater investment from BT. So they get a win-win on both cases.

“We’re not necessarily seeing it being a BT versus CityFibre, very much a co-existence of us with BT. And we think that’s very much a good thing.”

Last week Mike Galvin, BT's managing director of next generation access for the technology service and operations division, warned people against getting attached to one particular technology and said broadband technologies using copper are providing higher bandwidth in some cases than fibre to the premises (FTTP).

"I guarantee you that fibre to the home will become obsolescent to future technologies, just as other technologies will become obsolescent as well," he said.

"Already we can see with some of the new technologies coming up over copper, they're actually much higher bandwidth than fibre to the premises."

"We need to place our bets in several areas and anybody who's placing their bet just in one area at the moment I think is taking a chance with the future of UK Plc."

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