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UK broadband has to be reliable as well as fast – BT Openreach CEO

Wednesday, May 13th 2015 by Ellen Branagh

The relibaility of the country's broadband network is as important as its speed and coverage, the head of BT Openreach has said.

Openreach CEO Joe Garner said last year BT had worked to stop an increase in the number of network faults, and plans to work more closely with providers to help diagnose customers' broadband problems more quickly.

Speaking after BT announced its best-ever quarter for customers connecting to the Openreach fibre network, he said they were focusing as much on reliability as speed when it comes to the network.

“If you look at how we’re talking about network – nationwide, reliable, and fast,” he said. “And those words are really important.

"Nationwide – we’re not cherry-picking. It’s a sign of a competitive market that we lose business to competitors like Hyperoptic who can choose which bit of the value chain they go after and do it very effectively.

“But we are a nationwide player and we want to provide network across the whole country.”

Mr Garner said when people voice concerns about the reliability of their broadband, there is a “fog” of what is in the “home domain” and what is in the network.

While research may suggest that people value reliability as highly, if not higher, than speed, it has also shown that many issues were in “the home domain”, he added.

He said they had encountered problems such as interference limiting people’s coverage in the home and congestion in blocks of flats or apartments where there are multiple routers.

“There’s this fog of what’s in the home domain and what’s in the network,” he said.

“So what are we doing about it? In terms of the network, we’ve invested more last year in proactive network maintenance.

“That has actually meant that we have arrested what had been an increasing trend in network faults, so they didn’t go up last year in terms of our network. That’s a positive.”

'Diagnose problems'

BT is also working closely with other providers to look at how they can share information better to diagnose problems for customers, Mr Garner said.

“We’ve got a lot of network data, CPs (Communications Providers) have access to the modem data as well. What can we do together to deliver a better experience to the customer?

“And we’re very actively and openly exploring that in the interests of a better customer experience.”

As part of its financial results for the year to 31 March 2015, BT revealed that during the first three months of 2015, approximately 455,000 customers joined Openreach – a 21% rise on the previous three months.

Year-on-year figures also revealed strong growth for the provider, with 31% more customers getting connected compared to the same period in 2014.

The Openreach fibre network is now available to more than 22m UK homes and businesses – roughly three quarters of all UK premises, BT said.

And Mr Garner said that more and more people are likely to sign up to fibre as the need for faster speeds and more bandwidth increases.

According to BT’s figures, the take-up of fibre broadband was 19% in the last year, and is likely to increase “pretty rapidly”, Mr Garner said.

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.

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.”

BT Openreach, which looks after most of Britain’s broadband infrastructure, 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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