Last week the European Commission (EC) outlined rules to govern the widespread deployment of high-speed broadband infrastructure. Overall this represents a positive development in providing clearer guidelines for Ofcom that should also trickle down to the consumer and businesses. However, it seems that there will be a number of knock-on effects, one of which may result in BT having to completely rethink its fibre rollout.
As a result of the broadband deployment timeframe proposed by the EC’s rules, BT’s original plans are no longer viable. In addition, the coalition government may find it needs to perform a u-turn on its basic broadband for all policy.
The minimum requirement of 30Mbps for all citizens by 2020 and the fact that 50 percent of all premises must have 100 Mbps in the same time frame are both incompatible with BT’s current plans. The majority of BT’s fibre roll out concentrates on FTTC, with only around 20 – 25 percent of the planned 66 percent coverage being genuine FTTP.
This means it would fail to meet basic requirements as FTTC still uses copper from the street cabinet and is based on rate adaptive VDSL2 which, in BT’s implementation, can vary from 15Mbps to 40Mbps depending on line length. Ofcom will more than likely be forced to regulate on this, as it has to take account of the EC’s recommendations and is required to justify any departure from them.
BT should begin to modify its plans now rather than waiting for potential regulation changes from Ofcom. The company’s NGA roll out has been pretty ambitious so far and could be made to comply with new obligations if amendments are made. For example, changing the ratio of FTTP to FTTC, plus increasing and bringing forward the amount of planned FTTP could have a dramatic effect.
Another issue stemming from the EC’s recommendations may include forcing a government policy change. The decision to postpone the Universal Service Obligation of 2Mbps for all to 2015 would mean, depending on the definition of ‘basic broadband’, missing the requirement to provide basic broadband for all by 2013.
One subject that has not been given much attention in these recommendations is the effect of contended (bandwidth sharing) networks. This leaves a number of questions unanswered and may lead to UK NGA Broadband non-compliance during times of high activity.
Recent events, including the World Cup and the general election, resulted in throughput dropping to only a few kilobits per second – a long way from the latest EC requirement for 30Mbps. Contention is a big issue and EC guidance needs to be given regarding how it will determine if speed requirements have been met. For example, will service providers be able to put forward misleading figures like those recently released by Virgin showing an average over an entire day and night? If contention is going to enter the discussion, some clarity on how and at what time it is to be measured would be useful.