01 April 2009

BT announces locations for 60Mbps broadband trials

23 March 2009 - Telecoms giant names 29 exchanges due for "fibre to the cabinet" upgrade to go live in 2010.

BT is to install "super-fast" broadband systems able to provide internet connections running at up to 60 megabits per second – nearly eight times faster than the current maximum on phone lines – at 29 exchanges in Belfast, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Greater Manchester.

The installations by BT's Openreach division, which looks after the telephone network, will go live early next year – but it will be up to telephone and internet service providers such as BT's own Retail division to come up with services using the high-speed connections and persuade customers to pay for them.

There will be trials of the system this summer in Muswell Hill (London) and Whitchurch (Wales) to test the technology and ensure it is ready. By 2012, the system should cover 10 million premises – or 40% of UK homes and businesses. BT hopes to announce the next set of exchanges in the autumn.

The announcement comes in parallel with a similar speed upgrade called ADSL2+ which BT is implementing on all its exchanges, which in theory should push maximum connection speeds of up to 24Mbps – though in most cases much less – on the existing copper lines.

Two of the experimental areas, Calder Valley near Halifax and Taffs Well near Cardiff, are not urban, and BT says it will be "looking to learn lessons from deploying fibre in such environments". Rural and suburban installations typically involve longer distances and tougher weather conditions than urban ones, making upkeep of the network more expensive.

The "fibre to the cabinet" (FTTC) technology takes hair-thin optical fibre from the exchanges to the same street as the connected homes, though the connection to the home itself still uses standard copper lines. Normally, internet connections are maintained by encoding the data and transmitting it in a high-frequency signal. Higher frequencies can carry more data, but lose power rapidly over distance. Because the distance from the "cabinet", where the new fibre-optic system terminates, to the home is so much shorter – measurable in metres rather than kilometres – than the usual connection from the home to the exchange, a higher-frequency signal can be used to carry more data.

The amounts that BT Openreach can charge to ISPs and telephone companies that want to use the new fibre systems remains unclear, though the telecoms regulator Ofcom has cleared the idea in principle. Steve Robertson, in charge of BT Openreach, said: "The regulatory picture is complex and whilst Ofcom has given us a very welcome green light, we will require a few more over the coming months. We remain confident though that Ofcom recognises the need for an environment that encourages investment."

"The key will be to see how quickly BT expands coverage & whether it uses community to decide," said Ian Fogg, a telecoms analyst at Forrester Research. He noted that the maximum speed will "depend on telephone line quality and distance from the cabinet, and ADSL2+ interference".


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