Openreach Name Next 59 UK Areas for Ultrafast Broadband

Openreach (BT) has announced that a further 59 locations across the United Kingdom will be the next to benefit from their on-going deployment of 330Mbps capable hybrid fibre (ITU G.9700/9701) broadband technology, which aim to cover 10 million homes and businesses by the end of 2020.

Until today the operator had only confirmed a total of 46 locations for the new service, which largely reflected the coverage of their initial large-scale pilot that now reaches more than 1 million premises passed. Since then several ISPs have launched related packages, although BT and TalkTalk remain the only major providers with a service on offer (e.g. BT Ultrafast and TalkTalk Faster 150 Fibre).

In case anybody has forgotten, works in a similar way to VDSL2 based Fibre-to-the-Cabinet (FTTC) technology by running a fibre optic cable to your local PCP Street Cabinet, which is then fitted with an extension “pod” to house the line cards (this can handle up to 48 ports, but it should eventually extend to 96). After that the service reaches your home via the existing copper cable.

The pilot phase is now coming to an end and this means that Openreach will be able to ramp-up their commercial roll-out of the new service. In keeping with that BT’s network access division has today announced the next set of locations to benefit from the new service.

NOTE: The operator’s and separate Gigabit capable FTTP solutions will generally be deployed in different areas, avoiding overlap. Today’s list of 59 areas should add another 370,000 premises (homes and businesses) across the country to their coverage.

The 59 New Locations (June 2018 Update)

Aberdeen Denburn, Acocks Green, Altrincham, Aylesbury, Bedford, Birmingham Central, Bishops Stortford, Boscombe, Bowes Park, Bury St. Edmunds, Bury, Byfleet, Cardiff, Carlisle, Chelmsford, Chester, Cosham, Didsbury, Erdington, Gipsy Hill, Guildford, Hampton, Harlow, Harrogate, Headingley, Heywood, Kingston, Lancaster, Leamington Spa, Leeds, Llantrisant, Maidstone, Market Harborough, Mile End, Morley, Narborough, North Finchley, Paignton, Plymouth, Rugby, Shipley, Slough, South Kensington, Southampton, Southend Town, St Albans, Stockton Heath, Swadlincote, Tamworth, Taunton, Telford Wellington, Tunbridge Wells, Walthamstow, Weston Super Mare, Windsor, Wolverhampton, Woodhouse (Berkshire), Woodley, York. generally offers two primary wholesale service tiers at 160Mbps (30Mbps upload) and 330Mbps (50Mbps upload), which ISPs are likely to market using slower speeds due to the current advertising rules. The service also attracts a fault threshold 100Mbps, which helps to ensure that only consumers able to get an “ultrafast broadband” (100Mbps+) speed will be able to order it.

At retail we tend to observe that packages are around +£10-£15 per month more expensive than the previous generation of VDSL2 based Fibre-to-the-Cabinet (FTTC) services (those offered max speeds of up to 80Mbps) and the installation will also attract an engineer visit. However some ISPs will no doubt adopt aggressive pricing in order to encourage early uptake (e.g. TalkTalk).

Kim Mears, Openreach MD for Infrastructure Delivery, said:

“Britons are using their home broadband connections more than ever – consuming more than double the amount of data than they did just three years ago.

A mass of new apps and services which demand higher quality broadband connections are becoming parts of our daily lives in our homes and at work.

That’s why we’re making this huge investment in upgrading the network, to make sure we stay a step ahead of that demand.”

One significant drawback with is that its coverage is much more limited than VDSL2. typically prefers copper lines (from street cabinet to homes) that are shorter than c.350 metres (500 metres at most), while VDSL2 could in some cases still operate at line lengths of up to 2km (2000 metres); albeit at much slower speeds due to signal degradation over distance on copper lines.

In order to get good speeds you generally need a line that’s under 200 metres and this is a big hindrance to network coverage, although future improvements (e.g. harnessing 212MHz of spectrum instead of 106MHz today) could improve this to 350 metres but it’s still a very restricted technology.

Meanwhile gigabit capable FTTP is expected to be used to help tackle some of the bits that will miss (FTTP currently reaches 560,000 premises but is expected to cover 3 million by the end of 2020 and they aspire to hit 10 million by around 2025). Openreach have also been playing with smaller nodes, which can be installed on top of telegraph poles, and they might consider building standalone cabinets to help extend coverage.

At this point anybody who orders will receive an engineer installation, which will often come with a bundled modem (Huawei MT992) that can be plugged into your router, although a trial of self-installation is anticipated to surface later in 2018.

As usual if your area isn’t mentioned in today’s news then don’t worry, many more coverage announcements will follow over the next couple of years (today’s only takes us to c.1.5 million out of 10 million premises planned). On top of that this is a commercial rollout, which means that urban and suburban areas which overlap with Virgin Media are more likely to benefit than rural ones.

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