UK Labour party pledges to nationalise much of BT if elected

A key policy of the Labour party ahead of the UK general election next month is to make broadband ‘free’ by nationalising Openreach.

Renationalising infrastructure is a core Labour policy in the run up to next month’s election and now that includes broadband. The good news for BT, and fans of property rights in general, is that Labour plans to buy the following using public funds it will get from somewhere: Openreach, the parts of BT Technology that deal with backhaul, BT Enterprise and BT Consumer. The bad news is that BT will have no say in the matter and Labour will decide on the price.

“It’s time to make the very fastest full-fibre broadband free to everybody, in every home in every corner of our country,” said Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour party. “Making it free and available to all will open up opportunities for everybody, at the cutting edge of social and economic change. By creating British Broadband as a public service, we will lead the world in using public investment to transform our country, reduce people’s monthly bills, boost our economy and improve people’s quality of life.”

“This is public ownership for the future,” said John Mc Donnell, Labour’s Shadow Chancellor. “A plan that will challenge rip-off ‘out-of-contract’ pricing – and that will literally eliminate bills for millions of people across the UK. Every part of this plan has been legally vetted, checked with experts, and costed.”

Here are some of the ‘notes to editors’ from the Labour announcement:

  • Labour will deliver free full-fibre broadband to all individuals and businesses by 2030. We will integrate the broadband-relevant parts of BT into a new public entity, British Broadband, with a mission to connect the country. Labour will aim to deliver free full-fibre broadband to at least 15-18 million premises within five years.
  • This will be paid for through Labour’s Green Transformation Fund, with the costs of maintaining the network paid by a tax on multinationals (including tech giants like Google and Facebook).
  • To deliver this we will adopt a public mission to roll-out the remaining 90-92% of full-fibre across the country, as well as acquiring the necessary access rights to the existing 8-10% of full-fibre assets.
  • All current workers in broadband infrastructure and broadband retail services will be guaranteed jobs in the new public entity and be guaranteed the same or better terms and conditions.
  • There is a one-off capital cost to roll-out the full-fibre network of £15.3 billion (in addition to the Government’s existing and not-yet-spent £5 billion commitment), which will be paid for from our Green Transformation Fund;
  • The cost of bringing parts of BT into public ownership be set by Parliament and paid for by swapping bonds for shares, as occurs with other public ownership processes;
  • Full-fibre has low maintenance costs once rolled out, which can be estimated at around £230 million a year, which will be more than covered by a system unitary taxation of multinationals, which involves treating multinational companies as single entities, and taxing UK-based multinationals on the share of their global profits that reflects their UK share of their global sales, employment and assets.

Unsurprisingly such a radical pledge has provoked some robust responses, especially since McDonnell had said as recently as July that he had no plans to nationalise BT. The company itself is keeping its cards pretty close to its chest, offering only the following statement.

“It should be a top political priority to super-charge the roll-out of full fibre broadband and 5G right across the UK so we can build the digital economy of the future.  Whatever the result of the election, we’d encourage the next Government to work with all parts of the industry to achieve that. It’s a national mission that’s bigger than any one company.”

Others have been more forthcoming, however. “These proposals would be a disaster for the telecoms sector and the customers that it serves,” said Julian David, CEO of UK tech sector trade body TechUK. “Renationalisation would immediately halt the investment being driven not just by BT but the growing number of new and innovative companies that compete with BT.

“Full Fibre and 5G are the underpinning technologies of our future digital economy and society. The majority of the estimated £30bn cost for Full Fibre is being borne by the private sector. Renationalisation would put this cost back onto the taxpayer, no doubt after years of legal wrangling, wasting precious time when we can least afford it.  These proposals would be a huge set back for the UK’s digital economy which is a huge driver for growth.”

“Today’s announcement highlights the importance of full fibre access for all,” said Lloyd Felton, Chief Exec of County Broadband. “However, it also shows an alarming lack of understanding about the complex nature of full fibre rollouts and the fact that, unlike by comparison the rail industry that operates rail franchises, the industry has already invested billions of pounds in building its own infrastructure over which the service is delivered, in direct competition to BT.

“This proposal would almost certainly lead to delays, or at worst, derailment of existing full fibre investment and new network rollouts. It is a broad-brush, and makes no mention of how customers would be served and supported and provides no recognition for what has been achieved by the many Alternative Network providers who are currently active in providing a competitive full fibre solution.

“The competitive nature of the current market in the UK has meant consumers already benefit from one of the lowest cost broadband services in Europe. Broadband is an essential utility and whilst we share the ambition to bring future-ready full fibre connectivity to every home and business, we believe a mix of public and private investment is the only realistic strategy to deliver the service efficiently, without the need to bring significant cost to the public purse.”

Ofcom isn’t commenting and Openreach is leaving it to BT. We understand that there is an unprecedented exchange of views taking place within the UK telecoms industry, however, and look forward to the outcome of that. We also asked a few industry experts what they thought of Labour’s plans.

“There is no denying that the UK is far from a leader in full-fibre broadband, but the market is really starting to move as Openreach’s rollout plans are complemented by a long list of alternative / competitive network providers – Virgin, Talk Talk, CityFibre, Hyperoptic, and many more,” said Phil Kendall, Analyst at Strategy Analytics.

“A survey of The Independent Networks Cooperative Association (INCA) members showed an aspiration to pass 16 million premises with fibre by 2025. If there is a role for government in this it would be to support pushing broadband coverage out to all communities, so the areas that the private market will struggle to cover profitably, not torching the whole sector.

“If nationalizing Openreach doesn’t kill off some or all of those competing providers or wholesalers then offering free fibre broadband to everyone definitely will. For the average voter, there are good optics on this – free broadband, like free Wi-Fi or free roaming, is a nice populist idea and getting the evil webscale giants to pay for it is perfect. But this is a hugely destructive attempt to fix a sector that isn’t anywhere near as broken as Labour seems to think.”

“On the face of it this is not completely insane,” said telecoms analyst William Webb. “BT was, of course, publicly owned about 30 years ago. There have been state-led fibre deployments, most obviously in Australia, and while this hasn’t gone particularly well, nor had UK fibre deployment under the current model until recently.

“There is always a tension between a competitive market, which we currently have, but which will often not deliver socially desirable outcomes; and a publicly provided service, which will deliver those outcomes but tends to have well known downsides including a lack of innovation, possibly high prices (even if these are charged to taxpayers, not consumers), slow responses to changes and so on.

“But, of course, there are massive issues. The biggest is how we would transfer out of an environment with multiple competing providers in a way that compensates all fairly, that doesn’t slow things down, and that rationalises duplicated resource. Another is the extent to which we really need fibre everywhere and whether a state-led masterplan is reactive to real needs – this was one of the biggest issues in Australia. And as fixed and mobile converge with services like fixed wireless access, intervention will spill across into the mobile arena, potentially destabilising that competitive market.

“Fundamentally, I guess, it comes down to whether you believe in state ownership or market forces. Both can be made to work. But with the market forces approach appearing to work probably as well as it could right now, changing approach feels almost certain to slow things in the short to medium term.”

“It’s great to have bold aspirations but we’ve seen how challenging they are to implement,” said TMT Analyst Paolo Pescatore. “For sure, connectivity needs to improve and so does coverage. There are so many companies laying cables and installing masts. The best way is to forge partnerships which will help lower costs for all including consumers.”

There are coherent arguments in favour of nationalising natural monopolies, but the way Openreach has been regulated alongside the presence of competitive alternative fibre providers means this isn’t one of those cases. There are just so many flaws and pieces of sloppy, wishful thinking in this proposal that if it were a different time of year we’d assume it was a joke.

Firstly there’s the costing alone. Labour not only plans to quadruple Conservative broadband spending pledges, it needs to find the cash to buy over half of BT. Despite the hit to its share price this announcement has delivered, BT’s market cap is still around £19 billion, so that’s another £10 billion or so Labour would have to dig up, depending on how fair it intends to be to BT shareholders. And as for getting US tech giants to pay for the maintenance, good luck with that.

Then you have the underlying concept of forced state appropriation of private property. If Labour is willing to force one of the UK’s biggest companies to sell half of itself to the state, at a price it has no say in, then are any other companies safe? The effect on business sentiment of moves like this is likely to be catastrophic.

But finally, as many people have indicated above, we have the extreme improbability that the state will do a better job of fibre rollout than the private sector currently is. NBN is a great example of the folly of such initiatives and once a Labour government is forced to confront hard financial realities, work on the network would likely grind to a halt.

All politicians try to bribe the electorate in the run up to general elections, but the trick is to at least make it plausible that they will be able to deliver if they do win power. This policy is not only damaging for UK telecoms infrastructure and business in general, it also has no chance of being put into practice as promised. Labour has massively over-reached with this move.

Revenues are down, but BT looks ready to do battle

Total revenues and profits might have slipped slightly at BT, though it met expectations and it seems the business is lining-up its pieces for an assault on the UK market.

With the assets the telco has at its disposal, BT should dominate the market leaving the scraps for rivals to fight over, but this has not been the case. There have been some lavish spending sprees over the last few years, though the refreshed management is taking a more network-orientated approach as opposed to the ‘bells and whistles’ of the previous regime.

“BT delivered results in line with our expectations for the second quarter and first half of the year, and we remain on track to meet our outlook for the full year,” said CEO Philip Jansen.

“We’ve invested to strengthen our competitive position. We’ve accelerated our 5G and FTTP rollouts, introduced an enhanced range of product and service initiatives for both consumer and business segments, and announced price and technology commitments to deliver fair, predictable and competitive pricing for customers.”

Capital expenditure for the first six months of 2019 was £1.88 billion, up £225 million year-on-year, although this excludes the grants from the Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) programme. Such increase should come as little surprise as the team has been enthusiastically shouting about 5G launches across the UK (now up to 20) as well as new homes which are being passed with fibre (23,000 per week) in pursuit of the Government’s lofty full-fibre goals.

In years gone, BT looked like a telco which was defined by its challenge to Sky in the content market, while few could recognise the synergies with EE. The BT of today looks very different, thrusting the connectivity assets to the centre of the business. With the convergence business model proving its worth in various European markets, see success at Orange for evidence, BT is taking inspiration.

With the fixed network in the UK, which is being aggressively fibred-up, 30 million mobile subscribers, five million wifi hotspots and a new TV proposition to be launched at some undefined point, the cross-selling opportunities are abundant should BT be able to nail the experience on the assets. This seems to be the focus of investments under Jansen, instead of going for the glamorous, the team is concentrating on delivering the core connectivity experience and then bundling on additional added-value options.

Across the business, the Average Revenue per Consumer (ARPC) for broadband remained relatively flat at £38.5 per month, while postpaid mobile decreased to £20.8, down 5.5% though as this has been attributed to new regulation and the SIM-only trends it is nothing too be too concerned about. Interestingly enough, the number of Revenue Generating Units (RGUs) per household has increased to 2.38. This is where the convergence strategy could make a very positive impact.

As a business model, convergence is more efficient and creates higher customer loyalty and NPS. Bundled at a suitable price-point, and it looks like a very attractive offer to steal subscriptions from rivals also. However, experience does have to be very high across the entire portfolio, hence the increased spend on the network over recent months.

This is where BT could be a very interesting business over the next couple of months. The ‘Halo’ converged products could attract interest, especially when the hotspots are bundled in also. Rivals might be able to compete with BT with a few bundles, but no-one can offer the same breadth across mobile, broadband, wifi and content. This is a massive advantage, and BT should be shouting and screaming.

We might have to wait a couple of months before the refreshed TV proposition is fully polished, but this is another reason why no-one should worry too much about the slipping revenues for H1. BT is still lining up the various pieces before an aggressive push with the full convergence offer. It has been suggested the TV proposition will not be ready until the new year.

With its assets, BT should be untouchable. It still has work to do on the fibre rollout, 5G deployment, finalising the TV offer, improving the wifi experience and aligning the BT and EE brands, but the ‘Halo’ converged offer could create some serious noise.

2019 First Half Financials
Total Revenue £11.467 billion (1%)
Profit before tax £1.333 billion n/m
Profit after tax £1.068 billion n/m
Basic earnings per share 10.8p 2%
Capital expenditure £1.882 billion 3%
Business units
Consumer £5.194 billion (1%)
Enterprise £3.055 billion (5%)
Global Services £2.196 billion (6%)
Openreach £2.356 billion n/m

n/m = not-meaningful

BT launches biggest TV campaign for two decades

BT has launched its biggest TV advertising campaign for 20 years’ in the hope it can link-up all the network and brand assets in pursuit of the convergence business.

The new campaign, running across all available channels, will hopefully build the foundations to reinvigorate an ageing BT brand and push towards creating a new business model, heavily relying on the new ‘Halo’ convergence product.

More than three and a half years after acquiring the EE business, BT is getting down to the difficult work of making sense of the business. The expensive and questionably beneficial venture into TV proved to be a useful distraction for the team, though now it seems it is making progress on validating the £12.5 billion deal which brought the mobile giant into the group.

“Today’s launch of the ‘Beyond Limits’ campaign represents a real shift for BT, inside and out,” said Marc Allera, CEO of BT’s Consumer division.

“Our presence and scale across the UK means that we have an opportunity and responsibility to go further than ever to connect more people and businesses across the UK, help them make the most out of the technology they have, and equip them with the skills they need to shape the future. This campaign represents just that, a bold step into the future, helping people to break down barriers and realise their potential.”

The TV ad follows the story of a young girl as she travels through modern Britain to reach her classroom of the future. This aspect of the campaign draws attention to the innovations which are made capable as future-proofed networks, both 5G and full-fibre, are rolled out through the country.

While this aspect of the campaign does not pay too much homage to the wider scale of the BT business, it does draw attention to the digital skills and education campaign which the team has launched.

Alongside this TV campaign, BT will also brand all of its EE shops with the BT branding and will sponsor all four football unions representing the members of the UK. The BT business does need a brand refresh, it needs to be presented as a modern company in the same way Three and O2 has done in recent years, though we will be curious to see how these campaigns aim to marry the different assets in the mind of the consumer.

If you look at the assets which the UK telcos have at their disposal, BT should theoretically be untouchable. The largest mobile and fixed networks, a wifi footprints with five million access points and a new TV proposition, behind schedule currently but should be launched in the New Year.

The new BT brand is a good start, offering the company a fresh start, but soon enough someone will have to make the brave decision to retire the EE brand, as well as the expensive brand marketing campaign fronted by the likes of Kevin Bacon and Britney Spears. Not only is running two advertising campaigns very expensive, the perseverance of a multi-brand strategy does not help the push towards convergence.

Hopefully this is the first step in this journey forward. A significant brand marketing campaign will refresh the brand and drive towards repositioning the BT business. The TV ad does encourage the association with BT and future-tech and does provide the foundation to build bigger and better things. However, the team will still have to tackle the complicated job of marrying all the connectivity and entertainment assets into a single, bundled proposition.

BT insists the future is more than just 5G

It might be dominating the headlines, demanding the lion’s share of CAPEX and a fresh opportunity to show some sort of innovation, but BT has reiterated the message that the future is more than just 5G.

Speaking at Broadband World Forum in Amsterdam, BT’s enterprise business CEO Gerry McQuade offered the room a timely reminder that there is a lot more to creating a future-proofed telco than rolling out an expensive and flashy 5G network.

“5G vision, whilst it is not the catalyst of the strategy, it is absolutely key in delivering it,” McQuade said his presentation.

The GSMA is suggesting telcos will spend more than $244 billion on 5G networks by the end of next year. While this is of course spread out across the operators globally, it is still a monstrous figure to generate ROI against when you consider the gloomy picture which is looming large across the consumer segments.

5G is unlikely to be a silver bullet to solve all the challenges which telcos are facing, and it probably won’t be the only reason the industry wins out against the OTTs who are causing chaos, but it is unavoidable. Telcos cannot exist in the world of tomorrow without 5G.

“5G vision, whilst it is not the catalyst of the strategy, it is absolutely key in delivering it,” McQuade said.

Aside from 5G network deployment, BT also has to consider fibering up the nation, reskilling itself internally, developing ecosystems around new solutions, fine-tuning the TV proposition which is set to launch next year and implement a software-orientated, agile and data-driven mindset in all business units.

The telco of today has a lot of transformation work to undertake to ready itself for the challenges of tomorrow. These are just a few of the elements to consider, though 5G is certainly a meaningful element of this patchwork of complexity. However, there is a lot more to the digital era than gigabit speed over the air.

BT Mobile joins the 5G fray

BT has become the latest mobile player to enter the race for 5G subscriptions, though it does beg the question how economically attractive it is to own two rival services.

Launching in 20 cities and towns around the country, BT Plus and BT Business customers will be the first to be offered upgrades to the service. Convergence is a key pillar of the BT turnaround strategy, and the introduction of 5G to the BT brand does build in more relevance moving forward.

“Our 5G service provides customers with a faster and more reliable connection in high demand, crowded areas across the UK at peak times,” said BT Consumer CEO Marc Allera.

“When combined with the best fibre, the UK’s fastest 4G network and biggest wi-fi network, BT is helping consumers and businesses stay connected wherever they are and whatever they need to do.”

Despite the fact BT is in the most powerful position in the UK when it comes to connectivity assets, it hasn’t really been able to cash-in on the convergence craze just yet. The issue which has not been addressed to date, and now we suspect it won’t be in the near future, is rival brands, fighting for the same consumer, to contribute profits to the same bank account.

Customer acquisition in a mature and saturated market is incredibly expensive. The most successful strategies are generally those geared towards price, though this does create the dreaded ‘race to the bottom’. Perhaps one of the reasons convergence has not hit the high notes at BT is the multi-brand strategy which the team is persisting with.

EE has an excellent mobile brand, but it found wanting in broadband. BT leads the market in broadband but lacks clout in mobile. If either of these brands want to create value through convergence, they will have to lure customers onto a secondary-service which does not have the reputation of rivals. This is an expensive means of customer acquisition, both in terms of advertising and lower ARPUs.

These brands are not only fighting to lure the same customers away from the same rivals, they are also attempting to steal subscriptions from each other. It doesn’t seem like the most logical plan.

At some point, the brands will have to merge into one. Convergence doesn’t make the most sense when you trying to sell two different brands in the same bundle. We suspect the BT brand will win out, especially when you see the expensive brand advertising campaign which has been launched with the England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland football associations.

That said, it is important for the BT brand to enter the 5G fight if it does want to remain relevant in the mobile world moving forward.

Looking at the deal, BT consumer customers can choose from 6 GB, 30 GB, or 60 GB 5G mobile plans, and can also gain a £10 monthly discount if the plan is purchased alongside a broadband package. This might gain some traction, though there is still plenty of opportunity for pricing strategies to shift over the coming months.

Although many of those with 5G ambitions have unveiled their pricing strategies, there is still plenty of volatility left to realise. Pricing seems to expensive right now, though the telcos will be stubborn while the early adopters are purchasing. These are consumer who are less likely to be deterred by price. As soon as the mass market starts to get interested, this is where we can envision the pricing war genuinely kicking off.

BT starts making noise about convergence with Halo launch

Convergence is a proven business model and now the slumbering giant of the UK telco market is starting to head in the right direction.

While there is already a convergence product available to customers, to date there has been questionable success. Unlike continental Europe, convergence has not really gathered steam in the UK, though BT is attempting to shift the status quo.

“I feel this is a once in a lifetime shift for BT in the UK,” CEO Philip Jansen said. “BT Plus has been a huge success, but this is a modest, first convergence product.”

The new convergence product will be known as Halo, available to both consumer and enterprise customers. The product will include the fastest available broadband service, unlimited mobile data, with the option to upgrade to 5G, a team of customer service agents which do home visits and access to the wifi presence throughout the country. Prices have not been announced just yet.

While this is a promising move forward, there are still challenges which need to be addressed.

Firstly, does the UK consumer understand the concept or benefits of convergence. And secondly, can a convergence product be successful when you have two distinct brands?

Starting with the concept of convergence, perhaps there is a misunderstanding about the definition and benefits because the telcos have not made enough, or the right, noises about it. Up until recently, BT was the only UK telco which had the assets to create a genuine convergent product portfolio. There was of course a significant advertising campaign behind BT Plus, the first iteration of convergence, though arguably this had limited success.

Before too long, more details will be unveiled regarding a brand advertising campaign. BT will have to be smart to communicate the benefits very clearly.

Looking at the BT business, this is where the team has a big decision to make; can convergence work when you do not have a single brand? EE is king of mobile, but questionable on broadband, while BT is the broadband leader with a suspect mobile offering. More has to be done to marry the two brands together.

An interesting announcement which has been made which will help to address this challenge concerns the high-street. The BT branding and customer service team will have a much more prominent presence in every high-street store moving forward. This will help tie the two brands together in the minds of the consumer, though you still have to question whether convergence can be successful with two distinct brands.

Ultimately, this is a good move forward by BT. There is still a sense more could be done and said, though it is heading in the right direction.

BT has an opportunity few others in the UK can compete with. It has the widest and best-performing mobile network, a dominant broadband network and a wifi presence with more than five million points of presence. Over the next couple of months, the TV service will be re-launched adding another element to the mix.

Should the team be able to create a product which is attractively priced, supported by a brand marketing campaign which clearly communicates the benefits, BT should be untouchable in the UK’s connectivity segment.

Openreach unveils rural fibre trials

Openreach has provided some colour to the rural fibre plans, testing out new technologies and techniques, with the objective of connecting 50,000 homes by Christmas.

13 rural locations around the country have been selected to trial the new technologies and techniques. Should the pilots prove successful, the hope is full fibre deployments can be accelerated, allowing the team to meet the demands of ambitious (and potentially misguided) politicians.

“At Openreach, we’ll never just be a city fibre provider,” said CEO Clive Selley. “We’ve always worked hard to improve connections to isolated, less commercially attractive communities through inventive engineering and effective funding partnership models.

“In recent years, we’ve been extending our full fibre network into rural areas – mostly in partnership with local authorities and Government – but the economics are clearly challenging, and we want to do more.

“The trials will also give us a much clearer picture of what the technical challenges in these kinds of rural areas are. We hope they’ll go a long way towards developing the tools, skills and innovations required to make sure that nobody’s left behind in the full fibre future.”

The 13 trial locations across the UK will see Openreach test out some new equipment and techniques which it seemingly hopes will improve the commercial business case for full fibre deployment in the rural regions. Let’s not forget, while the Government clearly thinks Openreach should forget about profits in pursuit of a nationwide digital society, it is a private business with responsibilities to shareholders.

One new piece of equipment which the team will be testing is a new trench digging tool known as a ‘Diamond Cutter’. With diamonds embedded in the blades, the tool can carve through concrete much more efficiently, while simultaneously laying the tubing for fibre cables. Openreach suggests the tool could lay 700 metres of cable a day, 20 times greater than a traditional two-man team.

Another trial will focus on ‘remote nodes’. The broadband boosting equipment enables current fibre installations to be extended by 150%, allowing the team to ‘piggy back’ on existing assets. The hope is with this trial that the team will be able to avoid the expensive and time-consuming job of deploying new fibre spines to the rural locations.

What is worth noting is that while any business will look to innovation to decrease financial outlays, there is political and regulatory pressure in the background also driving the Openreach ambitions.

Announced back in June, Prime Minister Boris Johnson made the very grand proclamation that his administration would fuel a full fibre diet, reaching every household by 2025. Considering the previous objective was to fibre-up the country by 2033, the accelerated timeframe would certainly get a few people in the industry panicking.

Speaking to Telecoms.com, a few industry insiders suggested Johnson was not necessarily living in the real world with such ambitions. Not only would the financial burden of these of these plans perhaps be inhibitive, but the regulatory environment isn’t the most helpful, while the workforce would need to be super-charged. BT has since suggested the industry would have to find additional investments of £30 billion to meet the earlier deadline.

If the likes of Openreach are going to aid the Government in reaching such ambitious targets, the success of these trials will be very important. That, and finding the extra couple of billion needed to finance the projects.

Openreach maps out fibre plans for the next 18 months

BT’s fixed line wholesale division has created a new website that allows everyone to see how its fibre roll-out is going.

The website devoted to banging on about Openreach’s Fibre First programme features a map showing every bit of the US that either already has FTTP, is in the process of acquiring it, or is in Openreach’s immediate plans. 29 more places have today been added to those immediate plans, taking the total over 100.

“Full-fibre broadband provides a reliable, future-proof, consistent and dependable service that will be a platform for economic growth and prosperity throughout the UK for decades to come,” said Openreach Chief Exec Clive Selley.

“We’re now building at a massive scale. Every 28 seconds we pass a home or business with our new future-proofed full fibre network. This has given us ever greater confidence in the level and accuracy of whatever we announce – which is why we’ve now laid out our build plans right up to the target delivery date of four million premises by March 2021.

“We also want to ensure we give our stakeholders – like council leaders, planners and MPs – the best view of where and when we intend to build so we can work together to build as rapidly as possible and help encourage people to take up the technology when it arrives.”

You can see the site, with its handy map, here. One possible reason Openreach has decided to be more transparent about its plans and progress is the political elevation of fibre under the Johnson premiership. Better broadband for everyone seems to be one of his key bits of propaganda and the company will want to be seen to be entering into the spirit of it all. Openreach expects to have connected four million homes and businesses to full-fat fibre by April 2021.

BT said to plan copper broadband network switch off by 2027

A new report claims UK operator group BT is planning to complete the full conversion of its fixed line network from copper to fibre within eight years.

The gossip comes courtesy of Sky News, which reckons BT CEO Philip Jansen is in ‘secret talks’ with the government regarding the timetable for switching off the copper broadband network. What makes these talks more secret than any others between CEOs and politicians isn’t stated. And, of course, the very act of publishing the story also means they are definitely not secret now anyway.

Apparently Jansen is at the head of an entire covert cabal, including regulators and other industry stakeholders, intent on dictating the UKs broadband agenda for years to come. A kind of telecoms Illuminati, the report would have us believe. The initiative seems to have been catalysed by Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s stated aim of achieving full UK fibre coverage by 2025.

We asked BT for a comment on the report and got the following: “As we made clear at the time of our last financial results there needs to be a determined acceleration towards a pro-investment policy and regulatory regime, so BT is keen to see the industry work together with government on the big challenges – such as digital switchover and rural coverage – that we all want to see addressed.”

That seems to be a circuitous way of saying “we don’t comment on rumour and speculation,” but fair enough. Speaking to other industry figures we get the impression that Sky’s source (assuming they didn’t just make it up) probably leaked in order to put pressure on the government and regulators to create the environment to make this broadband utopia possible.

Meanwhile Greg Mesch, CEO of CityFibre, opined the following: “In light of our funded and mobilised Gigabit City programme to deploy wholesale full fibre infrastructure to at least five million homes, Ofcom’s exclusive focus on BT Openreach as the vehicle for migration from copper to fibre is wrong. Retiring the copper network needs to be managed in a way that promotes competition, benefiting every builder of fibre networks, rather than simply reinforcing BT Openreach’s existing market dominance. Consumers should have the power to switch to any full fibre network. CityFibre stands ready to play its part in transferring the nation’s homes and businesses onto a new generation of fibre networks.”

BT has consistently stated that it will only hit these kinds of targets if the right regulatory, public investment and industry cooperation environment is created. By contributing to a public expectation of full fibre by 2027, maybe BT hopes to put the ball in the government and Ofcom’s court. BT can then say it’s doing everything it can to make this happen, but is hamstrung by an unhelpful public sector.

EE forced to backtrack on 5G data tariffs

It does appear EE has been forced into a rethink on 5G data pricing, as the firm launches an unlimited data offering to keep pace with rivals in the UK.

Like hamburgers at breakfast, the 5G tariffs didn’t look right to start with. The price points were too expensive for today’s cash conscious consumer who expects the world for tuppence. EE might have been first out of the gate to capitalise on the growing 5G euphoria and earn the right to boast about being first, but it has been forced to backtrack a little.

The only issue with being first is that you give everyone else a taste of what is on the table. Even if EE had nailed the proposition and priced it perfectly, it left the door open to be embarrassed by rivals to be undercut. If the aim of the game was to secure post-paid subs and look to long-term ROI, EE left itself exposed to a cheap shot.

That said, it has now seemingly rectified the situation.

When it first launched in May, prices were tiered depending on download limits. Not only did it not look practical, limits would be reached relatively easily, it was expensive. Admittedly the price of 5G devices were factored in, but with rivals presenting options which were easier on the wallet, a new approach was needed.

“If you want an unlimited data plan, you should get it on the UK’s best network, with the coverage and speeds that let you make the most of it,” said Edward Goff, Marketing Director at EE.

“Our new unlimited range offers customers the ultimate smartphone experience in more places across the UK than any other network, all with no speed caps and great swappable benefits like Amazon Prime Video and BT Sport.”

What is worth noting is that the unlimited offer for 5G-SIM only plans is still expensive.

MNO Price
EE £44 a month
Vodafone £30 a month
Three £22 a month
O2 Unknown

Each of the telcos have taken their own approach to data pricing. EE offers 5G SIM-only contracts for £44 a month in the most traditional manner. Vodafone has offered tariffs on speed tiers with the £30 a month tier offering the ‘fastest available speed’, which might vary dependent on where you are. Three is offering 5G connectivity for free for anyone who has an unlimited 4G contract. The £22 a month deal is SIM-only.

O2 is the only one not to release pricing for its 5G data tariffs, being the last to market, though it certainly has taken the opportunity to undermine the promising progress made by rivals.

Although few in the EE offices will be happy to backtrack and have a rethink on the unlimited plans, it does now look to be in a very competitive position. It is the most expensive, but it does have the best network and most consistent, high download speeds. If performance is the measure of success in the consumers eyes, EE is certainly hitting the right notes.

Another factor to consider is the ‘swappables’ element of these deals. For those who sign-up to a 12-month SIM-only deal on 5G for £44 a month, three ‘swappable’ content deals will be included. Each month, customers will be able to elect which bundled content services they desire, ranging from zero-rated video data or music, additional roaming locations, BT Sport or Amazon Prime Video.

The team could probably do with negotiating a few more partnerships as it does look a bit thin on the ground, though it is a reasonable offer.

What we are yet to see from EE is an aggressive push towards the convergence game. Executives have been giving the same presentation at conferences for years, promising a seamless connectivity experience for customers through mobile, broadband and wifi assets, though there doesn’t seem to be much activity on the marketing front to link-up these elements in one conclusive offer.

Either there is something in the pipeline or this is a case of negligence. The combination of EE mobile and BT’s wifi and broadband assets would create a connectivity offering few could dream to compete with. Three and Vodafone are plugging into the convergence game with their own fixed wireless access (FWA) offerings, but EE seems to be lagging here. The opportunity to make noise is there but the team seem to be enjoying the uncomfortable silence.

EE is arguably the market leader in the UK, though thanks to O2’s MVNO relationships it can claim to be the network with the most mobile connections running across it. With the unlimited offer, bundles, biggest and best network coverage and BT’s wifi and broadband assets, EE has an opportunity to nail itself down as the top mobile provider in the UK.

Trying to pick out the winner in the UK’s 5G race is starting to get very difficult.