Most people think ‘fibre’ means FTTP – survey

A survey commissioned by UK fibre challenger CityFibre found that most people think fibre should mean fibre, which seems fair enough.

The research was conducted by Censuswide, who surveyed 3,400 UK broadband punters. 24% of respondents reckoned their broadband consisted of fibre all the way to the premise, even though only 3% of the UK currently has that privilege. Furthermore 45% of them assumed a service advertised as fibre meant fibre all the way, rather than just to the cabinet or whatever.

CityFibre is in the process of taking the Advertising Standards Agency to Court as it disputes its conclusion that ‘fibre’ is not a misleading term in broadband adverts when used to describe hybrid copper-fibre connections. That seems like a reasonable objection and is clearly the reason it commissioned this survey.

But CityFibre isn’t entirely innocent of a spot of misleading itself. The press release announcing this survey was headlined ‘Two thirds of broadband customers believe “fibre” should mean fibre-to-the-premises in ads’, but then offers no data points to support that claim. The closest one is the finding that 65% of respondents ‘didn’t think their current connection relied on copper cables or hybrid copper-fibre’.

There’s also this: While just under two thirds (65%) said their broadband provider had described their connection as “fibre”, only 1 in 6 (17%) thought this connection would include copper cables. But that’s still not consistent with the headline. People in glass houses…

“We are calling on all broadband providers to stop using the word ‘fibre’ unless it is describing a full fibre connection,” said Greg Mesch, CEO of CityFibre. “Rather than waiting for the backward-looking ASA to be forced to act, the industry should stand as one and pave the way for a new generation of connected homes, businesses, towns and cities across the UK.”

Mesch and CityFibre have a long history of agitating about the US fibre environment and usually manage to diminish their point by overdoing it. But that doesn’t mean they’re wrong and in this case they definitely have a point. Calling a service ‘fibre’ clearly infers it’s fibre all the way. If it’s hybrid then that should be represented in the name, regardless of what ISP marketing manager want.

UK makes solemn vows about national infrastructure

The UK National Infrastructure Commission has published an assessment that says UK national infrastructure needs to get better.

At first glance this looks like one of those broad public sector studies that serves to both rubber-stamp proclamations made by their political sponsors and loosely demonstrate that the state is on the case, knows how important this sort of thing is, and is doing loads to make sure it gets sorted out.

The report covered a broad swathe of infrastructure categories from energy to transport to mitigating climate change, but the first one concerned ‘building a digital society’. You can read that section here, but it seems to be a collation of a bunch of other public proclamations on the matter, including the aim of connecting 15 million premises to fibre by 2025.

“Whether it’s electric or driverless cars, new energy sources, tackling the risk of climate change or preparing for the newest and fastest broadband speeds, the issues we’ve been considering profoundly affect people’s everyday lives,” said Sir John Armitt, one of the associated Commissioners.

“The whole purpose of the UK’s first-ever National Infrastructure Assessment is to think beyond the technologies of today and to ensure we can make the most of future innovations. It’s why it’s not just a one-off but something we will be repeating every five years to ensure we remain on the front foot.

“This is not some unaffordable wish-list of projects: it sets a clear direction for how to meet the country’s future infrastructure needs, and makes a realistic assessment of what can and should be delivered within the stated aim of Ministers for steady and continued investment over the coming years.”

“From businesses who need reliable high speed bandwidth to manage their global supply chains in real time, or families streaming the latest film releases via smart TVs, we are all looking for fast, reliable broadband connections – and so are our international competitors,” said Andy Green, another Commissioner.

“We can’t afford for any community to be cut off from these essential technologies and so alongside private companies, the Government must also play a role. A National Broadband Plan would make clear that the government needs to take action to ensure rural areas as well as our cities can take full advantage of the digital revolution.”

Maybe Andy, but Openreach has already made it clear that it’s not aiming any higher than ten million FTTP installations by the mid 2020s so is the recommendation that the tax-payer foots the bill for the remaining five million? The report also calls for full national FTTP coverage by 2033 – good luck with that.

UK Chancellor wants 15 million FTTP by 2025, Openreach is sticking with ten

The UK Chancellor of the Exchequer has said he wants to see full fibre to 15 million premises by 2025 but the CEO of Openreach thinks 10 million is more realistic.

Phillip Hammond was speaking at the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) annual piss-up and his general agenda seemed to be to show how much his government is helping the UK tech sector. There was lots of talk of public R&D spending and name dropping of emerging tech trends such as AI and autonomous vehicles.

“But we won’t be able to put the UK at the front of the pack unless we have infrastructure that is fit for the future,” he said, before equating fibre networks with the canals, railways and roads of the industrial revolution. “So I am now setting a new target to see full-fibre to the premises connections being available to 15 million premises, that’s the majority of homes and businesses, by 2025.”

Hammond conceded this is an ambitious target and that it won’t be achieved merely as a result of him setting it, but at the same time implied it won’t happen without government intervention. Sadly that’s all we got.

Precisely what the UK state will do to encourage the likes of Openreach to raise their game remains to be seen and it will probably take the form of further grandstanding at equivalent piss-ups in the intervening years. Apparently Matt Hancock will flesh the plan out later this summer, if he can find time away from protecting us from internet horridness.

Clive Selley, CEO of Openreach – the main fixed line infrastructure player in the UK – seems to think this target is over-ambitious. “We share the Chancellors’ full fibre vision for Britain,” he said, as he has previously. “This year we’ll double our FTTP footprint and by 2020, we will have built it to 3 million homes across the UK. We want to reach 10m premises by the mid-2020s, and believe we can ultimately fully-fibre the majority of the UK under the right conditions.”

Openreach currently has full fibre to around 500,000 premises so it will reach a million by the end of this year and then take over a decade to do another two mil. At that rate it seems highly unlikely that it will do another seven in five years, let alone 12, but hey, it’s just a target.

San Francisco building own Open Access Fibre network for $1.9bn

A report has emerged from City Hall in San Francisco which assesses the final details for the city to build its own fibre network, passing 100% of homes and businesses, for $1.9 billion.

While there will be likely be hundreds of conversations around the US on how fibre can be delivered to the home, most of which will be nothing more than blue-sky thinking, this is one we like. The city already has the appetite for fibre after false-promises from Google Fiber last year, and the attitude of the ISPs when it comes to net neutrality might force the hand of the city. $1.9 billion is also not a huge amount when you actually think about it.

This would certainly be an approach to connectivity which would raise some eye brows, and one which could start a trend across the states. This would be a network which is designed and managed on principles which are governed by the opinions of the local population not federal regulation. The city has promised it will close the digital divide, ensure net neutrality principles are maintained and privacy concerns are addressed.

Even the emergence of such a scheme perhaps demonstrates how bored the US people are of the current telco industry. Service is highly prioritised in the urban or affluent areas, it is expensive, customer support is usually poor and fibre rollout plans are staggering. To ensure fairness throughout the city, a free Wifi service would be offered in public areas, while low-income residents would qualify for subsidies to make connectivity more affordable

Add into the mix that the people of California are not happy with the way net neutrality rules are being relegated to the footnotes, and the idea of a publicly funded and owned network becomes more attractive. State Senator Scott Weiner has already introduced Senate Bill 822, which aims to re-establish net neutrality rules across the state, though by owning its own network San Francisco would be able to enforce its own governance policies on ISPs.

The network would essentially function in similar manner to Openreach in the UK. The infrastructure would be owned and managed by the city, who would provide an ‘OTT’ service to the ISPs over the same lines. A two-tier data highway would not be allowed, and ISPs would also be forced to request ‘opt-ins’ from customers for any data collection or dissemination. It sounds like a great idea for those who oppose the current path of the FCC.

The only concern here would be the price. In the telco world, $1.9 billion is not a huge amount any more, but when it is public funds it is a monstrous amount of cash. However, the report notes that the benefits of a full fibre network should outweigh the investment. The digital economy is booming in California already and a full-fibre network would only accelerate this momentum in San Francisco. Add in the idea that 12% of the city lack internet access at home, a number which raises to 15% when you measure public school students alone, and the merit of the scheme becomes more promising. There are still a huge number of questions to be answered, for example whether it would be a lit or dark fibre network or the nitty gritty details of funding, but progress is being made.

The ISPs will of course not like this idea, as it creates a level playing field (everyone will use the same infrastructure) which encourages a pricing race to the bottom and forces the development of a customer service environment which actually cares about the customer. Genuine value adds will also have to be considered as holding customers to ransom as the only provider in an area will not exist anymore. You should expect some sort of lobbying or legal action to disrupt development.

That said, looks like the balance of power will be rightly back in the hands of the purchaser. You can read the full report here.

Openreach makes big FTTP statement, but with strings attached

Openreach, the UK’s dominant fixed-line wholesaler, has vowed to ramp up its fibre-to-the-premises roll-out to hit three million premises by the end of 2020.

As everyone knows, you can’t make a grand public statement without giving it a name, so BT-owned Openreach came up with the ‘Fibre First’ programme, presumably to distinguish it from the previous strategy of combining FTTC with copper augmentation via Gfast. The underlying point seems to be to virtue-signal about its new-found commitment to fibre.

“Through the Fibre First programme, Openreach is getting on with the job of building an ultrafast Britain,” said Openreach CEO Clive Selley. “We are accelerating our plans to build FTTP to three million premises by 2020 which sets the course to reach ten million by the mid-2020s with the right conditions. Where possible going forward, we will ‘fibre first’.

“Working closely with central and local government and our communication provider customers, we will identify the cities, towns and rural areas where we can build a future-proofed, FTTP network that’s capable of delivering gigabit speeds to all homes and businesses at an affordable cost.

“We’ll continue to invest in our people and we’re already in the process of re-training and upskilling to make Fibre First a reality. We plan to hire around 3,000 engineers in 2018/19 to kick-start Fibre First and further improve the reliability and performance of our existing networks.”

In case it wasn’t obvious, Selley is saying he’ll commit to the first three million (presumably where he feels healthy ROI is most guaranteed) but needs to see some public and CSP cash before he’ll do any more. Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Leeds, Liverpool, London and Manchester are flagged for the first wave, which Openreach nebulously said could also connect ‘up to’ (they just can’t get out of that habit can they?) 40 UK towns.

To further demonstrate its tear-jerking altruism Openreach reckons the cost of all this fresh fibre will be £300-£400 per premise, making the total cost £1-4 billion. The clear message is that if you want the spend to get anywhere near to the top end of that range we all need to chip in. Having said that the capex estimations seem to be coming down.

In a somewhat contradictory position the Openreach announcement also stressed how into Gfast it still is. “Openreach remains committed to rolling out Gfast at speed,” it said. “Openreach will employ a Fibre First ethos and will not build Gfast and FTTP to the same locations. So, in summary, Openreach is committed to fibre unless it’s a bit too pricey and/or it fancies going with Gfast instead. Great.

Openreach renews calls for industry whip-round to build FTTP network

If we want fibre to the premises throughout the UK everyone needs to chip in, including wholesale customers and the state, says Openreach.

In an announcement entitled ‘Industry welcomes Openreach ambition to build a large FTTP broadband network’, the semi-independent fixed-line wholesale arm of BT revealed its recent consultation seemed to go well. Everyone agrees FTTP would be great, but inevitably opinion is divided about who should pay for it.

In principle the return on network investment comes from charging more for improved services, but we’re in an era when people seem to expect constant upgrades without resulting price increases, so Openreach is struggling to see where the ROI is going to come from. The answer is to spread the investment risk, according to Openreach, which was also beating this drum at BBWF last week.

“We believe that under the right conditions, we could build FTTP connections to ten million homes and businesses by the mid-2020s,” said Clive Selley, CEO of Openreach. “We want to do it, we think it’s the right thing to do for the UK, but it’s clear that we can’t do it alone, so I’m encouraged to hear that our wholesale customers support our vision.

“Having said that, we’re under no illusions about the challenges that lie ahead because we need to build a business case that’s workable and fair for everyone. That means we need a regulatory environment that encourages investment, and we need to agree how the costs of such a huge engineering project can be recovered fairly from all those that stand to benefit.

“Of course that’s going to be tough, but we need to get into the detail of that now with our customers, with Ofcom and with Government. I believe Openreach has a critical role to play in achieving such an ambitious goal, and the prize for our CP customers, their customers and the UK as a whole could be huge.”

The phrase ‘support our vision’ seems to be deliberately nuanced. Openreach’s wholesale customers like the idea of full FTTP but, according to the report, only some are interested in chipping-in, but even then only in return for preferential access. Openreach reckons the whole gig would cost three-to-six billion quid and will come back to customers and Openreach with some more specific proposals on how to go about it before the end of the year.