BT is now leading the pack on NGA (Next Generation Access) deployment after a slow start which saw several lesser known alternative network operators ahead on live connections. According to Point Topic’s latest survey of next-generation access projects there were about 3,000 connections installed in the UK by the end of 2009. BT had 1,250 of them, mainly at its Muswell Hill and Whitchurch fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC) trials, plus a small number of fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) users at its Ebbsfleet site. As of January 2010 BT had added another 600 connections at Muswell Hill and Whitchurch.
Our map shows where the rollout is already happening and where it is planned. The totals are still modest, less than half what Point Topic had forecast by this stage, but there is growing evidence that the NGA juggernaut is at last gathering momentum. Openreach has been bringing forward its NGA plans, aiming to complete its £1.5 billion infrastructure investment by June 2012, nine months earlier than originally projected.
Speaking before the snow and ice of winter 2010 took hold, Openreach’s CEO Steve Robertson said there should be 4,500 NGA street cabinets installed by March 2010, serving about 1 million premises, and 20,000 by the following March. Most of the roll-out will be FTTC but BT has said there will be some FTTP exchanges in its latest batch and that an exchange area may have both FTTC and FTTP present in order to best address customer needs.
Nevertheless, FTTP, fibre all the way to the home, still accounts for more than half NGA installations to date because that is what is being favoured by most alternative network operators. H2O Networks Fibrecity Holdings, Independent Fibre Networks (IFNL), Isrighthere and Velocity1 each claim upwards of 300 FTTP lines installed. Many of these are not yet in active use by customers but hopefully that will change over the coming months.
These players, combined with some smaller installations account for over 1,600 live FTTP connections and the technology looks an increasingly strong contender for a good share of the superfast broadband market. For example, BT has already increased the FTTP share in its plans from 10% to 25% while FTTC pioneers report problems with providing reliable VDSL “last few 100 metres” services over Britain’s variable copper lines. FTTP could prove the cheaper option in a growing proportion of situations.
Another missing link at this early stage is the lack of third party service providers for these new networks. But there is evidence BT’s recent push has helped unlock the market generally by getting the UK’s ISPs genuinely interested in providing fibre-based services. According to Andrew Robinson, director of IFNL, “because BT has been active in announcing more FTTP and FTTC, this has focused the minds of service providers who had seen fibre as a niche before. Now they see the prospect of 10 million homes.”