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Where Are All The FTTC Subscribers?

Posted on: August 5, 2016, by Nic Elliott


BT’s latest results

BT released their latest results last week, and as the BT Group encompasses not only the parts of the communication industry that serve all the others (think BT Openreach, BT Wholesale and parts of BT Global Services), but also the country’s largest actual ISP, the figures can be revealing.

Out of over 9.1 million broadband subscriptions, only 4.3 million are FTTC for BT Retail.

Just less than half of all of the biggest ISP’s lines are Fibre to the Cabinet (so called Fibre Broadband). The rest are good old-fashioned, obsolete ADSL.

Yet we are bombarded all the time with news of how many million premises have been passed with the BT and BDUK roll-outs and the supposedly high percentage of the country that can now get FTTC.

In fact, the latest figures released by BT show that 86% of the country can get FTTC.

What do the numbers really mean?

But here is where it starts getting woolly.

There are constant arguments about what “premises passed” means. Let alone how you get an accurate figure for the number of premises that are in the country anyway – a figure that is constantly changing.

Does this 86% figure of what BT say are 25 million premises passed count just residential dwellings?

Or does it include businesses?

If you look at the raw figures that come out of the BT Wholesale website to providers like us, then the latest figure (28 July 2016) is 25.5 million. But the column is labelled THP – or Total Homes Passed.

So that’s not businesses right? Who knows.

Residential preference

What our experience tells us, is that residential areas have always been given preference for FTTC upgrades than commercial areas.

It’s a simple matter of economics.

If you can get potentially 500 broadband subscriptions from cabinet 1 because its residential, and 30 from cabinet 2 because it’s a business park, which one do you think will pay itself back quicker?

Also, aren’t BT in the business of selling expensive Ethernet leased lines to businesses?

Wouldn’t want to damage that revenue stream would you?

Why are FTTC connections so low?

But coming back to the numbers, I find it interesting that not even half of the broadband connections at BT Retail are FTTC when they quote 86% coverage and rising.

There could be a number of factors at work here, and I say this from within the communications industry, so I could be being affected by being inside the bubble.

I am a believer that broadband in this country is too cheap, yet these figures would suggest that FTTC is too expensive for a large chunk of consumers, as they haven’t upgraded to it.

Maybe it’s not the cost, but the fact that they don’t consider they have any bandwidth issues with their current service.

Does that mean half of broadband users don’t need the upgraded speeds?

I’ve made another assumption there though, which is unfair.

Upgrading to FTTC doesn’t guarantee a jump in bandwidth, and it certainly doesn’t mean you’ll get “superfast” speeds, whatever they are. The jury is still out on whether that means 24mbps or 30mbps.

So if you have an 8mbps line and you can add £10 per month on your bill to get to 12mbps and upgrade to FTTC, is that worth doing?

There is of course the “hassle factor”. Until recently, all FTTC installations have required an Openreach engineer visit, which means potentially time off work, and disruption to your home.

You might need a new router or Wi-Fi device too and if you aren’t that tech savvy, then that’s just another reason not to do it. Inertia is a powerful force, especially with technology.

ADSL is here to stay

Whatever the numbers, and the cynic in me has always questioned the grandiose figures of how much of the country can now get fibre, ADSL is here to stay for a long, long time.

Fibre broadband, while an important addition to the telecoms mix in the UK, has not been the solution to every connectivity problem, and certainly not for small and medium sized businesses, that cannot afford a leased line, but are not in a residential street and therefore served by a fibre cabinet.

Our figures are clear. ADSL is still the dominant technology in UK broadband.

We bond FTTC, will bond, and any other broadband technology that comes along in the future.

But in 2016, even after the commercial roll out of FTTC is over, and the government have spent pretty much all they are going to on BDUK, it’s interesting that we’re still selling more ADSL than FTTC – just like BT.

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