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Posted on January 24th, 2014 by Barry Collins

Why is BT shovelling more money into inner-city fibre?

BT engineer duct

How about this for a coincidence? Just moments after I appeared on Radio 4’s You and Yours, reiterating my long-running complaint about being left on the fringes of BT’s fibre rollout, a BT press release lands in my inbox trumpeting how the company plans to spend an extra £50 million extending its fibre network. I had no idea I was that influential.

It turns out that I’m not. Because none of that £50 million will be spent in my area, nor any town or village that has yet to see a shiny new fibre cabinet arrive at the end of the street. BT’s ploughing another £50 million into cities: areas that BT’s own press release concedes “already have access to ultra-fast speeds”.

Head, meet desk.

What’s not at all clear is how many of these inner-city areas are already covered by Virgin Media’s cable network

Now, let’s be fair to BT for a minute. It’s not only homes in Outer Suburbia that have been left out of the fibre rollout to date. Listeners to You and Yours would have heard my colleague, Chris Wiles, complaining that he’s been overlooked in the centre of Bath, and another former colleague tweeted me this morning to say he’s stuck on a sub-1Mbits/sec connection in the distinctly unleafy London borough of Barnet.

BT says this new wad of cash – which represents less than 2% of the £3 billion it’s spending nationwide – will be spent “enabling city cabinets that weren’t part of BT’s original commercial plans due to technical challenges or local planning restrictions”. In other words, having gobbled up all the low-hanging fruit, BT’s putting a bit more effort in.

What’s not at all clear is how many of these inner-city areas are already covered by Virgin Media’s cable network. I put this question to a BT spokesman, who said he couldn’t give me a precise answer because the rollout plans haven’t been finalised, but said the company “is confident the majority isn’t covered by Virgin Media”. So anything up to 49% of fibre network overlap, then…

BT also argues that the money being thrown into this project is directly from its own coffers, none of it’s coming out of the public purse.  Yet, only 18 months ago, the government announced it was ploughing £100 million into creating ten ultrafast broadband cities. How much more money is going to be shovelled into inner-city areas that already have access to Virgin Media’s fibre in the vast majority of cases, and above average ADSL speeds if they don’t?

Sure, increased competition is great for those living in the big cities. But for the millions of people in towns and villages who can’t get a connection fast enough to work from home, watch the BBC iPlayer or hold a Skype conversation with friends and family, competing fibre networks are but a pipe dream.

Unless, of course, BT spots a local fibre project taking hold, in which case the company’s vans seem to swiftly arrive on the scene. BT has repeatedly denied it gazumps local fibre projects, but I’m going to get a high-vis jacket, paint a Virgin Media logo on the side of a van, and start digging up the pavement at the end of my street. Just in case.

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23 Responses to “ Why is BT shovelling more money into inner-city fibre? ”

  1. Chris Wiles Says:
    January 24th, 2014 at 2:34 pm

    Cheers Barry.

    Just want to mention this though “How much more money is going to be shovelled into inner-city areas that already have access to Virgin Media’s fibre”

    The snag here though is that if you or a previous home owner turned down the option of taking Virgin in the past, when they installed it in your street, you can’t get it again in the future. The node isn’t available to your home.

    So, ‘access to Virgin Media’ is much more limited than you think, only applies to residential users and even the centre of a city definitely doesn’t guarantee fast copper broadband. You’re still lucky if you get a staggeringly slow 1Mbp/s up, even close to the exchange.

    BBC Bristol’s office is a classic example. 200m from the exchange, their cabinet between them and the exchange, but they still can’t get fibre.

  2. David Says:
    January 24th, 2014 at 3:02 pm

    Several sites I’m involved with managing can’t get anything more than ADSL with any provider. THe rural ones are unsurprising, but there are two urban ones – one in inner-city Sheffield, where the best available is lack-lustre ADSL, and one on the outskirs of Doncaster where the ADSL fluctuated between 1 and 2 mbps and was extremely unreliable. We eventually resorted to fibre to the premises for this one, at considerable cost, as the ADSL was so bad as to be barely usable and a leased line was the only better option.

  3. Chris Wiles Says:
    January 24th, 2014 at 4:04 pm


    The irony is, it’s those old BT cabinets that are serving the ‘leased line’, which is usually the same technology as they use for Infinity. The old cabinets have limited ‘fibre’ capacity, for business users, at a premium price! EFM starting £300/month, as an example.

  4. Simon Hudson Says:
    January 24th, 2014 at 4:51 pm

    I’ll pay the PC Pro team to wear their hi-vis jackets and walk up and down here in Ferriby (East Yorkshire).
    Oh, hang on, BT can’t serve us at all and KC are laying in 100Mbps fibre here in spring. The guys in the next village already have it (swines) and it runs at 70 – 90 Mbps, so that’s nice.

  5. Tim Says:
    January 24th, 2014 at 4:53 pm

    For those in inner city areas there are alternatives such as 4G to bump up the speed. For rural dwellers even 3G is often unavailable.

  6. Chris Wiles Says:
    January 24th, 2014 at 5:10 pm

    Tim, with respect, you can’t use 4G to upload 4K video files, large photos and other large data files.

    4G is hugely expensive. It’s not a substitute for fibre. And it’s barely available, apart from the centre of large cities.

  7. MrPink9 Says:
    January 24th, 2014 at 7:33 pm

    I can see your point. However as someone who lives in Zone 2 in London (Rotherhithe), and can get no more than 2MB a sec. I *hope* I can see where it might be going.

    The reason for my slow connection is most of the area was rebuilt in the 80s, and when adding the new housing BT opted to do away with the cabinets and cable lines directly to the exchange (sometimes using aluminum wire I believe).

    I doubt this is an issue that is restricted to my area. We can’t get cable either.

    These ‘direct to the exchange’ premises can’t get Fibre even after the exchange is enabled without street cabs adding. So I hope that money is going there.

    After waiting 3 years for the exchange to be enabled it would have been nice if BT had informed us of this or done anything about it. I never see them publish any information about how bad this problem is. Perhaps because it’s just easier to tell OFCOM that the Exchange is abled so the area must be?

  8. Graeme Wood Says:
    January 24th, 2014 at 9:20 pm

    BT Openreach should focus on improving its existing capability. I have been waiting over two months for a new phone line and have now been advised it is likely to be another month until I am able to order a phone line, that makes it likely that I will have been waiting almost four months for a phone line, that’s a huge length of time to rely upon mobile internet.

  9. Dan Says:
    January 24th, 2014 at 9:24 pm

    BT offer 70/20mb speeds. This year Virgin will be supplying 152/10mb then going to 200/20mb.

    How is BT ever going to keep up? You might be complaining about BT now but you’ll be complaining again in a few years when they can’t squeeze 4k content through your 50 year old phone cable.

  10. Martin Says:
    January 24th, 2014 at 9:50 pm

    It would be good to see BT also addressing the issue of Exchange only lines. There are too many people in both town and country (thinkbroadband estimates 5% of all phone lines) who won’t get a FTTC service because they happen to be wired straight into an exchange and not a green cabinet.

  11. Ryan Says:
    January 25th, 2014 at 7:33 pm

    I moved to The Netherlands from UK in 2006; it really amazes me how crap the broadband is when I go home. My parents can’t get anything better than 1mb/s. And I think that our 20mb/s is slow (my colleagues have 100mb/s symmetric lines).

  12. Tim Says:
    January 25th, 2014 at 9:18 pm

    My point is that while you may want to upload 4K video files. My business park doesn’t even have a 1MB connection. Spending money on the few who want to upload giant files means that money is not available to be spent on the rest of us. You want fibre, we just want a cabinet to serve the 500 or so people in the village.

    As for relying on a mobile data connection, like Graeme, I had to rely on mobile data for three months while we waited for BT to provide a home phone line, its not great but 3G is affordable and perfectly adequate for browsing and email.

  13. Raymond Says:
    January 25th, 2014 at 10:57 pm

    I have had Virgin Fibre for many years and BT have just made fibre available in my street the last few weeks. The BT offering is totally redundant especially since they force you to take a totally unnecessary landline. Just seems to me as though the infrastructure is getting duplicated in haphazard manner.

  14. chase barber Says:
    January 26th, 2014 at 8:20 pm

    Just be happy you aren’t here in the US… On a very good day I might get 500k!

  15. Martin Says:
    January 26th, 2014 at 10:54 pm

    My office is in the city next to St Pauls, London and I only get adsl, not even adsl 2. I could spend £500 a month on a very fast dark fibre line but get dizzy at the thought. I however get bt fibre and virgin at my home in SE21. Is it a cartel to make us pay for the expensive fibre? BT in the city – get on with it!

  16. Michael Eracleous Says:
    January 27th, 2014 at 2:44 pm

    The inner city persons wondering why they get no fibre, it’s really quite simple. Why would BT Fibre enable an exchange providing leased lines to business’s?

    The fibre lines are far superior that I cannot understand why anyone would stay on a leased line. Sure you get no contention ratio on a leased line but when the fibre connection is 10 times faster then does it really matter?

    BT just doesn’t wanna ruin it’s main revenue stream by giving businiess’s the option if moving their expensive connections onto Fibre.

  17. JamesC Says:
    January 28th, 2014 at 3:32 pm

    It’s true that 4G is generally prohibitively expensive. But if you’re lucky enough to be in the right area, provides an excellent service (disclaimer: a site I work at moved to them from ADSL; customer, no other connection with them). About 30-40Mbps download, 5Mbps upload. Decently priced.

  18. Paul Says:
    January 28th, 2014 at 7:58 pm

    I believe the mobile company 3 will be bringing out their 4G service soon. They have always had unlimited data offerings, and they may do it again with 4G I can get 4G at my home, the speeds kill my ADSL2 connection, so 4G may be worth keeping an eye on. (Actually just done a 3G speed test, that beats my ADSL too!)

  19. Mike Says:
    January 29th, 2014 at 12:02 pm

    Inner City? We can’t get high speed links in the City of London unless we pay for dedicated fibre. BT are trying to protect their existing, exorbitantly expensive systems.

  20. Mark Says:
    January 29th, 2014 at 4:40 pm

    I’m a stone’s throw from the City of London, next door to Aldgate East station. Openreach tell me that they’re not going to upgrade my cabinet to fibre ’cause it’s not cost effective.
    There is no Virgin Media service in this area.
    Looks like I’m stuck on ADSL+ with its hefty upload speed.
    Anything big to upload I take home to my fast Virgin service.

  21. Mike Says:
    January 30th, 2014 at 9:20 am

    All this talk about BT providing a business service is rubbish. I have Virgin at home and have just upgraded to 120Mb. Our BT “Premium Business” maxes out at 7.5Mb down and 0.7Mb up. I know that there will be people out there saying “7.5 – we can only dream of 7.5!” but, as was quoted on Mock the Week: The time between “this is a miracle” and “It’s not working – my life is ruined” has now come down to about 40 seconds.
    The technology is available and we all want it now. For BT to keep upping inner city availability and, apparently ignoring most of the rest may be a good business plan on paper but will do no good in the long run as they alienate people who would otherwise be natural customers.

  22. NickPheas Says:
    January 30th, 2014 at 9:52 am

    Wish they’d finish the job NTL started round my way. There are fibre boxes 300 yards in any direction, but apparently ‘insurmountable technical difficulties’ in plumbing in my street.

  23. Chris Says:
    February 24th, 2014 at 10:09 am

    Chris, we are looking at laying a 1gig fibre ring in the center of Bath. You may be along the route, feel free to email me.


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