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BT skipping up to 60% of cabinets in fibre rollout

BT engineer

By Stewart Mitchell

Posted on 21 Feb 2011 at 08:15

The installation lottery of BT’s fibre rollout is leaving thousands of homes in blackspots even though their areas are supposedly enabled for fibre broadband, PC Pro can reveal.

According to industry insiders, as many 60% of street-level cabinets have been left out of the fibre loop during the initial installation, despite BT trumpeting the availability of services in the area.

BT’s fibre rollout is the long-hoped-for upgrade that moves the UK towards next-generation internet access, but the technology requires two installations to be completed - one at the exchange and the other at the street cabinet - before consumers can receive up to 40Mbits/sec services.

BT needs to make clear that just because an exchange is enabled the actually coverage in that area could be 40% or 50%

“A highly visible list of schedules goes out to say when exchanges are going to be enabled, but that only means the exchange area is starting to be ‘in progress’,” said Stuart Watson, broadband product manager at Zen Internet, which resells BT's fibre service.

“BT Openreach describes an exchange as in progress if there are ten cabinets live, but there could be 70 or 80 or more cabinets in that area – customers are seeing when their exchange is enabled but not when their cabinet is going to be, or even if it’s going to be upgraded, because only about 40% or 50% of cabinets in a given area are scheduled or are likely to be upgraded.

“BT needs to make it clearer what an enabled exchange means, make clear that a rollout can take place over three, four or five months and make clear that just because an exchange is enabled the actually coverage in that area could be 40% or 50%.”

BT's response

BT disputes the scale of the problem, and said some cabinets not upgraded during the initial installation might be “revisited later”.

“We aim for as much coverage as possible within our technical and commercial parameters," a BT spokesperson told PC Pro. "On average the figure is around 85% of an exchange area - this may be higher or much lower depending on the infrastructure and the market."

BT added there are only a handful of exchanges with between 40-50% of cabinets enabled, and that in many of these cases this equates to actual coverage of "up to 70% of homes and businesses in an exchange area".

"In the rollout overall, on average well over 70% of cabinets are enabled within each exchange area, covering, around 85% of homes and businesses," the spokesperson added.

BT says technical factors, as well as return on investment, are taken into account when deciding which cabinet to upgrade. "A range of commercial and technical criteria is used to decide whether a specific cabinet is enabled. If a specific cabinet does not support enough premises it may not be enabled for fibre at this time,” the spokesperson said.

For an in-depth investigation into BT's fibre rollout, see issue 199 of PC Pro, on sale 10 March.

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User comments

Industrial Estates lee likely than Housing estates

I'd heard from my ISP that cabinets in industrial estates are less likely to be upgraded than thos in housing areas due to the lower numbers of premises involved despite the fact that businesses are more likely to upgrade and need the extra capacity.

By doublevdesign on 21 Feb 2011


Need I say more.

By kaneclem on 21 Feb 2011

Why Fibre?

Why the concentration on fibre I would just like BT to install ADSL2 in my local exchange like Talktalk has. If it is profitable for Talktalk, then BT need to get of their backsides and provide a decent service to us country folk.

By davidrmoore on 21 Feb 2011

All over the place.

I live in the city centre of Durham and BT have done it there. It's just like BT to be deceitful and cloud there decisions as much as possible so that they can justify their marketing campaigns.

By screColin on 21 Feb 2011

Planning Problem

I think that the prolem might be a bit more complicated than people realise.

Round my way there are real problems with planning permission for the new street boxes. I'm currently trying to talk some of my neighbours out of objecting to the new larger street cabinet that BT have applied to install. They just see it as BT messing with the streetscape, whereas I see it as BT upgrading the network.

I wouldn't be surprised if BT are skipping most cabinets where they get planning objections. I'd love to know how many places this has been an issue.

By uksmiler on 21 Feb 2011


permission is only required in conservation areas, otherwise process is notification of intent (bit like the install telegraph poles and put a notice on them telling you how to object, retrospectively).

By yarwell on 21 Feb 2011

Exchange based VDSL ?

Another factor is that lines fed directly from the exchange, or from a junction point that isn't a cabinet, won't get service either.

So you get a ring of FTTC service around an exchange, with a hole in the middle with no service.

By yarwell on 21 Feb 2011

Minimum guarnteed speed of 17mb to order.

Another thing I have found out recently is that even when you do have the cabinet enabled, unless BT Openreach can guarentee at least 17mb, they won't accept your order. So my very slow 1mb ADSL line is capable of 9.3mb via FTTC, but they won't let me order it.

By LPAN01 on 21 Feb 2011


The minimum speed for service on FTTC used to be 15Mbps but this was revised downwards to 5Mbps last November. You should be able to get the service now.

By Fraz_pro on 21 Feb 2011


One point of unbundling the local loop was to enable customers in exchanges where BT deemed it to be unprofitable to take advantage of services from companies who could provide. Every company has a different business model. On the face of it, in your exchange, LLU seems to be working perfectly and ADSL2 is available whereas without LLU it would not be.

By Fraz_pro on 21 Feb 2011


I have just had a new large box put in right outside my property - no notification and a week of inconvenience with barriers part blocking my driveway. If I don't get improved service after that I will not be pleased.

By d_marchant on 21 Feb 2011

do you really plan based on what BT says?

I have long ignored it and go to BT as a last resort.

By vdesilva on 22 Feb 2011

15 meg

15 is still the limit and hos been downgraded

the 5 meg is a new service for those not able to get 15 meg but no cps currently offer it as yet

By Fastman on 22 Feb 2011


They were only promising a service of UP TO 85% coverage; now I understand...

By nichomach0 on 23 Feb 2011

BT's Formula

Minimum Investment
Maximum Return.

BT will spend the minimum amount of money to gain the maximum return by choosing only those areas where there is the highest density of customers serviced in the smallest area and the majority of customers have signed up for an upgrade. Speed of existing connections is less relevant.

By j_woolliscroft on 24 Feb 2011

Marketing Spin

The sooner people realise that BT is more about Marketing, Spin,PR and massaging governments. Technical innovation seems to be secondary now. Articles like this no longer surprise me. However it continually dissapoints me that the so called technical press don't do more (anything) to highlight this and expose BT.

By grisdale on 24 Feb 2011

Exchange enabled I'm not

My exchange was enabled a while ago and I'm on a 9 Yr old estate. One halve has the new fibre broadband but we don't and nobody at bt can give u any idea when we will. Their useless, they must know somewhere.
Come on virgin beat them to it and get new lines in and give them some competition so I can leave adsl and sky.

By Mccltd on 24 Feb 2011

Don't hold your breath for Virgin

I think the only thing worse than waiting for BT to lay any form of cabling is waiting for fibre from Virgin. They've covered my town up to a mile from where I live, but have no plans to ever extend further.

By drslothy on 24 Feb 2011

You can't whine about his now......

I left BT 10 years ago so have no loyalty to them, but all this drive me bonkers, WHY? in 1994 when I was manager for access planning and BT was awash with cash, we had a huge proposal to invest billions to put fibre into every home. However to make in pay long term we had to be able to sell cable TV. But Oftel were having none of it and killed the project DEAD. Now there's no cash everyone's demanding BT spend the money.... you can't have it all ways guys!!!

By x16gen on 24 Feb 2011

Typical BT...

"However to make in pay long term we had to be able to sell cable TV"

This perfectly highlights BT short sightedness, and demonstrates poor methodology in making pricing models.

Now how much did BT pay for a 3G licence... I wonder???

By matt286 on 24 Feb 2011

Typical BT...

"However to make in pay long term we had to be able to sell cable TV"

This perfectly highlights BT short sightedness, and demonstrates poor methodology in making pricing models.

Now how much did BT pay for a 3G licence... I wonder???

By matt286 on 24 Feb 2011

BT are such a big con

BT has one consideration, and that is to monopolise the phone network in the UK and try their hardest to restrict competition.

For years they have been doing nothing about fast internet in the UK, when other countries have been getting their finger out and listening to what customers want, BT's attitude has always been that they own and control most of Britains telephone network so why should they do anything to improve it?

If you want any other phone companies service you always have to buy it from BT, with the exception if you are lucky enough to live in a Virgin area, so the only people BT are really bothered about supplying super fast broadband to is those in Virgin areas, everyone else has no choice but to buy their phone/internet service from BT (even LLU still has to connect to BT eventually), and BT really don't care about anyone who isn't in a cable area.

Also I love how BT monopolise on the phone service - you have to buy a phone line to get broadband from BT, Virgin allow you to have just broadband. BT's answer to this is that nobody wants broadband only and no phone line, the correct answer is that it is BT's way of blocking VOIP providers, and monopolising the phone network. It's pointless having something like Vonage if you have to have a BT phone line, but if you have Virgin broadband and Vonage you can make a large saving 'cos you don't need to pay line rental to Vonage, and Virgin only charge for the broadband, and not the line rental.

BT is the major company in the UK that is dictating to us how we communicate, and has been holding us back for too long now. It's time they took their crummy copper wires and shove them where the sun don't shine.

By TheKLF99 on 24 Feb 2011

Oh dear, its not looking good for the UK Digital Age is it? "On average the figure is around 85% of an exchange area - this may be higher or much lower depending on the infrastructure and the market."
So, they are aiming to satisfy only the condensed profit regions, and not bother with overall coverage - in fact many areas will not have any fibre at all - hardly dragging the "UK" (ie. the WHOLE of the UK, not just London) into the Digital Age, is it?

"up to 70% of homes and businesses in an exchange area".

OK, thats "up to" just more than half...

"70% of cabinets are enabled within each exchange area, covering, around 85% of homes and businesses,"

Hang on, he just said "up to 70% of homes and businesses".
Is the BT Spokesperson mangling figures to make shit look shiny?
I think so.

When will a "UK Rollout" actually mean "The UK", are they all using the OFCOM dictionary of variable meanings?

This is all just insulting, to technology and the population as a whole.

By Wilbert3 on 24 Feb 2011

A few facts

First off BT are a monopoly so have many restrictions placed on them that companies like Virgin don't have.

BT have to provide a phone service to every house, Virgin don't, I doubt they reach even 50% of households.

BT have to allow other companies access to their phone lines, exchanges etc, Virgin don't.

Yes BT are a pain, have no idea what they are doing half the time but to be honest are probably better then Virgin at making things work. It took Virgin 9 months to sort out problems on a leased line caused mostly by and the equipment that need to go in between their network and the BT tail circuits. If only they were obliged to hook up to everyones house and also share their lines with whom ever I wished to buy my telephone service from, we might just have a better service as the cost would be spread between providers rather than dumping this all on one company that then has to allow other companies to use their hardware, it is stupid.

I can't use an O2 phone on Orange's network just because they have a mast near me. IF BT didn't have to allow all these companies to use their kit and was allowed to sell cable TV services I am sure BT would be more willing to roll out fibre to every house.

By Lorribot on 24 Feb 2011


"BT have to allow other companies access to their phone lines, exchanges etc, Virgin don't."

I have ADSL on an LLU'd exchange, but I pay BT line rental in addition to my ISP's package. So yes, BT may have to allow other companies for using their infrastructure, but they get paid for it. In fact, I pay more for my line rental from BT than I to my ISP, so I really have no sympathy for BT having to share their infrastructure when they get paid more for its shared use than the party they're sharing it with.

By chipsk1 on 24 Feb 2011


You are't forced to have a phone line direct from BT your ISP could also unbundle the phone line if the choose to and not just the ADSL. The fact that apparently the don't seems to suggest that it isn't cost effective (read they can't make enough profit) so I find such comment very misleading, why aren't you complaining that you ISP won't bundle your phone line for free or at all hmm.
Also don't forget that that BT as an ISP has to buy their ADSL service in exactly the same way as all other ISPs just as the BT phone provider also buys the phone lines exactly the same as any other phone provider can do from OpenReach.

By glennon3 on 25 Feb 2011


Nationalise BT and Virgin, add their networks together and build on that. This might not be very palatable but it’s the only method that could provide the financing long term.

No commercial company is going to spend hundreds of millions of pounds on infrastructure (digging up the roads to lay the cables) projects to all locations in the UK so it’s really a political issue.

By dholbon on 27 Feb 2011


That would never happen in the current climate. If this were to happen then BT would need to stop laying cable in the already cabled Virgin areas.

By scgill on 4 Mar 2011

15M not a limit @Fastman

BT Infinity has a 15M limit

BT Total Broadband option 3 with Fibre is 5-15M predicted FTTC speed.

Other ISPs available
many will do 5-40M full range.

By yarwell on 14 Mar 2011

BT skipping up to 60% of cabinets in fibre rollout...

Too true. My exchange (Altrincham) was one of the first enabled for FTTC. But our cabinet lies rusty and unloved just as it has done for the last fifty or so years. BT Infinity - more like BT Marketing BS Con. If only Virgin extended to here....sigh!

By jontym123 on 17 Mar 2011

You Better Believe It!

The other end of street has the fibre in the cab, but my end does not. I've been waiting 9 months with no end in sight. They just keep telling me next quarter, and then when we get to the next quarter they just keep rolling it back.
I'll say they've got a big problem!

By James_Brade on 13 Feb 2012

Gov Funding spent on profit areas only?

Why is it that BT get funded by us to provide fibre evrywhere-yet will only install it into profit rich areas? We live on a new estate (2010)with 1,500 homes in Cambridgeshire- Its served by two cabinets ,yet only one Cabinet is to be upgrade! The estates school and businesses are not on the upgrade!
What is this funding actually for. Well at least now the Gov have realised this gravy train.

By circoloco on 2 Mar 2014

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