The presentation of Openreach during the “Fibre to Britain” conference on their high speed broadband roll-out to 10 million homes in 2012 led to mixed feelings.
On one hand you have to admire the engineering and management needed to ramp up the rollout to a level of 800 VDSL cabinets per month, each serving 300+ customers. That’s 250.000 homes per month. The plans include now FTTP (GPON), for approx. 25 % of the footprint, and Korean-style VDSL-inside-the-building.
The engineering challenges are not to be underestimated. During the test phase 6 % of the cabinets were damaged for various reasons, including people backing up their cars into the cabinets. The GPON test showed that the standard fiber cables are too strong for areal deployments in the last drop: regulation demands that a high vehicle running into the cables does not take the poles with them, the cables must break first. So miniducts are used for the last drop.
But the resulting broadband offerings (especially VDSL) did not generate any enthusiasm amongst the audience. The communication providers define the final retail offerings, but capacities of 20/2 Mbps, or “up to” 40/20 Mbps where IP-TV takes a large chunk of the available bandwidth make it hard to create compelling arguments for users to switch. No prices were disclosed, but the expectations of the penetration rate by Openreach were quite low: will there be a market ? it still had to be proven said the presenter. Low penetration expectations mean high unit prices if you do not want to lose your shirt.
One exasperated listener defined it as “fear will get you a self fulfilling promise: a failure”.
You could almost feel the tension which must exist in Openreach: between the engineers trying to do a great job, the financial people who ask for proof of a market before committing scarce financial resources, and managers trying to compromise between the pressure to move with the trend and their new role as infrastructure providers.