The UK’s Digital Future

An open letter from Broadband World Forum Keynote speaker Gavin Patterson.

“There is one matter on which the whole nation is agreed: the future is digital. The question is how to secure investment in our digital infrastructure. But at present the debate is foundering on the inaccurate claims of companies who are gaming the regulator to secure commercial advantage.

One claim is that BT’s infrastructure division Openreach earns profits that pay for BT’s sports content rights. This is untrue. Our investment in sports rights has been paid for entirely out of the cashflows of BT Consumer.

Another myth is that Openreach is investing in obsolete technology. This ignores the £3 billion we’ve spent rolling out fibre broadband to 26 million premises in recent years. As a result the UK has faster download speeds than Germany, France, Italy and Spain. Nine out of ten homes can access superfast broadband. According to the Boston Consulting Group, the UK has the largest digital economy in the G20 by share of GDP.

This debate should be decided by who has the most compelling and credible vision for the future. BT plans to bring ultrafast speeds to 12 million homes and businesses by 2020, using fibre-to-the-premise and new technology. Our ultrafast plan is commercially viable without taxpayer support. We have also said that we stand ready to support the government’s ambition for universal broadband coverage. Our critics have been notably silent on this.

Breaking up BT would undermine network investment. It takes the whole of BT Group to make the case for massive network investments. Openreach cannot do it on its own.

Those arguing that splitting BT will boost investment fail to appreciate the huge risks. It would cost billions to split BT. This would be better spent on investment in networks. Openreach is best placed to invest as part of BT Group, as it benefits from lower funding costs, access to massive R&D capabilities and the ability to spread risk across a bigger business. And because it serves more than 500 communications providers on equal terms, these benefits flow to the whole industry.

In July, we made a proposal to Ofcom for reforms of Openreach to further strengthen its independence, which would preserve these benefits while minimising disruption and cost. We believe this is the best way to deliver the UK’s digital future.”

Gavin Patterson
CEO BT Group


Gavin Patterson will be speaking at the Broadband World Forum next month at London’s ExCel Convention Centre. Register today for your free visitor pass and be part of the conversation.


16 thoughts on “The UK’s Digital Future

  1. Utter rubbish. All openreach are doing are protecting their copper assets. They call it ‘fibre broadband’ but it isn’t, it comes down legacy phone lines. It is all part of the superfarce. Once BT have hoovered up all the content and most of the mobile market they will hand openreach over without a struggle. If the government try to take it now then the massive legal department will put up a fight that will cost billions, he’s right on that one. As for gfarce, it is another patchup, it costs more than a real fibre connection but it keeps the majority on old phone lines even longer. It is no use bragging we’re better than other countries with good phone networks, he should be comparing us to the countries forging ahead with real fibre installations. They are the ones who will lead the digital revolution, certainly not those left on creaking copper. We are fast becoming a third world digital nation…

    1. What is wrong with upgrading 12 millions homes to ultrafast speeds very quickly in a cost-effective manner? (of which 10 million are and 2 million are the ideal FTTP as you want)

      As a next step you can then rapidly focus on improving the other 18 million premises in the UK knowing the first 12 million are sufficiently served for several years (or more).

      Keep in mind that when you crack on with the next 18 million you’ll have FTTP and both well established and can then adjust the mix of technologies based on what proved to be the better value solution.

      If you just focused on FTTP-only today you’d be adding years and years and many billions of pounds to get through all the upgrades. – do you think the public would want to wait a lot longer or pay much higher costs in the short to medium term?

      And yes, one day when 300-500Mbps isn’t enough you know that those 10 million homes must be close to a fibre connection. So upgrading them to FTTP should be straightforward albeit time-consuming. By then you’d probably be upgrading them with better FTTP technology than we have today, or who knows, maybe will be G.faster by then too!

      In the meantime why not attack Virgin too? They don’t use fibre to the premise and only offer up to 200Mbps at present. Why should premises getting a faster service on not be satisfactory?

      Personally I couldn’t care less if it was tin cans and string so long as I get a reliable service with the bitrates I need today at a price I can afford!

      1. Thanks Nick, that makes a lot of sense from a pragmattic point of view. Not everyone will need blazing fiber speeds, but certainly if a lot of customers can make do with then it’s better to get them upgraded sooner then wait years to get fiber to them, if at all. Give them something useful now and in a few years upgrade them when the costs ease up, or like you say, better tech comes along. Bonding, micro-cells, micro-trenching etc, etc, are all starting to make something like a good compromise and an easier route. In an ideal world of course everyone would have FTTH, but looking around that’s not happening for a variety of reasons.

  2. I have been waiting for over 4 years now for Fibre Broadband and for a FTTC Cabinate to be put in place, but all I have gotten off of BT Openreach is nothing, messing us about by moving us up to build stage then putting us back to stage one, this is unfair as a lot of the areas around us have Fibre Broadband now and my Internet provider said we are on the list to get it but when is the big question??……… My normal internet is so bad I get just over 1MB/s Download the joke is I get way below 1MB/s for Upload 😦 so yeah I cannot do jack all with this rubbish…. and yes I do mean MB which is MegaByte not Mb which is Megabit.

  3. Forgot to mention, when Openreach are rolling out FTTC they are in effect laying down thousands and thousands of kilometres of fibre in the process across the country. I.e. Fibre is getting closer and closer to everyone’s home.

    Once people take up the VDSL2 or service their broadband uses lines from exchange to premise can often be a majority fibre, with a minor copper section near to the premise.

    That’s a significant step up from ADSL that only uses copper from exchange to premise.

    And clearly in the future any new build will add progressively more fibre, connecting to previous rollouts until such a point that the homes are so close to their nearest fibre point that FTTP becomes the simpler and cheaper option.

    E.g. Which of these makes more sense:
    Rollout FTTP to every single home in a remote village of say 100 premises, with masses of kilometres of fibre required, a high cost and a lot of time spent, and choosing to neglect numerous other villages for years (or indefinitely) due to cost and time constraints causing a massive digital divide
    Rollout FTTC to dozens of villages serving thousands of people in total, meeting their needs of today at an attractive price and leaving nobody behind. You can always go back and improve the network if and when the demand arises.

    Don’t get me wrong, FTTP is clearly a superior technology, I’m just making the point that A LOT of fibre is being rolled out – daily.

    You want more?
    That’s fine, but someone in the end has to pay for it – quite tough when Ofcom regulate prices paid to Openreach down every year and only a minority of people actually buy superfast broadband…

    (Ps. Before you complain about line rental rises – that’s not Openreach – the communication providers are paying less per customer at a given bitrate to Openreach each year but charging more to customers as their pricing models mix in a lot of extras)

  4. Hello Elliot Richards,

    I am located within the North West of England and the area that I am located in isn’t Rural, so I don’t get why everyone else around us gets it and our area gets passed by all the time 😦 Recently I have made leaflets for all of the residents around me who cannot get Fibre too and hopefully they can raise interest to Openreach and we can start having better Internet because originally Virgin was going to do Fibre for us but they got cancelled since then its just been a long and frustrating wait.

    Thankyou for replying back by the way 🙂

    1. Fttc isn’t fibre broadband. All they are doing is bringing fibre from the exchange to a cabinet, so a few can go faster. It is stop gap technology to protect their copper assets and there isn’t an upgrade path.

      1. Arron,

        It’s possible that because Virgin were in the area Openreach were not allowed to claim any government subsidy to improve your home and perhaps you’re not part of any Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) or similar scheme. If so Openreach would have had to look at your area commercially – i.e. how much it would cost to upgrade, what speeds they could supply, and how many residents they could expect to gain as customers given that Virgin might get in first. Perhaps the economics were too bad for an upgrade to originally be viable.

        But let’s just assume that’s not the case, and Openreach do intend to upgrade your area – I expect they will…

        Try these websites for more info:

        (if that says “we are exploring solutions” that’ll mean it’s not straightforward to upgrade your home using the network in place already. So there’ll be someone somewhere in your neck of the woods having a hard time trying to think of a solution to get you connected – and note they will consider FTTP if that proves more viable)

        (scroll down an click on the Google Map link to see if there’s a BDUK project in your area with links to updates in your region)

        If links for your area are out of date try searching for your regions name along with ‘BDUK’ or ‘Superfast Extension Programme’. Some BDUK programmes are finished and have moved on to this next stage of SEP where even more FTTC and FTTP is built.

        Also searching for your postcode and/or phone number on any communication provider’s website should give you a pretty up to date speed estimate. Annoyingly I tend to hear that upgrades aren’t publicised well – e.g. first I heard about my home getting upgraded to 65Mbps or so was when I checked myself having heard rumours of a build.

        Alternatively you could check this site to get even more details – but you’d still have to go to a communication provider’s website afterwards to buy a service:

  5. Arron

    1MBps = 8Mbps. It’s Mbps people quote when talking about broadband.

    I know it’s not great, but there’s people with a lot worse still being prioritised – after all the government insisted everyone had at the very least 2Mbps+ in the original BDUK contracts due to complete soon (and back when the contracts were signed even that was a tough commitment to meet)

    Since then BT has offered a commitment to raise all homes above 10Mbps by 2020, and in the process any homes upgraded are likely to get much much more than this.

    So even if your home has slipped under the radar up till now, I doubt it will for much longer.

    Virgin are also expanding their network at present, so they could well return.

    So maybe like buses you wait for ages for one and then two broadband options come along at once. Good luck!

    1. If you haven’t got it now, you never will. All that will happen is that those who have it get made a bit faster. Those on long copper lines will remain in the digital ditchwater. We are whipping a dying donkey.

  6. Chris

    Those on long copper lines can find themselves being given new FTTC cabinets to massively shorten their copper.

    E.g. I know of someone having that planned and built right now in their village and their 3Mbps homes will probably be lifted to something better than my home’s 60Mbps or so – they’ll be closer to their new cabinet than I am to mine.

    With a fibred cabinet practically on their doorsteps it’d presumably be close enough to make viable, so they then have a future upgrade path to 300-500Mbps if comments on speeds in the media are to be believed.

    Of course when 60-80Mbps isn’t enough they might just decide FTTP is better, and just connect that via the fibre links brought out to the cab.

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