BT skipping up to 60% of cabinets in fibre rollout

Neighbourhoods left in fibre blackspots despite local exchanges being enabled, industry experts say

Stewart Mitchell
21 Feb 2011

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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