Brexit could hamper R&D, warns Patterson, as BT showcases 100GBps fibre


BT Chief Executive Gavin Patterson lamented the increase in uncertainty that Brexit and the UK General Election result was causing around R&D collaboration with Europe, as the company’s research team announced it had hit a new FTTP speed record.

Speaking at BT’s R&D centre on the first day of the operator’s Innovation Week, Patterson said that there was a “big risk” with Brexit.

“R&D is one of the things that the UK continues to be a world leader in. Our universities are amongst the best in the world,” Patterson said.

“At its heart, the best research is a collaborative experience. So ensuring that we continue to attract the best scientists and engineers to this country and that they’re able to get the right funding and that they are able to access the right networks is, I think, really key.

“The government had called this out as a priority for the Brexit negotiations because the UK does extraordinarily well out of the current EC funding models because our universities are so strong.”

The CEO said the UK needed to ensure it doesn’t lose this competitive edge in the Brexit negotiations.

However, in a brief reference to the results of the UK’s General Election on 8 June, which saw Prime Minister Theresa May unexpectedly lose her parliamentary majority, Patterson said uncertainty had increased.

“If it was unstable and uncertain this time last week it’s gone up a notch now,” he said.

This is not the first time that BT has sounded a note of concern on the UK’s exit from the EU.

Last October, Openreach CEO Clive Selley voiced fears that a “hard” Brexit could hinder efforts to hire people from Europe to help with its broadband rollout.

This was backed up by an April report from the Broadband Stakeholder Group, which warned that broadband deployments in the UK relied heavily on low-skilled workers from Europe.

Such uncertainty is the last thing BT needs as it looks to push through a complex legal separation of its Openreach arm, which has responsibility for rolling out the bulk of UK’s broadband infrastructure.

Openreach, under pressure to improve performance to customers such as Sky, TalkTalk and Vodafone, is also being pressed by rivals such as Virgin Media and newcomers including CityFibre.

Facing criticism for relying on copper-based technology – it is backing G.Fast to connect 10 million homes and businesses – Openreach last year stepped up its FTTP rollout plans with a target of two million premises by 2020.

[Read more: BT attempts to ram home the merits of multi broadband tech strategy]

At Adastral, Openreach showcased what it claimed was a world first “live demonstration” of a 100GBps broadband service that it has developed in partnership with Huawei.

Using a standard residential FTTP connection with advanced transmission technology, the operator said it offered speeds that were around 100 times faster than those currently on offer.

Openreach CEO Clive Selley said: “The trial proves that not only is our FTTP network fit for the future, but with the right equipment in the customer’s home and at the exchange, we can tailor speeds to suit their individual needs.

“So whether you’re a small business specialising in graphic design or a keen gamer using UHD and virtual reality, we’ll be working to make sure your communications provider can offer you the speeds and value for money services that you need.”

BT also showcased a 400GBps single-carrier based technology solution that can transmit large amounts of data on fibre-optic cables.

The latest advance in BT’s Superchannel concept, which uses high spectral efficiency to deliver fast speeds on core networks, was trialled on a 250km fibre optic loop.

BT engineers expect the technique will be able to deliver speeds of over 13TBps in the future, the equivalent of downloading up to 500 HD films in one second.

Tim Whitley, BT’s MD of Research & Innovation, said: “This trial proves that we can release even more capacity from fibre optic infrastructures by further boosting the efficiency of light transmitted over a single strand of glass.

“Although there isn’t a need for multi-terabit speeds in the core network just yet, we want to stay ahead of the game and ensure that the core network is ready to support the performance that our customers might demand in the future.”

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