Three of the UK’s major players outlined how they are attempting to cater for rising demand on their networks after Huawei committed over $4 billion (€3.1 billion) in R&D to boost fibre broadband technology.

The UK is regarded as something of a standard bearer for superfast broadband in Europe. Earlier this year, the country’s regulator claimed it was ahead of neighbours France, Germany, Italy and Spain when it came to a range of KPIs, including coverage, take-up, usage and choice.

Incumbent BT is leading the race of the UK’s providers, with over three million homes and businesses connected to its fibre network as at the end of July. 

[Read more: UK operators get fibre boost but revenues still declining, Ofcom reports]

BT’s Technology, Service and Operations CEO Clive Selley told delegates at Huawei’s Ultra-Broadband Forum on Wednesday that consumption is rising fast and will keep on growing. 

He cited the growing demands of TV, such as the fact that Tokyo will use the 8K standard at the 2020 Olympic Games, as well need to drive higher speeds and build capacity as key challenges. 

He commented: “We can’t stand still and we have to work in partnership.”

Selley added that he is “very excited” by new technologies such as G.Fast and FTTP. BT is mainly using FTTC currently, and is bracing itself for a challenge from competitors looking to get ahead in the technology stakes. 

Talk Talk, for example, announced in April that it is trailing an FTTP network in York as part of a joint venture with Sky and CityFibre. The driving force behind the JV is that the new network does not rely on BT Openreach – the operator’s wholesale fibre subsidairy.

Charles Bligh, Managing Director at TalkTalk Business, told delegates: “We asked ourselves how we could improve our network and the answer was FTTP. The 1GB FTTP network we’re building is the step change that we’ve been looking for; the cost to serve is dramatically lower and there is less down time.”

With BT and Talk Talk both ploughing ahead in future-proofing their fibre networks, where does this leave one of UK’s other major players?

Virgin Media, which was recently acquired by US-based cableco Liberty Global, and Sky were not present at the event. 

Vodafone does not provide fixed access to the retail market in the UK, instead focusing on the enterprise sector following its acquisition of Cable and Wireless, but has acquired broadband players elsewhere in Europe - Kabel Deutschland in Germany and Ono in Spain. 

Gavin Young, Head of Vodafone’s Fixed Access Centre of Excellence, said the operator’s biggest challenge was integrating all the back end systems it has as a result of its acquisition spree. 

But his colleague Matt Beal, Vodafone’s Head of Technology Architecture, said customers don’t care about the enabling technology and only care about the service they receive. 

He commented: “We’re focusing on making connectivity ubiquitous, secure, realtime (maximum latency of 10 Mbps), personal, convergent and context aware.” 

He claimed people will cease to live and work where connectivity is not ubiquitous, while context will “completely redefine” the services that telcos offer. 

“As an industry we haven’t begun to understand how to do this. Customers could well do it first,” he said.

While the operators outlined their views, Huawei announced it will be investing over $4 billion in fixed broadband technology R&D over the next three years.

The China-based operator said fixed technologies will move forward by leveraging big data, data centers and cloud computing. It predicts the next three years will be “a turning point” for fixed broadband development. 

Read more

Europe still behind digital agenda targets despite growing broadband market

UK government's fibre rollout passes on million mark as Virgin boosts network

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