New Openreach CEO Clive Selley said that “the time is right” for the company to focus on ultrafast networks as he admitted that the accuracy of its own infrastructure data was “far from perfect”.
Selley has overseen a noticeable shift in focus towards FTTH technology since his appointment in January.
BT, which has been criticised by rivals for not investing enough in pure fibre, announced in March that it was planning to provide FTTH to all new build sites with at least 250 premises.
Speaking to journalists at an event at Openreach HQ on Monday, Selley said around two million premises would get the tech by 2020.
He was particularly keen on talking up the benefits of FTTH for the enterprise market.
Selly said the tech could be used by Openreach customers to create “premium” offerings.
The focus on FTTH comes as the company continues to be put under pressure from rivals.
Selley said these competitors were good for Openreach as they would “keep us on our toes”.
Although the expansion should maintain BT’s position as the largest FTTH network provider, Openreach will continue to invest heavily in other FTTC-based tech.
G.Fast is the most obvious of these, with BT currently trialling it ahead of a commercial launch slated for next year.
By 2020, BT expects G.Fast to be available to 10 million premises and Selley reiterated that it was much cheaper than FTTH.
Both FTTH and G.Fast will deliver on Selley’s promise of ultrafast networks, which he defines as being capable of at least 100MBps.
Selley said: “We need to be putting in place an ultrafast platform that will be needed by businesses and the early adopters in the consumer space. Now’s a good time to do it.”
The CEO defended his predecessor’s “proud track record” when probed on whether Openreach had focused too heavily on copper-based technology such as VDSL.
“I think the test of time shows that a VDSL-first approach was the right approach,” Selley said. “But time marches on and now it’s time to look at the next platform.”
Nevertheless, Selley confirmed that Openreach is continuing to look at developing VDSL. For example, he talked up the potential of Long Reach VDSL – a technology it is developing in partnership with Huawei that “disproportionally” improves speeds on lines that are up to 2.5km from the cabinet.
Selley claimed Long Reach VDSL could make “a material contribution” to the UK’s universal service obligation for broadband, which is currently awaiting legislation.
Beyond faster speeds, the CEO said his strategy for Openreach included better service and broader coverage.
On service, Selly said he wanted to halve the number of missed appointments and to train his engineers to learn more skills so they could tackle more job types.
However, he admitted that the accuracy of the precise whereabouts of his company’s passive infrastructure was open to question.
Openreach has worked with Ofcom “in gory detail” to put together a network map.
Selley said: “Our network records are far from perfect. The poles and ducts have been there for decades.
“The longer we have an asset in the ground, the more likely it is to be changed and the more chance you have to forget to update your records.”
Vodafone has previously questioned whether Openreach’s ducts and poles are fit for purpose.
It is an important question given Ofcom has made the opening up of Openreach’s infrastructure to rivals a key part of its Strategic Review of Digital Communications.
The regulator outlined its initial conclusions in February.
Although consultations are ongoing, Selley said there had not been “remarkably more” requests from rivals to build their own fibre networks.
“It is still a minority sport,” he said.