Next-generation broadband is already here. Openreach is upgrading the UK’s broadband network from superfast (which is anything above 24Mbps) to Ultrafast (anything over 100Mbps). These speeds will transform how we use the internet, and make our lives a lot easier. We sat down with Peter Bell, Openreach's CIO, to find out how.
Why is Openreach focusing on Ultrafast technology?
Openreach has been deploying superfast technology over the last eight years. The UK has 92% coverage*, with over 26 million lines. The speeds offered by superfast will meet most users’ for some time yet, but it’s important to prepare ourselves for the next phase of speed requirements. The broadband speeds people need is increasing by about 30-40% each year. That’s why we’ve started rolling out Ultrafast.
How does Ultrafast work?
There are two major technologies for Ultrafast: G.fast and fibre to the premise (FTTP).
BT has been leading the world in terms of G.fast. It lets us get amazingly high speeds from the same copper pipe that was originally used for voice calls. To put it in perspective, in terms of speed, voice uses about 64kbits, while G.fast offers 330Mbits. With those speeds you could have a 4K TV running in every room of your house simultaneously.
We’re rolling out G.fast to 17 locations around the country, and we aim to have it in 10 million homes passed by 2020.
FTTP is an optical fibre almost as thin as a hair on your head that goes all the way to your home. In theory, that allows us to deliver unlimited speed to your premise. We have the largest FTTP network in the UK, but we’re not satisfied with that we have ambitions to grow this significantly. We aim to reach 2 million premises by 2020. We’ve been challenging ourselves on all aspects of the technology, changing our working practices, architecture and network components and and we’re confident we can do even more fibre to the premise.
Why use two technologies?
Because they complement each other very well. There are some locations where FTTP is the obvious choice, like new-build houses, flats and rural locations, whereas G.fast lets you get a quick footprint of Ultrafast, as it lets us reuse the copper.
What will people be able to do with Ultrafast broadband?
Everything we can dream of now and more besides. For example you could pick a film just before leaving the house, hit download, and it would be ready to watch on your phone or tablet almost immediately.
What will be broadband be like 20 years from now?
I’ve worked at BT and Openreach for over 24 years, and I’ve given up making predictions that far in advance. When I joined the company I was wowed by a dial-up internet connection. Now I’ve got superfast broadband and it’s fantastic. But who could have predicted the speeds we’d be enjoying nowadays? In 20 years, I would imagine we would have a ubiquitous high-broadband offering, but beyond that I really couldn’t guess.
How important is it for the UK to be a pioneer in Ultrafast broadband?
We are the leading digital economy in the G20. Innovations like Ultrafast are creating huge wealth for the UK and many opportunities for careers that previously weren’t possible. Therefore I think it’s hugely important that we stay ahead.
*Ofcom Connected Nations 2017