I recently completed on a new flat in London. Nothing too fancy, just somewhere I can lay my head during the week, and maybe where I can enjoy some of this property bubble that everyone keeps talking about. The building is a new development part of a billion pound investment into the Bermondsey area and mostly comprises of support housing or help to buy flats. My building has over eighty flats in it and redevelops an up and coming part of London. So far so good.
The flat is rather small but fantastically advance. Everything is LED and bits flip about making the most of the space and simplifying its use. The heating system for example is a self-contained heat pump system which draws fresh air from outside, warms it and then pushes it around the flat. The air is completely refreshed within 2 hours. The floor throughout is fed with hot water and even items like the extractor fan feed hot air back into the system to improve efficiency. So while cooking my steak I can warm my bathroom. Brilliant and clever stuff.
So imagine my excitement at thinking about what kind of internet access I would be able to deliver to my new cutting edge London pad. I run a successful data networking business so whatever was available to the building I would be able to get my service delivery engineers on the case to ensure I was up and running as quickly as possible with the most cutting edge and fastest service possible. Not because I particularly need the fastest speed, but more because I can use it as a demonstration of where we are as a nation and as a complete contrast to my home in rural Worcestershire. My brother for example has a flat not far in Canada Water away and enjoys fibre into his airing cupboard delivering him with up to 1 Gb/s (1,000 Mb/s) in internet access (via IFNL). Surely I could do better than that?
Well as it turns out I don’t have fibre running into my brand new flat. The housing group who developed the site wanted to keep everything as separate as possible for each apartment and so understandably gave the responsibility of installing comms to the flats to BT. So what did BT choose to install? Fibre to the Home? No. Instead they installed a 100 year old technology and have graced my flat with a BT phone socket delivered over copper. Let’s remind ourselves this is not a flat in Worcestershire. This is not a building hundreds of years old. This is a building built from the ground up in 2013. This is a building within a stone’s throw of the City of London (should be good for my flat price… but I digress), arguably the capital of the world. And what do I have to deliver my internet access… two strands of copper.
Granted the building has the latest version of copper technology, Fibre to the Cabinet, which will deliver up to 80 Mb/s. More than enough I hear you cry. And yes I agree I have no need for anything faster at the moment. But this is not my point. This is a new building in a leading metropolitan city and BT are installing copper cables. This is like the government deciding to install a new train system between London and Birmingham and calling it progress… oh wait a minute, bad example. It is like building a new airport and not making the runway long enough to take the new Airbus Jumbo. Granted it is an airport, but it isn’t particularly useful. And while it may cope today it certainly will not cope with the demands put upon it in the future. In the same way that when I start to watch 4K television from the Internet the FTTC service delivering 80 Mb/s is going to look like old technology. Which it is.
And what really gets my goat (if you are reading this and thinking boohoo Piers, you must be so upset having fast broadband and a new flat), is that BT have successfully persuaded most of the countries councils that it is the right company to prepare Britain for a fast networked future. With over £500 million of public money being used, how can BT justify this old technology for completely new sites? Granted it may have some use in very rural communities but surely as a country we should be demanding nothing less than fibre into every home. Gigaclear, City Fibre, IFNL, Hyperoptic among others can deliver Gb/s speeds. But when BT are given a clean sheet of paper they can’t?
Or is it they don’t want to? Think about it. BT recently raised the cost of its direct line rental to an astronomical £15.99 a month. This is a blatant use of jazz hands. As it talks about cheap broadband (which needs a phone line if it is FTTC, which its Infinity product is) it is recouping the cost from the line rental. If they installed fibre, where would the line rental revenue come from? Would people still pay for or enable a phone line if they didn’t need it for broadband? And to think this is the company we have asked as a country to prepare us for the future.
As you can tell this is something that has really got my goat. If BT with a clean sheet can’t deliver modern technology, which incidentally would be cheaper to install (as fibre is less than copper which is an increasingly expensive commodity), then as a country we should hang our head in shame. As countries across the world look to embrace a fast and competitive internet, we look to short term solutions in the hope that the need for more bandwidth will not continue. If the Victorians thought like that there wouldn’t be the infrastructure we enjoy today – even one of London’s greatest, the Tube.