BT turns up broadband speed dial

Fibre optic cables Fibre optics that run all the way to homes offer speeds of up to 1Gbps

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BT is to launch a fibre optic service that will deliver speeds of up to 300Mbps (megabits per second) to some UK homes by spring next year.

The service is only likely to be made available to a minority of people with others promised speed boosts of up to 80Mbps.

The UK government welcomed the news.

But broadband figures reveal the UK still has a long way to go to achieve its goal of being the fastest in Europe by 2015.

BT said it will begin trialing the super-fast technology known as Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) this month.

It is investing £2.5 billion to make fibre broadband available to two thirds of UK premises by the end of 2015 but only around a quarter of these will benefit from FTTP.

The majority of its money is going into Fibre-to-the-Cabinet technology (FTTC), which is slower because it uses copper wire to connect the street cabinet to users' homes.

Full fibre

FTTC currently has a top speed of 40Mbps although BT promised to double that to around 80Mbps next year.

Currently BT's fibre services serve around 5 million homes but take-up has been sluggish. Its super-fast service BT Infinity service has just 200,000 users so far.

Seb Lahtinen, co-founder of broadband news site ThinkBroadband, said there is pent-up demand for faster broadband.

"It is likely to be driven by high definition video-on-demand content as well as households where many different family members are using the internet at the same time," he said.

He welcomed BT's decision to roll out faster fibre.

"Wider availability of 'full fibre' FTTP services is clearly an important milestone as it represents a move to leading edge technology capable of delivering services beyond speeds which one could imagine requiring in the next decade," he said.

Trials of FTTP will be small-scale at first, with the service going live this month in just six areas - Ashford in Middlesex, Bradwell Abbey, Chester South, Highams Park, St Austell and York.

BT Openreach chief executive Liv Garfield said the announcement was "a significant step in the UK's broadband journey."

"These developments will transform broadband speeds across the country and propel the UK up the broadband league tables," she added.

Eastern Europe

It has some way to go though, according to figures released last week by the Fibre-to-the-Home Council for Europe.

Penetration rates of FTTP technology in the UK are too low for it to feature in the league table.

Lithuania leads the European FTTP ranking with 26.6% of households subscribing to the technology, followed by Norway, Sweden, Slovenia, Russia, Slovakia, Latvia, Bulgaria, Estonia and Denmark, in that order. Each of the top ten FTTP nations has a penetration rate of at least 6%.

A handful of rival companies already offer FTTP technologies in the UK, but they tend to be limited to new housing developments.

The government is keen that rural areas should not fall behind when it comes to super-fast broadband and has made £530m available to boost investment in these areas.

To encourage alternatives to BT, it forced the telco to open up its ducts and overhead poles to rivals.

Fujitsu pledged it would offer a rural FTTP network run on BT's infrastructure but the sticking point appears to be what BT will charge for access to its ducts and poles.

Communications minister Jeremy Hunt recently urged the company to hurry up and sort the issue out.

For its part, BT told the BBC that it was in talks with regulator Ofcom regarding the prices and "hoped those discussions will be concluded shortly".

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