Technology

BT to offer 300 Mbps fibre optic broadband 'on demand' in 2013

BT trialist
Image caption Toby Parkins of UK NetWeb was one of those who tried out BT's new fibre service in St Agnes, Cornwall

Fibre optic broadband connections of up to 300 Megabits per second will be available on demand in 2013, BT says.

That is three times the maximum 100 Mbps speed the company currently offers using the technology and it described the development as a "game changer".

According to Ofcom the current UK broadband average is 7.6 Mbps.

BT said it hoped to create a "mass market" for high speed broadband among small and medium sized businesses following trials in Cornwall.

The company made the announcement following successful trials of so-called fibre to the premise (FTTP) in St Agnes.

"By December 2014, two-thirds of the country will have access to ultra-fast fibre if they want it" said Mike Galvin of Openreach, part of the BT group.

The firm plans to roll out the system starting next year.

Costly connections

Optical fibre links to street cabinets are widespread, but the connection from cabinet to premises is in most cases copper cable, limiting the speed of the connection.

FTTP will require a fibre-optic connection to the premise from the street cabinet to be installed.

But that may not mean digging up the road.

"It could be overhead, might be on a pole, might be in an existing ductwork," Openreach's Mike Galvin told the BBC.

But connection will come at a price. BT said the installation fees will most likely be in the high hundreds of pounds, possibly more.

What individual customers will have to pay will depend on whether companies who provide broadband connections, such as ISPs, pass them on to consumers.

Spending on speed

Installing a high-speed connection at a price is not in itself innovative, but BT believes the new product is a significant development.

"If you had the money you could have had your own private plane as well, and that's the difference - you are making something that was previously a high-end product and you're bringing availability to the mass market," Mr Galvin said.

He added that the FTTP system was "future proof" allowing BT to upgrade as still faster technologies were developed.

"There are technologies coming up which will give speeds up to 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps)," he said.

BT said the roll out was enabled by changes to the way they use their network.

"We've re-engineered and re-looked at how we do fibre in our local network," Mr Galvin said.

"We think this is an absolute game changer. Overnight you've gone form a network that's got the potential to do 80 Mbps across two thirds of the country to a network that on demand can do 300 Mbps."

At present the company only offers FTTP for the areas around 14 exchanges.

Changing commitments

Some rivals have accused BT of cutting back on previous commitments - namely dropping a target for the percentage of properties with fibre to the door.

Image caption Virgin recently announced they were doubling broadband speeds

However, BT said it still planned to spend the same £2.5bn on fibre, and that in cases where the fibre only went up the cabinet, premises would soon be able to get 80 Mbps speed.

A spokesman told the BBC, "Before this development FTTP was going to be available in a relatively small subset of our fibre footprint. This development means it can be available in the whole of our fibre footprint."

The government wants 90% of UK businesses to be connected to super-fast broadband by 2015.

The announcement of BT's new product follows news of high-speed offerings from rivals.

A Virgin Media spokesman said: "We're about to boost the speeds for millions of people yet again with our doubling upgrade and the introduction of 120 Mbps.

"Having successfully proven 1.5 Gbps on our network last summer, Britain's broadband is moving in the right direction."

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