Ex-BT boffin Cochrane blasts telco's 'wholly inadequate' broadband vision

C'mon folks. Look to Asia's tigers, not Euro 'lame ducks'


Professor Peter Cochrane OBE, the former head of R&D at BT, has dismissed the former incumbent telco's trumpeted “vision for Britain’s digital future” as woefully inadequate.

Current BT CEO Gavin Patterson spoke to a conference in London recently promising a number of improvements, arguing BT would tackle slow speeds in hard-to-reach parts of the country, achieve a step-change in speeds overall – with ultrafast rollout starting next year – and improve customer service.

However, Cochrane told The Register said it was a “very sad and wholly inadequate vision”, adding that if you “compare yourself to the lame ducks of the EU instead of the world leaders, this is what you get". The UK should be comparing itself with parts of Asia and Scandinavia, he argues.

Patterson committed BT to supporting the government in delivering a new universal minimum broadband speed of 5-10Mbps, claiming that was “enough for everyone in the UK to enjoy popular net services, such as high definition video".

Continuing the common telco obfuscation between fibre to the cabinet and fibre to the home, Patterson also pledged the company would “extend fibre broadband beyond UK’s current plans for 95 per cent of premises”.

BT suspended its sales of "Fibre On Demand" service – which delivered fibre to the home – last January, but now seems set to wake the service up again, with Patterson promising a 1Gbps service. But the emphasis on increasing speed will be the very much less capable (albeit much cheaper to roll out) G.fast service, which provides 300-500Mbps.

BT is claiming it would reach 10 million homes and smaller businesses by the end of 2020, and the majority of premises within a decade.

Cochrane told The Register that “if only these people actually used the technology and understood it we might expect more, but they don’t even seem to recognise global growth trends and advances, let alone the lessons of history".

Those trends are graphically shown in a recent Cisco blog post which forecast that for households “10 Gbps of bandwidth would not be excessive”, which makes Patterson’s 5-10Mbps seem slightly pathetic.

Cochrane argues that the 10Mbps figure is driven not by what people need but what BT can deliver over its copper, and that not only does fibre to the premises deliver better speeds it quite rapidly reduces costs because once you have the fibre in, upgrading is just a matter of the terminal equipment.

Cochrane sees all the progress as being made outside of BT, telling us:

Sad to say they stand to be sidelined by their own hand! The UK will see more DIY fibre and networks without infrastructure over the next decade.

Those fibre networks are already happening. Many small ISPs have told The Register that their policy for selling fibre to customers is to use “anyone but Openreach”. If you live in the right place you can get a gigabit service today from AQL, Gigaclear, Hyperoptic or Wighfibre, typically at £25 a month.

Sky and TalkTalk are up and running in York. In one village, farmers have put in their own fibre. ®

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