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BT to fibre up another 163 exchanges, coy on exactly where

Keen to bag more UK.gov funds to lay cable across Blighty

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BT has indicated another 163 exchanges will deploy fibre in 2013 as part of its £2.5bn broadband upgrade for two thirds of the UK.

The national telco said the rollout will lead to more than one million homes and businesses witnessing hordes of BT Openreach engineers laying high-speed optic cabling mainly to street cabinets. Individual premises typically hook into these junction boxes for internet and telephone connectivity, although fibre can be taken directly into properties if BT allows it.

The Register asked the company to provide a breakdown of how many homes and businesses can expect Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) tech rather than the much more widely deployed Fibre-to-the-Cabinet (FTTC) upgrade. However, the company hadn't immediately got back to us with a response at the time of writing.

We do know that BT - on a national level - plans to bring FTTC (with downstream speeds said to be up to 80Mbps) to roughly 75 per cent of homes and businesses, while the remaining 25 per cent will be lucky enough to get FTTP that is expected to offer theoretical downloads speeds of up to 330Mbps.

BT said it "passed" more than 11 million properties to date with its fibre upgrade. As a disclaimer about the work, the telecoms giant noted that "some premises within the selected exchange areas will not initially be able to access fibre-based broadband".

The company said this was due to "the current network topography, and the economics of deployment". Alternative options for providing connectivity - which presumably could include satellite tech - are being mulled over by Openreach, BT said.

It also said that the rollout plans were "subject to an acceptable environment for investment", and said its fibre would be - as usual - offered on a wholesale basis to rival telcos.

BT's Mike Galvin said:

We have now announced the bulk of the exchanges we will be deploying fibre to under our own steam but we are keen to go even further with the help of BDUK [Broadband Delivery UK] funding. We will continue to engage with local government and communities to try and give as many people as possible access to the benefits of fibre broadband.

At present, BT is the only company to have successfully bid for a slice of the BDUK pie of taxpayer-funded cash, set aside for local authorities to improve broadband ideally in rural areas. The only other company that the government had initially deemed suitable for seeking the public sector subsidy was Japanese tech giant Fujitsu. However - as we recently reported - that outfit has been effectively frozen out of UK.gov contracts across a number of departments.

It's a move that's left Culture Secretary Maria Miller with something of a dilemma, given that Brussels is withholding its approval of state funding while it investigates BT's tight grasp of the £530m BDUK cash mountain. If the Department for Culture, Media and Sport was to outright exclude Fujitsu from chasing broadband contracts, the government could be left exposed to unhappy competition watchdogs in the European Commission.

Instead, the DCMS has told El Reg it is very carefully reviewing Fujitsu's conduct in chasing procurement deals. ®

Bootnote

Unusually, BT did not furnish us with a full list of the 163 exchanges earmarked for its latest fibre rollout. Instead, the company preferred only to mention a few locations by saying that the upgrades were "spread across the UK from Torquay, in Devon, to Kilbirnie in Scotland".

Vulture Central's networks desk notes that customers can always attempt to check the project's progress via BT's "Where and When" website. And our cockles are warmed by the fact that anyone typing in the postcode E1, for example, will no longer be redirected up Mount Everest. Well done, lads!

Updated to add

BT has finally coughed up its list of 163 exchanges: you can find it here.

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