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Wednesday, 26 November 2014

BT's Bill Murphy responds to Cumbria's broadband frustrations

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WIDENING THE NET BT managing director of next generation access Bill Murphy

IN Cumbria, we’ve become used to BT’s regular broadband announcements with news about the upgrades around the county that are steadily increasing connection speeds for most of our major towns.

But there is one announcement we’re waiting for from the telecommunications giant to make that could be key to really unlocking the potential of the internet for small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

BT has said that from early next year fibre on demand will be available in areas where it has already upgraded its broadband. That means that businesses will be able to purchase a fibre connection to their premises and with it speeds of 330Mb/s.

The crucial question we need answered is: At what cost?

BT’s Bill Murphy is the man who should know. As managing director of next generation access he has helped bring superfast broadband to Northern Ireland and Cornwall and is responsible for driving the commercial roll-out and adoption of high-speed broadband technologies across the UK.

“Fibre on demand will be available from spring 2013,” he told in-Cumbria. “It will transform the situation, it is remarkable the impact it will have.”

Yes, but what about the price?

“Pricing is very, very close and clearly an important step, but I can say that the price will be attractive to small businesses.”

Mr Murphy added that the biggest component of any costs might be the initial outlay of getting fibre to a business. If a car park needs to be dug up, for example, installation costs will multiply rapidly.

However, there is potential for businesses to group together to fund installation to shared premises – opening up the possibility of hubs for SMEs to enjoy ultrafast connection speeds.

Mr Murphy is aware of the growing assertiveness of the Cumbrian business community in pressing for its needs to be high on any broadband agenda.

“SMEs have seen the biggest benefit in Northern Ireland and Cornwall. They have hired more people, got more done and got more time to develop their businesses.

“There is no question that there is a massive business benefit so they are one of the key constituents in this process and its important they communicate their views via bodies such as the Chamber of Commerce, so that people are aware of what businesses need.

“Certainly, there has been a lot of discussion with the business community. They need to be listened to.”

Mr Murphy said BT would continue to invest in a range of technologies in Cumbria such as DSL2 and Ethernet to improve connections and service, but did not share the view held by some that 4G mobile would arrive like the cavalry and solve all the connection problems of rural areas.

“I’m not sure that it solves everyone’s requirements and clearly there is a huge challenge of mobile companies to handle more data so I don’t think it will replace fibre in the foreseeable future.

“We use a mix of technologies but BT is committed to providing the biggest fibre footprint possible, but the further you push out the less dense area networks and it gets very costly.”

Which brings us round to the thorny issue of Cumbria County Council’s decision to reject tenders from both BT and Fujitsu for its project to provide superfast broadband across the county. A decision on awarding that £40m subsidy is now due in September.

Mr Murphy described the decision as “surprising”, adding that he thought the council had been “brave” considering the pressure it was under locally and nationally to deliver on the project.

“I have been through many of these tender processes. This was surprising. It was a tough and brave decision. It must have been very, very difficult. But obviously we didn’t work hard enough and have got more work to do, but we are not walking away.”

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