BT's new Openreach CEO on the fibre future

We speak to Openreach's new CEO, 35-year-old Olivia Garfield, about the state of British broadband and how BT is going to shape it.

Olivia Garfield

My view is that when you look at the UK, fibre is the right answer for 90 per cent of the people.

There is no commercial case beyond the two thirds for a single individual firm, but I believe you could get funds without going nuts on the money to get to 90 per cent.

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It certainly takes a while to do fibre. We will do around a million [premises] a quarter going forward. We've done four million now, it'll be five million imminently in spring.

If you're looking at four million a year, and we've said by the end of 2015 we'd have done two-thirds, either you're going to have a commitment now that we need to do more, which requires an early decision on the process, or it means you would keep on running afterwards if there was funding available.

So, it's a question. With our current engineering size, we will do two thirds of the population by the end of 2015 we'd have to recruit if we were going to do it any faster.

How much responsibility should public bodies take for helping deploy fibre in the UK?

Well, we'll only do two-thirds. If anybody wants to go beyond the two thirds, it is going to require extra funding.

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What we need to do in the short term is just make sure we've created a really slick fibre process. Then if somebody comes to us and says we'd like more help, we're in a position to give that help.

Virgin has been making strides in the fibre department, what do you make of their efforts?

Virgin has been making strides? In what way?

Well, in pushing out their 100Mbps connections...

Virgin have got a very good cable network but they haven't made any strides in fibre.

So what are your opinions on what the rest of the industry is doing with fibre?

I don't think anyone is committed to a large fibre rollout, as far as I know.

Fibre is a risky, risky case. It's a 12 to 14-year payback case, it's tough. I'm not criticising anybody, it's a big investment for us and it's one that's not proven.

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I totally understand anyone who is looking at the same situation and thinking 'ouch, I'm not sure that's where I can justifiably spend infrastructure CAPEX at the moment.'

What I think we'll see is that some players will come on board with our fibre deployment. We'd like to see people like TalkTalk and Sky, for example, all coming on board with a host of smaller players... that would be amazing.

I think we'll see some other players decide that they actually want to be in the infrastructure game.

What we tend to see though is we can certainly get our business case to work on a wholesale basis, so anybody who is creating a case to be both the infrastructure provider and the service provider, I think they'll find the maths really troublesome on that. We've all found that a struggle.

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