Monday, 12 April 2021

Building Gigabit-Capable Broadband for Britain

Kerry Merritt, Total Telecom
Wednesday 07 April 21

Total Telecom spoke to Graeme Millar, CEO of JT Group on the progress of JT's full fibre roll-out, ahead of his panel at Gigabit Access on 20th April.

In 2019, JT Group was recognised as the first jurisdiction in the world to make full-fibre available to every broadband user in Jersey. How did you achieve this? We realised from the outset that directly connecting all broadband customers in Jersey to a full-fibre connection was actually a ‘Jersey’ project rather than simply a ‘JT’ project – so we needed to make sure we had the full support of the Government of Jersey, and islanders, whether they were our customers of ours or not.  Being wholly owned by the island, our shareholders understood that this was in the long-term interests of Jersey, it would be a considerable boost to our narrative as a connected jurisdiction…

In 2019, JT Group was recognised as the first jurisdiction in the world to make full-fibre available to every broadband user in Jersey. How did you achieve this?

We realised from the outset that directly connecting all broadband customers in Jersey to a full-fibre connection was actually a ‘Jersey’ project rather than simply a ‘JT’ project – so we needed to make sure we had the full support of the Government of Jersey, and islanders, whether they were our customers of ours or not. 

Being wholly owned by the island, our shareholders understood that this was in the long-term interests of Jersey, it would be a considerable boost to our narrative as a connected jurisdiction, because it was something that hadn’t been achieved  anywhere else before, in such a short time.  

People understood that we were proposing to connect them up to a network that would have one of the fastest speeds in the world, for no extra cost to them. 

Connecting tens of thousands of properties in just a few years had its difficulties, particularly in a small island where one road closure can impact a lot of people – but with good communication, and careful planning, we kept that to a minimum.

Today, every broadband customer has a superfast fibre broadband connection plugged directly into their home or business. 

Why did JT Group choose full-fibre?
 
As with all big infrastructure projects, if you only invest when there is a demand, then you’re too late, as the time-lag to construct them is often measured in years. Instead, you must look carefully at the future, and seek to persuade those who say: “but we don’t need it yet”.
 
We could see that the technologies that were beginning to emerge would require a reliable, fast and resilient network which was capable of handling large amounts of data. We believed the days when homes would have multiple, data-hungry, internet-connected devices were not far away. 
 
While no-one could foresee the pandemic, the last twelve months have proved that decision we made was the right one for Jersey. Having a full-fibre network not only allowed businesses to keep going, it also easily managed the extra capacity demands that were made as everyone followed the stay-at-home instruction, and more of our lives moved online. 
 
All that extra traffic from people streaming videos, gaming, working and learning online stretched network resources, but fibre coped with it brilliantly. 
 
What have been the biggest barriers to network deployment?
 
I think the biggest barrier was fear of the unknown, not just for us and the partners who worked with us on this, but for those that eventually became the beneficiaries. 
 
There are plenty of people who said that their existing connections worked just fine (but also a lot who didn’t) and they didn’t want or need the extra speed or data capacity, that full-fibre brings. 
 
We were able to convince them to look ahead to future needs and see the data requirements we now take for granted , just a few years later, which continues to grow. 
 
We couldn’t live the lives we do now without full-fibre. I’m sure we will still be saying that in the years to come, as even the way we control our homes (such as in security, lighting, heating) becomes more ‘connected.’
 
Governments and regulators need to understand that they have a responsibility to precipitate that change, because it needs political will to migrate from legacy technology to the new opportunities that full-fibre can bring.
 
What are the next steps in JT’s network roadmap?
 
We’re building on what we have already achieved in Jersey, by moving ‘beyond the router’ and into helping people enjoy more connected services within their homes. There’s lots of value we can add there, which doesn’t just stop with making sure they have a full-fibre connection, and not helping them to make the most of it.  
 
We also want to be a part of the fibre roll out plans in Guernsey, where we have already been connecting properties and businesses, albeit in a more limited way so far. 
 
What is important is that governments set out a clear ‘national’ strategy for fibre, and then operators like JT can help them to deliver it and realise the considerable benefits. 
 
What are you most looking forward to about your panel discussion at Gigabit Access?
 
We love to share what we learned during our deployment of fibre across Jersey. It was great to be the first to do it, but it’s really important we help to spread the word that it is possible. What it would be good to discuss is how operators are getting involved with developers to ensure that fibre is installed in all new builds. This should be something that is standard across the industry and being coordinated by governments working with developers and operators.
 
Graeme Millar, CEO of JT Group will be joining a panel at Gigabit Access 2021 at 11.05am BST on 20th April on "Innovation in business models for FTTH & FTTX rollout". To join Graeme at the event, register here.
 

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