Ahead of Gigabit Access 2017 we caught up with keynote speaker Peter Bell, Fibre CIO at Openreach. We spoke about Openreach’s progress in delivering ultrafast networks across the UK, how thier deployments are progressing, and the socioeconomic benefits of delivering enhaced access networks.

Can you outline how Openreach are delivering enhanced access networks across the UK?

Openreach started its deployment of Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC) in 2009 and now over 26m homes passed can receive a high speed broadband service. Over 7.2m homes are already connected. We also have the largest Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) network in the UK and both our FTTP and FTTC networks offer Superfast speeds (>24Mbit/s) and we continue to rollout to ever more locations.
More recently we have focussed our attention on how to achieve ultrafast speeds (>100Mbit/s) and this has led to a number of product offerings for FTTP and we’ve piloted our technology
How have your trials and early commercial deployments affected your access strategy?
A major focus of Openreach’s R&D is developing an effective strategy for the deployment of ultrafast infrastructure, including We are leveraging our investment in our existing VDSL road side cabinets, to offer customers speeds currently of up to 160Mbit/s and 330Mbit/s. 
In order to do this we’ve had to work with industry on a range of engineering developments in order to ensure that the technology can get the reach needed, and that the equipment can scale to make very large deployments possible. 
Our trials last year gave Openreach the confidence that was a technology to deliver ultrafast services and we are in pilot. The pilot will cover circa 140k customers during 2017 and our early results are very promising. 
We see as a way to deliver the ultrafast speeds to support the UK digital economy in the shortest timeframe.
What are the biggest challenges that Openreach faces in delivering next generation access networks?
The main challenge facing us and others in the industry is building ultrafast infrastructure to support the UK digital economy in the shortest possible timeframe. 
That’s why we believe a mixed technology approach is the best way forward. In terms of deploying we believe that will allow us to speed things up as we are effectively adding our technology directly to existing equipment in the street that has fibre and power already in place.
FTTP presents a different challenge in that we need to plan, and often get permission for new fibre nodes, before we can start building the infrastructure. But we are making good progress with our roll out of FTTP. More than 345,000 homes and businesses already have access to FTTP today via Openreach’s network and 2m homes and businesses will have access by the end of 2020.
What are the biggest opportunities open to Openreach from building next generation access networks?
This year is when we really start to motor with our ultrafast strategy based on our and FTTP deployments. We see a 40% growth year on year in consumption of data across our infrastructure and we don’t expect it to slow anytime soon. 
The biggest opportunity for us and our customers is to tap into this demand. Every day the number of services delivered to us online, whether designed to entertain, educate or meet our daily needs, is growing. 
Bandwidth requirements are increasing at an exponential rate as video usage grows rapidly and the so-called “internet of things” — network intelligence connecting millions of devices and machines from remote sensors monitoring farm livestock to driverless cars — enters the mainstream.
Ultrafast broadband is also becoming a domestic necessity, as essential as water, electricity and gas. Networked homes with intelligent lighting, heating and security systems will become the norm over the years ahead as will vital services delivered digitally, from home-based patient care to advanced remote learning and education.
For business large and small it’s about being able to engage in the digital economy and high speed broadband enables that. It breaks down the barriers to doing business in the digital world, and helps to empower businesses to find new markets, sell new products, try new models, and for smaller enterprises to compete on an equal footing with larger businesses.
Businesses of all sizes across all sectors are increasingly reliant on high speed internet connections to collaborate on complex projects across multiple locations, manage supply chains and conduct online transactions.

What is the single most important change you have witnessed in telecoms since you joined the industry?
I have worked in the industry for nearly 25 years and I am constantly amazed and inspired by the innovation and engineering in telecommunications. I have seen the UK develop from a nation which was sceptical of broadband to a nation hungry for more and more bandwidth and at the forefront of the digital economy. 
You can hear more from Peter at Gigabit Access 2017, being held in Brussels, Belgium on 4th and 5th April. To find out more about the conference visit the website where operator access specialists can apply for a free guest pass.