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As EE launches an innovative free fibre broadband trial, uSwitch Tech met with the UK’s newest major broadband player to talk plans for pay TV, the challenges of rolling out FTTC broadband and what’s driving customers to sign up for fibre.

What’s the thinking behind the fibre trial scheme? How do you suppose it will change the internet experience and web habits of consumers who take up the limited-period offer?

Our thinking is based on the feedback from our first fibre customers: some of them were a bit sceptical initially but all loved it as soon as they experienced the difference that fibre made to their everyday life.

The ‘Try Fibre for Free’ offer is designed to encourage customers to experience by themselves, so they can enjoy the benefits for their home, such as the ability to stream in HD at any time of the day (even peak times!), or allow anyone in the household to freely enjoy their Internet experience.

For instance, the classic example is of teenage sons playing online games but losing as soon as the dad or mum downloaded their emails. This does not happen anymore with EE fibre.

How many do you expect will continue subscribing to a fibre product at the end of the trial period?

Based on the insights from our first fibre customers, we are confident that a large majority will not downgrade back to ADSL broadband once they have experienced the difference EE fibre makes to their everyday Internet experience.

In fact, our first customers loved it so much that they have already recommended it to a lot of their friends.

sylvain thevenot

EE’s fibre uses the same BT network as Sky, TalkTalk and BT’s own Infinity offering. Why should a consumer choose EE’s fibre product over rivals?

EE may be sharing the same local street cabinet access network, but the core network is different and specific to EE with optimised bandwidth to support the growth of our fibre broadband base.

In addition, our Brightbox router was conceived to support fibre throughput speed from day one: EE’s core network and EE’s router are what matter the most to guarantee the best quality of the end-to-end experience – not the access to the street cabinet.

In fact, in the recent Speed survey from Ofcom (Feb’13), EE/Orange Network showed one of the highest speed increases, significantly above TalkTalk and Sky across all metrics.

What did you make of the recent spat between providers over government funding for BT’s fibre network? Are rival providers right to raise concerns?

We always welcome a competitive environment, and if Ofcom believe that fibre access wholesale pricing is not competitive enough, we would be pleased to see a reduction of our costs.

What did you make of BT’s decision to drop its target of delivering FTTP fibre broadband to 25 per cent of UK homes in the UK? Is that justifiable given the ahead-of-schedule progress of the FTTC rollout?

We have been watching the development of FTTP vs FTTC in our sister companies (Orange in France and T-Mobile in Germany), and it has become apparent that FTTP is hard to implement in large countries with inconsistent concentration of population.

We believe that the approach that BT Openreach has undertaken to accelerate the penetration of FTTC to the detriment of the FTTP is the right one, as it allows more households to benefit from superfast speed.

In our case, it means that today already more than 50 per cent of our mobile customers have access to fibre broadband speeds up to 10 times faster than the average ADSL speeds.

This is better than what we see on The Continent where operators have chosen the FTTP path (it serves between five per cent and 12 per cent of households) and are now reverting to rolling out FTTC/VDSL2 technologies to leverage the large copper infrastructure they have across their countries. Germany is a good example of this.

Fibre-optic broadband

What percentage of your customers have signed up for both 4G and fibre?

We are not disclosing our converged 4G and fibre base since it is early days, but we are confident that we are on track to achieve 8 per cent of the mobile contract base on 4G, and a large majority of our fibre customers are mobile customers.

Some fibre providers have used the tech as a platform to launch a pay-TV offering. Have you got any plans along these lines?

It is clear that one of the drivers to adopt fibre is the increased usage of online video services.

So far, what we have observed with our first fibre customers is the opposite behaviour.

They are actually joining EE fibre to enjoy a better experience on their OTT video services such as Netflix or Lovefilm, and in some cases, fibre is also a trigger for them to sign up to those OTT subscription services or buy the equipment like a Smart-TV to enjoy those services.

At the moment, we believe that it is more important to focus on providing a good customer experience and a great value on a fibre product – rather than inundating the customer with lots of complicated pay-TV options.

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