From socialising to live sport, online gaming to public services, high-speed, reliable and accessible connectivity is central to supporting an ever-expanding online world.

Like all infrastructure, supporting growing demand takes planning and investment.

Find out below how BT Group is tackling the challenge of growing traffic – and what more we believe needs to be done – to support a sustainable online future. 

  • Don a Virtual Reality headset and gaze into the future of connectivity, because both the quantity and quality of content online is about to take a huge leap. 

    We’re already used to the fact that the internet can deliver finance, food and films to our sofa. But the online world is on the cusp of getting a whole lot bigger.


    Because both the quantity and quality of content is growing.

    Today, a trickle of TV channels are already moving ‘online only’. But over the next decade, we’ll start to see a seismic shift as public service broadcasting shifts away from traditional broadcast and onto the internet for its delivery. That’s a significant change from the status quo, with a reliance on digital to connect important public service content to end customers.

    What’s more, the quality of video content is also improving. A growing number of households already have 4K televisions – with the greater definition understandably needing a bigger chunk of connectivity. But with the number of connected devices in homes also increasing there are additional loads coming down the line.

    Of course, television isn’t the only entertainment service undergoing change. Online gaming is exploding, with faster, more reliable networks giving top end gamers an important edge.  At the same time, companies are pitching the idea of huge new, online worlds in which many of our work and social lives could be spent in the future.

    This confluence of more content in higher quality will lead to massive demand on digital infrastructure. It’s one of the reasons BT Group is investing so much in full fibre and 5G, the next generation technologies that will help support this future. 

  • BT Group is investing in the coverage, capacity and capabilities of next generation fibre and mobile networks. But as the quantity and quality of content supported by our networks increases, those costs are growing.

    If you’ve ever been trapped in tailbacks at rush hour or had to stand on your morning commute, you’ll know that when too many people do something at the same time it can lead to queues. It’s the same on the internet. If there’s too much traffic at a particular time, journeys can slow down.

    BT Group is investing at record levels into fibre and mobile networks: expanding coverage, increasing capacity and innovating to deliver new capabilities. But these networks remain finite resources. Mobile spectrum is especially valuable and all traffic – whether it’s accessed in the home, at work or on the move - flows through our network Core. If sufficient capacity is not in place, it can cause congestion.

    The growing occurrence of ‘content clash,’ when simultaneous events make heavy demands on the network, is a particular problem. Our network has to be built to accommodate these extraordinarily high - but only occasional and often very short duration – peaks to avoid a poor customer experience. But that’s akin to investing in an extra 10 motorway lanes only to see them used by bank holiday traffic a few times a year.

    At a time when we’re balancing our responsibilities of growing coverage, subsidising more online access than anyone else and supporting vital public services, we have to ensure we’re not wasting money to support inefficient use of the internet.  And the energy resources that consumes.

    We believe it’s time for a rethink in how we support content into customer’s homes, so we can face the future with confidence. 

  • We believe every online journey should be possible, whatever the destination and at any time of any day. Sounds simple, right? But that’s not how the internet works. We’re asking for changes that will improve efficiency to ensure the heaviest traffic loads don’t impact everyone else. 

    If you ordered a local takeaway from your sofa on a Friday night, only to see it brought to your door by an articulated lorry, you’d rightly question the sustainability credentials of that delivery service. We believe the same principles should apply online.

    BT Group has a proud history of identifying problems and investing to meet them head on. The future of content delivery is no different. We believe every online journey should be possible and we’re investing in next generation fibre and 5G to support that.

    But our investment is not enough by itself. 

    The extraordinary and often unexpected traffic peaks we see on our network are caused by inefficient and uncoordinated content distribution. This can impact the internet experience of millions of users and drives unnecessary costs.

    We believe our job is to build networks that meet our customer’s growing demands. But it’s everyone’s responsibility to make sure those networks are used fairly.

    If we want a sustainable digital world that will meet growing demand in the future, we need to make sure all players are working together. And we have to ensure more of the value extracted from the internet is reinvested back into it. Got right, these changes will benefit everyone involved.

    So, we have some simple policy asks:

    1)     That Ofcom ensure network innovation is supported

    A little clarity goes a long way and we’re pleased that Ofcom has confirmed that innovative services, like network slicing, don’t breach current rules and clarified that traffic management of congestion is permitted in some circumstances. These have huge potential to support new business products.

    2)     That our rules incentivise efficient distribution of content

    In an age where we’re all mindful of using resources wisely, the same principles should apply online. Those that produce or send content must do so in ways that take account of the wider internet experience, which will be of the benefit to all customers.

    3)     That networks can negotiate on a level playing field

    Current rules are a barrier to networks like BT from being in complete control over the integrity of our own networks. Regulations must support an ability to negotiate commercial agreements with the largest Content Providers to fund new capacity investments, helping to keep customer bills down while also enabling investment in meeting other public policy goals, like rural coverage. 

  • It might sound boring, but regulation is fundamentally important in shaping the behaviour of companies. Without updated rules that reflect the reality of the modern internet, inefficient networks will continue to drive inefficient investment, taking money away from where it could make a real difference to customers.

    Like all businesses, we want to make investment where it’s most needed and to be cost and energy efficient. Expanding next generation networks like fibre and 5G will make a huge difference to people’s lives. Networks have to first be in place in order for people to get online. But there remain other barriers to getting online. BT Consumer supports more customers on social tariffs than anyone else but the government estimates that 1.5million households still cannot afford even low-cost broadband. Getting those people online is an important Government priority and must form part of the work as television moves from broadcast to Internet delivery.  

    Yet, without change, more of our investment will go to supporting extra capacity in areas where networks already exist. If we didn’t, customers would experience congestion.  Is it right that a GP video call might fail because a huge gaming download, scheduled at the same time, is using up the bandwidth? And should your favourite TV show buffer just because there’s a live football match being streamed next door?

    Right now, our networks are coping well. But sometimes it feels like we’re laying the track ahead of an accelerating train.

    The status quo isn’t working – policymakers are concerned about rising connectivity bills, yet content producers say the answer to rising data demands and costs is that network providers build more capacity, but not that they should contribute anything for this.

    The internet is hugely valuable, but the benefits and costs could be more evenly spread. Instead, we need to create a new model that supports public policy goals of increasing coverage and getting more people online, while also ensuring reliability, quality and investment efficiency for all viewers.

    The UK needs to start planning now for this transition.