The next government must put a full fibre broadband rollout near the top of its priority list because households will need faster internet speeds to cope with the expected 100 smart gadgets in homes within the next five years, according to the boss of BT.
Philip Jansen said most homes only have five internet-enabled devices. However, he expects this to soar as older items are replaced and new smart home products hit the market.
He warned that the rollout could only be achieved with spending by shareholders and investors who can be sure they will see a return on investment.
In an apparent dig at the Labour Party, which has called for wide-scale nationalisation of several previously state-owned businesses, Mr Jansen said: “What we need is a regulated regime that establishes the situation where we can invest heavily and get the returns our investors should appropriately get… What we’re looking for is fair, reasonable returns for our investors.
“I do think that is a more than appropriate approach and I can’t see how anyone can argue the reverse.
“We can’t do it for nothing.”
He added: “The ambition of full fibre to the whole UK by 2025 is really very ambitious, but it’s been a good catalyst for everyone to figure out.
“As we go into the next few weeks a whole new uncertainty obviously appears.
“We need to ensure that fibring up the nation is one of the top priorities of the UK government, whoever it is.
“Everyone recognises it’s a no brainer.”
His comments come as the telecoms giant revealed a 2% fall in revenues to £11.4 billion for the six months to September 30 and pretax profits were flat at £1.3 billion.
Mr Jansen is keen to spend heavily and quickly on upgrading ageing infrastructure and replace all copper wiring with full fibre broadband. However, he had also been under pressure from shareholders to maintain dividend payouts to them.
He agreed, and kept the dividend at 4.62p a share, despite raising the amount of capital expenditure by 3% to £1.9 billion.
Spending will go on upgrading 600 high street stores by bringing the BT name back to the high street.
The company is adding the fascia to its EE phone stores as it hopes to boost BT’s position in the mobile market ahead of 5G being rolled out more widely.
Earlier this year, bosses pledged to upgrade 700,000 homes and businesses to faster broadband by summer 2020.
The telecoms provider said it plans to boost customers with average speeds of around 10Mbps to 50Mbps, with improved Wi-Fi to be delivered through upgraded smart hubs, at no extra cost.
BT intends to stop selling standard broadband connections on the legacy BT copper network to 90% of the UK and promised to use all available technologies to provide the fastest connections possible for the 10% unable to get super-fast connections.
The company has already said it is aiming to reach four million homes and businesses with its next generation full fibre offering by the end of March 2021.