BT gets streetwise for the EV era

Yanitsa Boyadzhieva
By Yanitsa Boyadzhieva

Jan 8, 2024

Source: BT

Source: BT

  • BT ploughs ahead with its journey to net zero
  • It is planning a new future for its old street cabinets
  • The UK’s incumbent telco is piloting a solution that allows street furniture to charge electric vehicles
  • This could open the door to potential revenue options, but BT is yet to assess all commercial models

BT Group has boosted its green network credentials by kickstarting a project to transform up to 60,000 street cabinets into electric vehicle (EV) charging units, a move that could potentially help it gain new revenue opportunities.

The ambitious initiative is run by the UK telco’s startup and digital incubation arm, Etc., and will begin by powering up an EV charging unit in Lothian, Scotland, before rolling out more technical trials in the coming months to explore how the solution can be scaled to address the lack of EV chargers across the UK.

The charging solution works by retrofitting the street cabinets (that were traditionally used to store broadband and phone cabling) with a device that enables renewable energy to be shared to a charge point, alongside the existing broadband service, without the need to create a new power connection.

BT, which aims to become net zero by the end of March 2031 for its own operations, believes its pilot could not only support its own sustainability-related goals but also help decarbonise the transport system in the UK. Research carried out by the telco found some 38% of people would already own an EV if charging were less of an issue, while nearly 80% of petrol and diesel drivers cited not being able to conveniently charge an EV as a barrier to getting one. 

“EV charging can be deployed to cabinets that are in use for current copper broadband services, or in those due for retirement, depending on the space and power available to the unit. Once the cabinet is no longer needed for broadband, as nationwide full-fibre rollout progresses, the broadband equipment is recycled, and additional EV charge points can be added,” the UK’s incumbent operator explained.

Tom Guy, managing director of Etc. at BT Group, described the charging solution as “a huge step in bringing EV charging kerbside and exploring how we can address key barriers customers are currently facing”.

New revenue potential?

The move is seen as an important environmental milestone in terms of lowering carbon emissions in the future – but what is in it for BT, financially speaking? Although BT and Etc. are “not currently in a position to share financial information” related to the costs and potential revenue model associated with the development, a BT spokesperson told TelecomTV that the initial pilots are “funded within our existing financial envelope and are relatively modest in scale”. 

The company added that it’s still too early to say what financial gain could be unlocked, as it depends on the ultimate commercial model for the service. “If it goes ahead, post-pilot revenue could be generated from the electricity consumed by customers, or from other commercial options. The trial will help us work through all the commercial models,” BT noted.

A similar viewpoint was taken by one of BT’s partners. Joe Thompson, head of group optical and network product at refurbished telecom equipment supplier TXO, explained that BT’s new solution might provide some food for thought to other telcos, as it “could be the start of a trend where service providers look to leverage existing or legacy network furniture for EV charging”.

What’s more, according to Thompson, BT could make establishing a business unit dedicated to EV charging “financially feasible”, as turning almost 60,000 of its cabinets into charging points would give it the required scale. 

“The industry is now also exploring a range of other use cases to do more good with this essential street furniture, [from] monitoring environmental metrics like air quality, noise pollution and land moisture, to serving communities as WiFi hotspots or for enterprise peering arrangements. These new initiatives could unlock much-needed revenue as providers look to monetise their fibre networks and build stronger relationships with local communities,” added Thompson.

He maintained that most street cabinets have enough power to support EV charging without needing significant upgrades, but added that access to them must be ensured 24/7, so that cars don’t block maintenance engineers if something goes wrong.

- Yanitsa Boyadzhieva, Deputy Editor, TelecomTV

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