Openreach dares to contemplate retiring its copper network

UK fixed-line wholesaler Openreach has launched an industry consultation into the switch to ‘full fibre’, which would involve retiring the legacy copper one.

There’s not a lot of point shelling out for a fibre network covering the whole country if a bunch of people don’t use it. Furthermore the cost of maintaining two parallel networks would be prohibitive, so Openreach seems to be saying full fibre will only happen if everyone is fully committed to it. The purpose of this consultation seems to be to chuck that idea out there and see what the rest of the industry, including the government and Ofcom, has to say about it.

“…we’re consulting with broadband providers to decide how and when we upgrade customers to even faster, more reliable and future-proof, full fibre broadband,” said Katie Milligan, MD for Customer, Commercial and Propositions at Openreach. “We believe this consultation is crucial to that process, and it will support further investment from across the industry. We’re really ambitious about upgrading the UK to the fastest, most reliable broadband there is.”

These are the three main areas Openreach wants feedback from UK CSPs on:

  1. How it builds the new network
  2. How the industry should migrate customers smoothly onto the new network
  3. How Openreach should eventually retire the existing copper network

Getting buy-in from the CSPs is vital, of course, because they and their customers are ultimately the ones that will pay for this network. The above points are all essentially about money: how are we going to pay for this network and make everyone use it? On top of those Openreach flagged up a few more specific ‘guiding principles’ that also need to be considered:

  • Building contiguous footprints within its exchange areas to avoid creating new not-spots
  • Working closely with CPs to upgrade every customer in those areas quickly once the new network is built
  • Offering a compelling, simple portfolio of products that supports new retail voice and broadband services
  • Upgrading the large majority of people voluntarily, whilst developing an industry process for late adopters
  • Withdrawing copper-based services progressively
  • Developing a consumer charter with industry and Ofcom that encourages transparent communications to homes and businesses affected, and includes protections for vulnerable customers

In other words those pesky ‘late adopters’ would eventually be given no choice but to upgrade. This is what Openreach had to say about the copper situation: “The process would start with a ‘no move back’ policy for premises connected with FTTP, followed by a ‘stop-sell’ of copper services to new customers, and ultimately a withdrawal in full.”

It seems a bit authoritarian, but if the economics of maintaining the copper network don’t add up then it’s hard to what alternatives there are. The danger of forcing consumers to take a service is that CSPs could take that opportunity to over-charge, so Ofcom will want to keep an eye on that side of things. The government, as ever, will ride on the coat-tails of the process in its never-ending search for cheap political capital.

“We’re building a Britain that’s fit for the future, and our plans for a national full fibre broadband network underpin our modern industrial strategy,”  said Minister for Digital Margot James. “Upgrading to gigabit capable connections will benefit homes and businesses all across the UK. I welcome Openreach’s consultation on how to make this process as simple and efficient as possible whilst ensuring a competitive market is in place for all consumers and infrastructure providers.”

Openreach also recently announced Salisbury is going to become the UK’s first place to get FTTP across an entire town, which will be complete in April 2020. It seems to be setting this up as an exemplar of how great everything can be if we all cooperate on this stuff and reap the consequent connectivity rewards. This consultation will be open until 3 May, after which Openreach will let us know how it went.

CityFibre research says UK is doing terrible job at connectivity

Research commissioned by serial-moaner and sh*t-stirrer CityFibre claims the UK is falling way back in the connectivity ranks, with broadband slower than on Madagascar.

We strongly suspect the wording of the research twisted certain perspectives and answers, CityFibre does of course gain from frowns directed at the mainstream telcos, but it is not difficult to believe the statistics. The research suggests the UK ranks 35th in the world for broadband speeds, as the country still relies too much on copper infrastructure instead of the futuristic fibre alternative.

“For too long the UK has been held back by a deliberate lack of investment by BT Openreach in fibre infrastructure,” said Greg Mesch, CEO of CityFibre. “Although companies like CityFibre are building the networks that will give millions of homes and businesses access to full fibre broadband, providers continuing to advertise copper-based connections as ‘fibre’ is leaving people completely confused about what is on offer.

“With the way we work increasingly blending our home and work lives, it has never been more important for people to understand what broadband connection they really get at home.”

Looking at the research statistics, 78% of the respondents feel slowed down and frustrated by their internet connection, a number which increases to 82% with homeworkers. Again, these figures will have been twisted by the working of the questions, but as a homeworker your correspondent can confirm this is an issue. 99% of those who work from agree a faster internet connection would be more beneficial to their working lives.

The benefits of working from home are clear, though connectivity barriers are starting to become more apparent. The intensity of work programmes will soon get to a point where copper based infrastructure becomes more than a hindrance. Unfortunately for the UK, fewer than 4% of homes currently have a fibre connection, and that is using statistics from the government’s Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review (FTIR). This 4% compares to 71% of homes in Spain and 89% of homes in Portugal.

The extremity of what CityFibre is saying should be taken with a pinch of salt, the picture of Coppersaurus is a prime example of trolling behaviour from the telco, but it is not wrong. The UK is falling behind, and while the FTIR does look promising, now is the time for action not more investigations. As Matthew Howett of Assembly said at this years Connected Britain event:

“If you could rollout out connectivity through reports and investigations, Britain would have faster broadband than Japan and Korea.”