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BT Openreach Start Cable Duct and Pole Access Trials with 5 UK ISPs

Wednesday, Jul 6th, 2016 (11:49 am) - Score 4,625

Openreach (BT) has begun the first trials of its new wholesale Duct and Pole Access (DPA) product, which is intended to help promote the large-scale roll-out of new “ultrafast” broadband services by opening up the operator’s huge network of telegraph poles and cable ducts for use by rivals.

The new solution, which is effectively an enhancement of the existing Physical Infrastructure Access (PIA) product, was one of the primary measures proposed by Ofcom’s recent Strategic Review. However, providers have often moaned about the limitations inherent with PIA, not least with regards to its awkward costs and tedious administrative processes.

On top of that PIA was initially designed to help connect residential properties and it could not be used for providing rural backhaul or big business connectivity (e.g. leased lines), which protected BT’s own services. But being able to use cable ducts for this purpose can also play a pivotal role in making the economic case for building new connectivity.

As such Ofcom’s DPA approach aims to tackle those concerns and also make it “much easier for competitors to access” (both for business and residential purposes). Openreach has now kicked off its first trials with the help of five alternative network (altnet) ISPs, including Callflow, NextGenAccess and WarwickNet. The trials are also open to every provider under the same terms, throughout the country.

What will the trials test?

* Faster survey and build – allowing companies to inspect Openreach’s ducts and poles and, if there is space, install fibre cables immediately without seeking additional permission.

* Autonomous blockage clearing – giving companies the authority to clear any blockages they find, without needing consent from Openreach.

* New distribution permissions – allowing companies to install new distribution joints inside Openreach junction boxes, making deployments quicker and more cost effective.

On top of that Openreach are separately working to create new digital maps, which will chart its UK network infrastructure and further support any ISP that wishes to plan and deploy their own new fibre networks.

Clive Selley, CEO of Openreach, said:

“We have already built an open wholesale fibre network which is available to more than 25 million homes and businesses, and we’re continuing to bring fibre to more than 25,000 premises each week. We have also outlined ambitious plans to move the UK from superfast to ultrafast speeds, and we support other companies building their own networks using our underlying infrastructure.

Our ducts and poles have been open to these companies for several years, and Ofcom has been clear that the price to access them is in line with international comparisons, but they haven’t been used on a large scale to date.

We hope that these new, simpler processes – which have been designed and developed in partnership with the industry – will encourage more companies to invest, particularly in parts of the UK that aren’t already served by high-speed networks.”

Andy Conibere, MD of Callflow, said:

“We have been using Openreach’s duct and pole access since 2011, and consider ourselves experts in this area. These trials mean we can build significant superfast and ultrafast networks quicker and cheaper, and can potentially make a massive difference to spreading fibre broadband to the most difficult to reach areas.”

Ben King, CEO of WarwickNet, added:

“We have worked successfully with Openreach for a considerable amount of time. Having access to their ducts and poles has allowed us to deploy our own fibre networks across poorly connected business parks on a much faster timescale, and has seen numerous businesses connected in a fraction of the time that it would have taken otherwise.”

According to BT the new trial(s) “already represents the largest third-party use of Openreach ducts and poles to date,” although this has to be taken in context because the old PIA method was never hugely popular in the first place and some complained that it was “not fit for purpose for scale use.”

In that sense it’s disappointing to see that there are no major ISPs named above, although there’s plenty of evidence to say that Cityfibre are likely to be one of the remaining two (here) and they’re of course also working with TalkTalk and Sky Broadband to deploy FTTP/H in the city of York.

However there are still some big question marks over the issue of cost and practicality, not least with BT having already warned that not all of its cable ducts will be “usable” because of issues such as blockages and limited space. Never the less Ofcom believes that “sufficient duct space could be available in the UK to support this model of competition.

Ofcom suggests that “a good outcome in the long term would be to achieve network competition of around 40% of households,” although this rather depends on their definition of “lone-term” and would perhaps require some serious support from major ISPs.

So far Sky Broadband has already ruled itself out of building their own fibre network (excluding their existing trials), while Vodafone haven’t yet announced any FTTH projects in the UK and TalkTalk would need to magic up a lot more investment in order to deliver their dream of 10 million premises passed. At least it’s good news for smaller altnets, even if that might not get us to Ofcom’s aspiration of 40% anytime soon.

By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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