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BT Openreach Publishes First UK Dark Fibre Reference Offer for ISPs

Wednesday, August 31st, 2016 (2:55 pm) - Score 4,314

Openreach (BT) has today published the first Draft Reference Offer for their new Dark Fibre Access (DFA) product, which is designed to give rival ISPs “physical access” to the operator’s fibre optic cables (i.e. allowing them to “take direct control of the connection“).

Under this Passive Remedy rival ISPs would be allowed to install their own equipment at either end of the optical fibre within BT’s ducts, which Ofcom hopes will result in more market competition and may even help to speed-up the roll-out of new broadband services around the UK (e.g. adding backhaul capacity to support their networks).

The new product was demanded by the regulator as part of their recent 2016 Business Connectivity Review (here and here). However the move also marks a dramatic reversal from their position during the last review in 2012, when Ofcom warned that such a solution could “carry significant risks of worse outcomes, both for consumers and for effective competition, including adding costs and encouraging inefficient entry.”

Never the less the new DFA product is due to be introduced on 1st October 2017 and as part of that Openreach has now published the first Draft Reference Offer. The service itself will be available on a national basis in the regulated areas, which includes the whole of the UK with the “exception of Hull, Central London, Core routes and Data Centres“.

The most important documents to read (for those interested) are the Draft DFA Handbook and DFA Pricing, although all of the details are still subject to change.

DFA Service

Openreach Dark Fibre Access service offers an uncontended, unmonitored, unlit optical path over an end to end radial distance of up to 45km and a maximum route distance of 86km between two sites. This will be a passive service and no equipment will be provided to light the fibre provide, hence the reference to ‘dark fibre’ in the product title.

DFA Product options

The service will be available with two variants, Standard and Local Access options, with both being able to be ordered as either a single fibre or fibre pair option, so depending on the overall active solution that customers are planning to operate they can choose the product variant that best suits their needs.

The early prices listed for connection, rental and mainlink are currently merely ILLUSTRATIONS based on the prices for Openreach’s 1Gbps Ethernet Access Direct (EAD) variants, which are in effect as at 1st September 2016, and the adjustments to these prices using the guidance provided by Ofcom in their business connectivity review.

For example, the one-off DFA connection prices range from around £2,000 to £3,500 +vat and meanwhile rentals run from around £2,000 to £5,000 per year. At this point the documents have only been online for a short time and so most of the relevant ISPs are currently unable to provide us with their thoughts. A final reference offer is due to be published by December 2016.

Ofcom had previously been concerned that BT could “charge excessive prices for dark fibre“, which they said might limit take-up and “lead to distortion in downstream competition“, and so they proposed that the dark fibre remedy should be subject to a charge control (i.e. keep its price low). But by offering Dark Fibre on the cheap the regulator could risk harming BT and some of its rivals in the same market.

Unsurprisingly BT believes that the solution is a “flawed piece of regulation that introduces an unnecessary layer of complexity and will deter others from building their own fibre networks” and they’ve got support for that position from other core infrastructure builders, such as Virgin Media, Cityfibre and Zayo.

Cityfibre are even in the process of challenging Ofcom through the Competition Appeals Tribunal (here), but for now Openreach has no choice and must continue the development of their DFA solution.

It’s important not to confuse all this with Ofcom’s other wholesale Duct and Pole Access (DPA) remedy, which will give rivals access to use BT’s (Openreach) underground cable ducts and telegraph poles (i.e. two different sides of the same coin). Cityfibre and others welcome DPA, even if a few of them have had trouble making use of it (here).

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Mark Jackson
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 Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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4 Responses
  1. Avatar Ben Haines says:

    Can someone please explain why the distance would be limited to 86km? Thanks

    1. Mark Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      Last year BT informed Ofcom of how the relevant pre-existing system component that could most easily be re-used for the dark fibre development was that used to apply maximum distance limits to its EAD products (defined in terms of end-to-end radial distance).

      BT thus proposed that distance limits for dark fibre using existing EAD Extended Reach distance limitations of 45km end-to-end radial distance (subject to an overall maximum route limitation of 86km) would enable consistency between products and avoid unnecessary development costs and additional operational complexity.

      Ofcom accepted BT’s argument and added that “setting distance limits for dark fibre that are the same as BT’s EAD 1Gbit/s is consistent with our approach to pricing dark fibre and mitigates the risks to BT’s common cost recovery, which might arise if the dark fibre distance limits were not the same as those for EAD 1Gbit/s.”

      Ofcom’s own analysis also showed that the majority of ASNs are within 20km of a core node and that around 86% are within 45km. “We consider that a distance limit of 45km for dark fibre would be sufficient to serve the large majority of backhaul needs,” said Ofcom.

  2. Avatar Ben Haines says:

    Thanks for the explanation Mark. In that case I think this offering won’t be useful to any B4RN like project that is more than 86km from an Internet Exchange (assuming they adopt B4RN’s network model).

    B4RN is roughly 80-90km away from Manchester IX, so perhaps useful after all if they are looking for resilience 😉

    1. This isn’t designed to connect to an IX, but there is nothing to prevent you “stopping off” at a location and buying multiple legs of fibre.

      From an optical point of view 80km is also the point where you move from simple optics (i.e. pluggable SFPs) to requiring specialist hardware (with amplifiers and dispersion compensation)

      The product has restrictions imposed about what locations it can be used in too, so building into certain datacenters using this product is prohibited

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