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KCOM in Hull UK Ponders Being First to Switch-Off Copper Phone Lines

Sunday, June 18th, 2017 (10:56 am) - Score 2,474

The incumbent telecoms and broadband provider for Hull in East Yorkshire, KCOM, is reportedly aiming to be one of the first cities in the UK to switch-off their ageing copper telephone lines. Instead they’d become reliant upon their new “full fibre” (FTTP/H) network for communication services.

So far KCOM has already deployed their Gigabit capable Fibre-to-the-Premise (FTTP) network to over 100,000 homes and businesses in their footprint and they aim to cover 150,000 premises by December 2017, which equates to 75% of their overall network in Hull and East Yorkshire (a roll-out plan for tackling the final 25% is expected to follow). Take-up is also strong with around 45,000 customers choosing to subscribe.

However the FT (paywall) claims that KCOM’s CEO, Bill Halbert, is now beginning to plan for a future that would decommission their old copper telephone network and they intend to be the first to do it. This is hardly surprising given that no other UK city has the same level of FTTP coverage as Hull.

Bill Halbert said:

“Copper cannot handle the future. It has to be fibre all the way. That’s one of the big national challenges for our economy.”

At this point we’d highlight that completely removing copper would still be a very awkward challenge for KCOM, not least since around 8% of their “Lightstream” roll-out of fibre optic based broadband technology consists of 75Mbps capable Fibre-to-the-Cabinet (FTTC / VDSL2) technology (that’s a mix of both cable types).

Decommissioning FTTC would thus require KCOM to go back a second time and upgrade areas with FTTP, which they’ll have to do eventually anyway but the question is when and how much will it cost? Sadly there’s no mention of any timetable for such a switch-off, which means that it could still be someway off in the future.

On top of that virtually all of KCOM’s customers would need to be swapped to FTTP lines before they could pull the plug on copper, which is another complicated problem as some people don’t like being forced to change. We suspect that such a switch-off may require quite a long-winded phase-out process.

The FT article also talks a lot about “phone lines,” although it’s important to distinguish between the phone / voice side of that service and the physical copper line underneath. For example, BT hopes to migrate users off their traditional phone (PSTN) network by 2025 and switch them to IP-based voice services (e.g. VoIP). Crucially this doesn’t mean that BT is going to remove their copper lines, they’re just changing what happens over those same lines.

Likewise the swap to IP-based voice comms doesn’t mean that old analogue handsets need to stop working. It’s entirely possible to buy an analogue telephone adapter and some routers already include sockets for these, which allow you to connect analogue phones and essentially use them for calling over VoIP via a broadband connection.

Given the advent of hybrid-fibre G.fast and follow-on broadband technologies, we suspect that operators like BT will be using their copper lines for a long time to come. Regulation is another complicated barrier to overcome and at some point Ofcom may need to consider further changes in order to fully support both the removal of old PSTN services and the retirement of copper lines.

We recently covered some other aspects of this subject as part of our February 2017 editorial – ‘The Changing Face of UK Home Phone Lines and Broadband Provision‘.

Leave a Comment
11 Responses
  1. Avatar miken says:

    They are also trialling broadband only services http://pricing.kcomhome.com/media/1433/p05-s21_limited_edition_broadband.pdf
    I haven’t done the sums to see how much you are actually saving.

    1. Avatar MikeW says:

      They look to be unbundled packages, rather than broadband-only. Voice calls can still be made, but are chargeable.

      Summary on the savings:
      – Those aren’t the cheapest possible packages
      – Save £1pm from not having a free-local-calls bundle on entry packages;
      – Save £6pm from not having local calls & evening+weekend calls in mid-level packages
      – Save £1pm from not having anytime calls in high-level packages.

  2. Avatar Robotnik says:

    Sounds good, great to hear from a CEO thats looking to the future for a change.

  3. Avatar Karen says:

    Wasn’t this something Jersey have planned for a while?

    1. Mark Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      Yes, I meant to add the word “city” into the opening paragraph (i.e. one of the first cities). Jersey is also a British Crown Dependency and so doesn’t quite fall into the same basket.

  4. Avatar NGA for all says:

    Good to see. It would be good for this to be discussed in the current Ofcom WLA consultation, with some of the principles governing the transition set out for BT to follow.

  5. Avatar Packet Switched says:

    I very much appreciate the reliability of my very plain and quite old telephone line. That it worked obviously and quite directly
    was literally vital a few years ago.
    It works when degraded – typically with a hiss on the the line in wet weather – and it has its own power supply – I believe with as
    serious redundancy to assure no interruption – which supplies all the handset needs. In central London: in 2005 just after the
    four bombs on London Transport the Mobile networks went dead but my landline worked fine, in 2015 after the underground
    fire in Queensway it was not possible to restore electricity supplies for some days.
    Probably exceptionally I have never taken main power supply for granted and since 2005 nor have I taken the ability to be able
    use a mobile at all where one would habitually take it for granted. (Never mind the normal difficulties of having a signal or any charge in the battery – the petty delays of switching the mobile on and giving it a PIN number which it may or may not ask for)
    Were I somewhere remote in the country without any near neighbours I would take some care to get fibre to the house but I would ensure that I kept any existing telephone line – even if the conductor was still that unfortunate experiment with aluminium.
    existing telephone line – even if the conductor

    1. Avatar NGA for all says:

      You suggest your happy to pay for both! The resilience of an independently powered metal path, and the throughput of a fibre path reliant on the customers power source. Is the former just for 999 calls?

      If the Mobile Coverage obligation was enforced (98%) and you had reasonable assurance it would work, would that not have more utility? It still lacks statistical certainty, but the POTS service relies on significant call blocking when loads are heavy.

    2. Avatar MikeW says:

      Hurray. Someone who sees the value in fixed-line emergency access, and the inevitable fallibility in mobile access.

      Such protection is not a cheap option, but almost entirely invisible. I already get the impression that Sky, TalkTalk and VoIP providers don’t put enough into this side of their networks.

      I fear that, as Ofcom has concentrated on cheap-as-chips access, these requirements will be allowed to wane in significance, and protection drifts away, until too late. Rather like Grenfell will soon highlight an inadequate focus on building regulations.

    3. Avatar NGA for all says:

      @MikeW – surely fixed is also fallible! Do you stay in your home during most emergencies or seek help? Grenfell does not support your argument. ‘Status’ data monitored by ‘friends’ will be more relevant than relying on some contracted third party.
      We need to compartmentalise the utility of an independently powered metal path in an engineering sense to a better analysis of when in fact is useful given other options available and what meets the need.
      Deaf kids want their mobile apps, not the text line service. Better Alternatives to the pendant service ought to be possible.

  6. Avatar Ken Westmoreland says:

    The photo is misleading – analogue telephone equipment can still be used, as the terminals installed in people’s homes and offices have analogue telephone adapters installed. It should be possible to use any VoIP service using SIP, although obviously the local number will need porting and there will need to be 999 access. Vonage have been providing a UK landline service to fibre broadband services for some years.

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