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Openreach Interview – The Challenges of Delivering Fast UK Ethernet

Friday, March 30th, 2018 (12:01 am) - Score 7,137
helicopter openreach ethernet to mast install

Q6. Against these measures there are times when you can legitimately “stop the clock“, for example if you are waiting for something from the customer. This is termed “Deemed Consent“.

In March 2017 the regulator (Ofcom) completed an investigation into historical and systemic misuse of Deemed Consent and fined Openreach £42m, as well as requiring the operator to design a compensation scheme (£300m was Openreach’s estimated exposure as a result of that scheme).

What have you done (process and system changes etc.) to ensure Deemed Consent is being correctly applied now?

ANSWER:

I was appointed to lead our Business and Corporate Delivery unit in Spring 2016, and under my direction the team has made significant improvements to how we process and deliver such connections. We’ve invested in changes to our training, systems and processes for handling Ethernet orders – for example we developed a Revised Job Control Manual, with facilitation and input from the Office of the Telecommunications Adjudicator (OTA2), giving our Job Control teams greater clarity and transparency; better training and coaching; and continuous feedback. We shared this new approach with our CP customers.

The other major change here has been the move from a functional to a regional model, so we’ve moved away from having big national command and control structures and instead having local accountability with local people who know the network in their patch.

As a result we’ve delivered record numbers of these connections during the last year and I have every confidence that the team will continue to make improvements and make sure the mistakes of the past aren’t repeated in future.

Q7. The MSLs are obviously “minimum” service levels. Does Openreach set any internal targets for exceeding these and if so, what are they?

ANSWER:

I can’t talk in detail about our internal targets. We do view the MSLs as a minimum, not a target, and improving the service we deliver across our entire portfolio is our number one priority. I can assure you we push ourselves very hard on that and our performance has clearly been going in the right direction.

But we believe the minimum standards need to be set at an achievable level. We have been challenging Ofcom on that because we don’t think some of the current MSLs are reasonable or achievable.

Looking elsewhere in Europe, the minimums in the UK have been set at, or above, anything that any other operator is being measured on. A recent international benchmark study, by independent consultants WIK, showed the UK has one of the toughest regulatory environments for both provision and repair, as well as some of the most competitive prices and highest Service Level Guarantees (SLGs) in Europe. The study found SLG penalties for delivery failure in the UK were the highest in Europe per day of delay, and accrue 10 times faster per delay category than the highest other EU country (France).

Q8. We see headline figures from Openreach in terms of billions invested in the network. What is the scale of investment in the Business Network rather than the Residential Network? This is on assumption that investment in Superfast/Ultrafast for consumers probably dwarfs the proactive business network investment.

ANSWER:

We don’t split out our investments in that way – but talking about separate business and residential networks is a dated concept now anyway. Our networks are converging so we look at our network holistically. When you get to the last 100 meters of the network then maybe that division between business and residential still applies, and an FTTP service is obviously still pretty different to a point-to-point one, but actually the core or the spine is merging together into one. So when we’re investing billions in the network – that network is actually serving all customers.

Q9. What do you see as the main barriers to delivery (what causes the tail). Is there more that Local Authorities and Government could/should be doing to help reduce these barriers (e.g. streetworks, traffic management policy, wayleaves etc.)?

ANSWER:

Five years ago Ethernet was predominantly about connecting data centres, banks, business parks and major office buildings, so it was relatively straightforward. Now it’s connecting tens of thousands of sites all over the country including deeper 4G cell site coverage dependent on fibre and rural schools, doctors surgeries etc and the demand for long runs of fibre optic cable linking dispersed sites and crossing challenging terrain has boomed. We’re taking these services to places that we’ve never built to before.

One of the key hurdles we face is the complexity in dealing with Highway Authorities. There are over 200 different Highway Authorities that we deal with across Britain and they all have their own lead times for different traffic management types. It sounds dull, but we could plan and deliver connectivity much more efficiently if these rules and processes were standardised.

Lead times for can work permits can take a very long time. To take one example, permission from a Highway Authority to allow a road closure can legally take up to one month, after which there is a three month notice period for which the permit has to serve before work can begin. So you can see the challenge.

There is quite also long value chain in Ethernet. We’re a wholesaler and most of our customers tend to be wholesalers too. So we will sell to a Communications Provider, and that CP might sell to a smaller reseller who will then sell to an even smaller reseller who then sells a broadband service to an end customer. Working through that value chain can cause issues – quite often the information we get when the order is placed is poor or incomplete, a bit like Chinese whispers. Details go missing for aspects like gaining access to a customer’s premises, getting permission to work in a customer’s building but at the end of the day these are challenges we need to solve together with our customers, so we’re working hard to build closer collaboration across the whole chain.

Q10. Some customers have expressed surprise that when they apply for an Ethernet product from Openreach they are often quoted very high Excess Construction Charges (ECC) because their building is too far away from an Openreach business Fibre node (T-Node) for standard connection fees to apply. These charges can be tens of thousands of pounds.

Is Openreach doing anything to pro-actively build more of these nodes so that customers are, on average, closer to a node and therefore don’t have to fund the expansion of your network themselves by paying you the capital via ECCs? Being closer to a node would also help in hitting the targets because the circuit you need to deliver would be shorter and therefore simpler.

ANSWER:

Yes. We’ve already built the largest Ethernet estate in the UK and we’re continuously reviewing our investment plans and modelling demand. At the end of the day we’re a business, so we build new network wherever we’re confident that it makes commercial sense to do so.

Proactive build makes it easier to deliver, there is a better experience for the customer, we’re more likely that we hit regulatory targets etc. It is very difficult to predict proactive build for rural areas. It is very hard to predict which field a mobile operator wants to put a cell site in, for example, but we’re working increasingly closely with our CP customers on their plans and that will make the whole process even more efficient over time.

Q11. Supplementary to the above, those same customers have sometimes been surprised to be quoted ECCs when they can see an Openreach fibre cabinet in their street. On querying this they’ve been told “that is a residential / NGA cabinet and cannot be used for business” (effectively two networks).

Are there any plans for merging these two networks into a single fibre network that can be used for both consumer and business fibre delivery? We’ve heard talk of a One Fibre Network / Single Fibre Network Programme but very little information is known about its progress.

ANSWER:

I can’t really comment without knowing the exact circumstances but please do point them our way – we’re keen to talk to them and investigate.

We do now seek to build a single fibre network which means that we look at all the different demands in an exchange area and model what we think the Gfast, FTTP, superfast and Ethernet demand is going to be. We look at historic demand too alongside the ambitions we’ve got, and the ethos is – if we’re going to build some new network, let’s just build it once. If we needed to build a spine cable down the street, then in the past each team would probably have looked at the capacity they needed and made their own plans. Now we incorporate all of that across Openreach into one coordinated, over-arching plan.

Q12. The coming generation of Gigabit capable “full fibre” (FTTP) broadband and 5G mobile networks will require a lot more core network and business capacity than previous generations. What sort of Ethernet improvements or technologies does Openreach plan to deliver in order to cater for this future connectivity?

ANSWER:

Ethernet will be crucial for 5G. Every 5G mobile cell site will need Ethernet backhaul and we believe we’re the best in the business at delivering that.

Whilst the majority of mobile cell sites in Britain are already served by fibre, tomorrow’s 5G mobile networks will demand a new set of requirements from their connectivity. Not only faster fronthaul and backhaul speeds that are economically scalable, but also timing protocols (such as IEEE 1588 v2) that provide a stable platform required for critical future applications – that could be self-driving cars or next generation virtual reality (VR) applications, for example, or training simulation for things like medical research and surgical operations. We also expect mobile network macro cells will become aggregation nodes for low-powered small cells (cellular radio access nodes).

We’re talking to our mobile network operator customers all the time about this stuff to understand the trends and their future needs. It’s a major reason why we’ve been developing our portfolio with some very nifty innovations like OSA Filter Connect. We’re building key features that we expect to make the UK’s 5G networks some of the best in the world, including new Optical Transport Network (OTN) solutions suitable for deployment in non-environmentally controlled street furniture, the ability to support Synchronous Ethernet and IEEE 1588v2 over these links – which is critical for voice applications over a mobile network – and supporting industry innovation through low cost incremental bandwidth.

ISPreview.co.uk would just like to thank to Kevin for taking the time to discuss some of the issues around Ethernet, which we hope has helped to illuminate the situation.

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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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8 Responses
  1. Avatar MikeW

    Interesting.

    It’s also good to see that, while we knew the NGA fibre spines were designed to include business usage, there has never been confirmation that they are being used that way. So the answer in Q8 of “but actually the core or the spine is merging together into one.” is good to know. Equally that the ethos moving forward is “if we’re going to build some new network, let’s just build it once.” from Q11.

    Presumably the answer to Q9 – “Now [Ethernet is] connecting tens of thousands of sites all over the country including deeper 4G cell site coverage dependent on fibre and rural schools, doctors surgeries etc and the demand for long runs of fibre optic cable linking dispersed sites and crossing challenging terrain has boomed” – is either a driver or a beneficiary of this.

    • Avatar NGA for all

      This is another reason most of BDUK Phase 1 monies can be returned. Whether the L2 router is different or the ports are configured differently for business would be an interesting sight. There are at least shared paths and cables to the AGN. In rural the opportunity must exist to use splitters to bring that shared infrastructure deeper in the network.

    • Avatar Gadget

      There still remains the point that a fibre for a PON cannot be used for an EAD.

      So whilst there may be benefit in having a BDUK laid fibre cable for either first-time FTTP or FTTC as part of BDUK, that first use must have a cost apportioned to it based on its use and the likely future additional uses for the unused fibres.

    • Avatar A_Builder

      Is the point not that the ducts and fibre routes have been created so blowing more fibers through or using redundant fibers in the bundle is possible?

  2. Avatar Bob2002

    >Some of these connections can deliver transfer speeds that reach hundreds of Gigabits per second (Gbps) or even into multi-Terabit (Tbps) territory.

    Are you sure Ethernet is used in point-to-point terabit links? 100Gb Ethernet you can buy now, new 400Gb connections will arrive soon, but that’s about the limit for Ethernet so far AFAIK.

  3. Avatar Jon

    its only recently the network is built for both residential and Ethernet, spines were built separately before this and could not be shared. stupid idea. so much money wasted the network components were different and not compatible, thank god for the single fibre network

  4. Avatar Guy Cashmore

    Very good interview. I would though have liked to see the question asked ‘when will all OR exchanges be enabled for FTTP’.

    • Avatar Fastman

      crazy question the interview is about Ethernet — neither here nor there considering where you are and the distance I assume you are from the nearest fibre point (a number of KM)

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