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Openreach Consult UK ISPs on WLR Telephone Network Closure

Thursday, April 19th, 2018 (2:45 pm) - Score 5,441

Openreach (BT) has this week announced that they will next month begin consulting UK ISPs on the process and timeline for withdrawing their Wholesale Line Rental (WLR) service by 2025, which underpins a lot of traditional copper telephone lines (PSTN / POTS).

At this point it becomes important to distinguish between the phone / voice side of that service and the physical copper line underneath. BT has long spoken of their desire to migrate users off their traditional phone (PSTN) network (here) and switch them to IP-based voice services (e.g. VoIP). We touched on this subject again last year as part of our article – ‘The Changing Face of UK Home Phone Lines and Broadband Provision‘.

Crucially this doesn’t mean that they’re going to completely remove the copper lines, not least because new hybrid fibre (part fibre) broadband technologies like G.fast will continue to use some copper for awhile. Indeed it will still be a couple of decades before every line is truly fibre optic. At present Openreach only aspires to reach 10 million premises with “full fibre” lines by around 2025 and even that is far from being a done deal (here).

As part of this Openreach has also indicated that they’d like the ability to migrate consumers from copper to Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) lines as the service is deployed (here), although Ofcom will need to agree such a move and that’s a complicated problem for the regulator. A lot of ISPs have investments in the copper network and consumers will also need to adapt (different service, higher cost etc.).

Meanwhile copper phone lines are changing. The forthcoming adoption of new services, such as Single Order Generic Ethernet Access (SOGEA and SOGfast), will make it possible for consumers to order a copper-based standalone FTTC (VDSL2) or G.fast broadband line without the phone / voice service, although the latter could be optionally added later via VoIP.

Naturally “full fibreFTTP lines can’t use the old telephone network and so they’ll also harness IP based calling, where required.

An Openreach Spokesman said (The Register):

“In May [2018], we’ll consult with industry around the process of withdrawing WLR and related products.

This follows plans by BT to upgrade its customers from analogue (PSTN) to digital (all IP) telephone services by 2025.

We’ll be working with our Communication Provider customers over the coming months as we consider the move to IP voice services – where broadband rather than voice becomes the primary service.”

Openreach has uploaded a short briefing on the consultation here, although history tells us that finding an agreement in a lake of so many competing interests could be difficult. Nevertheless traditional phone services are on their way out and even Ofcom recognises that broad direction of travel.

One key point to make here, in case there’s any confusion, is that the withdrawal of WLR / PSTN doesn’t mean that line rental will become free. The phone / voice component of a copper line is only a tiny part of the total cost and many people will still need the same physical copper line for their broadband, at least until FTTP but that carries a premium of its own.

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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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12 Responses
  1. tonyp says:

    All well and fine, especially for urbanites. However for low speed EOL lines, VoIP latency is likely to be an issue if the line speed is less than, say, 10Mbit/Sec. OK there is likely to be VoIP bandwidth priority but with other Internet based services, I don’t fancy an ‘interference free’ conversation. Limited upstream speeds (> 1Mbit/Sec) on an essentially bi-directional service is, I think, problematic.

    1. CarlT says:

      VoIP is fine on 64kb – that can easily be nailed up and delivered.

      EO lines are already on VoIP – those on MPF services from TalkTalk, Sky, etc, use VoIP. Your dial tone comes from an MSAN which is fed by a softswitch. It’s POTS up to the MSAN then IP all the rest of the way.

      Given your line would remain connected to an MSAN until some fibre is put into the loop you’d likely remain on a POTS service, with the exception that your service provider, not Openreach, would be providing the dial tone from their equipment.

    2. Steve Jones says:

      The VOIP bit is not end-to-end. It’s VOIP from where the copper terminates, either at a roadside cabinet or in the exchange on an EO line.

    3. Joe says:

      Really. I used to game while running a seperate voice channel for communications on a 56 modem.

    4. Spurple says:

      You can do very high quality voice with 64kbps symmetric. A 1mbit line is overkill if voice only is needed.

      So no, there would be no problems supporting voice on a 1mbit like provided you prioritise the voip packets accordingly.

  2. Simon says:

    better get their fingers out then

  3. NE555 says:

    So is the fundamental change that OpenReach will change their own wholesale DSLAMs to MSANs?

    What about FTTC then? Are they going to upgrade the VDSL2 DSLAMs inside cabinets to be MSANs as well? Maybe the long-term goal is to get rid of the copper lines from the cabinet to the exchange entirely, which implies withdrawing LLU as well.

    Maybe they can do this if they make 40/10 FTTC as cheap as chips, so it’s not worth the other networks maintaining their separate LLU capability. This does of course bring us back to the old days where everyone was connected via BT active equipment. But with both FTTC and FTTP working that way, we’re already well along that road – there’s no suggestion that other providers should be able to put their own equipment inside primary cabinets.

    1. Chris P says:

      OFCOM are trying to make 40/10 as cheap as chips, problem is few will want to pay extra for fttp if 40/10 is fine for them. I’d ditch vm’s 100/6 for the 10mbs upload and cheap as chips prices.

      If OFCOM want fttp they need to make it attractive to consumers and providers. 0 vat fttp for providers and consumers and add extra fttp tax to non fttp lines levied on providers profits, more fttp less tax alround guess which service isp’s Will push.

    2. NE555 says:

      On reflection, this may be a very canny move by OpenReach.

      By withdrawing WLR, a side effect is that LLU providers who have equipment in OR exchanges will be forced to upgrade their DSLAMs to MSANs. Quite probably those providers who don’t already have MSANs won’t be prepared to make that investment (DSL is old and slow and tiny margin). Hence it becomes a way to move people onto FTTC and get rid of LLU, without actually floating the politically-charged idea of withdrawing LLU.

      “OFCOM are trying to make 40/10 as cheap as chips, problem is few will want to pay extra for fttp if 40/10 is fine for them”

      True, but it’s hard to argue why the majority of people who are happy with 40/10 should be forced to pay for the minority who want faster speeds.

      Of course, expectations will go up over time: if 15 years ago 3M was considered an acceptable benchmark speed, and today it’s 30M, it’s not hard to imagine that in another 15 years it will be 300M.

      For people who want 300M today, I think they should pay a reasonable chunk towards the installation – say £750 – with OR taking the rest as an up-front hit and recovering it over time through a higher rental. After all, if you want a new copper line at a place that doesn’t have one, OR will soak up something like £3,000 before you pay excess.

    3. Gadget says:

      @NE555 – Openreach don’t own the MSAN/DSLAM, their involvement stops at the MDF

  4. NE555 says:

    “Openreach don’t own the MSAN/DSLAM, their involvement stops at the MDF”

    For LLU providers: indeed, the ISP will own their own DSLAM. What I’m saying is that these ISPs will be forced to upgrade their DSLAMs to MSANs if the WLR product is removed – or else the end user will lose the analogue voice component of their service. Alternatively they could provide all their end users with VOIP terminals, but that’s also costly as it might involve changes to the user’s internal extension wiring.

    Non-LLU providers will be using Wholesale Broadband Connect and IPStream Connect. (OK, those are technically BT Wholesale rather than Openreach products)

    Existing LLU providers could choose to migrate their DSL customer bases over to WBC/IPSC rather than invest in MSANs.

  5. 4caster says:

    I do wish contributors would stop using initials without defining them. I know the meaning of BT, ISP, FTTP, FTTC, VDSL2, DSLAM, VOIP, IPStream and DSL, so I already know much more than the average man in the street. But what are LLU, WBC, IPSC, MSAN, MDF (multi-density fibreboard?), WLR, EO and MPF?

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