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Cityfibre Respond as Chancellor Preps Date for Copper Switch Off UPDATE

Tuesday, July 17th, 2018 (3:23 pm) - Score 4,094
copper and fibre optic hybrid broadband cables uk

Cityfibre has claimed that the UK Government’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond MP, will announce a date for switching off the legacy copper telecoms network in order to encourage investment in Gigabit capable “full fibre” (FTTP/H) broadband ISP networks.

At the time of writing we’ve been unable to fully substantiate Cityfibre’s claim as it came from a third-party remark via the BBC (here), although it does seem highly likely that the forthcoming Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review (potentially due to be published next week) will seek to set such a date. A recent report from the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) similarly recommended supporting a copper switch-off by 2025 (here).

The idea is nothing new (we’ll come back to that later), although there tends to be some significant confusion around the question of whether or not the copper switch-off proposal will represent a total physical switch-off date or only a partial withdrawal of older services that are carried over copper lines.

Eventually this is bound to happen, particularly with the government aspiring to cover the whole of the United Kingdom with pure fibre optic cables by 2033 (here), although that is currently only a vague aspiration and one that crucially lacks any solid public funding commitments to help the service reach rural communities (we could be talking £20bn+). Cross-party support would be essential in order to protect such a plan from the usual changes of government and spending priorities.

Greg Mesch, CEO of CityFibre, said:

“Switching off the copper network is a vital part of moving the UK to a full fibre future, but leaving decisions on how it is done in the hands of the incumbent risks imposing costs and delays on consumers.

As Clive Selley’s comments on the Today programme make clear, Openreach’s approach to the switchover would result in unnecessary and unwelcome price rises for both consumers and internet service providers.

To put consumers and businesses at the heart of the full fibre upgrade, the Government needs to harness the competitive benefits of new market entrants and set out a carefully managed copper switch off process that prevents Openreach from hijacking the migration process, as this would re-establish its monopoly position and hold back the UK’s digital economy.”

But what does a copper switch-off actually mean and why do it? Openreach have previously indicated that they’d like the ability to migrate customers from copper to FTTP as the network is deployed, which would cut their upkeep costs for the old legacy network and thus turn full fibre into a much more attractive investment. Consumers would obviously benefit from the significantly faster and more reliable broadband.

As usual there are some big obstacles in terms of both regulation and competition. For example, FTTP is a more expensive service and not all customers will be happy about being forced to pay extra for something that they might not want (they’d also require special phone adapters as the new network will use VoIP).

Meanwhile ISPs that have also invested heavily in the copper network (e.g. Sky Broadband, TalkTalk) might lose out and will feel the brunt of any consumer complaints from higher pricing. Openreach’s CEO, Clive Selley, has indicated that completely switching off the old copper network could result in a price rise (wholesale) of roughly £5 a month per line but it’s unclear exactly what this reflects.

On top of that some of those same ISPs are planning to build their own FTTH/P networks (details), which will no doubt take a different approach to service and pricing. All of this could make for quite a confusing set of changes, especially where providers use several different FTTP networks on the same platform. Juggling all this will be a nice headache for Ofcom to balance out.

Openreach have actually already begun consulting UK ISPs on the process and timeline for withdrawing their Wholesale Line Rental (WLR) service by 2025 (here), which underpins a lot of traditional copper telephone lines (PSTN / POTS). But this is not the same as completely switching off the copper network and relates more to a general move toward VoIP adoption.

Naturally those who aren’t reached by FTTP until c.2033 will still need to use that copper network (e.g. FTTC, G.fast broadband), which means that a complete switch-off would be unlikely to happen until after FTTP has reached all corners of the country. Lest we forget the question of Virgin Media’s hybrid fibre coax network, which doesn’t strictly need to be switched-off as it will soon support Gigabit speeds.

A Spokesperson for HM Treasury said:

“The Chancellor has been clear that we must start thinking now about the switchover from copper to fibre to ensure UK infrastructure is fit for the future. We have set ambitious targets for all homes and businesses to be connected to world-leading full fibre broadband by 2033.

We are considering a range of options to make that happen, but have not taken any final decisions.”

The exception to all this might be KCOM in Hull, which dominates the local market and will have achieved almost total FTTP coverage by March 2019. In other words, they have less competition to worry about and may be able to switch off their copper network far sooner than Openreach (here).

UPDATE 18th July 2018

Added a canned statement from HM Treasury above.

Leave a Comment
22 Responses
  1. Avatar A_Builder

    This is a very interesting debate.

    This splits into a hierarchy of things

    a) POTS (exchange based)
    b) ADSL/ADSL2+ (exchange based)
    c) FTTC (cab based)
    d) GFast (pod PCP based)

    Now potentially turning off POTS does nothing for the other services (freeing bandwidth) and indeed VoIP can equally well be provisioned from option c & d.

    By far the most likely outcome is that options a & b are switched off leaving c & d live.

    So the line runs from the PCP to the final drop but not back to the exchange. This is pretty simple to implement and gets rid of a lot of the harder maintenance.

    FTTC can then be re-profiled to allow the use of the low frequency POTS, ADSL & ADSL2+ frequencies so it will get a performance and range boost for a lot of people (doesn’t always work given the vagaries of copper wires hence the failed LR FTTC OR trials) . I rather hope that the outcome won’t be that the bandwidth for FTTC stays the same, frequency is dropped and the freed up RF is assigned to Gfast as the advantage to that would be tiny whereas 100k’s of people would benefit from the FTTC boost particularly if they were on a 50Mb/s and wanted a 76Mb/s profile. That is the sort of improvement this approach would deliver.

    • Avatar Bill

      This approach makes sense. It would also remove the need to manage a huge amount of copper cabling in the exchanges.

  2. Avatar AnotherTim

    For anyone that wants to listen to the section of the Today program, it can be found at 1:17:55.

    I can envisage a hard date for switch off resulting in a very fragmented and fragile infrastructure. Currently I have a POTS line with ADSL. Hopefully in the next few years I hope to get FTTP through an altnet. Now, if I have FTTP, I can’t imagine that Openreach will install another FTTP connection. So the only sensible thing they can do is switch off the POTS/ADSL. Now that will mean that the only possible Internet/land line connection is through the altnet. So There will be multitudinous monopoly suppliers throughout the UK – each with a fragmented territory, intermingled with other suppliers. So unlike other utility infrastructures which are managed on a regional basis, this will have to be managed on a premises by premises basis. It can only lead to confusing availability and erratic pricing in many areas of the UK.

  3. Avatar Simon

    Dosen’t “switching off the legacy copper telecoms network” mean the phone lines?

    • Avatar AnotherTim

      Yep. The existing analogue POTS phones would be replaced by VoIP phones over your internet connection instead. Of course for a lot of people that internet connection currently comes over copper telephone lines.

  4. Avatar Optimist

    The Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport was responsible for the review, so why is it that the Treasury is to make the announcement regarding copper? It appears that the DDCMS is a DINO (department in name only).

    • Avatar Joe

      Anything that involves potential spending or taxation (even by a levy) would need to go through the Treasury

  5. Avatar Skyrocket

    Over ThinkBroadband MrSaffron say As for technology well we will all have FTTP by 2033. So, if the government want all copper to be switched off by 2025, how we get FTTC or G.Fast via copper for the next 8 years between 2025 and 2033?

  6. Avatar Meadmodj

    Politicians don’t normally announce anything until they know it will happen anyway. BT has already stated that it will replace the old PSTN by 2025 (network not necessarily copper lines) and if a user has broadband then VoIP will be the default. The copper network will wither and die unless BT suddenly needs duct space.

    Ofcom are due to announce their conclusions on the USO very soon.

    BT OR have already determined FTTP is best for new build and the economics of the existing is changing all the time.

    BT had a monopoly based copper (hence regulation) but that will not now apply and will possibly seek redress if FTTP is not funded or regulated equitably.

    The chancellor can’t turn off the copper network and it will be decades before it is removed completely simply because some people will want or need the traditional landline. What he can do is provide funding and general stimulus to promote Fibre Optic distribution.

    Altnets such as CityFibre are getting jittery as they know if BT OR and VM step up their investments as predicted other than rural there will be at least 2 big players against them in the same streets. What has probably also rattled them is Clive Selley saying it will only be about £5 dearer (assume on the current FTTC cost) which for the robustness and upgrade path is quite good. If geographical monopolies are created then OFCOM must insist they all provide wholesale services.

    My overall view is that government should now stay out of it (except for the USO) and let the games begin.

  7. Avatar 3G Infinity (now 4G going on 5G)

    By 2025 might just have got FTTC

  8. Avatar Chris P

    What happens if my altnet (if I had one) gets purchased and decides to stop investing in upstream bandwidth for all its new customers and / or just decides to whack up the charges, can I use their fibre to my home with a new provider or is my only alternative the slower by copper.

    Has this happened to anyone yet?

    It’ll be interesting to see how a fragmented fibre deployment will work and how OFCOM deals with complaints.

  9. Avatar Mike

    Extra £5 for FTTP sounds reasonable.

    • Likewise but if you’re currently only paying a small amount for ADSL2+ broadband and a basic phone line then +£5, especially for those on low incomes, retired people or pensioners, is a bitter pill to swallow on top of other general price rises.

    • Avatar Meadmodj

      Up to Ofcom in future. We are already appear to be forced onto FTTC if its available and ISP’s naturally want to up-sell. Even VM start at 50Mbps. Ofcom could easily redefine a minimum social USO product (regardless of technology) that the network providers and ISPs must offer going forward. So pensioners will not be forced to take a 300Mbps+ package for just VoIP, Email and the odd bit of browsing. We may also see a return to data allowances for fairer pricing.

    • Avatar AndyC

      I would have thought that the people on these “low rates” would be exempt from this extra charge.

      Set up a special package thats gives the uso speed and calls for them and for those who only want adsl speeds.

      If someone wants it someone else will sell it.

    • Avatar A_Builder

      It is highly likely that there would be a social responsibility package that gave FTTC USO type performance for peanuts.

      I am not aware of any contracts that stipulate the precise frequencies that DSL (ADSL/ADSL2+/VDSL/Gfast all being DSL) are delivered over. So it would be absolutely fine, provided the service was *not* compromised, for the CP to switch the consumer from ADSL/ADSL2+ to VDSL(FTTC).

      At some point the ancient ADSL/ADSL2+ plant in the exchanges will be EoL (End of Life) and with low utilisation not worth maintaining. The CP’s have to maintain and pay OR for having the gear in the exchange so there is a minimum return threshold that makes sense. So this part of the process may be more CP lead than we may imagine particularly if OR offer packages to the CP’s that make it attractive to the CP’s to move over to FTTC driven packages.

      Some exchanges where ADSL is the lifeblood and FTTC doesn’t have good penetration this won’t work. But these are fewer and fewer. And this is why there is increased emphasis for FTTP on Exchange only Lines otherwise copper switch off is impossible.

      @MJ are there any stats as to the utilisation levels of the ADSL/ADSL2+ kit in exchanges?

    • Avatar Rahul

      £5 extra a month in the grand scheme of things is not a bitter pill to swallow for anybody living in the UK even amongst low income people!

      With inflation and high prices in general, £5 extra for Fibre Optic is totally worth it. People pay £30 a month to Sky Sports/BT Sport packages just to watch a few football matches over the weekend. Most people don’t even spend that wisely, many people splash their cash for cigarettes, alcohol, fast food, restaurants, perfumes, etc. Some even buy a new mobile phone every 2 months!

      Of-course it’s not difficult to slightly restrict expenditure here and there. Just don’t buy an extra couple of beers a month or Big Mac meals and it’s all sorted.

      For the quality of service that you get at the end of the day in ratio to the cost £5 extra for FTTP is a dream come true. We know most of the packages do not cost £5 more, they actually cost way more than that. Take a look at spectrum £99 a month for 1Gbps now that’s what I call expensive. But if you are spending instead of £20 a month £25 or even £30-£35 then that’s not a big deal if the service you get is great no drop outs and no slower than advertised speeds. Then I won’t complain.

      Seriously, if people don’t have money to pay for internet, how do you think they afforded a computer in the first place? In this country people aren’t that poor. Internet is one of the cheapest utilities. It is cheaper than Sky TV Packages and offer much more.

      I’m sure money is not the issue here and Openreach wouldn’t have a headache worrying about people paying £5 more for FTTP a month. First the biggest headache is how are you going to switch off copper cables without having Fibre laid in the first place? Until that doesn’t happen and wayleave issues aren’t sorted then all other discussions are pointless and ain’t going to happen just like the useless Brexit discussions.

    • Avatar Rahul

      @A_Builder: That’s exactly right. In the long run pure Fibre will be economically more beneficial. If OR save money from this investment then equally they would not have to worry too much about whether or not someone could afford to pay an extra £5 a month.

      I don’t think £5-£10 extra a month is a problem for most people living in the UK. When we consider the fact that despite so many health warnings on lung cancer caused by smoking people still shell out £5-7 a packet on cigarettes, alcohol, etc and don’t seem to be too bothered by any of the labelled health warnings and photos on these packages.

      I think the delay in Fibre rollout is partly caused by a sense of discouragement perhaps that the project seems too big of a challenge and the engineering works that go with it. It is definitely a big project for OR and other Altnet providers to lay Fibre cables particularly in these dense urban areas.

      I feel until and unless that large footprint isn’t covered with FTTP then it is too early yet to discuss about switching off copper cables completely, (in fact it is laughable). You can’t switch off those cables yet or else people will be left without internet and telephone. Even by 2025 I feel it is still too ambitious to set it as a target date, until FTTP rollout can jump from 4% to at least 50% then that would be understandable. Somehow I don’t feel the UK will reach 50% from the current 4% by 2025 simply because Wayleave is another major issue that will disrupt the layout along with the engineering works which will again require strict initiative and action plan!

      Fibre has to be built first and only action will do it, not more talks.

  10. Avatar A_Builder

    @Rahul

    Whilst I do have some sympathy for your point of view there are a lot of people in our country who struggle to get by and disenfranchising them from communications marginalises them unnecessarily.

    That is sort of the point of the USO commitment and the USO pricing level should be a cheap as chips effort based around existing ADSL2+ pricing.

    I agree that if you are paying for a full bore 300Mb/s Gfast the extra £5 a month is peanuts. But at that point you have already voted with your own wallet.

    I’m not very socialist in inclination but society as a whole does need to look out for the less well off families with kids who need to connect to do their homework etc.

    • Avatar Rahul

      But USO is an illusion! Here’s why. You apparently get a promised speed of up to 10Mbps. The customer on low income thinks he/she is saving money, right? But at the end gets a poorer quality service and is still unhappy. BT Openreach have to spend more money on maintaining this copper network that will from time to time break down for whatever reasons such as water logged damaged cables, rats, noise margins, line problems, etc.

      This vicious cycle will obviously continue. I learnt it the hard way. I was a cheapskate once many years ago with a computer system that I built. I bought a 570 Watt Trust Power Supply Unit for £45 and a weak £50 Nvidia 8600GT graphics card. I wasn’t financially poor, but I was thinking about building a cheap system and just play at lower resolutions, etc such as 640×480. Boy, how wrong was I! PC kept shutting down every 2 minutes when attempting to run an intensive game like Crysis. Running at 640×480 resolution with very poor frame rates.

      Spoke on an unofficial Crysis video game forum who told me it’s because of a bad PSU that wasn’t supplying enough electricity. I then had to upgrade the GPU which at that time in 2009 I upgraded to an ATI Radeon HD 4890 for £170. And then upgraded my Power Supply Unit to a Corsair 850 Watt TX for £104.

      Not only my problem was solved, I immediately managed to run Crysis/Warhead all at 1080P resolution.

      Being a cheapskate meant that I ended up being a loser, I lost around £100 for a bad power supply and bad graphics card thinking that I’ll just build a cheap system when I could’ve spent a little bit more and not run into problems.. Till this day today my Corsair 850 Watt PSU is rock solid working in perfect condition. A system that is apparently more expensive but lasts longer with less frequent upgrades.

      Being a cheapskate is a vicious cycle of self poverty. You buy a poorer quality service/product, it breaks down or gets outdated and you end up having to spend more money!

      The day FTTP comes to my area will be the day I will dump ADSL2+ service for good! My humble advice would be spend more money, be happy because life is too short to live in a miserable quality of life.

    • Avatar A_Builder

      @Rahul

      The USO can be delivered over FTTC/GFast or FTTP technology.

      Ultimately OR want to fully kill copper to realise the savings from running one network type. And this is sensible.

      And OR are busily reaping what they sowed with regards to lack of investment.

      At the head of the comments I was pointing to there being a mid step, which is very likely to be taken, which disconnects the exchange from the PCP and therefore removes a huge amount of the copper and connections that are in play.

      Yes it would be cleaner and in the long run cheaper to go 100% FTTP by area and switch off all of the copper in one go but clean solutions are not the British way.

      We Brits compromise fudge all the way.

    • Avatar Rahul

      @A_Builder: Oops I seem to have accidentally replied to you in a top comment, sorry about that.. :O
      ————-
      That’s exactly right. In the long run pure Fibre will be economically more beneficial. If OR save money from this investment then equally they would not have to worry too much about whether or not someone could afford to pay an extra £5 a month.

      I don’t think £5-£10 extra a month is a problem for most people living in the UK. When we consider the fact that despite so many health warnings on lung cancer caused by smoking people still shell out £5-7 a packet on cigarettes, alcohol, etc and don’t seem to be too bothered by any of the labelled health warnings and photos on these packages.

      I think the delay in Fibre rollout is partly caused by a sense of discouragement perhaps that the project seems too big of a challenge and the engineering works that go with it. It is definitely a big project for OR and other Altnet providers to lay Fibre cables particularly in these dense urban areas.

      I feel until and unless that large footprint isn’t covered with FTTP then it is too early yet to discuss about switching off copper cables completely, (in fact it is laughable). You can’t switch off those cables yet or else people will be left without internet and telephone. Even by 2025 I feel it is still too ambitious to set it as a target date, until FTTP rollout can jump from 4% to at least 50% then that would be understandable. Somehow I don’t feel the UK will reach 50% from the current 4% by 2025 simply because Wayleave is another major issue that will disrupt the layout along with the engineering works which will again require strict initiative and action plan!

      Fibre has to be built first and only action will do it, not more talks.

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