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IoD Seeks Solid Switch Off Date for UK Copper Telecoms Network

Wednesday, August 1st, 2018 (7:47 am) - Score 2,434

Last week the UK Government proposed an industry led “switchover” process to remove the old copper line (broadband and phone) telecoms network as “full fibre” (FTTP/H) is deployed, but it stopped short of setting a full switch-off date. Now the Institute of Directors has called for a solid date, possibly as early as 2025.

Openreach have already said that they want to switch-off and migrate customers from their old copper network gradually, as their new 1Gbps capable Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) network is deployed because this will save money and thus make the “full fibre” investment case more attractive. At the same time they’ll also be withdrawing old voice (phone / PSTN) services more generally across their copper network by 2025 (here).

However physically retiring the copper network itself is going to be complex (see here) and could raise competition concerns from ISPs that have invested heavily in it (e.g. TalkTalk, Sky Broadband). Consumers may also be asked to pay more for the FTTP line and will need new phone adapters, which won’t be welcomed by everybody.

The situation will be significantly easier in Hull (East Yorkshire), where KCOM has few competitors to worry about and will have already covered the area with FTTP/H by March 2019. We expect KCOM to be the first out of the gate when it comes to the near total withdrawal of their old copper line network.

The Government’s Position

Last week the Government, which has already set an as yet unfunded aspiration to cover the entire country in “full fibre” connectivity by 2033, proposed to adopt an industry led switchover (from copper to full fibre) coordinated with Ofcom (here).

The timing for all this will be dependent on both the pace of rollout of the new fibre optic networks, and on the take-up of those networks, although the report also indicated how it is realistic to assume that switchover could happen in the majority of the country by 2030.

However the IoD, which represents around 35,000 business leaders, has called on the Government to set a much sooner and firmer date of 2025 “or soon after“.

Dan Lewis, IoD Senior Advisor for Infrastructure, said:

“With an ever-changing world of work, business should be looking to enable employees to work flexibly. Unfortunately, firms are paying the price for the neglect of full fibre connectivity. We are jogging while the rest of the world is sprinting. We need a copper switch-off date of 2025 or soon after.

Where you live should not determine your ability to work, or even start a business, with flexibility. The internet should be creating a more level playing field for businesses regardless of location, but uneven broadband coverage means the opposite is true.”

We assume from this that the IoD would expect the entire country to be completely covered by FTTP/H come 2025, otherwise such an early switch-off date would result in those still stuck on copper lines being effectively left without any fixed line connectivity. This would also require operators to collectively deliver something like 4-5 Million premises passed per year, which does not currently seem particularly feasible.

Full fibre networks are inherently very slow to deploy due to elements such as the high cost of labour, as well as issues with a shortage of the optimal machinery/skills, delays with planning/permit/admin/power supply and the sheer amount of invasive civil engineering (street works) involved.

Looking across the EU this is all fairly normal. Outside of large communist states where labour is cheap and plentiful, FTTP/H will always take a very long time to deliver.

Image credit to AAISP.

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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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11 Responses
  1. chris conder says:

    Naturally they’ll concentrate on the cities – it could be a hundred years until they get to the rural areas.

  2. Skyrocket says:

    Very slow process! Always slow move by the government. UK want full fibre 100% by 2025 not 2033 or later.

    1. Joe says:

      You’re as bad as the IoD. 2025 is impossible. The UK doesn’t need and can’t have full fibre by that date. The most that could reasonably happen is that some exchanges might be able to switch off copper by 2025 (Hull and various areas that already have all FTTP and now only use copper for calls)

    2. Mike says:

      It’s not impossible it’d just require a level of competancy which this country is so obviously lacking.

    3. New_Londoner says:

      @Max, Mike
      It’s not about competency, it’s a simple matter of mathematics. Whilst anything might be theoretically possible, the volume of labour needed to do the work in the time remaining isn’t available, nor is the funding to do it on such an accelerated timescale (which would cost a significant premium if it were feasible).

      Simply wishing something to be done might appeal to politicians but it doesn’t make it so. As with most things in life, moving from sloganising

    4. New_Londoner says:

      … to practicalities is important if you actually want anything to happen.

    5. New_Londoner says:

      This is the second nonsensical statement from the IoD on broadband in a matter of weeks. Their grasp of the detail seems to be on a par with Which (not a compliment!), they need to replace the consultants or policy advisor that they are using with someone that knows what they are talking about if they want to be taken seriously.

  3. AndyC says:

    I find it funny that sky can complain about openreach going fully fibred and getting rid of the copper and yet can also force their own customers to “upgrade” to digital just because they wanted to stop using analog signals like they did all those years ago.

    just a thought if why carnt openreach “give” the isp’s who want to stay on copper the copper network and they can run/repair it themselves and everyone else who wants it can go full fibre.

    1. New_Londoner says:

      Rather than giving it to them, why not just remove any regulatory controls and mandate Openreach to charge them the full cost of operating two parallel networks. A bit of economic reality might concentrate minds!

  4. Brian says:

    Doubt it will happen anytime soon. BT will want some return on the FTTC cabinets, and no one is willing to stump up for rural properties that are too far from the cabinet, where the install cost of fibre will be significant.
    Its partially the willingness to make the investment, I can see from personal experience a longer length of copper (ducts/overhead,direct in ground) will throw up a number of faults, and there would be a saving in repair costs.

  5. A_Builder says:

    This a daft date.

    Much as I want a full fibre future this is totally unrealistic.

    The copper switch off is going to be area by area. In some rural areas where FTTP dominates already and copper is close to end of life or has useless performance then I can see it being sooner.

    The thorny bit is that OR won’t be able to disadvantage anyone by doing so.

    Interesting to see how much resource has to be thrown at the long tail to get to zero.

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