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Openreach to Stop Providing Battery Backup for FTTP Broadband

Friday, October 19th, 2018 (10:00 am) - Score 14,360
fttp ont and bbu open lid openreach

At present new installations of Openreach’s (BT) Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) based UK ultrafast broadband ISP technology all come with a Battery Backup Unit (BBU) by default next to the Optical Network Unit (ONT), which helps users to maintain access to emergency services if they use VoIP. But this is about to stop.

The operator is currently in the process of deploying their 1000Mbps capable FTTPfull fibre” broadband network to cover 3 million UK homes and businesses by the end of 2020. After that they also have an ambition to extend the service’s coverage to a total of 10 million premises by around 2025.

Unlike traditional copper lines, which can be powered via the exchange, fibre optic lines cannot carry electricity and as such end-users need to supply power at their end (home or business) in order to help maintain the connection. Obviously this would become problematic in a power cut, particularly so for FTTP-only properties, and so Openreach and a few other providers have long included a BBU with their new installs.

The BBU simply consists of four replaceable 2000mAH-NiMH (1.2v) BYD rechargeable AA batteries (charged by the fibre unit) and it is the end-users responsibility to maintain these. The bad news, according to several ISPs that we’ve discussed it with, is that Openreach have said they will stop providing ONT BBU units as default in FTTP-only areas and then only on exceptional basis (exceptional may mean those at risk, who depend on their landline for voice).

NOTE: Pictured top left is an internal picture of the FTTP cabinet that Openreach currently install inside homes, with the ONT on the left and the BBU on the right.

At this stage no firm dates appear to have been set but Openreach are understood to be discussing the change with ISPs, albeit mostly related to their plans for the remaining stock of BBUs (these are designed for use alongside their Huawei based ONT). Apparently these may become available to ISPs early next year (possibly at a cost but this is undecided).

The timing is interesting since the change appears to be occurring at roughly the same time as Ofcom’s new guidance is being introduced, which covers how UK providers of Voice-over-Internet-Protocol (VoIP) or similar broadband-based phone / voice services can ensure that their customers are still able to call the emergency services in a power cut (here).

The regulator’s guidance is based around four principles and the first one says that providers “should have at least one solution that enables access to emergency organisations for a minimum of one hour in the event of a power outage in the premises” (e.g. battery backup). But crucially these are just general “expectations” and as yet Ofcom has not strictly imposed anything on operators in respect to the broadband side of things.

A big question mark thus remains over where the responsibility (if any) for maintaining voice services will come from in the future as network operators / suppliers increasingly adopt a broadband-only focus to service provision, although in the future it seems likely that ISPs may be expected to take some of the burden if they offer voice. Obviously the main concern today is for those who may not have an alternative method (e.g. mobile).

One possible reason for OR’s decision might be because, strictly speaking, they cannot ensure availability of VoIP for 999 access in an FTTP-only property via just the BBU (i.e. your router and phone handset would also need to be protected by a battery or UPS). But if somebody is able to power their router/handset via another method then the need for a BBU would be negated.

We did ask Openreach for a comment on Wednesday but sadly they have not responded.

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Mark Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he is also the founder of ISPreview since 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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36 Responses
  1. Adam

    The vast majority of the country only use their landline for the internet anyway and use mobile phones for voice calls, this isnt really an issue.

    • EndlessWaves

      I’d be surprised if it were a majority already, do you have any data?

      I’d suspect it’s nearer 20-30% of households that never make or receive (non-spam) calls on the landline

    • Vince

      @EndlessWave

      I’m not at liberty to disclose source but nearer 50% than 30%…

    • Spiderpig

      The issue isn’t about whether customers use landlines or mobiles to make calls, its about the regulatory requirement to provide an ‘always on’ phone line to everyone, as stipulated by Ofcom. It’s the reason why incumbent network operators need to build in telephony network resilience and face significant fines for downtime (see KCOM’s £2m fine), and why telephony faults have significantly tighter SLAs than other communications.

    • Wujek Pawel

      I haven’t made/received any voice call on my landline since 2014. I don’t even have phone connected.

  2. Vanburen

    Something like a VOIP ATA (e.g. a Cisco SPA112), but with an in-built battery backup that uses 4G Volte for voice backhaul, maybe a better option for those who need emergency landline access.

  3. Optimist

    Another example of unnecessary government regulation in my view.

    At one time the only phones available in nearly all the UK were those which the Post Office supplied and for which they charged. Then came along privatisation and deregulation and, hey, you could buy a phone from a shop and plug it in yourself! And you saved on rental charges! And then people bought modems to connect to online services! If your phone breaks, you buy a replacement just as you do for any other household appliance.

    So, sell these devices to the public, although I suspect that handsets with backup power built in (just like DECT phones), perhaps with a warning in case the battery fails, wil be more popular.

    No doubt there will be those moaning that their old phones won’t work any more, but then nor do rotary dial phones, or candlesticks with a handle to turn to summon the operator.

  4. FibreFred

    Seems sensible.

    If they supply it, they will be required to maintain it. Swap out batteries as there life reduces etc etc.

    Better to give the responsibility for power to the customer.

  5. Phil

    I think the issue is generally the advice given is that mobile phones should not be relied on to call the emergency services (obviously this has made things easier for the mobile phone companies in their equipment deployment not having the responsibility), and so we’ve only ever been left with the landline considered as the emergency phone. However in a power cut, how many people have DECT cordless phones now and how many of those come with a battery backup? How many people have an old style wired telephone just in case?

    Now, at one time it served BT pretty well in the fact that people felt safer having a landline that could work during a power cut, now that it’s going to cost money on installs of FTTP with battery backup that isn’t actually going to help keep a phone powered up in a power outage (even less so than today given the extra bits in the chain for VoIP), they are dropping the option. You can kind of understand it. Anyone with a medical need will of course need a backup option and that will be provided, and hopefully it will cover all the devices in the chain.

    Mobile phone operators should be made to ensure they can supply an emergency service in power cuts for the required amount of time, it makes more sense now, and given EE are (trying) to supply a service to the emergency services themselves, then it shouldn’t be a problem.

    • Joe

      The % coverage is rising for mobiles pretty well. It won’t be that long before most areas have a reliable mobile >9x%

    • Optimist

      Phil –

      Unfortunately, no amount of power backup is going to be any good if the line itself fails. Where I live the VM lines are all underground but the OR ones are strung from poles (only the backhaul to the exchange are undergound). These are vulnerable, some years ago after I switched to VM, the by now dead OR line worked loose and started to sag (I think it might have been due to a lamppost having to be straightened up after a mishap). I contacted OR and pointed out the line might break and cause injury or worse (e.g. wrapping round neck of cyclist) and they would be liable. They removed it the following day at daybreak!

  6. Joe

    Fwiw, I have FTTP with the BT bat backup. (I also have chunky UPS’s on my modem & PC etc.) I broadly feel its the customers problem and the solutions are cheap and not that difficult. (I can see an argument for BT providing a fall back for the elderly or disabled but not general users.)

    Will BT offer all users a bt backup at a reasonable cost? I doubt on BT’s scale the backup costs very much at all.

  7. Meadmodj

    I suggest more a commercial decision than technical one. Providing the BBU costs money and introduces a liability. Other FTTP providers do not appear to provide any BBU. Openreach are merely passing the responsibility and cost on to the ISP as VoIP can be provided in many different ways. The imminent BDUK FTTP contracts may also be a factor regarding costs however small it is.

    I have vented my views about this before particularly widespread outage. The issue here is consumer awareness.

    I liked the return to a “comms cupboard” alongside everything else with telephone and network cabling going neatly their separate ways. I can see a future now for some with an ONT included in a cheap ISP router resulting in a rats nest of cabling and equipment in the living room (just like the Sky installation I saw the other day). Not for me thank you.

    Those intending to use mobile. Make sure its always charged, the intended location is in a good signal and you know where it is in an emergency. My wife set her alarm on hers for this morning. It took her 10 minutes in a daze to find and respond. Think intruder, think smoke, think of other family members if you are incapacitated. Someones life may depend on it.

  8. Mart

    we live in the country side so I am used to random power cuts. I use battery backup for my computers etc. I like the idea of a well organised system in the power/comms cupboard, like the new diital meter I have which switches over to economy rate seamlessly, that could also connect a ring cicuit which runs the phones and ont etc to a battery system. the battery system would already be there of course because of the solor panels or windmill which every house should have working now to save the planet.

    • Joe

      You can get a half decent battery backup (3kwh), for the home, from around £2k now; to get you through brief cuts and for 5-6k you can get 13kwh which more than the average used assuming you’re out at work during the day.

  9. tonyp

    Scenario:-
    I have just fallen down the stairs in the dark because there has been no power for several hours. My phone was in my hand but it has bounced out of reach. My leg is broken and I am in considerable pain. Fortunately I was wearing my lifeline pendant and that should surely be able to call for help? No, the line I was provided with is also unusable so that is worthless. All I can do is shout for help but can anyone hear me? Probably not. I have to wait until either someone notices no activity or I die.

    I cannot afford a GBP 2K UPS on my pension what with rent, electricity (which is increasingly unreliable with all those electric cars now demanding more and more power) food and so on.

    Rant over.

    That is how IMPORTANT it is to be able to call emergency services at ANY time.

    • Mart

      how about a spring loaded red flag which pops up on your roof when you pull a string?

    • Meadmodj

      @tonyp. Retain at least one corded phone and fixed direct exchange line as long as possible. If forced to VoIP then select a supplier that provides a device to retain the corded phone (and alarm if applicable). Maintain your broadband and this VoIP device with a small UPS such as the APC range with 4 x 13amp sockets (about £80).

    • Mr c fodder

      Yes it is important, but if the pendant triggered via the mobile, that could work as well, and would reduce the need for a fixed line reducing outgoings when funds are limited.

    • tonyp

      @Mart – I’m not clambering on my roof to install a semaphore that no one will notice anyway!

      @Meadmodj – I did contact the Broadband ‘Connected Counties’ about better broadband for my locality and they mentioned possibly December 2019 before anything may be done. So my 3.9Km copper phone line will be OK until then! Then what I don’t know.

      @Mr c fodder – Yes a possibly viable solution though that would require replacement of the Lifeline equipment and a decent signal in the area. That would be dependent on the supplying company and authority to provide.

      @Neb – (below) 3 all day planned power cuts this year plus quite a few short breaks and glitches in power supply, reliability is not to urban levels. And I am registered as having Electricity Supply priority though that doesn’t seem to mean more than getting a phone call or letter.

      Being semi-rural (though less than 45 miles from Charing Cross) it does not have charitable organisations (not that an emergency should rely on charity) close by to shout to.

      @Will – (Below) I’m in total agreement with your situation and if you are in farming, the chances of a nasty accident away from good communications are quite high.

    • Joe

      @Tony. Obs not everyone can afford power backup for the whole home. But UPS on the phone/router is very cheap which would cover most cases.

      Doubtless the emergency pendants will sooner or later but tied to mobile phones (seems pretty easy tech wise via bluetooth)

      Fwiw if you do have a power cut you can claim compensation (which will pay for a basic UPS!)

      https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/consumer/energy/energy-supply/problems-with-your-energy-supply/get-compensation-if-you-have-a-power-cut/

    • TheFacts

      @tonyp – do the pendant receivers have a battery backup?

    • EndlessWaves

      Those things are tied to your home landline? What happens when you fall when you’re out and about? Or just at the bottom of the garden?

      One based on the mobile network seems like it would function better to begin with, as well as avoiding this issue entirely. Cheap mobile phones are £10-15 these days, and you’d need even less functionality than that for a pendant.

  10. Neb

    Save the environment they say… Lets hand out millions of batteries which probably need replacing every couple of years… Mobile masts have power back ups as far as I was aware which would see us through most power cuts (if you even get them). 1st world problems.

    @tonyp – if the power goes out and I have no one who cares about me (even a neighbour) to come and say you alright… or even a local risk register where someone from the sali army or council comes round… leave me there.

    The Battery backups aren’t worth the costs.

    • Neb

      @TonyP reply to your reply.

      Agree in the agricultural and remote village settings, where mobile coverage doesn’t cut the mustard, then battery back ups have a case. In terms of charitable org such as sali army – I know from the NE of England, that they have been working collaboratively with EPUs and cover rural areas… that was basically all volunteers and donations so again… not to be relied upon.

      However all things considered, I believe if the village/remote location has multiple mobile networks where by emergency coverage is covered from multiple sources, this should be sufficient in terms of redundancies, making battery back ups unnecessary and indeed down to the customer to buy. All for ISPs providing an up-sell option.

    • Joe

      4 rechargeable AAs cost little and last a lot longer than a couple of years. I’ve 30+ of them bought in 08/09 still all fine.

    • Neb

      @Joe Where can one buy one independently? I’ve seen them pictured in an article but can’t actually find one with sufficient power and at a reasonable cost i.e. not £80+.

  11. Will

    Not everyone has a mobile signal where they live, I don’t. So having a phone line is really useful when the power goes out. Which it does as I’m in the country side. My broadband is FTTP and I don’t have a battery back up on the ONT so I’m keeping my old phone line . Until it gets turned off around 2025

  12. William

    “We did ask Openreach for a comment on Wednesday but sadly they have not responded.”

    Typical of Openreach, ask them a slightly complicated question, and if they dont have a clever missing the point answer that they can fob you off with, you get ignored! Same for the engineers, who are daily frustrated with the company expecting miricals, with network and backend systems stuck in the 80’s!

  13. AndyC

    Could they not sell it via the bt shop (or allow isp to order one seperatly) so anyone who wants one (and are not at risk) can have one if they wanted one?

    I for one have no problem paying for one as i like the thought of still being able to call for help if needed.

    Might just buy one off the bay so when we do get fftp in the future i can have the backup power.

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