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Openreach Expected to Ramp Up UK Full Fibre Broadband Rollout

Sunday, May 5th, 2019 (9:56 am) - Score 13,530
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The new CEO of BT Group, Philip Jansen, is reportedly preparing to announce a major ramping up of Openreach’s 1Gbps capable Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) ultrafast broadband ISP technology next week, which one analyst firm believes could see them target 15 million premises by around 2025 instead of 10 million.

At present Openreach’s existing “Fibre First” strategy aims to build “full fibre” broadband out to cover 3 million homes and businesses by the end of 2020 (i.e. March 2021 financial) and they also have an ambition to reach 10 million by around 2025, although the latter remains dependent upon a satisfactory result from their negotiations with Ofcom, ISPs and the Government. So far 1.2 million premises have already been covered (here).

We have long predicted that one of Jansen’s first acts after taking over as CEO would be to confirm their strategy for a “large scale” roll-out of FTTP (i.e. the 10 million premises target), which the operator has previously estimated could cost between £3bn to £6bn. But the rising levels of competition from new alternative network ISPs (Summary of Full Fibre Plans) may be putting pressure on them to go even further.

According to the FT (paywall), sources with direct knowledge of the proposals say that a new plan has now been presented to Openreach’s board and we’re likely to hear more about this when BT publishes their next results. Research company Redburn has predicted that their 2020 target could be boosted to 3.5 million premises, while their 2025 ambition may jump to 15 million premises.

All of this is dependent upon the operator being able to secure the necessary changes in regulation and other areas, as well as Jansen’s rumoured plan for 25,000 job cuts (here). Back in 2017 the network giant found “broad support” for their proposal to conduct a “large scale” roll-out of FTTP among ISPs and they also identified a list of key enablers for this (here). Some of these are already being tackled.

Openreach’s List of Enablers for Larger Scale FTTP

· Greater collaboration, including new investment, risk and cost sharing models.

· Agreement on how mass migration of customers onto the new platform can be achieved (Openreach proposed that all customers should be migrated over to the new network as quickly as possible – and retiring the old copper one – after it has been built in a given area).

· Reducing logistical barriers, like improved planning and traffic management processes.

· Agreement on the right way to spread the costs of FTTP investment (e.g. possible changes to business rates and wholesale rules / charges).

· A legal and regulatory environment which encourages investment.

Since then the ramping up of FTTP deployments by rivals has weakened Openreach’s bargaining position, which means that choosing not to do a larger roll-out now would risk eroding their place within the market. One key challenge for Openreach is that, unlike their rivals, they face a mountain of historic regulation and a lot of that needs to be rebuilt for the full fibre age (Ofcom are in the process of doing this).

Meanwhile altnet ISPs are concerned that a more aggressive push by Openreach into FTTP could disrupted their own projects, reduce coverage improvements through overbuild, create more disruption for locals (i.e. repetitive street works by different operators in the same area) and enable the telecoms giant to slowly rebuild its position.

On the flip side the majority of this battle is taking place in commercially competitive urban areas (i.e. doesn’t generally involve any public investment) and that is seen by many as fair game for whoever (private sector) wants to take the risk by spending big on it. Similarly overbuild also increases consumer choice, which is a positive.

All of this will no doubt help the Government to achieve their current target of supporting FTTP networks to cover 10 million UK premises by the end of 2022, then 15 million by the end of 2025 (here) and they also have an ambition to see a “nationwide full-fibre” network by 2033. This will of course involve input from many alternative network ISPs and not just Openreach.

Interestingly Openreach’s recent consultation on their proposals to switch-off the old copper network (here) also hinted at one casualty of a wider than currently proposed FTTP deployment. This reflects the possibility of another reduction in their roll-out of 330Mbps capable hybrid fibre G.fast technology.

Until recently G.fast was due to reach 10 million UK premises by 2020 and then the greater focus upon FTTP caused that to be downgraded to around 5.7 million (here). The copper switch-off consultation hinted that they might instead need to take an even more targeted approach to G.fast (i.e. only using it in specific areas as part of the FTTP roll-out), which could be interpreted to mean another downgrade. We’ll find out soon enough.

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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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47 Responses
  1. Avatar Philip Cooper

    As a layman looking in I can`t help but wonder why FTTP wasn`t deployed from the start instead of spending billions on the stop gap of FTTC and now having to replace it already ? I`m sure the reasons are many and varied but feel if a more long term outlook had been employed we`d be a lot further along the road to full fibre.

    • Avatar Ken

      You will actually find some FTTC infrastructure will be re-used in any future FTTP rollout as the FTTC fibre aggregation nodes have already been brought closer to peoples homes and future FTTP lines will most likely be deployed from the same fibre nodes as those serving existing FTTC cabinets. Or in other words,

    • Avatar GNewton

      @Ken: Are there any examples where Openreach has upgraded VDSL lines to fibre?

    • Avatar bob

      we needed faster speeds quickly, fttc is an excellent stop gap whilst waiting. if they skipped straight to fttp, you’d still be on 8mbit dsl for many more years because its a monumental task to rewire the entire country with fibre

    • Avatar CarlT

      @GNewton – All over the Fibre First areas. Near me try, for example, #10 LS7 2TD.

      You can even find plenty of cases where FTTP was used to uplift G.fast – #10 LS6 4JQ for instance.

      Might be worth looking at what Openreach are actually doing before being so willing to pass judgment or hand out criticism.

    • Avatar Joe

      @Phillip: Much of the work in terms of deploying fibre and the associated backhaul works for both fttc and fttp. So Fttc makes fttp deployments much cheaper/quicker as the joint is closer to homes – you can argue more expensive than just doing fttp from the start but fttc gave millions of ppl faster connections a decade before they’d ever have gotten fttp deployments

    • Avatar Bob H

      There was an article a while back which claimed that BT/PO had considered going full fibre way back (before most people dreamed of using the internet). But the government blocked them for competitive reasons, it would have required BT to build all the technology itself and I seem to recall that the government thought the market shouldn’t be dominated by them doing everything.

      Wish I could find the article, I think it was written by a former senior exec. I tried to verify it with a contact who was a long-time BT person, but he could only find references in his journals to some very early FTTH trials (again, before the internet).

  2. Avatar Optimist

    I wonder if cabling up the last mile will be really necessary soon in view of the fact that 5G FWA is predicted to start being installed within a year or two?

    • Avatar Jonathan Buzzard

      For 5G to be able to support a whole street streaming at HD would require a mast on every lamp post. At which point you might as well drop the fibre into every house. Remember you could order today a 1000/220 FTTP connection, and there is the potential to go even faster if you change the optics either end of the fibre. 5G and any other wireless technology will *NEVER* be able to provide the bandwidth of fibre, so it might provide a high link speed, but contention will mean usable throughput is much lower. People telling you otherwise or either liars or ignorant fools.

    • Avatar Spurple

      @jonathan I bet in the days of 10/100 base T, there were people who swore that wireless will never match those speeds.

      You can say that wired will always have an edge but you should not say that wireless will never improve to the point of being good enough.

      By the way, a transmitter in every lamppost is still cheaper than FTTP.

    • Avatar AnotherTim

      @Spurple, you are correct that “a transmitter in every lamppost is still cheaper than FTTP”, but that still misses out many rural properties that still only have ADSL since streetlamps tend to be an urban thing – there are no streetlamps anywhere near my area (great for stargazing).

    • Avatar Ivor

      “there were people who swore that wireless will never match those speeds.”

      We’re starting to hit the limits of efficiency though. 5G will only deliver on the hype – gigabit speeds, no need to fibre – if millimetre wave spectrum is used. That’s the spectrum that really will need 5G cells on every other lamp post, absolutely nothing in the way between it and your home, etc. It might struggle to make economic sense anywhere but the most densely populated areas. It won’t be used in rural areas.

      So, the point remains – if the mobile operator has to plonk 5G cells along every street, and they have to pay someone to nail the antenna onto the side of your house, where exactly is the benefit compared to just doing fibre?

  3. Avatar Phil

    Yes you do wonder if it would have been better to go straight from ADSL to fibre, but at least VDSL did bring fibre closer, unlike G.Fast which is a complete waste of money, benefiting few people, and not doing anything to bring fibre closer to homes. Thankfully it seems BT Openreach have seen the light and investment in G.Fast appears to be halting in favour of full fibre.

    • Avatar FibreFred

      Going from ADSL to FTTP would take too long hence why it wasn’t chosen.

      Fttc gave the masses an uplift in a reasonable time but also brought fibre much closer to the home. Ready for FTTP.

  4. Avatar Nick Roberts

    I wonder if this has anything to do with scrap copper prices peaking out in the middle of this programme. Best grade is £4,000 a tonne now, in 2025/26, £6,000, followed by a progressive price fall-off in later years as fibre and radio get substituted increasingly on the World Communications market (New and replacement), aluminium+copper cabling is substituted for pure copper in the power distribution market and plastics(Made from waste plastics) progressively replace piping and tanks ?

    https://walletinvestor.com/commodity-forecast/copper-prediction

    • Avatar Joe

      No. Volume copper recovery for BT is long past those dates.

    • Avatar Bob H

      When I spoke to someone at Jersey Telecom about their FTTH deployment, he said they covered a significant portion of their fibre investment with the copper recovery.

    • Avatar CarlT

      Jersey Telecom’s regulator evidently isn’t as obsessed with copper LLU as Ofcom.

      The mere suggestion of retiring copper has at least historically produced huge complaints from Sky and TalkTalk especially.

    • Avatar Joe

      Jersey isn’t in the EU so it can do as it likes (mostly) Back in the UK ofcom is still forcing BT to provide copper (hybrid copper/fibre cables) even when the end user only wants fibre.

    • Avatar NE555

      > followed by a progressive price fall-off in later years as fibre and radio get substituted increasingly on the World Communications market

      There are lots of other things copper will be used for going forward. For example. an electric (non-hybrid) car contains 90kg of copper.

    • Avatar Joe

      Indeed we have a minor copper shortage atm. Only likely to get worse as e-cars and domestic battery storage rises.

    • Avatar CarlT

      Convenient as blaming the EU is the copper retirement programme in Spain and Portugal suggests they aren’t an insurmountable problem.

    • Avatar Joe

      State monopoly telcos in many EU countries don’t have the issues of competition rules that is causing BT/Ofcom such a headache.

  5. Avatar Craig

    My street is surrounded by FTTC and yet they refuse fibre to us. 4mb to a street with 150 properties in 2019. “no plans” yet apparently. Joke company are Openreach

    • Avatar CarlT

      Indeed. Their not upgrading you, personally, does indeed mean everyone else should consider them a joke.

    • Avatar TheFacts

      What about Virgin Media or Gigalclear or CityFibre for you, are they a joke as well?

    • Avatar Fastman

      hmmm 150 premises structure would have met never meet the commercial viability. I assume not in any BDUK area or not value for money for them either

      may also be a rubbish cab in terms of speed profile if it was ever covered by any other programme – cab Could be funded (just needs some external funding to get it enabled — ?)

    • Avatar GNewton

      @TheFacts: “What about Virgin Media or Gigalclear or CityFibre for you, are they a joke as well?” No, they are not. Happy now?

    • Avatar CarlT

      Responding on behalf of someone else or are you that someone else, GNewton?

    • Avatar Geoff

      Agreed Craig, this talk of Fttp is pie in the sky when they can’t even be bothered to make all cabs into Fttc. This is their network and should be upgraded in a fair and equivalent way for the benefit of all service providers and their customers. If some cabs are a bit more costly to upgrade then I suggest that they reduce the vastly overblown management structure they employ to release finance to spend on their ancient network which still contains large amounts of aluminium as well as copper, no wonder it’s so slow and this company is so reviled.

    • Avatar A_Builder

      Or is it moe to the point that the PCP’s that didn’t get a DSLAM, didn’t get it for a good reason such as the condition of the copper/aluminium of line lights don’t support VDSL and certainly won’t support Gfast?

      VDSL was a great stopgap in 2010 vintages.

      But it was being flogged, as a dead horse, on marginally applicable rural deployments where it was just the wrong technology.

      The sad thing was with the OR mentality that it was simply “what is the minimum we can do to meet the standard” – “this is the minimum so lets do it” – it is a very penny pinching mentality left over from 80’s corporate accounting.

      Really the only solutions to rural rural ares FTTP and Microwave, WiFi, 4/5G. I’d park satellite some way off being the gold standard solution.

      Now as we argue on here all the time 4/5G has to be connected to something so there has to be some fibre: lets not start the FTTP/Ethernet fibre argument here yet again……at the end of the day it is just data and is agnostic as to the carrier.

      In the final analysis FTTP is probably the answer for all but the most remote locations and if OR wants to turn off copper, as it does, the the copper has to be replaced with FTTP. So OR may as well get on with it.

      There is a segment of rural that OR has to tackle as elements of the system age and get damaged / don’t perform to USO. So this will actually drive some of the more remote upgrading.

      I’d also take issue with the description of widespread FTTP as ‘pie in the sky’ it is really happening and I now know a lot of people with pure fibre residential connections. Albeit flat dwellers in London/Manchester who have Alt Net not OR. Make no mistake this is not fantasy stuff but it is having a real impact in connection people.

  6. Avatar asrab

    GFAST – Should be stopped as soon as possible and divert all resources to FTTP, i have a GFAST pod out side my house, literately less than 50 meters, but cant get the service because of the route the cabling takes, which means only about 10 people can order instead of about 50

    what a waste of time, effort and cost

    • Avatar Optical

      I’m another who can’t get GFast due to crazy cable routing adding around 200mtrs unnecessary length to my distance.

    • Avatar Joe

      G.fast is pretty cheap so it not a fibre or Gfast choice on cost.

    • Avatar A_Builder

      @Joe

      But the issue is that it works well for a small subset on each PCP.

      I have a very good GFast connection to my home and a rubbish one to one of our offices.

      I have done the experiment and it has proved to me that the tech fundamentally works but the solution set it too narrow.

      Hence why I do belive that PCP (as opposed to DP) GFast is a dead end. Now Fibre First is reality there is no point in looking at DP GFast except in blocks of flats. But there is no point in doing that either as the Alt Nets are busily doing FTTP or FTTH on any block of flats they can get their mits onto.

      But I do strongly belive that Fibre First is the right strategy both for UK PLC, consumers and me as a shareholder!

      Just a shame it didn’t start 10 years ago….

    • Avatar Joe

      Oh I wasn’t suggesting the choice was one or the other across the board – its clearly a niche product. But its cheap. Cheap enough to be a good solution for a quick boost in certain cabs while they get on with the much slower fibre first deployments.

  7. Avatar G Cotgreave

    Gas and electric companies compete for our custom but use a standard network for delivery.
    To allow customers to switch and choose ISPs more easily, surely the solution is for a co-operative invested universal service agreement controlled ‘open reach’ to install FTTP lines back to the exchang. ISPs should then concentrate on backhaul and bundled services. This would remove the have have nots and duplicated street effort and furniture.

    • Avatar Meadmodj

      We could have had a single infrastructure model of some kind at various stages over the years but Ofcom/Government are following a strategy of “We want to encourage BT’s competitors to build networks rather than rely on access to the Openreach network. Competition is the best means to ensure continued investment in building and maintaining high quality, future-proofed telecoms networks.”
      This works to some degree in urban but full roll-outs of competing infrastructure resulting in lower utilisation will be paid by the consumer and with no technical consistency ecologically we will be changing good kit as we change provider. It doesn’t work in rural. So Ofcom will have to balance both and be specific/longterm for each market. There is big money here and uncertainty unsettles investors whether BT or Altnets.
      We need certainty and consistency and we simply aren’t getting it currently.

    • Avatar Joe

      With the exception of VM most kit likely to be deployed is interoperable.

    • Avatar A_Builder

      Hmme

      I’d think of it a little differently.

      Completion has brought the sticker price of large scale FTTP down a lot.

      You may recall that when BT last had their begging bowl out they were asking for £stupid.billion for any FTTP. Now it is being done from CAPEX budgets and OPEX savings as the Alt Nets demonstrated £/premises that were enormously lower.

      No Alt Nets and UK PLC would have had to pay £stupid.billion for what is now getting done.

    • Avatar Meadmodj

      My reference related to the CPE kit. While there may be compatibility of ONT functionality it is likely that ISPs on OR will continue to send out their branded Router and those changing network from say Cityfibre to OR and back are likely to discard the other equipment on change of provider. Only VM retain effective ownership and recover equipment.

      I know there are issues relating to B Gas smart meters but in the main we do not replace meters etc every time we change provider.

    • Avatar A_Builder

      @Meadmodj

      An ONT costs peanuts and isn’t physically very big.

      Really far less than a VDSL modem when bought in bulk. In any case as they are unlikely to be performance limiting they can be reused.

      If the network changes hands then changing the PON’s over is not the biggest job in the world: a lot quicker/cheaper than rebuilding the network from scratch.

    • Avatar CarlT

      ISPs would likely send you kit anyway, just not connecting directly to the PON.

      They need to be able to authenticate you for starters if it’s a single infrastructure, and like trying to manage the services end to end.

      Being beholden to Openreach simply doesn’t appeal to some. Vodafone didn’t have to start building with CityFibre but weren’t content with the Openreach offering.

      Unless the plan were to nationalise Openreach or regulate it to the point where no-one would want it due to such low prices, conditions, etc, I’m not sure how you could please everyone.

  8. Avatar Fred

    I will stick to my two Bean tins and a piece of string

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