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Openreach to Trial FTTP Exchange Upgrade Process and Digital Voice

Tuesday, June 18th, 2019 (9:54 am) - Score 4,820
optical fibre splice openreach

Openreach (BT) has announced two new UK technology trials (i.e. an FTTP Exchange Upgrade process and Digital Voice services) for premises in Salisbury (Wiltshire) and Mildenhall (Suffolk), which forms part of their wider efforts to move toward an All-IP and national “full fibre” broadband ISP network.

As most people know Openreach currently aims to cover 4 million UK homes and businesses with Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) ultrafast broadband by March 2021 (1.3 million have already been completed) and there’s an ambition for 15 million by around 2025. After that they also have an aspiration to reach “the majority of the UK, if the right conditions to invest are in place.”

On top of that they’re also in the process of preparing to move their older telecoms network to an entirely Internet Protocol (IP) based platform, which among other things is a necessary prerequisite before they can shift old analogue telephone (voice) services to VoIP and eventually even remove their old copper lines.

Openreach has already been laying the groundwork for a lot of this over the past few years (e.g. SOGEA / SoG.Fast / SoADSL for hybrid fibre FTTC, G.fast and copper ADSL broadband lines) but now they’re moving on to the next stage of that process.

The Two New Openreach Trials

The first trial in Mildenhall will focus on the move from analogue telephony to digital voice services (VoIP). Apparently Mildenhall is a good location for this because it represents a “typical exchange area that’s highly representative of others across the UK in terms of geography, the range of CPs offering Openreach services and its mix of businesses and consumers.” In terms of ISPs, BT has a related trial (here) and others will follow.

The trial will help them to prepare the industry for the upgrade to Voice Over IP technology and the withdrawal of wholesale products and services that run over the traditional telephone network, which is due to close in 2025. Some potential advantages of a VoIP service are cheaper calls, HD voice quality and more portable phone numbers (i.e. easier to migrate when changing ISP and can be used on different devices etc.).

NOTE: Openreach also intends to deliver a low bandwidth fibre product to meet the needs of voice-only customers.

The second trial in Salisbury is more interesting because it will mark Openreach’s first real-world test of an exchange based upgrade process for FTTP, which reflects the proposals of their March 2019 consultation (here). In short, Openreach proposed a process for moving from copper to FTTP lines once 75% of premises in an exchange are able to receive an “ultrafast” 100Mbps+ broadband service (target for this is 24 months after roll-out starts and copper switch-off might then occur c.3 years after / on top of that).

openreach copper switch-off migration path

Under the plan such a process could start with a “no move back” policy for premises connected with FTTP, followed by a “stop-sell” of copper services to new customers and ultimately full withdrawal. We note that “ultrafast” coverage will be measured via all of G.fast, FTTP and possibly even “Vectored VDSL” (at present VDSL / FTTC only goes up to 80Mbps on their platform).

As we predicted before, Salisbury is a perfect candidate for testing how this will work because Openreach has pledged to complete their £8m FTTP deployment to all 20,000 premises across the cathedral city by April 2020 (here).

Richard Allwood, Openreach’s Chief Strategy Officer, said:

“We welcome the wide range of Communications providers who have already been working with us through our previous FTTP consultations and we’ve taken on-board a lot of valuable feedback already. These trials are the natural next step on our journey to help the Government deliver a future proofed, fully fibred UK. We’re going to continue working closely and openly across the industry and we’re determined to make the upgrade to FTTP as smooth and seamless and beneficial as possible for every customer.”

It’s important to stress that this will be a major change for Openreach and their ISPs. Moving consumers to the new platform will take a lot of planning and care, with a desire to encourage voluntary rather than forced migrations. A lot of modern services and regulation is still based around copper infrastructure and this will have to be overhauled.

Likewise not all customers will be happy to move on to a more expensive FTTP platform, although that stage will only come a lot further down the road when copper is finally due to be switched off (a cheaper 40Mbps FTTP option may be offered to encourage older ADSL2+ broadband users).

A consultation will now run until 31 July 2019, after which Openreach will confirm the trial details and timescales with industry, with a view to launch in October 2019.

Responses to OR’s March 2019 consultation saw the following views:

– A belief that the large majority of customer upgrades should be voluntary.
– An agreement that the roll out should be done area-by-area, exchange by exchange.
– A desire from CPs to have more input into how we select areas to upgrade.
– An understanding that trials are a necessary next step.
– A joint vision that we should develop a customer charter – using our engagement with customers in the trial areas to develop a clear set of commitments to protect them through the upgrade process.

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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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20 Responses
  1. Avatar Joe

    I still think the 75% is too high and only going to unnecessarily delay but ho hum…..

    • Ofcom uses slightly different language for their related consultation. The regulator said Openreach would be “required to deploy its fibre network in an exchange area to provide 100% coverage.”

      https://www.ispreview.co.uk/index.php/2019/03/ofcom-updates-on-plan-to-boost-uk-full-fibre-broadband-investment.html

      As with Openreach’s use of “ultrafast”, the “fibre” in this sentence is not only FTTP but can also be delivered via G.fast (although they didn’t mention VDSL / FTTC like OR did).

      Ofcom said they “expect Openreach to cover an entire exchange area before we start to move the regulatory focus away from copper and onto fibre.”

    • Avatar Joe

      So the 75% is only BT choice now?

      “expect Openreach to cover an entire exchange area before we start to move the regulatory focus away from copper and onto fibre.”

      I thought that related to the light touch on fib -v- heavy copper regulation not the ‘switchover’ per see.

  2. Avatar Phil

    It will be really interesting to see how it will work in practice. How will BT deal with voice faults when a user is complaining their telephone drops calls often, i.e. their DSL is resyncing? This is more likely to be complained about then just finding websites stop working for a couple of minutes, given how we are all so used to the reliability of the simple analogue telephone.

    There will be many customers (especially elderly) with no broadband at all just using a simple plug in phone more than happy to stick with that tried and tested technology. How will this group react to being told they need to plug in a router/modem and maybe a separate VoIP box in order to continue to use their phone. I know of some elderly relatives that are paranoid about leaving things switched on when they go to bed and will take some persuading to leave a box with flashing lights plugged in and switched on 24/7.

    I think for BT Openreach, any maintenance savings by moving to FTTP will be largely undone by the sudden lack of telephone reliability that using VoIP will cause. This will be less of an issue over time as most of us are on more reliable fibre, or people just stop bothering with any sort of VoIP phone, and the generation that expects a plugged in telephone at home to be 99.99% reliable dies out.

    Given Openreach want a stop sale on PTSN in 2023 and to turn it off in 2025, it leaves just 5 and a half years to install ~30 million VoIP adapters/phones, and they are only just starting a trial now. I think that 2025 deadline will end up being 2035, we shall see.

    • Avatar Joe

      ” I think that 2025 deadline will end up being 2035, we shall see.”

      I sure some exchanges (rural) will not and never are intended to go at the user end by ’25. But plenty of areas its small beer once fttp is there. Just post an adaptor in the post once the fib etc is there.

      voip is not copper removal.

    • Avatar Phil

      @Joe

      “But plenty of areas its small beer once fttp is there. Just post an adaptor in the post once the fib etc is there.”

      You can’t just cut off someones telephone and post an adaptor. Plus FTTP is measured in passed properties at the moment. The time it will take to connect say the whole of Salisbury’s 20,000+ properties to fibre is the hidden bit of the iceberg, and its never been attempted to date. New builds are easy, but existing properties you need engineer appointments, possibly electricians for power sockets, you may have blocked ducts, need to dig up peoples drives, have to get overhead fibre over a busy road so needing traffic control, issues with getting permissions from landlords, reluctant owners not willing to change etc.

      Yes I know copper isn’t being retired, it will still be used for data and so will be used for VoIP, but as I pointed out, VoIP does not equal the same simplicity or reliability of an analogue phone we have today and is still a logistic nightmare. Still hopefully the trial will sort these things out.

    • Avatar Joe

      Obviously you don’t just cut it off and send a box in the post but that ought to have been obvious!

      “New builds are easy, but existing properties you need engineer appointments, possibly electricians for power sockets, you may have blocked ducts, need to dig up peoples drives, have to get overhead fibre over a busy road so needing traffic control, issues with getting permissions from landlords, reluctant owners not willing to change etc.”

      Which is where area conversions are planned not individual properties. Smoothes most of this out.

      Not sure what prob you have with voip – its already better than analogue for quality on all but the worst lines. Many of the issues with voip are software/supplier not line anyway.

    • Avatar Phil

      @Joe

      “Which is where area conversions are planned not individual properties. Smoothes most of this out.”

      This doesn’t change anything, you still need access to individual properties to install an ONT and get the cable under or over into the home, this often needs two visits, as the first finds there is no power socket nearby, or a reluctant owner, or they are out. BT Openreach can’t just turn up in a load of vans and start knocking on doors to switch everyone over and have it done in a few hours, and it also needs co-ordination with the ISP! It takes lots of planning, something they’ve already admitted to and will be part of the trial in Salisbury.

      “Not sure what prob you have with voip – its already better than analogue for quality on all but the worst lines. Many of the issues with voip are software/supplier not line anyway.”

      Exactly issues with software/hardware and supplier, it’s a whole extra level of complication over and above an analogue phone you just plug in. End customers are going to be exasperated in trying to get issues fixed as all they will get from first line is “turn it all off for 30 minutes then back on and call back if still a problem”. Even if they get someone with some knowledge to help them, its going to involve logging into configuration screens on the VoIP kit and changing settings. Even calling or emailing support will be a problem in itself for some people when their internet goes downing, taking their phone with it.

    • Avatar Joe

      Phil they will go though the usual notification period, probably public meetings like they did with bduk, letters etc then digging and then property by property. There are bound to be issues but its not insummountable. We are giving people an very long window to do this work

    • Avatar Phil

      @Joe

      “Phil they will go though the usual notification period, probably public meetings like they did with bduk, letters etc then digging and then property by property. There are bound to be issues but its not insummountable. We are giving people an very long window to do this work”

      I never said it was insurmountable, but it is a huge undertaking and not much time. Not sure what BDUK proves. You have 20,000 customers in Salisbury that for most part have no inclination to go to the hassle of changing their copper line to FTTP, they are busy people with children and jobs, they have no interest or time in going to public meetings, why should they? You may get a good turn out for a BDUK meeting given its a community that’s been campaigning for funding to get something better than a trickle of data, but a whole already well connected city is another matter entirely.

      Now, with some local advertising and a pro-active approach from ISPs they could get quite a lot of customers to move voluntarily to FTTP, but it was never those people that were going to be problem moving over. So it is going to be interesting how they manage to convert over the remainder in the time they’ve given themselves, which is of course, why it is a trial.

    • Avatar TheFacts

      Could install a smart meter for everyone at the same time!

  3. Avatar Phil

    The thing that is lacking completely so far is public education. No one I speak to has any idea that analogue phone lines have only 5 years left, in fact I’m often not believed until I add a link to some article. Where are the ads in papers and on the TV about it?

    The other issue is wider security, this big change opens the flood gates for unsolicited calls regarding phones being cut off in order to slam a customer to an expensive VoIP supplier or worse, just emptying their bank accounts. Then there is the issue of “engineers” turning up at peoples homes so say to change their phone over. So we need ways of identifying legitimate engineers and the education around that.

    • Avatar Joe

      When thye ‘ve done the switchover in part sof Europe they only gave 6 months notice. If we can’t manage it with many years heaven help us.

  4. Avatar Phil

    @Joe

    “When thye ‘ve done the switchover in part sof Europe they only gave 6 months notice. If we can’t manage it with many years heaven help us.”

    Which country, link please.

  5. Avatar Chap

    Has OR commented on what they plan to do regarding removal and recovery of the old copper lines once FTTP is widespread?

    • Avatar CarlT

      No, but they do recover the stuff when it’s no longer needed. They are doing so even now in areas where cable and businesses moving from POTS to VoIP have made copper bundles redundant.

    • Avatar TheFacts

      This can all be funded by the value of the recovered copper. As someone will say!

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