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Openreach UK Could Replace ECI FTTC Broadband Cabinets with Huawei UPDATE

Saturday, June 29th, 2019 (3:24 pm) - Score 9,628
openreach fttc cabinet with engineer smiling

Long-time readers of ISPreview.co.uk will know that Openreach (BT) has had plenty of issues when trying to get network upgrades working at their optimal on their estate of ECI supplied street cabinets (particularly for hybrid fibre FTTC broadband ISP services). Now it looks like they might possibly be about to replace some of them.

The need for diversity in supply means that at present Openreach deploys Fibre-to-the-Cabinet (VDSL2) based Street Cabinets (of varying different physical sizes) via two primary suppliers (ECI and Huawei) and those support a Digital Subscriber Line Access Multiplexer (DSLAM) network device, which can usually handle several Line Cards for managing broadband connections into homes and businesses.

However, their ECI estate has a long history of being problematic, which may have slowed the deployment of certain platform upgrades (e.g. G.INP) and caused various other issues. Unfortunately it would be a fairly expensive and complicated process to replace their ECI cabinets, particularly now that they’ve moved on with a different approach via G.fast and Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) technology.

Nevertheless a little while back we began to hear rumours about some ECI cabinets being swapped out with new DSLAMs from Huawei, although the trail then went silent, until now (credits Jim). One of Openreach’s contractors, Magdalene, recently started looking to recruit a number of Night Migration Engineers to join their installation and commissioning team(s) working for customers across the UK. We suspect Thinkbroadband has heard the same music (like us they don’t seem to have had much luck getting a reply from Openreach’s PR team).

NOTE: According to TBB, Openreach has about 25,000 ECI cabinets and 64,000 Huawei.

The interesting part stems from the job description, which requires new hires to work as part of a 2-man onsite team on a “nationwide nightshift DSLAM vendor swap out programme” for which the scope includes “powering down existing FTTC DSLAM’s and removing the equipment, reconfiguration of this equipment, and commissioning the new DSLAM before passing to the customer AOC for final checks.”

Sometimes it is necessary to replace cabinets or the kit inside but that is usually done as a like-for-like project and only when absolutely necessary, while this one specifically highlights the removal of ECI DSLAM equipment and the commissioning of Huawei’s MA5616 and MA5818 kit.

Job Requirements

Your duties and responsibilities will be:

* Setting up safe street working job sites in accordance with NRSWA
* Liaise with the on-night splicing lead and project team lead to give go/no-go decision based on site conditions
* Fitting of new battery string and PDU in equipment
* Fitting and testing of the transfer cables from the new Huawei DSLAM to the existing MDF
* Confirming fibre connectivity back to the headend
* Completing all HOP documentation in good time and in accordance with project requirements
* Completing the reverse logistics process to return all removed ECI equipment back to our stores
* Keeping accurate stores / spares / van stock inventories

Skills & Experience required:

* Commissioning and troubleshooting experience of Huawei MA5616 and MA5818 equipment
* Previous experience of ECI DSLAM commissioning and troubleshooting
* Experienced in the use of OPM and OTDR as well as handling and cleaning fibres
* The ability to reconfigure a cabinet including cable layout
* Past experience in battery string installation and copper pair testing
* Huawei OLT experience, primarily on MA5600 and MA5800
* Splicing experience (desirable)

Granted the contractor does work with other UK telecoms operators but the details above are specific enough that they seem to almost certainly point toward Openreach’s network. However at this stage we aren’t sure quite why, given the current focus on G.fast and FTTP, they would make such an expensive change unless there were other benefits to be had or this is a targeted upgrade (i.e. not all ECIs being replaced); possibly a combination.

On that point we note that the Huawei MA5818 equipment is fairly capable, including support for G.fast, VDSL and 10G PON. The 5616 and 5818 are both fairly small units and so may point to use on small or medium sized cabinets, although the extra capability they bring suggests a potentially more centralised approach for both old and new broadband services. Interesting stuff indeed.

We had hoped to post this on Friday but wanted to give Openreach a chance to comment. Sadly several attempts to make contact and request a comment have been met with complete silence.

UPDATE 5th July 2019

After a fair old wait Openreach has finally informed us of the following: “We’re constantly working on ways to upgrade and extend our network but we have no immediate plans to swap out fibre cabinets on any significant scale.” Reading between the lines they’re not saying no and defining significant scale in a network that servers tens of millions of lines is an interesting question.

We therefore lean more toward the targeted replacement hypothesis (e.g. strategically replacing ECI with Huawei as the cabinets / kit reach their end-of-life or where it makes sense to do so for other reasons).

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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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33 Responses
  1. Avatar Phil

    Maybe the costs of dealing with ECI even in the short to medium term outweighs just replacing them. They do seem to be a monumental arse ache for OR.

  2. Avatar Steveocee

    As a long suffering ECI cabinet owner I really do welcome this news as a second best to a wishful FTTP overhaul.

    Looking forward to further details on this.

  3. Avatar Lloyd.robert98@yahoo.co.uk

    MAYBE ISP WAS OWNED BY SOMEONE I KNOW AND SOME SAD PERSON STAKED ME THOUGH A NUMBER I KNOW I GIVE THE LETS SAY R.W CARNEY MAN N.F IN HIS NAME AND LEAVE IT AT THAT EVERY I KNOW I AM OWED MONEY.

  4. Avatar Alan shearer

    Lol, just like an ECI DSLAM, he’s flaked in the heat

  5. Avatar Mark

    Also a been connected to an ECI cab since FTTC came online here.

    A lot of work has been getting done in my area recently and only 3 days ago they were laying a new fibre cable from my cab down the main Street. I also had an OR engineer at my house last week for a fault and I asked him if there is any word of us getting full fibre and he said not as far as he knows

  6. Avatar Joe

    Outside of niche cases this seems a lot of expense for the gain.

  7. Avatar Phil

    I thought Huawei were the bad guys?

    • Avatar Joe

      Cheaper and faster. Up to you to decide how much you think firms place customer security highly.

    • Avatar Mark

      Huawei aren’t doing anything wrong, it’s just Trump and his cronies imaginations again isn’t it! I mean how can we believe a guy who claims he’s going to “Land on Mars” and “Cure cancer and aids” if he’s re-elected! The guy is a muppet!

      The same happened with the Russian anti virus company “Kaspersky Lab”… Now nearly everyone has abandoned them, they’ve gone after Huawei instead.

      Give it a few months and they’ll stop attacking Huawei and claim ANOTHER company is spying on everyone instead.

    • Avatar Joe

      Yes Russia and China aren’t the chief source of global commercial and state hacking. No need to worry about anything…oh wait they are….

      As to T they had restrictions on hardware under Obama.

    • Avatar john rogula

      Huawei are the bad guys they are government backed and will not stop until they have crushed (or priced out) all of the competition. I worked for two of the global core equipment manufacturers that now dont exist any more because Huawei went to most of our customers and sold kit at less than half of the price we could.

    • Avatar Ivor

      John, these companies you speak of couldn’t possibly include Marconi – a company with terrible management and a ridiculous overreliance on selling sometimes overpriced kit to BT? A company that spent all it could on acquiring the wrong technologies at 2000s tech boom prices? (billions spent on an ATM equipment manufacturer)

      It was already on a financial knife edge even before Huawei came to down.

  8. Avatar GoodNews

    Although there is talk of recruiting additional ‘Night Migration Engineers’, how many are they recruiting? to get 25,000 ECI DSLAMs done they are going to need more than half a dozen engineers unless the deadline is 2033 when full fibre should be here

  9. Avatar Walter G. M. Willcox

    Whilst reconnecting a few fibres is perhaps not a significant engineering task, the concept of stripping out several sets of copper tie cable pairs with different IDC configurations might well be more of a challenge. I suppose one solution might be to add new tie cables to the replacement cabinet ( on a new plinth ??) and then insert standard underground bullet joints – always assuming there’s chamber space.

    The concept seems quite a monumental task with little gain compared to overbuilding with real symmetric FTTH.

    • Avatar CarlT

      Nice taking the opportunity to say ‘symmetric FTTH’. Seems handy in B4RNland where the average upload is higher than the average download, even if neither are above 50Mb.

      They aren’t standing new cabinets. They are using the existing copper tie pairs. Well worth reading the story properly in order to offer an educated comment rather than taking the opportunity to rubbish it.

      This is significantly cheaper than building FTTH of any description, let alone satisfying the requirements of a point to point solution.

    • Avatar TheFacts

      Converter for the backplane connector?

    • Avatar A_Builder

      You could put a converter into the backplane but then you would have a hybrid design that would be awful for fault diagnosis.

      Also you would need custom short cards otherwise the cab doors wouldn’t close – in a past life I did do that for a EuroCard solution where we couldn’t get the backplane out and it was a nice idea but a nightmare to implement!

      This is a much better idea all round to do the thing thoroughly with single vendor tech.

    • Avatar CarlT

      So there is already some creative cabling being used – remember Huawei HD expansions are 64 ports per card while the original wiring is for 48.

      Backplane adapters? The backplane is in the chassis and is being swapped out along with the rest of it?

    • Avatar TheFacts

      @CarlT – connector adaptors. Memories of 9W to 25W D-type adaptors.

    • Avatar CarlT

      Understood. The entire PDU is being swapped so no converter needed for the power supply and backplanes are incorporated into the entire chassis that’s being replaced. Only thing that might need any adaption is the connector for the copper into the line cards.

      Walter was somewhat confused but it was a great opportunity to big up point to point FTTP.

  10. Avatar NE555

    Idea 1: in an area with a lot of marginal users just under 24Mbps, replacing the cabinet with Huawei (with G.INP and/or 3dB SNR target and/or vectoring) helps Openreach meet “superfast” targets and unlock subsidies.

    Idea 2: when an ECI cabinet is at capacity, it may make sense to replace it with a denser Huawei rather than standing up a second permanent cabinet.

    Idea 3: Openreach are committed to buying N Huawei cabinets per year, and Fibre First means they don’t need so many – but they may as well deploy them to replace problematic ECI cabinets.

    • Avatar Joe

      3 is not impossible. They had plans needing more cabs before they went back to more fttp so they could have pre-ordered.

    • Avatar A_Builder

      And in some locations all three may be true which gives a powerful business case for doing it.

      Swapping DSLAMS is a lot cheaper than fresh as the plinth power and links already exist. Also as it is sunset tech the cabs have come down in price.

      You also can’t mix the ECI estate with Gfast.

      Hopefully these on new cabs they will ignore GFast and just do symmetrical 35 profile (here is to hoping)

      I think they can do GFast and 35 in software/firmware from these?

    • Avatar John

      “You also can’t mix the ECI estate with Gfast.”

      I think all the G.Fast pods on PCP’s with ECI DSLAM’s say otherwise.

      They are completely independent technologies and there’s nothing requiring the DSLAM’s be Huawei for G.Fast.

      I think you may be confusing VDSL2 profile 35b (aka SuperVectoring) with G.Fast.
      The Huawei kit could do 35b but the ECI couldn’t.

    • Avatar John

      “I think they can do GFast and 35 in software/firmware from these?”

      Also incorrect.

      G.Fast is already bodged to start at 20MHz for profile 17a.
      It would need bodged further to start above 35MHz to coexist with profile 35b, further reducing range and speed.

      Never ever going to happen.

      It was G.Fast or profile 35b and OpenReach picked G.Fast.
      There is no both in the same locations.

    • Avatar A_Builder

      @John

      “It was G.Fast or profile 35b and OpenReach picked G.Fast.
      There is no both in the same locations.”

      I totally agree with you.

      What I was saying is that where there is no GFast then 35a makes sense. Either or never both.

  11. Avatar Meadmodj

    FTTC will be with most of us for the foreseeable. All good news if this is viable on only a percentage of targeted ECI locations particularly those with capacity issues. They must be confident if they are anticipating a clean cutover of service. They may of course be proposing to use some form of temporary replacement (migrate customers to temporary Huawei pod, convert cabinet, migrate service back to replaced DSLAM, remove temporary pod for reuse) allowing the change to be made over a longer period and powering down for short periods at night for any power work.

    • Avatar CarlT

      There is no temporary solution. While the chassis are being swapped and the new PDUs being installed customers will be offline. This is being done overnight to minimise disruption but it is happening.

      It’s broadband not leased lines. There is no protection path or guarantee of availability as far as maintenance periods go.

  12. Avatar Craig @ Eltek.com

    Interesting read that…

  13. Avatar Peter

    Does this allow Openreach to support G.fast from a cabinet which currently supports only VDSL2? In our case we have a street cabinet to which it is impossible to add a G.fast pod, as both sides of the cabinet are constrained (by a tree on one side and a pole on the other). For that reason it cannot currently provide G.fast, unlike all the other cabinets in our town (Burnham-on-Sea), which have been podded for some time and many activated.

  14. Avatar t0m5k1

    I like this as the ECI cab down our road is always having issues.

    Funny that the media don’t mention this considering they want the nation to follow their trumpian thought path and vilify Huawei. Bloody pathetic now my phone will be converted from decent android to some half arsed quick programmed slap dash faus OS that will undoubtedly have issues installing what I use all because some loud mouth orange celebrident said they can’t produce anything 5g related.

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