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Openreach to Soft Launch Limited New UK Dark Fibre X Product

Thursday, August 8th, 2019 (8:01 am) - Score 8,292

Network access provider Openreach (BT) will today soft launch a new Dark Fibre X product into the UK market that is based off Ofcom’s somewhat restrictive design, which for the time being only focuses upon the limited inter-exchange connectivity market.

Back in 2016 Ofcom attempted to introduce a regulated Dark Fibre Access (DFA) product upon Openreach (here), which would have allowed rivals to gain “physical access” to their existing fibre optic cables (i.e. enabling them to install their own equipment at either end of the fibre within cable ducts). However this suffered a dramatic failure after the courts rejected Ofcom’s incorrect market definitions (here and here).

The regulator’s original plan was to make DFA available in all parts of the UK (RoUK) except central London (including the City of London and Docklands), which didn’t just irritate BT but also other “full fibre” builders (e.g. Zayo, Cityfibre, Virgin Media etc.) who warned that it could act to discourage investment in the construction of new fibre optic networks.

By comparison the new regulated Dark Fibre X product has been watered down and will now only be available for connections from exchanges where BT faces no competition from rival backhaul providers being present or within 100 metres. This only reflects the inter-exchange connectivity market, which means the connections between BT exchanges in different geographic areas (e.g. between towns and cities).

Darren Wallington, OR’s Head of High Bandwidth & Passive Products, told ISPreview.co.uk:

“We’ve worked closely with our Communications Provider customers and wider industry to develop an inter-exchange Dark Fibre product, which we’re launching today.

Starting in the East of England, we’ll be making our Dark Fibre product available across the country ahead of our full launch in early 2020.”

As above, today’s announcement is just the soft launch (including the final reference offer) for their new product and the full launch is planned for 1st January 2020, which is in keeping with Ofcom’s requirement(s).

Details of the Dark Fibre X Product

The new DFX product reflects an unmonitored, unlit, point-to-point optical fibre (single or dual fibre) – including the Patch Panels placed by BT at a site to provide the service. A 12 month minimum contract term, 18 hour repair Service Level Agreement (SLA) and 86km Route Distance Limit will also apply (in some areas it may be possible to daisy chain beyond this limit).

The price for the new DFX service is specified by Ofcom (regulated) but includes the one-off connection charge (£375 +vat single fibre or £638 fibre pair), a fixed annual rental charge (£106 single fibre or £212 fibre pair) plus an annual per metre main link charge (£0.125 per metre for single fibre or £0.25 for fibre pair). The cease (cancellation) charge for this product is also £167.

Elsewhere the other charges (TRC, Abortive Visit etc.) and SLA are similar to Openreach’s Gigabit speed Ethernet Access Direct (EAD) product, albeit with the exception of that 18 hour repair SLA.

Specification Dark Fibre X
Product name Dark Fibre X (DFX)
Geography From ‘BT Only DF’ exchanges as specified in Schedule 8 of the BCMR, to any other exchange
Limits 86km Route Distance Limit
Termination Agreement Patch panel demarcation with a single variant; 12-24 port rack mounted
Topologies – Single Fibre or Fibre Pair

– Resilient Option 2 variant

CP Laser Specification Class 1M even under fault conditions, in line with BT health and safety policy
Fibre Specification The Fibre for the DFA service will conform to ITU–T G652.A or better
Repair 18 Hour repair SLA
Cease – Cease process requires a truck-roll to physically break fibre
– 30 days lead time

The new product may be interesting for broadband ISPs who are based in BT’s exchanges and want to backhaul (capacity supply) between them, which could also complement Openreach’s own multi-Gigabit virtual (grey) dark fibre style solution called OSA Filter Connect (FSP3000).

However DFX probably won’t be of much use for a lot of alternative network UK ISPs that are NOT based in such exchanges (e.g. B4RN) and it’s clearly a much more limited proposition than the original DFA product in 2016. Meanwhile Ofcom has hinted that they may in the future try to extend this solution to the wider market, again, but that remains to be seen (Dark Fibre competition is rising all the time and they now have to be very careful about how they define such markets).

As usual the proof will be in the adoption and it’ll be interesting to see how many operators show an interest in DFX, as well as where they choose to deploy it.

UPDATE 2:29pm

Openreach has uploaded a page for their new Dark Fibre X product (here), although this includes a bit of a discouraging footnote: “Openreach is still reviewing Ofcom’s Final Statement including its final decision to require BT to offer a dark fibre product and considering all legal options available to it. Customers considering investing in dark fibre product from Openreach in line with the Dark Fibre Remedy do so at their own risk.”

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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.
Leave a Comment
3 Responses
  1. Avatar tim

    So this is just between exchanges?

    If only available at exchanges that have BT only then I can’t see this being that useful. I’m sure most GEA “node” exchanges where FTTC/FTTP terminate already have alternative providers, SSE for example.

    As already said no use to providers that are not based in Openreach exchanges.

  2. Avatar boggits

    For those that are building networks in the more remote areas of the country, the DFX product is an option for building an access network. The price is very attractive and it’s only the limits of the exchanges that are going to restrict takeup, just because an alternative network has a presence in an exchange it doesn’t mean they are going to sell capacity to another organisation.

    • Avatar Vinny

      Do we consider this still attractive with the VOA fibre rates? It’s “old” fibre and not used for access …

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