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Cityfibre to Consult on UK Copper Lines to Full Fibre Switchover

Tuesday, October 15th, 2019 (9:58 am) - Score 2,283
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Full fibre and broadband ISP network builder Cityfibre has decided that the debate over moving from old copper lines to new “full fibre” (FTTP) ones shouldn’t just be focused upon Openreach (BT). As a result the operator has proposed to conduct an industry-wide consultation to examine how alternative network providers can help.

At present most of the talk around shifting customers and services from slower copper to ultrafast fibre optic lines (i.e. long-term it makes no sense to keep maintaining an old legacy network alongside fibre) has tended to centre around Openreach, which is hardly surprising since they control most of the national copper. Meanwhile KCOM has a smaller consideration in East Yorkshire, while Virgin Media’s Hybrid Fibre Coax (HFC) still has a fair bit of life left.

Openreach is currently preparing to test such a shift via an Exchange Upgrade Trial (here and here) in Salisbury (Wiltshire), which is in no small part because they intend to complete their £8m FTTP deployment to all 20,000 premises across the cathedral city by April 2020 (here). Likewise KCOM has now covered the whole of Hull with a similar network (here) and that puts them in a prime position to switch-off their old copper lines.

In keeping with that Cityfibre’s consultation is said to have been triggered by their “Gigabit City” FTTP rollout – supported by UK ISP partner Vodafone – in the Scottish city of Stirling (here), which they claim “will be the first city in the UK ready for a copper to fibre switch-over” in summer 2020 (we assume they’ve ignored Hull and Salisbury for a reason).

Cityfibre said they will commence an industry-wide consultation in the coming weeks, providing ISPs of all sizes an opportunity to stipulate what provisions would be required to support all legacy services on the new networks, what the process should be for mass migration of customers, and what steps are needed to ensure easy and hassle-free switching for consumers.

The consultation will be undertaken by Assembly Research, an independent London-based analyst firm specialising in communications markets.

Greg Mesch, CEO at Cityfibre, said:

“Only by collaborating as an industry, with the full support of Government and Ofcom, will we be able to switch-over the UK from legacy copper networks to a future-proof full fibre platform. Our consultation will ensure that we play our part in this switch-over and that the eventual retirement of the copper networks is managed in a way that promotes sustained infrastructure investment from a range of organisations.

With rollouts underway to reach over 20% of the UK market, our city-wide full fibre networks like that in Stirling will soon be of sufficient coverage to play their part, enabling a copper to fibre switch-over for the benefit of Communication Providers and their customers. Through our consultation, we look forward to engaging with the whole industry, including Openreach and BT Retail, to help develop a national plan to efficiently and smoothly upgrade Britain.”

We think this is a good move since the voices of altnet ISPs does tend to be drowned out by the wider debate over Openreach’s plans. Nevertheless many altnet providers are building Fibre-to-the-Home (FTTH) networks of their own and so it makes perfect sense to be considering how such a switch-over might affect those networks too, not least where they could benefit by potentially peeling off customers from the incumbent.

One challenge here will come from the difficulty of getting so many different ISPs on-board with a shared strategy, particularly since many of the most established players tend to only take their services from Openreach’s network; diversifying out to harness different platforms is a complicated challenge (at the wholesale level such setups can be very different in terms of service, contracts and prices).

On the other hand if rival networks prove to be as successful as the more established ones then sooner or later ISPs, particularly those that merely piggyback off major infrastructure players, may have little choice but to adapt in order to cover as much of the market as possible.

Obviously Cityfibre aims to be in a prime position with their £2.5bn strategy to cover a “minimum” of 1 million homes and businesses in 12 cities and towns by the end of 2021 and then 5 million premises across 37 cities and towns by the end of 2025 (here). We note that today’s announcement actually states they’ll cover “over 60 towns and cities, contributing more than 20% of the target and creating the UK’s third digital network of scale.”

Cityfibre obviously can’t switch-off any copper itself as they don’t have any, which is why the talk above is of the “switch-over,” even though it all feeds into the same goal. Lest we forget that they also own business ISP Entanet, which still has Openreach/BT lines to consider.

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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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26 Responses
  1. Avatar Jim Weir

    So take lift alarm communications with BS EN 81-28

    Can CityFibre guarantee their service 24/7? As a Data only provider they can’t insist on copper switch off in city’s they cover unless they are willing to take on the same obligations as the PSTN.

    I don’t know how many lifts are installed in Stirling but I doubt a high percentage are ready to be switched to a data based communications channel with battery backup.

    Will be interesting to see the approaches for these type of use cases.

    • Cityfibre of course can’t actually switch any copper off as they don’t have any 🙂 .

    • Avatar Joe

      Same with lots of alarm systems. But we need to get on with this!

    • Avatar NE555

      “I don’t know how many lifts are installed in Stirling but I doubt a high percentage are ready to be switched to a data based communications channel with battery backup.”

      If you need voice comms which work even when the power is down, your options include:

      1. SIM card
      2. Battery-backed ONT

      These days I’d go with option (1).

      This assumes that the mobile operators and Cityfibre have UPS / generator backup in their POPs, which seems quite likely.

  2. Avatar The Facts

    How many ISPs use Openreach, CityFibre, Hyperoptic, Gigaclear, B4RN etc.?

  3. Avatar Greg M

    Hmm, I’m sceptical.

    First, CityFibre’s network doesn’t span the whole of the UK. Surely you need a critical mass?

    Second, how many CPs actually operate on the CityFibre network today? There are hundreds on the Openreach network. ISPs would have to invest in infrastructure and systems on the alternative networks to be able to switch between platforms. Are they up for this?

    Thirdly, Virgin Media is vertically integrated, so they’re not exactly going to rush in giving their customers away are they.

    Switching between networks has been looked into before, but it’s complicated.

  4. Avatar Mike

    I’m interested to see how CityFibre will try and implement their findings, when as you say, have no copper to switch off or a scale FTTP network.

  5. Avatar Jamie

    CityFibre seem to talk about copper more than Openreach these days. How times change…

    • Avatar Kits

      When you have exchanges that are still workign on 20CN wouild you want tot talk about copper? It will mean you have to update those exchanges you want to foreget you have while increasing the speeds for those who have a decent speed already. A few I found in an hours search in Scotland. 20CN only Abbey St Bathans, Altnaharra, Amulree and
      Applecross.

    • Avatar CarlT

      Exchanges being 20CN is quite irrelevant, Kits.

      As this happens about 80% of exchanges will be shut down. The 20CN ones will certainly be within that 80% so not an issue.

      Worth remembering too that an exchange can be 20CN but all the customers on it have access to Openreach FTTP.

    • Avatar Ivor

      At one point this was my exchange – went from 20CN ADSL to having much of the village blanketed in FTTP and some FTTC, likely coming from the exchange in the nearby town.

      BT then upgraded the village exchange to 21CN ADSL, and even more inexplicably TalkTalk decided to do LLU here.

    • Avatar Kits

      @Carlt every one of those exchanges I listed have no FTTC or FTTP enabled they a pure ADSL or ADSL2+ exchanges nothing else on offer not even LLU’ed

  6. Avatar Joe

    Not sure I see Cityfibre’s game here. Perhaps its just PR

    • Avatar Occasionally Factual

      End game – well, at a guess, they want to get OFCOM to lock out Openreach in some geographical areas. So that any ISP has to use the Cityfibre fibre network. So getting a return on the investment.
      You don’t believe that they want free and open competition?

      No, it is about blocking the nation’s biggest broadband wholesaler.

    • Avatar Joe

      Ofcom won’t block BT, but even were that possible I’m not sure why this process helps them in such a goal.

    • Avatar Paul

      As Openreach switches off WLR then copper, ISPs/TSPs are forced to take up a SoGEA FTTP solution and arrange for a voice service if required (either their own or 3rd party).

      I guess what CityFibre are trying to highlight is that there are other options and the ISP/TSP could opt for an alternative such as them, rather than defaulting to continuing to use Openreach. Obviously a difficult sell without nationwide coverage, but if they’ve got coverage to 1/3 of the country that could be critical mass – especially if they join up with other fibre providers (the volume of new entrants at present is unsustainable). Probably they’re trying to establish if there are any showstopper services that they need to support to attract the ISPs/TSPs?

  7. Avatar Roger_Gooner

    “Virgin Media’s Hybrid Fibre Coax (HFC) still has a fair bit of life left.”
    VM’s situation is different to BT’s in that (a) their HFC network is in much better shape than the copper of BT, and (b) all customers who are new or have moved house get their landline from the hub even if the property already has a phone socket.

    Although I haven’t seen a timetable I expect VM over the next few years to retire its PSTN by migrating customers to VoIP via a hub which must be 3.0 or later. Actually, thinking about it the phone-only customers might get a stripped down box whose purpose to solely to enable VoIP calls.

  8. Avatar NGA for all

    It might be fun!
    Do you have a copper network? No.
    Do you serve customers in rural areas? No
    How many older and vulnerable customers do you serve? None
    How many exchanges do you need to close? None
    Are you bound my regulations? None
    Are you a USO or intended B-USO provider? Apart for KC no.
    Do you offer retail services to most UK consumers? No.
    At what % take up can we enforce a transition date? No customers to transfer.
    Can you guarantee to serve 100% of discrete locations where you build? No.

    It should be a good read.

    If BDUK get to 99% FTTC including 1m FTTP at the edge, the Government can let industry at it. Amend the building regs which were written mostly in 2010. Define and enforce ‘reasonable request’ for full fibre.

  9. Avatar Meadmodj

    Surely the objective is to migrate broadband on to a more resilient infrastructure such as fibre providing better resilience and fast speeds not necessarily removing all copper. The retirement of legacy copper network should be a commercial decision for BT OR and some services may remain on copper for some time.

    Simple common sense means that if we can get reasonable speeds will be able to provide telephony over the Broadband connection and BT will of course do this depending OR progress and the BT capacity/progress of the Digital Voice replacement of the PSTN. Other ISPs using OR can also migrate their customers voice to a VoIP their offering. FTTP is desirable but not essential.

    The main dependency for BT OR is third parties using their copper. OR are already consulting with ISPs utilising their infrastructure and as we have seen many ISPs are withdrawing from ADSL etc.

    So what contribution can a non copper ISP Cityfibre able to offer?. All they can offer is providing the ISPs with an alternative wholesale FTTP and VoIP/FVA solution which they can do completely independent of what happens with the copper network.

    Unless they really want to be radical and allow wholesale access to BT brands for both FTTP/Voice

  10. Avatar Optimist

    If there are customers who still want a copper line after the switchover to fibre, tell them they will have to pay for it. I reckon most of them would opt to for fibre only.

  11. Avatar Broadband Baz

    Seems like a PR stunt to me. A way for CityFibre to try and poach customers during the switchover process.

    Call me an old cynic.

    It’s like National grid coming to upgrade your gas main, while telling you to switch your energy provider at the same time.

  12. Avatar FibreBubble

    They will use this in door to door sales. Their agents will be able to help punters manage the copper switch off.

  13. Avatar John Nolan

    Work on copper switch off is currently being driven by OR (with others) under an intensive industry consultation see –
    https://www.openreach.co.uk › downloads › WLR_withdrawal_FAQs_v10

  14. Avatar Ivor

    Wasn’t Cityfibre the ones who claimed they’d sue if Openreach were allowed to do mass migrations from copper to fibre?

    Don’t get their point then and I don’t get it now. If Openreach upgrade their network, of course they should be allowed to turn the old one off at a time of their choosing and get CPs/customers to migrate accordingly.

    If those CPs decide they want to move customers onto someone else’s FTTP infrastructure then so be it, but the reality is that Openreach will always have the scale and the seamless upgrade path, no matter how much Cityfibre whinges about it. Virgin will have the same advantage for their customers.

    Cityfibre could stop with the press releases or sabre rattling and build a network CPs and customers want to use – just a thought.

  15. Avatar New_Londoner

    Taking City Fibre’s lead on consulting on something in which it has no direct involvement, I’m going to consult on having cars in France and Germany drive on the left, and on requiring cyclists to have number plates.

    I’ve no stake in either of these but hey 😉

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