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Openreach Consult on Closure Plans for 4,600 UK Exchanges

Thursday, December 3rd, 2020 (5:14 pm) - Score 35,688
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Network access provider Openreach (BT) has today launched a new consultation on their plans to close 4,600 exchanges across the United Kingdom, which is largely reflective of the inevitable move away from copper-based broadband lines and toward a Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) orientated future.

As we recall Openreach has around 5,600 exchanges at present, but only c.1,000 of these exchanges – so-called Openreach Handover Points (OHPs) – are used to provide nationwide coverage of “fibre broadband” services (FTTC, FTTP and G.fast).

NOTE: Openreach predicts that, come 2025, the number of copper broadband customers being served by the 4,600 exchanges will fall to just 1 million (i.e. economically unviable).

In other words, the rapidly increasing moves toward “full fibre” connectivity (here and here) have long been expected to precipitate somewhat of a consolidation in this area, since fewer such hubs will be required to deliver the new services (i.e. as copper services are slowly withdrawn, then so too will the number of exchanges shrink).

Nevertheless, the removal of any exchange remains a highly complex and long-winded task, which needs to be carefully planned well in advance. Indeed, the new consultation (here) talks about a 20+ year programme of exchange evolution, which sounds about right as a lot of other changes have to be completed first (e.g. ISPs moving consumers to all-IP networks and boosting fibre coverage + take-up).

David Belcher, Openreach’s Strategy and Transformation Directors, told ISPreview.co.uk:

“We’re launching a consultation today to get our customers’ views on proposals to close 4,600 exchanges throughout the UK.

Today these exchanges support traditional copper-based phone and broadband but, as we prepare to take the next step in upgrading the UK’s from analogue to digital, we’re investing in new, fibre-based networks that will support upgrades to faster speeds and digital voice services. That means many of these exchanges will eventually become unviable for both Openreach and Communication Providers (CPs) to operate from, so their closure will be a natural next step.

This is a complex, long term issue with implications for the whole industry, so we want to work closely with our customers and the wider industry to help determine our strategy and plans.”

The proposed plan indicates that Openreach may aim to exit at least 100 exchanges by December 2030 and full decommissioning of all equipment would then follow one year later. After that the process would speed up until the other 4,500 have been completed, which could all occur during the early 2030s. Maintaining continuity of service for end customers will be a key part of all this.

We suspect that concerns may be raised around those exchanges where rival ISPs, such as Sky Broadband and TalkTalk, have invested in unbundling in order to gain more control. Likewise, a large number of exchanges are also used to provide leased line services. As we say, none of this is going to be easy.

Openreach intends to prioritise exchanges where the potential benefits of exit are highest (e.g. those with very high running costs), and to focus on those first. Exchanges like this must also have been well covered by FTTP and must have achieved the relevant FTTP milestones for copper withdrawal by the mid-2020s. No doubt their trials in Salisbury and Mildenhall will provide some useful insight for all this.

The operator will not be withdrawing exchanges in areas where doing so would leave existing customers disconnected (i.e. no fibre or FTTC alternatives).

The First 100 Exchanges (Dec 2030)

openreach_100_exchanges_for_closure

The 36 exchanges marked with an asterisk above are currently Openreach Handover Point exchanges, but only a very few of those will need to be consolidated into other OHP sites and so we don’t expect many more to go the same route (Openreach expects to end up with c.960 OHPs).

Leave a Comment
36 Responses
  1. Avatar ianh says:

    I worked in telephone exchanges in Leeds, Huddersfield & Newcastle around 15 years ago and some of them were pretty empty at that point!

    Sad to see them go but most of the ones i’ve been in would make for some kick ass loft apartments (if all the asbestos is gone now?!)

    1. Avatar Dave Cooper says:

      In that 15 years there has been a great deal of investment within Exch’s not only by BT but also other licensed operators. I wonder whose going to foot the bill? For moving their equipment.

    2. Avatar John says:

      Dave Cooper, there will be some costs involved, but in the long run it will probably work out cheaper, as they can consolidate down and have far less equipment, to both maintain and rent rack space power etc from BT. What this does do is remove potential diverse route options for stuff like trunk routes etc. What it will also do is allow providers to have a long term plan in regards to upgrading kit, so when they know what exchanges are going, they can plan which kit to put where etc

    3. Avatar Dinosaur Digger says:

      Left BT Operate 2 yrs ago ,was discussed as a 10 Yr plan then to remove all power ,racks mdf etc.
      Pushing ahead to save power upkeep etc,
      No doubt job losses as well

  2. Avatar Ad says:

    The only mistake i think they’re making is not pulling out of ALL exchanges in favour of brand new purpose built ones for the fibre. In the long run i suspect it would be cheaper but i guess the short term costs and time to complete are too high

    1. Avatar A_Builder says:

      The trouble with pulling out of all of the sites is the historical duct terminations particularly the exchange to exchange ducts.

      Then you have all the cross connections from the backbone to everyone else’s networks. Could be done in one go, would be a very major project: probably best done incrementally.

  3. Avatar Ben says:

    Do we know where the remaining 4,500 exchanges are?

  4. Avatar Tom says:

    The remaining 4500 will be the ones in nearly every UK village!

    Only three of those sites on list are Metronode sites.

    1. Avatar Bob the builder says:

      Yeah, doesn’t mean there’ll be any old services running in them though. Just a toilet and welfare and parking for engineers.

  5. Avatar Scott says:

    Worth noting the driver for much of this is that the sale and leaseback deal ends in 2031. There’ll be some significant hikes in leases.

    The original deal was for 6700 properties so it would be interesting to know how many sites have already closed (whether operational buildings or small exchange sites) to get a view of what BT Group still have tied up with Telereal Trillium (noting the story suggests 5600 exchange sites).

    1. Avatar A_Builder says:

      Yup there is a 2031 deadline for this after which time things could get expensive for BT/OR if they are not vacated.

      A lot of the village ‘exchange’ buildings it is hard to see any other use for as they are quite small and other than having power and maybe connectivity they don’t have much to offer.

      So it will be interesting to see what happens to them.

    2. Avatar Louis says:

      Hi Scott, you obviously know your stuff. I’m fairly new to all this so excuse my basic question. Do you have any idea how they will go about clearing these buildings? especially with OfCom’s universal service obligation.

    3. Avatar Jonathan says:

      My guess is quite a few of the “village” exchanges will either be flattened and used for housing or converted to housing. For example the exchange where I grew up will likely be flattened. The exchange where I live now is not a hideous industrial building and could in theory be converted.

  6. Avatar Roger says:

    Nice to see Chessington on the list as it means I can expect my EO copper line to be upgraded at long last – another 10 years is not to long 🙁

    1. Avatar Bob says:

      Same boat Roger, I can stand on my front drive and throw a tennis ball into Woodgate Telephone Exchange’s Yard, but I am feed on an Overhead Exchange Only DP.
      In the last year a lot of the cabinets (PCP) have had pods added onto them, now there are load of contractors pulling in fibre, between Road/Footway boxes (not too sure about H&S though) everywhere around the Woodgate Exchange area.
      No signs yet of any digging to provide fibre to our poles, so it could be a ten year wait.

    2. Avatar The Facts says:

      @Bob- will make nice flats – https://goo.gl/maps/CDTe6GGBSHha5EQ26

    3. Avatar The Facts says:

      @Bob – lots of these on roadworks.org – THE JOB IS TO CLEAR A BLOCKAGE IN A DUCT AND COMPLETE A POLE LEAD IN ON CLIVE ROAD.

    4. Avatar Bob says:

      @The Facts, already done, part of the building was converted into three apartments, and a large architect’s office, approx 2007. I am sure as over half of the building has already been sold off, to total clear it must be a high priority.

  7. Avatar Rasb77 says:

    I was based at Upper Warlingham exchange for 16 years. Even though I left there back in 2004, I’ll shed a tear when its closed for good.
    A lot of exchanges are in a very poor state of repair thesedays as they just don’t want to spend any money on building repairs.

    1. Avatar Henry says:

      Hi Rasb77, would really like to hear your insight on working at this exchange. Could you drop me an email so I can send over a few questions please? hpurchase@alacrityfoundation.com thanks in advance.

  8. Avatar Mark says:

    does this mean in theory some copper will stay? The exchange I’m connected to some distant cabinets haven’t been upgraded to FTTC or not allowed because of Conservation area and public opposition.also wayleaves have proved impossible in some areas

  9. Avatar Oliver says:

    Do BT own these sites? Many of these sites could be worth a pretty penny and will surely be wanted by developers.

    1. Avatar Scott says:

      Not any more. Most of the property estate was sold in 2001 to pay off debt and leased back over 30yrs.

      Once it’s vacated then Telereal will likely sell the property.

    2. Avatar Yeehaa says:

      Yup, I expect quite a number of them in prime locations will be turned into expensive offices/flats making a tidy profit for them.

  10. Avatar Bob says:

    Telephone exchanges, supply and support numerous services, and now other ISP equipment, I suggest it will be a very big task to clear them.
    I retired from BT several years ago, there were 1000’s of DC path circuits in operation then, between exchanges and customer premises, are they still in operation or have they all been replaced?
    Although a lot of Analogue Private Circuits were converted to Digital between customer sites, because so many customer sites did not have an AC mains supply for the ANTU, they were provide Digital to the serving exchange, then converted to Analogue to the customers site, many with analogue amplifier in the serving exchange, have these been replaced.
    If you look at the skyline of most exchanges there are microwave links, cell sites and other aerial, etc, also the parts of the core network go through them, especially in rural areas.

  11. Avatar Graham Moore says:

    How things have changed. Mind you I don’t miss those callouts in the middle of the winter nights to pump out flooded chambers, and then drying out 1200pr paper insulated lead sheathed cables. What a life!

  12. Avatar JitteryPinger says:

    I was talking with somebody today before seeing the article about a few exchanges in the Birmingham/Solihull which has been converted already in apartment blocks (obviously with the exchanges still operating in a smaller fashion behind or underneath.

  13. Avatar JAH says:

    With regards to FTTP, am I right in saying that the exchanges house some active equipment like the fibre handover node? How would the physical cabling work if the exchanges are removed? I.e. How would a person’s FTTP connection actually connect to the wider network? Would an exchange building be replaced with another type of street cabinet to house the active components? I’d be interested to know exactly what components an FTTP connection goes through and where those components are located. A quick Google shows there
    doesn’t seem to be much authoritative information available, just lots of people guessing.

    1. Avatar Squidgy. says:

      Any headends will need to be relocated and the fibres diverted. Not an insurmountable task given previous exchange site closures

  14. Avatar ALAN STOCKLEY says:

    Exchanges are also a safe deposit box in a bank for everyone with kit and circuits housing their traffic and data.
    Security will be a big issue.Imagine if you can open up a mini exchange at the end of a street and the clever boys interrupt and hack.interesting stuff

  15. Avatar Robert says:

    Is there a list anywhere of the other 4,500 exchanges to close?

  16. Avatar MilesT says:

    My local exchange, Primrose Hill, (which is actually in one of the nicer parts of St. John’s Wood, not too far from the tube station) would be an excellent building to convert for flats which would sell for premium prices.

    It is in a conservation area so there would be pressure to keep the existing building frontage (pleasant solid brick built in keeping with rest of street) and not extend it. If there isn’t a basement already I would predict that the developer would want to dig one for car parking, maybe 2 levels

  17. Avatar Alistair Skipper says:

    As usual BT’s policy is upgrade London and a few token cities in the North and completely ignore East Anglia.

  18. Avatar Russ says:

    BT currently has no money to undertake such a massive project, the exchanges they have already closed far exceeded the budget to do so and the risk was crazy. Legacy systems such as red care alarms, megastream and kilostream which are still in service not to mention the MoD services will all need shifting. PSTN is still a key service and System ‘X’ or ‘Y’ exchanges are fragile so either a technology investment is needed or the exchanges just wont close.
    Oh and remember most of the mobile networks, emergency services and coastal systems back off to BT services so any roll out of 5G could be impacted. I looked at this almost 20 years ago so i suspect this is more a statement than a real objective, BT would be better off investing in the core network.

  19. Avatar Sam says:

    Has anyone managed to get into the Consultation document to find out out which other exchanges are facing closure? (https://www.openreach.co.uk/orpg/home/updates/briefings/generalbriefings/generalbriefingsarticles/gen10720.do)

    Or is that list available publicly? Not having any luck myself..

  20. Avatar Simon says:

    Would someone kindly help me understand if the list provided (100 exchanges) in the published article confirms explicitly that those sites will be retired, closed and fully exited.

    I am keen to understand if the Brighton Withdean site will be closed and sold off or repurposes for FTTC.

    The outcome will impact me in regards to any post site closure building development plans.

    Thanks

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