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Openreach Update on Solutions for UK FTTP Pole Capacity Issues

Saturday, April 17th, 2021 (12:01 am) - Score 15,744

Earlier this year we reported on an increasingly common example of how network capacity problems on Openreach’s UK telegraph poles can prevent people from ordering a new Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) broadband service via their ISP (here). Today we share a little more detail on the operator’s plan for tackling this.

At present Openreach’s new gigabit-capable “full fibre” broadband network is available to over 4.5 million premises (homes and businesses) across the United Kingdom, although they plan to extend this out to reach as many as 20 million premises by around 2025-30 (at a cost of c.£12bn).

The new network tends to be deployed via either underground (e.g. fibre trenching in the pavement) or overhead (e.g. fibre running over new or existing poles / telegraph poles) methods. However, over the past few months we’ve been hearing about more and more cases where general capacity problems on poles can hamper new orders from consumers or disrupt deployments.

Naturally, such problems may become more common as FTTP coverage expands.

The Problem

Such pole capacity issues typically come in a couple of different forms, both physical and also loading onto poles mechanically.

Openreach Pole Capacity Issues

➤ Mechanical

The number of wires which can be attached to a pole (there are limits on how many wires a pole can hold).

➤ Physical

Connectorised-Block-TerminalThe space at the top of the pole where a Connectorised Block Terminal (CBT) usually is. The CBT is that odd looking rectangular black box at the top of a pole with circular nodules sticking out – they can usually handle up to 12 ports and in busy areas may become full.

Openreach will normally plan and build FTTP in a way that ensures there will be enough lines to cater for expected demand, but there are sometimes cases where demand (or some other factor) can upset that model. Whether due to an issue with load on the poles or merely port capacity at the CBT, resolving pole capacity issues can be a complex problem (depending on the area, type of pole and arc of dropwires etc.).

One of the biggest risks here is Health & Safety (H&S) because the operator must ensure that their engineers, or alternative network (altnet) providers using Physical Infrastructure Access solutions (i.e. rivals running their own fibre over OR’s poles), can carry out provisions and repairs on poles safely.

The less space there is available on poles, the higher the risk to the engineers operating on their pole infrastructure and the more restrictions faced by PIA deployments etc.

The Solution

As we reported back in February 2021, Openreach have been conducting somewhat of a proactive policy review of this issue, and they recently shared their latest thinking with PIA ISPs. The change will see them adopt a more flexible and risk-based approach to handling pole capacity.

On top of that they will look to configure new lower steps on poles so that there is more space available at the top of the pole, but engineers can still climb safely. Finally, they’ve also implemented a new PIA accreditation option to empower suitably qualified operatives to lower steps to increase usable space at the pole top, upon which to place their own network infrastructure.

Openreach sees this as being a quicker path for deployment for initial fibre build for altnet providers, and they can continue to work to service their customers, albeit without coming to Openreach for network adjustment. Hopefully this extra flexibility will result in fewer delays for service provisions or abortive appointments.

Admittedly this won’t completely prevent all pole capacity issues, but it’s progress. Existing approaches will also continue to apply, such as replacing copper wires as new fibre ones are added (where viable) and or adopting hybrid copper and fibre drop cables. Sometimes you can also do a pole swap to increase the total number of drop wires permitted (preferable to adding completely new poles into an area and thus having to reroute all drops).

One other area that still needs some improvement is the communication of such issues. At present consumers are often left in the dark or given conflicting information about why they’re having to wait or how long they’ll need to wait, which could be resolved by a greater degree of transparency over such issues. This needs to come from ISPs just as much as it should come from Openreach and other network suppliers.

Leave a Comment
40 Responses
  1. Avatar Ray Woodward says:

    It would be nice to have the choice ..:-(

    1. Avatar Fastman says:

      if you mean overhead or underground — you could ask openreach to provdive it undergound assuming you willing to fund the difference in cost (under move our network) on Openreach.co.uk

  2. Avatar Regorimabitbackward says:

    I would suggest pole loading issues are more likely in highly populated areas ie more properties requiring a connection this in my experience has meant there is usually vehicle access is available allowing the use of cherry pickers rather than having to physically climb the pole however working as a repair faults man I would have to climb the pole physically sometimes having to carry the ladders over fields with no vehicle access but as these poles only fed a line too a few or one property pole loading would not be an issue. I would be very interested to see how re stepping an in situ pole will work there are certain rules that have to be applied regards step placement on the pole bass steps working steps climbing steps etc.also certain high clearances for drop wires over carriage ways power wires and the like and the maximum number of wires in an arc.Rocket it ain’t but technical it is!

    1. Avatar A_Builder says:

      I’m no Elf’n’Safety nut but altering the rungs will have to be done in a compliant manner for everyone’s benefit. I appreciate there is a competence scheme within the OR announcement.

      Once the rules get complex I do also have to question how well they are implemented in the ground.

      Do we really want Alt nets putting GPON cabinets on poles?

      I’m all for speeding things up, more fibre the better, but the long term viability is crucial pArticularly as poles need replacing periodically.

  3. Avatar Regorimabitbackward says:

    In my experience rules tend to be broken sometimes with life losing consequences even more so when a company looks to outside sources to get things done so yes A Builder is correct with what he says as with all rules laws and standards making them is not the problem but checking and enforcement could be.

  4. Avatar John Smith says:

    I am going to live until 2035, I am 69 years old at the moment,

  5. Avatar David says:

    Hate this company. Since 10 years I asking them to connect me to the fibre, all I get from them is “try community fibre” . They simply do not give a …..
    We got no plans for your area yet. Topical corporate, can not see enough profit to do it.

    1. Avatar Ianh says:

      Pay for it yourself if you’re that desperate. Just be thankful we have rules and regulations in place that force them to roll out to the “unprofitable” areas.

    2. Avatar LPP says:

      Why don’t you hate all the Alt Nets who also refuse to provide a service to you? At least Openreach give you something. You can always pay for it yourself to be installed.

  6. Avatar Mark botfield says:

    Bt monopoly no intention to serve fibre on our road 5 mins from a 50k pop town, 18 meg down 500k up!
    So Starlink looks the only option as no cable or wireless…

    1. Avatar The Facts says:

      No monopoly as there are many companies that could build in your area.

    2. Avatar Fastman says:

      mark botfield – you could always co fund it if you wanted it that bad

      prenty of option to get something done

    3. Avatar LPP says:

      Ask a Altnet to come 5 minutes down the road then?

    4. Avatar GNewton says:

      “you could always co fund it if you wanted it that bad”

      A very simplistic and unrealistic view for many.

      It would be weird enough that a customer should have to organize a campaign just to get something as basic as a fibre broadband utility. This show how backwards this country truly is! There is no consistent and plausible policy in this country to overcome the digital divide, being more than a decade behind of where things should be by now.

    5. Avatar Fastman says:

      gnewton really a simplistic and unrealistic view for many.

      its a realistic and available scenario and well proven oppotunity. for communities that are of a mind to try and help themselves get to a better place. cofunded community funded infrastructure hs been around for many years not just broadband, water, electicity especially in rural communities

      not sure what your issue is with a community help themselves get to a better place


    6. Avatar GNewton says:

      @Fastman: Are you really that naive to believe that towns and communities all over the country will have to organise campaigns just to get a simple fibre broadband utility?

      Comparing it to electricity is inappropriate. Access to electricity (% of total population) in United Kingdom was reported at nearly 100 % in 2016, according to the World Bank collection of development indicators. The number of households living off the electricity grid in the UK is estimated to be at 75,000. Compared to roughly 80% which don’t have access to full fibre in the UK as of now.

      The fact is, there are currently no serious strategies in the UK for creating widespread fibre broadband availability or bridging the digital divide. Large portion of this backwards country are like a 3rd world country in this respect.

    7. Avatar P says:

      @Fastman, a very immature response, your forgetting the fact billions of ‘tax payers’ money is going to Open Reach to provide services to those profitable areas whilst ignoring ones such as the OP’s, so he if he pays taxes is already funding it himself.. people seem to forget the fact tax payers money is involved here to award only certain areas with Fibre,
      Last I checked billions of tax payers money didn’t go towards installing electricity cables or gas lines or water pipes. I could be wrong but I’ve never heard of it. But then these are considered essential utilities.
      Sure you can approach an alt net who will advise you if you eligible for the new voucher scheme, through which you’ll have to find other households willing to pay the money for FTTP and sign up to the voucher, and then play the lottery game of being successful in your application or not, whilst still paying those taxes.

      Perhaps you could be a bit more respectful in your replies next time?

    8. Avatar 125us says:

      @P – BT only get taxpayer money to deliver fibre to unprofitable locations, not profitable ones – those are all funded by BT. If an u profitable area becomes profitable, BT has to give some money back.

      All the other utilities you mention – electricity, gas and water (and sewers) were 100% built with public money because all the utilities were state owned at the time the networks were built.

  7. Avatar Arbortheus says:

    Looks like a consequence of sky high house prices and rents. A home that might once have had one family with one internet connection has now been chopped up by landlords into 2 or 3 homes, each requiring their own internet connection.

  8. Avatar Nick Roberts says:

    Most urban/suburban properties have existing telephone, mains water supply, waste water piping or/and electricity. I can never understand why a low cost way-forward couldn’t be found with those infrastructure owners to get a “Free Ride” from a small subterranean street box/manifold into adjacent property on that street. Perhaps 20 connections per box/manifold, . . . That would mean perhaps 3 boxes, each side of the road, for the average 120 property suburban street.

    Christmas Eve, they’ve had at least 30 years to plan for this. If they don’t quickly find a solution, 5G and starlink will slam them.

    This is the ultimate demonstration that commercialism, on its own, if too well observed and practised, can actually hold-back societal and economic progress.

    1. Avatar The Facts says:

      Which is what CityFibre, VM etc. do with up to 32 properties per box. It’s about the cost of digging.

    2. Avatar M says:

      A very good and true post. Sadly capitalism and profit has gotten in the way, which makes it even more insulting when you do diaper the fact government are heavily involved in the roll out spending billions of tax payers money, in those privileged areas considered to be of commercial profit. Capitalism at its finest for sure.

    3. Avatar 125us says:

      @M (or should I say P as you are posting exactly the same things?)

      Public money is only used to deliver broadband where it wouldn’t make a profit. Where delivery is profitable, the network owner pays. Why do you keep repeating the same incorrect information?

  9. Avatar Bill says:

    Im honestly waiting for starlink to be on the gigabite voucher thing, then Im hopping ship. Bye bye openreach.

    1. Avatar Fastman says:

      this forum never ceases to amaze / amuse / other non printables

    2. Avatar Felix Bowe says:

      Good for you. I agree. Starlink is the future. OR have been taking the Governments money and ripping customers off for years.
      A lot of Alt nets do not operate in the vast majority of towns specially semi-rural areas.
      Cable is not 100% rolled out.
      Starlink is the one. Once the price comes down a little bit and my contract is up. Say hello to gigabyte speeds and F*** OR and my neighbours how do not want or use anything above 10mb.

    3. Avatar M says:

      You don’t need a voucher scheme for Starlink though? But I agree jump ship to them, just be mindful your taxes you continue to pay will still be funding those privileged profitable areas with FTTap roll outs.

  10. Avatar FibreBubble says:

    Can’t see climbing being viable on many poles once you got all the extra attachments that come with 2 fibre providers and the copper kit. It’s already like the wild west in much of the pia areas.

    1. Avatar A_Builder says:

      I would agree.

      And I would suggest that OR really need to shift up gear and think about fibre installation to -> migration being a one hit wonder.

      There must be a huge and growing number of copper drops in the country that will never be used again now FTTP is installed.

      OFCOM might be more amenable to this than you think given the huge % levels of FTTP uptake that are far higher than anyone would have predicted. I confidently predict that most of the ISP’s will soon stop selling FTTC/GFast where FTTP is available. All you need to have is all the ISP implement a stop sell on that exchange where FTTP is available and the copper strip out should start.

      Why do I think this will happen: lower level of faults and ability to change provisioning to whatever/whatever at a mouse click and also the IPS then doesn’t have the punter snatched by someone else who offers a later FTTC -> FTTP migration. So as far as I can see it is in the interests of ISP’s to shift as many as possible from Copper -> Fibre.

    2. Avatar E says:

      Feel sorry for all those guys who are going to have to be getting their fall arrest belt around all those bits and bobs lower down the pole! It’ll end up being like being one of the underground boxes where people neglect to the point, everyone’s trying to go in and out of it as quick as possible with no trace of being there.

    3. Avatar 125us says:

      @A Builder

      I think the issue there is that ISPs with their own ADSL kit in exchanges (sky, talk talk, a few smaller ones) would no longer be able to serve their customers and would have a legitimate grievance to raise with Ofcom. That’s why there’s a notification period involved as far as I understand it. If an exchange has no LLU providers I’d presume it’s easier.

      The copper network is also used for things other than voice or broadband – the operators of those services are working to a published timetable for migration. If those timelines were advanced unexpectedly in a given area I’d imagine it will mess with the planning of those migrations.

    4. Avatar A_Builder says:


      I agree with you.

      What I am suggesting is that if all of those present in the exchange said “OK, provided lines go from copper -> FTTP we have no objection” then this could be expedited.

      There are a lot of exchanges where there are not a lot of other present. And it might be that some of the majors would do national level agreements after some trials.

      There has to be a way round this otherwise it is costing OR an unfair amount to install FTTP whilst keeping copper in play and it is also extending timescales and listing Alt Nets so it is not only OR that benefits from getting rid of copper faster.

  11. Avatar Bogof says:

    Interested where the port number limit comes from. I counted 28 ports at the top of a local pole that had just been commissioned. Two 12 ports mounted back to back almost on a metal standoff bracket, and a separate 4 port. It is a pole serving a small street of terrace houses.

    Luckily at my end of the road I am served underground, much neater.

    1. Avatar Leex says:

      If it’s underground don’t expect fibre any time soon (might seem tidy but more complicated to get to the house) I am very happy that I am pole fed, as it bye bye virgin once I see the fiber taps on my pole (unless the do FTTPn (coxal node at the house so I am not sharing with 10+ other streets)

    2. Avatar Roger_Gooner says:

      You don’t realise that residential broadband, regardless of technology, is invariably shared?

    3. Avatar CarlT says:

      The RFoG FTTP network is shared with other streets just like the HFC network, Lee.

      The media conversion happens at your property but your ‘node’ is combined with others through optical splitting/combining and again on the digital link back to the VM hubsite.

      Much the same as my PON is shared with 31 neighbours and again on the way out of the OLT.

  12. Avatar Bill says:

    A training manager told me a few years back an openreach tech went up a pole and died because it had a fit and didnt mention that he had epilepsy on his job appliction. So now openreach send kelly services to do the pole work. It’s a complete joke, all of my area in East Hertfordshire is served with poles. My line has crackling and broadband drops all the time, openreach been 5 times and still the same. The old 1980 pole has no more pairs on it if we have a fault, so im stuck and really fed up.

    1. Avatar JP says:

      What a BS reason to not do pole work.

    2. Avatar Tony says:

      That’s a crock of s**t, Openreach engineers climb poles every day so whoever told you that doesn’t have a clue.

  13. Avatar jeep says:

    I think one of the most gauling things is seeing OR install fibre to 2 poles at the junction of my road to another approx 100 m away from the pole that serves mine & several other homes & there being only approx a dozen poles on the entire estate, why didnt they do all whilst there ? have asked OR about this but am met with silence ?

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