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Openreach Publish New Dark Fibre Reference Offer for UK ISPs

Friday, May 21st, 2021 (8:22 am) - Score 10,560
fibre optic cable connections at BT Openreach

Openreach (BT) has published the first Draft Reference Offer for their second stab at an Ofcom regulated Dark Fibre Access (DFA) product, which gives rival UK network operators and broadband ISPs physical access to harness existing fibre optic cables to run leased line style services. But the new solution is more restrictive.

The regulator previously failed to introduce a full DFA product in 2016/17 (here), which would have given rival ISPs physical access to install their own equipment at either end of the fibre within Openreach’s cable ducts. But this was blocked by the courts due to Ofcom’s incorrect market definitions (they essentially proposed DFA in some areas where Dark Fibre rivals already existed, which angered those operators).

Instead, the regulator only succeeded in getting the operator to introduce a Dark Fibre X product (here), which merely catered for the inter-exchange connectivity market (i.e. the connections between BT-Only exchanges in different geographic areas – like between towns and cities).

However, Ofcom’s new geographic based approach to regulation has enabled them to nudge Openreach into taking a second stab at DFA (here). In short, as well as the existing DFX product, the regulator has also introduced a requirement on Openreach to provide access to DFA for the supply of leased line / Ethernet access (LL Access) in Area 3 locations (i.e. non-competitive areas – currently reflecting about 30% of the UK).

The first DFA Draft Reference Offer for this new product was published yesterday, although unfortunately it’s a private document (odd since the original draft reference offer for DFA was made public). Nevertheless, the plan is to launch the final product on 17th August 2021, assuming operators are happy with what has been proposed (the OTA recently said “not all issues raised by industry are likely to be resolved within the timescale“).

One catch here is that Ofcom has restricted the use of DFA so that alternative network (AltNet) ISPs cannot use it to “provide active leased line circuits or dark fibre access circuits where they would be used to aggregate FTTP [broadband] to multiple premises for the purposes of deploying a fibre access network.

Ofcom took the same stance on Ethernet (e.g. EAD) products and is pushing Physical Infrastructure Access (PIA) instead, which is where altnets run their own fibre via existing cable ducts and poles rather than harnessing Openreach’s fibre. Sadly that decision did cause some upset among smaller altnet players (here), which will need to invest a bit more time and money to train up in order to fully harness PIA.

Meanwhile, Openreach remains concerned that even the reduced usefulness of DFA in Area 3 could have adverse impacts, such as via an “overly rapidmigration from active leased lines to DFA as a result of the proposed DFA charge control being below cost. “It said this migration will result in under-recovery of costs, divert engineering resource away from FTTP rollout in Area 3, and make it more difficult for Openreach to meet QoS [Quality of Service] requirements nationally,” noted Ofcom’s review.

Otherwise, Ofcom’s market review gives us a reasonable technical overview of what the DFA product should look like, even if PIA will now be the main supportive tool for altnets seeking to deploy full fibre broadband services into rural areas (i.e. often harnessed while also building their own cable ducts). The table below covers both DFA (left) and DFX (right).

Openreach-Dark_Fibre_Access_Summary_2021_Ofcom

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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
8 Responses
  1. H says:

    What is the pricing?

    1. Mark Jackson says:

      Still trying to find out as it’s all private atm.

    2. Damien says:

      How can someone write amazing articles but use “atm”? I mean come on ewwww…

    3. Mark Jackson says:

      News comments don’t require the same level of dedication :).

      atm = at the moment

  2. Ex Telecom Engineer says:

    Clearly this is just one of the steps along the road, of Openreach becoming the telecom equivalent of the National Grid. No doubt BT will either sell or IPO a significant holding at a convenient time of their choosing, once the FTTP/5G rollouts are completed.

    1. Damien says:

      “once the FTTP/5G rollouts are completed.”

      lol so no need to worry in our lifetimes then…

    2. Ex Telecom Engineer says:

      “lol so no need to worry in our lifetimes then”

      Hmmm, you must be really old. BT/Openreach are saying 25 million premises by 2026.

  3. Mark says:

    Hmmm, you must be really old. BT/Openreach are saying 25 million premises by 2026.
    Talk is cheap as they say, how many times have we heard this hype,

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