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WightFibre Become First UK Operator to Switch Off Copper Network

Tuesday, Aug 30th, 2022 (3:49 pm) - Score 4,552
wightfibre street cabinet

Broadband ISP WightFibre, which operates a network across the Isle of Wight – just off the South Coast of Hampshire in England, today claims to have become the first telecommunications operator in the UK to switch off their old copper network – beating KCOM, Virgin Media and Openreach (BT) to the punch.

The operator is currently investing £94m to support their “Gigabit Island Project” to rollout a new Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) broadband network, which aims to cover around 78,000 homes and businesses – roughly 96% of all premises on the island – by the end of 2023 (they had completed 40,000 in July 2022 and expect to reach 60,000 by the end of this year).

NOTE: Infracapital, which also owns or has stakes in Gigaclear, Neos Networks, Fibrus and Ogi, is backing WightFibre.

However, it’s easy to forget that, prior to all this, the operator was serving a smaller number of premises via their older Hybrid Fibre Coax (HFC) based cable network, which used a mix of coaxial copper and optical fibre lines via the DOCSIS standard to deliver ultrafast broadband speeds. But rather than upgrade HFC to DOCSIS 3.1, much like Virgin Media (VMO2) did, they instead opted to go right to FTTP and expand their coverage.

The good is that the final few cable customers on their old network were upgraded to full fibre earlier this year. Over the summer the last few phone-only customers were also upgraded, allowing their copper network to finally be decommissioned.

John Irvine, CEO of WightFibre, said:

“Our big copper switch-off was a major undertaking. For most customers the migration to full-fibre was seamless – their existing phones and analogue devices are supported on the new network with the notable exception of rotary dial telephones – thankfully there were only a few of those.

A small number of customers with very old alarm systems did need to upgrade their alarm systems as these are incompatible with full-fibre. With business customers this extended to some older dial-up credit card machines and fax machines. In many case WightFibre helped with these changes to persuade customers to upgrade.

Overall the process ran fairly smoothly. Our customers love the new network, the faster speeds, and the much-improved reliability.”

By comparison, it’s expected to take Openreach until around the mid-2030s before they can completely switch off their physical copper line network (not to be confused with the PSTN phone switch-off in 2025), but even then it’s possible that some extremely remote areas might not be ready.

As for Virgin Media (VMO2), they expect to have completed their upgrade from HFC to full fibre by around 2028. But it remains unclear whether they will have been able to migrate all of their associated customers by that point – operators usually aim to complete this phase after the new network has gone live.

Finally, there’s KCOM’s old twisted-pair copper network in Hull. The final migration plan for that looks set to start this month and won’t take long to complete (here). We’re expecting to hear more about this, as well as on KCOM’s future FTTP expansion plans, in the very near future.

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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 X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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21 Responses
  1. Avatar photo John says:

    That’s a ridiculously ugly cabinet. Forget poles, people should rally against cabinets

    1. Avatar photo Ad47uk says:

      I suppose it stands out, maybe people will not smash into it 🙂
      The cabinets to be honest needs a good clean around here, some still have the bits of the old posters on that says Fibre is here, when in fact it is not, and they are just filthy. Openreach should be made to lean them now and again.

      I noticed the first Zzoomm one that was install, I presume that must be the main one as it is much larger than the others and have a fan in, anyway I have noticed that was covered with graffiti a couple of weeks ago, but it was clean yesterday. I thought in this day and age they could have a surface that would stop paint and markers sticking.

      I found the Zzoomm cabinet that will supply us, a couple of roads away, hidden by a hedge.

    2. Avatar photo Winston Smith says:

      Fibre is definitely at the cabinets with the posters on.

    3. Avatar photo Ad47uk says:

      @Winston Smith, yeah, the cabinet, but the way they put it as if we had fibre broadband, more bull from out of reach, and it is no wonder people are confused and think they have fibre when they don’t. So more lies from large companies, nothing new in this country.

  2. Avatar photo Dave says:

    Good on Wightfibre… but honestly, BT could switch off the copper tomorrow in huge swathes of the UK. There’s just no incentive/pressure for them to do it. Come on Ofcom…

    1. Avatar photo Fastman says:

      and what you think would then happen to all the WLR customer who still buy copper services then as choice – not a nearly as simple as you

    2. Avatar photo Alex A says:

      Ummm…. there is?

      Copper switch off would save Openreach/BT a lot of money in maintanence and would generate a load from selling off exchanges.

      Its also a lot more difficult for BT to switch off than WightFibre. Being a cable network WightFibre will only have homes and businesses, Openreach have old telephone booths, traffic lights and more powered by phone lines.

    3. Avatar photo Ivor says:

      Why do you think there’s no “incentive”? BT has repeatedly stated that the PSTN is becoming harder and harder to keep running, the equipment is beyond obsolete and the people who run it are edging closer to retirement. That’s why they were aggressively pursuing the migration to digital voice until the pause (I think they still push it on new customers who want a landline).

  3. Avatar photo Tickle_Me_Saint_Elmos_Fire says:

    Turn it back on for nostalgia’s sake immediately.

  4. Avatar photo Jonathan Lewis says:

    Alex A – BT sold off their exchange estate in 2001 and leased-back on a 30 year contract so they’ve already had the benefit from that sale. Maintenance would reduce of course but an all-fiber network is not maintenance-free either.

    1. Avatar photo Mick says:

      BT is today running a Fibre network AND millions of copper lines AND 1000s of exchanges full of 1970s equipment. Running only the fibre network will be a massive saving in running costs. BT consume almost 1% of UK electricity, a lot of that is the old PSTN network, that alone will be a massive saving. They are also paying rent for those exchanges they sold off in 2001, with their plans to reduce from over 5000 to 1000 exchanges they will be able to see huge rent savings in the long term as those contracts expire, if they don’t close the copper, they will have to extend the leases. There is most certainly an incentive to close the copper network.

    2. Avatar photo Alex A says:

      I’m aware, I believe they do get some of the money back from the sale. Even if they don’t it’ll considerably cut operating costs if they can reduce the number of sites they have.

    3. Avatar photo Paolo says:

      If there was so much incentive for BT to switch copper off, then they would have done it in places where alternative network providers have already built fibre. Instead, they are happy to sweat the copper there until such time as they have a fibre network in the area themselves. We all know that altnets typically suffer on sales penetration…. having BT switch off their copper when an exchange area has been covered in fibre sure would help that problem!

  5. Avatar photo Clive peters says:

    VMO2 copper switch off will be well into the 2030s. 2028 is date for full FTTP availability, but installing in every home will take much longer

  6. Avatar photo Gavin says:

    I may be I’m getting old, but I’m on Virgin Media, and get 100Meg. Which is more than enough for me. I can’t see the point in an engineer coming out and changing it for the sack of it.

    Obviously if they are installing a new connection, or a customer wants faster broadband connection than copper can supply it makes sense to upgrade to fiber. Otherwise seems a wast of money.

    1. Avatar photo joshe says:

      it’s actually a money saving for both you and virgin, the new equipment will use much less electricity and will have a lower upkeep cost, so they will be able to lower prices to compete better and the “hub” in your house will use less electric.

    2. Avatar photo Roger_Gooner says:

      An all-fibre network will be cheaper for Virgin Media as the RF amps in the HFC network will no longer need to be purchased, stored, installed, maintained and powered. FTTP is passive downstream of the OLT but there must be a powered ONT at the customer premises which, once installed, will increase the electricity bills for those on the HFC network.

    3. Avatar photo Alex A says:

      @Roger_Gooner and currently there must be a cable modem at the premises which uses power on the upstream. The ONT Openreach use takes <4W, a cable modem will need much more.

    4. Avatar photo Roger_Gooner says:

      Not so, VM’s XGS-PON will terminate at the ONT and all the user needs for broadband is a router connected to the ONT’s Ethernet port.

  7. Avatar photo David Parsons says:

    Shame the TV is rubbish, just a crappy freeview box with no apps. Think I’ll wait until Sky gigafast is available. Openreach are building here soon.

  8. Avatar photo MilesT says:

    Is the 2030 Openreach copper PSTN changeover date specific to the Isle of Wight, or the “general” date?

    The “tranche” list (Excel) from the openreach website has a few exchanges in the “SD” region in the mainland, but doesn’t seem to have any on the Island (I’m assuming the whole Island is in region “SD”, based on one specific exchange of interest to me: SDBRGHS Brighstone).

    So I am I right to assume the Island will generally be more towards the 2030 date rather than 2025, but does anyone know any different? Potentially a business or household could force a digital switchover by moving from Openreach to Wightfibre (if they needed to).

Comments are closed

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