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Quick Update on Delayed One Touch UK Broadband ISP Switching

Monday, Aug 7th, 2023 (10:57 am) - Score 3,424
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Consumers may now have to wait until early 2024 before Ofcom’s new and much delayed One Touch Switch (OTS) migration system is fully ready for prime time. The system was designed to make it easier and quicker to switch broadband ISPs, including via alternative networks, but it has been beset by delays.

Just to recap. The original migration system was primarily design to work on Openreach’s network and today’s market, with is growing choice of alternative full fibre (FTTP) networks, didn’t benefit from it. The old system also took up to 10 working days to run its course (largely to protect against SLAMMING – being switched without your consent), while the new one aimed to do this in just 1 day “where technically possible“.

Ofcom finalised all this back in September 2021 and, in recognition of the complexity involved with trying to adapt this to work across lots of physically separate networks, gave ISPs until 3rd April 2023 to implement it. But at this point the regulator largely gave up leadership and left the industry to figure out how to implement everything, except getting so many rivals to work together (essential for OTS to function) and establish a common approach has not been either a quick or easy process.

The industry did in June 2022 establish The One Touch Switching Company (TOTSCo) as a not-for-profit vehicle – owned by the membership – to take responsibility for the development and operation of the related messaging platform. But that left precious little time for development and testing of an extremely complex system, which for many smaller providers would also mean effectively starting from scratch (more details).

Needless to say that the April deadline soon came and went. In response, Ofcom said it was “extremely disappointing and frustrating” to learn that OTS was not ready (here) and shifted all the blame on to the industry’s shoulders (possibly a bit unfair – more regulatory leadership was needed). The regulator then “launched enforcement action to make sure companies get this up and running as quickly as possible,” albeit without setting a new deadline for implementation.

OTS Progress

The good news is that the industry has been making progress since April 2023. The TOTSCo Hub API Specification v1.0, which is a core part of the new system, was finally released toward the end of July 2023 and over 90 “stakeholders” (ISPs, network suppliers etc.) have now joined the membership list (all ISPs/AltNets will need to join in order to be compliant with Ofcom’s rules).

Basic connection testing also began at the end of last month, although this is initially extremely limited (i.e. just sending and receiving a test message) and enhanced connection testing is due to follow at the end of August. So far TOTSCo’s testing has only involved large and medium-sized providers, but smaller ISPs and AltNets are now joining.

TOTSCo Hub Delivery Roadmap Aug 2023

On top of that, TOTSCo has just published a proposal document for the Hub’s charging structure (i.e. how much ISPs will have to pay to switch customers), which will charge each user or RCPID (e.g. ISP) around £400 to £600 for membership of the system and then an additional annual charge – scaled to reflect the size of the ISP (subscribers), although there will be no extra charge for those with under 1,000 residential customers.

The actual cost of each individual switch, on top of the above charges, is likely to be around 25p to 35p and most ISPs will just absorb that or recoup any costs via their monthly rentals. But what’s most interesting about the new charging proposal is that it sets a tentative start date of 1st January 2024, which at the very least means that OTS definitely won’t be ready to go live for regular consumers in 2023.

Paul Bradbury, CEO of TOTSCo, said:

“On the important and crucial subject of testing, we have now completed our first round of Industry Testing Groups. Between now and the latter part of September we will be working to complete the detailed industry test approach and plans. There is a lot of work to do and tasks the groups need to work through. These include: finalising integration and static testing scenarios (testing that can be done outside of the Hub, offline), defining how CP to CP matching will work, agreeing on data and creating an aligned test plan and delivery timeline.”

At the time of writing, we still don’t have a solid date for when OTS might finally be ready, although it is starting to look like early 2024 (Q1) may, at least, be technically feasible. But achieving that would require every step toward completion to go exactly as planned and, as we’ve said before, larger ISPs (e.g. BT, Virgin Media, Sky Broadband etc.) often like to conduct months of testing before introducing a major new system (i.e. any mistakes made could be very costly if they fail to do that).

We’ve asked TOTSCo for an update on their launch expectations and will report back when they reply.

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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 X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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24 Responses
  1. Avatar photo Tom J says:

    I do imagine this could be a very difficult system to implement. The larger suppliers will find it a lot easier, but I imagine a lot of these smaller companies might not want to participate due to the ease it will introduce for customers to leave that they previously would have had direct contact with to persuade out of it.

    1. Avatar photo Andrew G says:

      Think it’s the other way round – it’ll be the big companies with huge complex SAP/Oracle or similar CRM complaining that it’s all too complex, and that’s to delay things because it’s mostly those large companies that have aggressive and heavily resourced retention teams. Virgin Media, as a prime example, although at least they are under investigation for making leaving difficult. Smaller companies will have less complex systems, and whilst they might not be keen to make leaving simple, they won’t be as effective at making that “ooohhhh sooooo difficult, this will take us years” argument.

      I’ve said it before in relation to this topic: three decades ago I was nailing dissimilar computer systems together to exchange data, and it’s easy peasy at coding level. The problem here is absence of any desire of those involved to make progress, and the absence of any beatings from Ofcom. Given that any testing throws up issues, we can expect Q1 2024 to slip. If industry can flannel it out to Q2/Q3 2024, political attention will be on the next election, and ministers attention will be elsewhere; The chances of Ofcom wading in and duffing up the telcos in that environment are very low, as I can’t see the election being fought over one touch switching.

    2. Avatar photo _ says:

      I also think it’ll be the bigger ones. I work as a developer and honestly the amount of big companies with old creaking CRMs, that take weeks for the most simple integration modifications to be made, is unfathomable. Then they spend weeks or months on such mundane changes it isn’t even funny.

      The smaller companies who build their own lightweight solutions with an in house development team will almost certainly be able to churn this out in a few weeks, including testing.

  2. Avatar photo Clive peters says:

    If you have an e.g. cityfibre installed cable to the telegraph pole and you switch to an openreach isp, will they reuse the same cable? If not, this seems rather pointless

    1. Avatar photo Martin Warby says:

      As far as I know this is nothing to do with how your connection is physically provided. It’s about coordinating the switch at a billing level really.

      So if you move from one ISP to another the old one is cancelled as the new one is ready.

      It also avoids the need to contact your old supplier who will often want to stop you leaving, which can be a problem. For instance I’m with Virgin and they will happily charge a fortune out if contract, and won’t recontract at competitive rates without saying you want to leave. This means they can undercut rivals by only offering the best prices to a few

    2. Avatar photo Andrew G says:

      Clive peters: “If you have an e.g. cityfibre installed cable to the telegraph pole and you switch to an openreach isp, will they reuse the same cable?”

      If you choose an ISP who don’t have a wholesale agreement with CF, then it’s certain they won’t use the existing fibre connection. If you choose an ISP who use CF and Openreach, then chances are they’ll use the existing CF physical connection rather than pay Openreach a new FTTP connection charge.

      “If not, this seems rather pointless”

      The purpose of OTS is not to make any differences to how infrastructure is utilised, but simply to iron out a quirk that the original supplier-led switching arrangements were only designed around ISPs using Openreach. That meant that switching to or from Openreach was more complicated, and often resulted in loss of connection or paying for an overlapping connection, as well as enabling some dodgy companies to take advantage of the complexity to use heavy handed retentions techniques to discourage switching.

      One touch switching will be a welcome improvement for those with simple broadband and landline deals. For customers with complex multi-component packages it may not be quite as simple, and we can expect certain big companies to take maximum advantage of any complications.

    3. Avatar photo Big Dave says:

      No and you will be required to leave the infrastructure of the supplier you are leaving in place unless they decide to remove it as it is their property. So if you have Openreach based fibre and go to CityFibre you will be required to leave the Openreach ONT and incoming fibre in place. Could start looking a bit messy…….

    4. Avatar photo Andrew G says:

      Actually, there’s no obligation to leave somebody else’s now unused individual connection infrastructure on your property (unless you’ve signed a wayleave agreement). Legally the kit is the ISP/Openreach property, but that doesn’t give them the right to leave it there in perpetuity. If it’s a big deal, write to the owner of the infrastructure, and ask them to remove it within (say) three weeks.

    5. Avatar photo Martin says:

      Could get a bit messy if you switch to an ISP who uses infrastructure that should be there but isn’t.

    6. Avatar photo Andrew G says:

      It could. If you remove a connection yourself, then the network owner won’t even know until the go live date on some new connection is missed. If the ISP remove it, then they can declare the property “unserviceable” – certainly has happened with Virgin Media, although more often than not they’ll not do that as it turns away future customers.

      The obvious thing to do is not to remove kit if there’s any chance of going back to the previous network whilst at the same address. In the case of my old VM connection, there’s no chance I will ever go back to Virgin Media, so it’s of no concern. If a future resident at this address wants a VM connection, VM would treat that as a new install – but chances are by then they’d be wanting to do a new XGS-PON connection instead of reuse the existing 30 year old coax.

  3. Avatar photo K says:

    I can see a problem with this. I have BT FTTP and ordered a service with another provider for a different part of our building, also FTTP. The new provider cancelled my BT FTTP and tried to replace it with their own service, even after i made it clear i wanted two FTTP connections and to keep BT. If this was done with only 1 day to complete i would have had to pay BT >£600 termination charge because of the mistake. The fact that there is a delay of 10 days at present saved me from this.

    1. Avatar photo anonymous says:

      At a guess that was down to poor customer service by a large ISP, where the original agent understood the request, but couldn’t or didn’t over-rise the system default of cancelling an existing line?

      That’s why some people choose to pay a bit more and go with the likes of A&A, uno, IDNet, or Aquiss.

    2. Avatar photo Anonymous says:

      This would have been caused by the provider following “OFCOMs best practice for supplying a new service” which states where there is a working line at a property, this line should be taken over by a new provider.

      I have seen it all too often where we have requested a new line specifically. But because of this policy, openreach have either cancelled or delayed an order or even ignored our request for new install altogether!

      I agree that the 10 days for working line take overs is a good thing as it helps protect against erroneous transfers where requests have been made either in error or fraudulently. I fear that if this gets moved to 1 day switching, its going to cause some major issues especially for those more vulnerable

    3. Avatar photo Iain says:

      I understand it’s stressful, but ultimately you’re not liable for hundreds of pounds when an ISP fucks up.

  4. Avatar photo SAd47uk says:

    I am not surprised one little bit, it is Ofcom after all, not that I would have used it if it was available when I changed from FTTC to FTTP.

    1. Avatar photo Fibre Scriber says:

      Brill , You’re a mind reader!

  5. Avatar photo Dave says:

    Ive got OR FTTP and Cityfibre FTTP to the same residential property, both live and both being used.
    Recently changed ISP on the CF line, its seperate and no risk of touching the OR line. Will be interesting what happens after this comes in, can imagine all sorts of mess! Could be wrong, but I would have concerns.

    1. Avatar photo Iain says:

      Interesting, I’m almost surprised you managed that. Right now it’s way too hard to switch between CityFibre ISPs. Usually folks have to cancel their existing service first, which is ridiculous.

  6. Avatar photo Jan says:

    They should make it easier to migrate your telephone number away without cancelling the service

  7. Avatar photo Tom says:

    £400 to £600 for membership of the system is just not viable for small outfits / sole traders either reselling wholesale products or small community / volunteer run networks with a few dozen subscribers. A order of magnitude lower membership fee plus a tiered switching fee would be much more equitable given that user churn is minimal.

    From the TOTSCo Q&A “Will small resellers who have approximately 100 connections with a wholesale provider, like Daisy or Zen and directly bill the customer need to register with the hub as well, or is it only for CPs?

    Any providers responsible for working with end users, either losing or gaining, is classed as a CP and will need to register.”

    1. Avatar photo Eccles says:

      Yes all ISP’s need to register so that they are issued with the 3 character code (like the RID that is used with Openreach migrations, the same purpose). There is no fee for that. The smaller providers can then choose to pay the £400 – £600 annual fee and interact directly with the TOTSCo hub or they can choose one of the 3rd party integrators who will presumably charge a smaller fee as they will do the interaction with the hub for many ISP’s.

  8. Avatar photo Tom says:

    The TOTSCo charging brefing document says otherwise.
    “The annual charges for each user (RCPID) will comprise of two elements:
    An annual subscription charge to cover the costs of maintaining and supporting an RCPID. Our non-binding indicative range of this charge is between £400 and £600…”
    and
    “Based on our conversations with managed access providers we believe that there will be two models of managed access provision. In one model, the CP user onboards directly with TOTSCo … and is billed directly … TOTSCo will charge the user in the same way as a direct user. The managed access provider may charge additional fees to the CP user.
    In another model, the managed access provider performs all the onboarding and ongoing first-line support for its CP customers and pays all the subscription and usage charges to TOTSCo on behalf of its customers. In this model, the annual subscription charge to the managed access provider for each CP they manage, will be discounted to reflect TOTSCo’s corresponding cost savings. The level of discounts will be determined in the Q4 price-setting exercise.”
    In the latter case I can’t imagine the discount being anywhere anywhere near enough to bring the fees down to something reasonable for small resellers.

  9. Avatar photo TomD says:

    For those AltNets who’ve spent a lot connecting expensive rural properties I guess this is a disaster isn’t it? Their business model is built on a long income stream to recoup the initial investment, which could suddenly be cut off on switching.

    Thinking specially of Gigaclear and County Broadband (who I notice aren’t yet members of TOTSCo) – can customers just drop them and go for OR (for example) just like that? Or does the new provider have to pay something for the lost investment?

    1. Avatar photo Andrew G says:

      Don’t think it makes too much odds – altnet customers are by definition early adopters and engaged with switching, so the altnets should have built their business on realistic churn rates. Regardless of one touch or not, customers are only tied in for the period of any fixed term deal, after that they can switch, and if the losing ISP has unrecovered costs, that’s down to them to recover by recruiting more customers.

Comments are closed

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