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Broadband ISP BT Confirm Plan for Openreach Exchange Closures

Thursday, Nov 16th, 2023 (9:13 am) - Score 14,040

The Chief Security and Networks Officer of UK ISP BT (inc. EE and Plusnet), Howard Watson, has today published a blog post that reveals the approach they intend to take with customers as part of Openreach’s plan to close around 4,600 exchanges across the country – starting with a pilot in Deddington, Ballyclare and Kenton Road.

First things first, if you’re unfamiliar with the plan and why it’s occurring, then we recommend reading the latest update on it (here). The short version is that the retirement of old analogue phone and copper lines means that Openreach will eventually only need around 1,000 “fibre” (FTTC, FTTP and G.fast etc.) exchanges – Openreach Handover Points (OHPs) – and thus it would not make economic sense to maintain the other 4,600.

NOTE: Openreach previously predicted that, by 2025, the number of copper broadband users being served by the old exchanges will fall to 1 million. The operator also plans to cover 25m premises with full fibre (FTTP) broadband by Dec 2026 – potentially rising to 30m by 2030.

Openreach has thus formed a long-term plan to close the vast majority of their older exchanges – known as the ‘Exchange Exit Programme‘. The aim is to conduct an initial closure of around 100 priority exchanges between 2027 and 2030, with the rest following gradually in the years thereafter. But before that, the operator plans to pilot their approach via an initial batch of just 3 exchanges.

Suffice to say that this is an extremely significant, costly and complex project, which will make the ongoing switch to all-IP phone and network services – occurring on both copper and fibre optic lines – look relatively easy.

The three pilot exchanges (switch-off dates)

Deddington, Oxfordshire – 29th March 2024
Kenton Road, Greater London – 21st September 2024
Ballyclare, Northern Ireland – 21st September 2024

However, what we haven’t heard yet is how ISPs plan to approach the closure of so many old exchanges, particularly with respect to their residential and business customers. The good news is that Howard Watson has today given a rough overview of the approach that BT plans to take, at least with respect to the pilot exchanges, and it’s not too dissimilar to the way they’ve handled the transition to Digital Voice.

Howard Watson, BT’s CSNO, said:

” BT will be offering consumer customers its new home phone service, Digital Voice – where calls are made over a broadband line. For business customers, we offer a full suite of Voice Over IP (VOIP) products which combine all the features of a traditional phone system with the flexibility of the cloud – supporting the smallest home offices to the largest corporations and government departments.

Our aim is to support customers every step of the way and to make sure that vulnerable customers and the UK’s Critical National Infrastructure providers are guided and protected as we exit exchanges. Ultimately, though, we will need everyone in these pilot areas to make the switch ahead of the deadline.

We’ll be contacting all residential BT customers yet to make the switch in each of the three locations at least four weeks in advance of any changes taking place to help ensure they’re ready to make the switch to a digital landline. Business customers will be contacted even earlier, to plan their migration to new All-IP services.

Residential customers who identify as vulnerable, have additional needs or rely on their landline will be provided with additional support. This ranges from free battery back-up units to engineer-supported installations and hybrid landline phones, which have a built-in battery back-up unit and can connect to the mobile network. Customers can also nominate a family member, friend or carer who will receive all the information about the changes on their behalf.

Business customers are also advised to check what devices they have connected to their landlines and should speak to their device provider or manufacturer about the compatibility with a digital landline before making the switch.”

Check out BT’s full blog post for a little more detail. A total of 105 exchanges are currently expected to have been exited by December 2030.

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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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28 Responses
  1. Avatar photo DIG says:

    If there are customers on copper with a Direct In Ground supply and no alternative except for a mobile phone signal prevent the exchange from being closed ?

    1. Mark-Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      So it’s worth remembering that most of this will take place post-2030 and by then FTTP coverage should have expanded significantly (Openreach will mostly be closing exchanges once FTTP coverage is at or very near universal).

      However, Openreach has previously warned that they may be unable to provide FTTP to everybody (i.e. issues of prohibitively high costs and permissions/consents to cross private land etc.) and “in these scenarios, customers may need to seek an alternative provider or technology solution.”

      So some questions do remain, but it’s hard to know what the actual picture will be like come 2030 and beyond.

    2. Avatar photo Zed says:

      If they’re using FTTC then once they’re on digital voice the local exchange can be closed. Irrespective how they’re fed from the cabinet.
      If they’re on exchange only lines then there is a problem and fibre or some alternative will need to be provided.

    3. Avatar photo Mark G says:

      BT and vulnerable customers, that’s a joke. Those criminals sold my partner’s mother with dementia a full sports package and broadband deal. She didn’t even have a computer..

      Took 8 weeks to cancel and we never actually got a call back from the vulnerable “care” team..

      Made Sky look competent and trustworthy,

  2. Avatar photo DIG says:

    As the PSTN will already be off by the time an exchange is removed what difference will an exchange removal actually make to a customer ?

    1. Avatar photo Dassa says:

      Whilst the PSTN might be off by then, some copper services (e.g. ADSL) may remain – these services will need to be terminated (probably by replacement with FTTP, maybe FTTC or in the worst case actual termination without replacement although I think that unlikely).

      Other services, like leased lines are provided from exchanges and these will need to be transferred to the handover exchange (which will prompt lots of discussion as leased line costs to customers are often related to distance from the exchange).

      The real fun will be other communications providers who have taken advantage of cheap (a relative term!) infrastructure and connectivity within exchanges and who will now have find alternatives. Expect a whole lot of complaining from CPs who will have to make business cases work without sponging off BT.

    2. Avatar photo Chris says:

      “ The real fun will be other communications providers who have taken advantage of cheap (a relative term!) infrastructure and connectivity within exchanges and who will now have find alternatives.”

      Sounds like an opportunity for the likes of city fibre, Vodafone & virgin etc to provide some capability.

      In reality i suspect openreach have a plan for this as this represents a sizeable chunk of revenue. Likely be a vastly smaller aggregation node in the vicinity of the former exchange where cp’s can hop on to an openreach shared uplink or their own dwdm’s.

      In my 20 years+ of ordering circuits to buildings and offices up, down & across the country they all went through a bt exchange somewhere, even the ntl / virgin circuits. Datacentre circuits pop up in the meet me rooms but typically pass through the local exchange too.

      Gets interesting when you need diverse routing and your on an island or need routes under motorways.

    3. Avatar photo XGS says:

      Yup. Depending on size of exchange the bypass node will often be nothing more than a chamber in the pavement/verge.

      This is all taking a really long time. Ofcom need to butt out IMHO. Across Europe, North America and elsewhere COs / exchanges are being closed already and in even more copper is completely gone.

      Excess exchanges gone, some real estate is released and costs for Openreach go down, which should be passed to customers if Ofcom decide to pay attention to something other than OLOs in colo facilities guarding their DSLAMs like Gollum with the One Ring.

  3. Avatar photo Kris Lord says:

    Isn’t this easiest for BT given their underlying provider will already have done all the hard work?

    How will it work for LLU providers who have equipment in these exchanges?

    Or will the move away from ADSL mean they’ve already moved out of these exchanges?

    1. Avatar photo Chris says:

      I guess they could always stand up their own exchanges or offer to pay openreach to keep those exchanges running?

    2. Avatar photo Roger_Gooner says:

      For an LLU operator who has kit in exchanges I’d be mildly amazed if this operator didn’t buy some of the exchanges from Openreach and even use the exchanges with other LLU operators. If my exchange (Northolt) is due to be axed then Sky, Talktalk and Vodafone should be quite capable of taking it over and running it.

    3. Avatar photo XGS says:

      And do what with it, Roger?

    4. Avatar photo XGS says:

      Northolt could be axed actually. It’s a headend exchange but only for itself – Huawei OLT went in at the end of 2010 and cabinets started going live July 2011.

      Unless there’s been some extensive FTTP build to it no reason for that sweet, sweet London real estate to not be redeveloped into either housing or mixed-usage.

      Zero reason for anyone other than a property developer to purchase it pretty much regardless of price.

  4. Avatar photo Gonzo says:

    Well it will eventually leave a load of nice old well built large buildings ready for estate agents to sell for all the immigrants in 2030

    1. Avatar photo XGS says:

      Given by 2030 Poland will be wealthier per capita than us while we keep enjoying high living costs and an economy largely about financial services and overpriced housing there should be plenty of more attractive destinations.

      As of last forecasts and data UK population increased by 6.9% between 2010 and 2020, may be only a 3.2% increase 2020-2030, in total 5.8% between 2020 and 2045.

      Inheritance will be about the only way for a young, mobile person to obtain wealth in the UK soon given we tax earnings into oblivion to minimise taxes on wealth so why come here to build a life?

      Perhaps if we try really hard to speed up our decline, I’m sure there are a few things left to break because we love our country, we can get the population changes into the red. It’s more difficult without freedom of movement allowing working classes without professional qualifications to easily access the EU labour market but not impossible.

      Legal immigration is pretty high right now though for sure. Australian style points system that so many brayed for isn’t quite having the effect they thought it would, is it? 🙂

    2. Avatar photo Ron Smith says:

      @XGS – May be all those walking over our war monuments and don’t value this country can find another place to live.

    3. Avatar photo XGS says:

      Pretty sure that didn’t happen at the weekend, John, and even if it did distasteful as it is it is probably legal.

      Sooner the country gets its head around that you can’t call others snowflakes while simultaneously demanding the full force of the, usually not relevant, law when people do or say things you don’t like the better.

    4. Avatar photo Pepstar says:

      What a completely unnecessary nasty comment, which has nothing to do with the article

    5. Avatar photo Ron Smith says:

      @XGS – It certainly did happen as it was shown on most of the news channels, who said it was illegal? just remember talking negatively about Muhammad isn’t illegal either but look what happens when people do.

  5. Avatar photo will tell says:

    They claim your landline phone won’t cost you any more. I would suggest that unless you change to vodafone, it will cost you 5 gbp per month more. Plusnet customers won’t even be able to have digital phone.

    1. Avatar photo Ivor says:

      but it doesn’t cost more. BB + phone costs the same whether it was DV or PSTN (where available). You can now pay less for a BB only service. What’s the complaint here?

    2. Avatar photo will tell says:

      Compared to vodafone it costs 5 gbp per month more.

  6. Avatar photo Bob says:

    I would assume the likes of Sky with lots of LLU will be already planning for the exchange closures
    By the time they start closing the exchanges most copper lines will have gone

    The economics of FTTH change when it comes to exchange closures. The few with lines where FTTH is not economically viable at present changes if it means eliminating them allows an exchange to close

    They key is the move to digital lines that will eliminate most of the legacy copper services

  7. Avatar photo Richard Crowe says:

    I got zero notice of the “upgrade” in migration to fibre. It wiped out my broadband for a full month due to Openreach. It’s not back yet. And my deal with provider is now worse than before.Took contact with my MP to get Openreach to work out why my address had become suddenly invalid!. My provider Premier were helpless. I get a lousy or no mobile signal so depend entirely on landline! Only way I could even complain I had no internet was thrust landline.. If my example is typical then watch out Openreach does not have the engineers or backup to make this work smoothly

  8. Avatar photo Bob says:

    Presumably BT have given notice to the LLU providers that they will need to move their kit in most or they will no longer be able to provide an LLU service

    Many ISP’s as well are not offering a digital phone service so that will become a problem. Most residential subscribers will not want the hassle of dealing with two providers

    For business customers a separate VOIP service can be an advantage as away from BT hat service can be portable so if you move office it becomes simple or if you office gets flooded or burnt down you can just set up elsewhere making diater recovery much more straightforward

    1. Avatar photo Ivor says:

      BT’s own business voice service is fairly portable. They have apps for phones as well as just being able to take the phone to another internet connection (it’s not tied to the hub / broadband line in the way their consumer digital voice service is)

    2. Avatar photo Anonymous says:

      And as usual Ivor, BT charge a lot for it. As consumer, free VOIP like sipgate was great with top ups for pstn calls and portable across differing ISPs and even has 999 access. SIPgate now closed to new consumer connections as they got flooded but had no subscription costs. As soon as subscription is mentioned I’m better off staying with just an inclusive cheap mobile phone plan…

    3. Avatar photo Ivor says:

      And you get what you pay for. BT offers a service that has performance guarantees and must meet more Ofcom regulations than Sipgate (or any “over the top” service) needs to.

      Perhaps Sipgate decided that having a load of users consuming resources and contributing very little revenue was not a good business model? I contribute to this too – I have an IP phone on my desk that has Sipgate among others configured in.

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