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EU accepts BT/Ofcom virtual unbundling plans for fibre broadband
Wednesday 02 June 2010 16:22:45 by John Hunt

The European Commission have announced that they have accepted plans submitted by Ofcom to require BT to provide virtual unbundled access to fibre connections rather than implementing full LLU for fibre. The proposal was put forward to the EU on the 23rd March when Ofcom opened their review of Wholesale Line Access (WLA) and Wholesale Broadband Access (WBA) to consultation (which ended yesterday).

VULA or Virtual Unbundled Local Access provides a virtual link to connect an end user back to a broadband provider in the exchange over BT's next generation fibre products which offer fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC) and fibre-to-the-premises services (FTTP). The end user is offered an Ethernet connection in their home on equipment install by BT. To help give providers the ability to differentiate their products and innovate in a similar way to LLU, they will be given some control over the end user equipment. This should hopefully allow the use of the platform to deploy TV services similar to those offered by Virgin or BT Vision.

The main reason VULA is needed is to help support the deployment of FTTC and open it up to the market. Sub-loop unbundling does exist which allows providers to take over the copper pair from the cabinet to the end users premises, but this is currently rarely used, largely due to costs. The introduction of duct sharing may however make this a more viable option although local planning authorities may object to families of green boxes appearing on street corners.

The Commission did point out that it believes prices should be based on cost (unlike Ofcom's proposal that BT can set prices based on demand and supply costs of NGA services). They are also keen to point out that Ofcom should mandate full fibre LLU as soon as it is technically and economically feasible and that VULA should be deemed a transitory product until it can be replaced. Ofcom stated in the consultation summary that it expects the product to exist for at least four years.


Posted by AndrueC over 7 years ago
I think it will exist long beyond that. Even when FTTC gets upgraded to FTTH I think it'll be GPON and I can't see CPs being any more keen to install their own aggregators in cabinets.

I reckon GEA is going to be end-game for CPs for a long time to come.
Posted by TaRkADaHl over 7 years ago
@AndrueC. True, to expensive for them to do so, I imagine they will avoid it for a long time.
Posted by krazykizza over 7 years ago
all talk and no work makes customers very impatient. less running to the EU/Ofcom and just build us a network that will still have capacity in another decade.
Posted by AndrueC over 7 years ago
@krazy:What do you mean 'running to EU/Ofcom'?
BT is regulated by Ofcom and Ofcom has to abide by EU regulations.

I stand to be corrected but all I see here is the regulatory framework in action. BT has submitted plans to Ofcom and Ofcom, in turn has had to submit them to the EU.
Posted by krazykizza over 7 years ago
Its all plans these days... red tape needs to be cut if were going to meet the 2012 deadline for 2mnps, let alone 100mbps by 2016.
Posted by JohnUK over 7 years ago
And here endeth the era of true LLU unlimited broadband
Posted by CaptainHulaHoop over 7 years ago
really john, the way i understood it was that GEA was basically an uncontended port from the openreach modem to the handover point at the exchange where it can then be routed to llu's own equipment. seems like an ok option to me, saves on llu's having to make big investment
Posted by otester over 7 years ago

LLU will still exist in its current form until they can offer the same (but faster) on the new network (BT's FTTC).
Posted by AndrueC over 7 years ago
@JohnUK:Not at all. The guaranteed, ring-fenced bandwidth that GEA offers means LLUOs are still in control of the bandwidth between the modem and their servers. The only change here is that they lose control over the connection speed.

LLUOs are still in a position to offer higher usage limits and/or prices and that's where most of the advantages of LLU lie.
Posted by TaRkADaHl over 7 years ago
krazykizza - Yet another person who has no idea how the real world of business works. You do realise that the network has been getting rolled out for quite a few years now? This isn't something that we are waiting for approval before getting rolled out, its been in progress for years already. Strangely, I don't know if you realised this, but replacing all exchanges/cabinets/copper/cabling/ducts cannot be done overnight... *shockhorror*
Posted by uniquename over 7 years ago
TaRkADaHI - Whilst you have a valid criticism of kk, I wasn't aware that FTTx involved any major cabinet or copper replacement, let alone exchanges.
Posted by TaRkADaHl over 7 years ago
@uniquename. FTTX has to integrate into the 21CN network, meaning the exchange needs to be upgraded, and then the cabinet needs to be upgraded to a small DSLAM to terminate the copper onto Fibre, also all the copper between the cabinet and exchange needs to get replaced with Fibre. There is a heck of a lot more that has to go on in the background as well to allow this to happen.
Posted by themanstan over 7 years ago
correct me if i'm wrong, but my understanding of BTs USO requirement allows them to place cabinets without planning permission (except in conservation areas). Other ISPs don't have this requirement, so don't have the planning exemption. This would mean that they would be required to obtain permission for any cabinet. I don't see permission requirements being lifted.
Posted by herdwick over 7 years ago
Industrial plant below 15m tall does not require planning permission other than in conservation areas. Nowt to do with the USO nor is it BT specific.

"permitted development" is the phrase you need
Posted by Somerset over 7 years ago
ISPs are not PTTs like BT, VM, C&W etc.
Posted by tikka69 over 7 years ago

Your comment :

" also all the copper between the cabinet and exchange needs to get replaced with Fibre."

Not as far as I am aware? The only new copper would be the tie cable between the splitter on the DSLAM to hand the voice back to the e-side would it not ?
Posted by TaRkADaHl over 7 years ago
Typo... not all copper is replaced, none really. They just add Fibre links between the cab and the exchange. Even PSTN is done over the Fibre now, thats what the 21CN switch was, they stopped using analogue and now use IP to do phone signals and switching. They don't put in new copper either, just use existing stuff between the cab in prem, short line = high speed :D
Posted by AndrueC over 7 years ago
@TaRk, @tikka:There is no replacing of copper. The current infrastructure is remaining in place and in use. What BT have to do is upgrade or add new equipment in the exchange and run fibre to a new cabinet. That new cabinet also has to be connected to the old cabinet. They might also need to upgrade exchange backhaul.

It's not the huge engineering job that TaRk implies but it's not trivial either since we're talking about installing a few thousand new cabinets.
Posted by TaRkADaHl over 7 years ago
@themanstan The ISP section of BT (BT Retail) do not have powers to put in cabinets, they are just an ISP like Sky or TalkTalk.

Openreach who own the exchanges and pretty much the whole damn network are allowed to put in cabinets becuase it benefits every ISP. If another ISP wanted to create their own network, like C&W did, then they would have to go through the same loopholes that BT did to get this sort or privilege.
Posted by Dixinormous over 7 years ago
@themanstan anyone with code powers from Ofcom can go digging in non-conservation areas with exemptions from normal planning regulations. Nothing to do with Openreach having a USO or anything else.
Posted by TaRkADaHl over 7 years ago
@AndueC. You do know that each cab will only support around 200 people (cant remember the exact number). If you have an exchange that supports 20,000 people (about average really) then you can have up to 100 new cabinets per exchange. Even if Openreach are only doing 2/3rds of exchanges and 2/3rds of cabinets on each exchange, at 5,500 exchanges in the Uk total that is a hell of a lot of work, I would count that as a huge engineering job myself. This isn't even taking into place rolling out 21CN into the exchanges (replacing most of the equipment) and running the fibre to each new cab!
Posted by AndrueC over 7 years ago
@TaRk:I think BTor are assuming that not everyone will need to be moved. It is still a large project but it's not as large as we first thought you meant. Customers that don't ask for FTTC are not impacted in any way. Their lines remain the way they are now.
Posted by TaRkADaHl over 7 years ago
@AndrueC. They will be impacted eventually, when the exchanges get upgraded from 20CN to 21CN they will initially install the 21CN equipment side by side whenever possible. But they eventually need to move everyone over to get rid of old gear, so they will simply switch people off of old legacy products onto new ones which involves moving the coppers termination point in the exchange so they now connect to the 21CN network. This will cause some downtime and is not optional in the end... they won't keep the 20CN network alive forever... and I have seen several exchanges which are now 21CN only.
Posted by cyberdoyle over 7 years ago
Suffice it to say they will keep the copper cash cow as long as they possibly can.
Vula won't help rural areas either.
It just seems a terrible waste to install equipment which will have to be replaced once everyone wakes up to the fact that copper can't deliver true NGA.
Posted by Somerset over 7 years ago
cd - please talk sense. If it makes business sense then copper will be replaced.
Posted by chrysalis over 7 years ago
somerset it does make business sense tho. The problem is it is only long term sense and somewhat untested, BT want the shorter term safer route. BT really should do a demand checker, but I expect they either too rigid or dont like the idea of seeing areas they think have no demand do have demand, and the lack of a demand checker also puts evidence to the point that the rollout is not only based on demand.
Posted by Somerset over 7 years ago
How would a demand checker work reliably?
Posted by GMAN99 over 7 years ago
And why would people wake up to this fact you talk of cyber? People will be more than happy with up to 40/60Mb down for years no doubt, just like we were all fine with 512, 2Mb, up to 8 and up to 24Mb, none of those speeds prevented us from doing anything at the time.

Its a staged release of products like any other business that's all. People were more than happy to buy HD TV sets and they'll be more than happy to buy 3D ones as well over the next few years
Posted by CaptainHulaHoop over 7 years ago
most people are happy as long as iplayer and other vod works ok, most peoplee don't check or care what speed their connection is...FACT
Posted by CaptainHulaHoop over 7 years ago
and even when a lot of people complain about slow internet, it turns out to be people that are not very computer savvy and have an old pc using very old versions of internet explorer that don't work well with modern websites.
Posted by CaptainHulaHoop over 7 years ago
the number of people i see that notice more of difference from changing to a modern broswer than they do from speed increases makes me laugh..
Posted by Dixinormous over 7 years ago
Full unbundling wouldn't help rural areas any more than VULA would. BT would still have to upgrade areas for others to unbundle them which they aren't going to do until the economics add up.

Different discussion, same comments as ever.
Posted by Somerset over 7 years ago
'BT would still have to upgrade areas for others to unbundle them '

Please explain.
Posted by chrysalis over 7 years ago
somerset I could ask how does their current plan work reliably, the answer is you dont know, end of the day demand for FTTC and cheap adsl are 2 different things, so you did ask a silly question. BT were proved wrong on adsl demand when they did the adsl demand checker.
Posted by Somerset over 7 years ago
Do meetings between BT and ISPs determine the roll out?

Maybe, hopefully, expansion of FTTC will be based on partial exchange areas where the number of cabinet users will determine the rollout. That would be progress.
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