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Ofcom announce new framework to support super-fast broadband
Thursday 07 October 2010 10:07:50 by Andrew Ferguson

Ofcom is bringing some new acronyms into the UK broadband lexicon today, VULA - Virtual Unbundled Local Access and PIA - Physical Infrastructure Access. These terms arise from a review of the wholesale local access market and are an attempt to improve the level of competition in Next Generation Broadband, which generally means more options for consumers at lower prices, which will then drive take-up and hopefully push roll-out beyond the projected two-thirds coverage.

  • Virtual Unbundled Local Access - system to allow competitors to access the new BT fibre products, with a level of control that is similar to what they can achieve with existing LLU options.
  • Physical Infrastructure Access - designed to make it easier/cheaper for competitors to deploy their own fibre infrastructure by giving better access to BT ducts and telephone poles.

The two players that are targeted by this latest review are BT across the UK and KCOM in the Hull area. Virgin Media, while it has a Next Generation network serving almost 50% of UK premises, is not considered to have SMP in this area due to its take-up levels, therefore giving BT a market share of 84%. Those who are calling for wholesale access to the Virgin Media network will thus see a long wait before Ofcom force them to open it up. Some may also be disappointed to see that the PIA product is limited to only requiring BT to open up their poles and ducts, although Ofcom may look at extending this in the future. In some cases it could be prudent to allow access to those belonging to other network operators as these could allow easier and cheaper next-generation deployments.

If you've been involved in broadband since the start of the 21st Century, you will recall similar reviews in 2002 and 2003 that lead to the creation of full and shared local loop unbundling. This change allowed a move away from the limited availability in 2004, with some operators (TalkTalk) able to offer 'free' broadband in 2006, leading to a sea change in UK broadband, with TalkTalk now available to some 85% of UK households.

The existing option of sub-loop unbundling that has been used by Rutland Telecom to provide FTTC in some areas will continue, but the PIA method may help to further reduce costs, making it easier for them to deploy to more areas. Additionally it would appear that in the near future Openreach will be trialling a FTTC product that is installed by the broadband provider, and hardware that is not Openreach branded. This may seem a small thing, but for many firms, they prefer the consumer to see no mention of BT or any of its groups when customers are dealing with them.

BT is in the process of defining its VULA-based product, which will then be looked at by Ofcom to ensure it is fully compliant, though it seems further industry discussion is still required to fully specify what these requirements are. For new build fibre deployments, there will be more news from Ofcom who will issue an updated set of guidance.

In summary, no firm deadlines or pricing, but it does bring the hope that we may see some of the price and product competition that has given the UK such a high broadband take-up. Critics will point out that this competition has led us to have highly confusing products, where phrases like 'fair use policy' can hide a myriad of policies, with 'unlimited' sometimes meaning 40GB in a month with one provider but with others it could mean 1000GB a month.

What is clear though is that while there is a demand for speed, if this means a large price rise (in the region of £10 to £20) many consumers will not be prepared to pay and would rather continue to moan and nag about an existing product. If this review results in the premium for Next Generation Broadband decreasing, without reducing the product to the performance level of first generation broadband then it is to be welcomed.


Posted by GMAN99 over 7 years ago
Is that a popping cork I hear Cyberdoyle? ;o)

I've made a few comments on this in the Ed article, its worth a read or skim of the full document, it looks like a nightmare to sort out. Its an eyeopener in terms of PIA, Virgin seems to be the only party interested at the moment and have lots of demands they want enforced and don't seem to want to pay much.
Posted by GMAN99 over 7 years ago
I don't understand the duct reservation side of things in that allocation has to be the same for both BT and other CP's, you would think as its their infrastructure they'd be entitled to a bigger slice? I just hope the CP's are going to be paying to cover everything in terms of maintenance of ducts etc etc. If everyone is going to be sharing the ducts everyone should pay the costs of all areas
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 7 years ago
My hope would be that the smaller providers are heard too, the Rutland Telecom types. They are at a point, where they could grow and other a reasonable alternative in a number of areas.

Looking back at the LLU market, it is not always the first to exploit that makes the big killing. Where is Bulldog now?

Part of Virgins issues are the difficulties in adding more infrastructure to an area, i.e. objections to street works which add to costs of more roll-out. Duct sharing avoids most of this.
Posted by GMAN99 over 7 years ago
Yep Rutland/Vtesse this would make their life much easier. It just seems like a minefield, I wouldn't want to attend any of these meetings :)
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 7 years ago
On duct reservation, presume this is to avoid BT filling ducts as a route to stopping others having access.

Cost is the big one, if VULA is so cheap Openreach provides it at a lose, then further NGA roll-out is hard to justify. If it makes them profit they'll be happy to roll-out one hopes.
Posted by GMAN99 over 7 years ago
Well surely they can't be made to provide it at a loss. What I don't understand is why the focus on SMP? BT Infrastructure will always be the leader in this area apart from Hull. This is surely about encouraging super-fast broadband rollout so why ignore the 50% of the country Virgin ducts? Its a massive mistake in my eyes. BT and Virgin as the biggest in this area, the same should apply to both
Posted by cyberdoyle over 7 years ago
no corks popping until we see the T&Cs, my guess is they will be so complicated and expensive it will still work out cheaper to dig it yourself. The last time I saw any they were ridiculous. I hope Ofcom is looking into it properly...
Posted by themanstan over 7 years ago
Hooray for Sky suggesting the coinvestment/cost-sharing model for new ducts. I hope that this does get approved as it reduces infrastructure roll-out costs significantly by reducing duplication.
Posted by GMAN99 over 7 years ago
It will be complicated and expensive you can guarantee that much.
Posted by Somerset over 7 years ago
cd - how do you dig yourself across roads and pavements?
Posted by Somerset over 7 years ago
Who pays to unblock ducts?
Posted by Somerset over 7 years ago
ps. TalkTalk selling FTTC.
Posted by themanstan over 7 years ago
Very interesting read... 7.109 effectively VM saying that the survey work should be supplied FOC... what a cheek!
Posted by GMAN99 over 7 years ago
Yep, basically saying they should already know capacity of their own ducts. Wonder if VM do? I can see lots of mud flinging on this one.

I thought Ofcom was being binned by the condems anyway
Posted by themanstan over 7 years ago
I wonder whether duct information where a particular client is served, e.g. MOD or GCHQ, is excluded from this? OFCOM hasn't made that clear, at least I haven't seen anythign relating to that. Could be an interesting Quango vs Ministry handbags at dawn event.
Posted by otester over 7 years ago

I'd imagine it's no better than BT's network, apparently BT doesn't even know who has an aluminium line or not.
Posted by c_j_ over 7 years ago
1) Request to article authors: when referring to BT, can you please make it clear which of the (allegedly independent) parts of BT you mean? IE Retail, Openreach, Woolsale.

2) Virgin and "infrastructure investment" (or even "competent") don't belong in the same sentence. The streets near my home have recently been demolished and rebuilt en masse, the pavements dug up and relaid; a few hundred homes total. There was cable in the streets from the Birmingham Cable era. There is apparently no longer any prospect of the new homes having cable!!
Posted by CaptainHulaHoop over 7 years ago
cable company in my area made me laugh, was telewest at the time..more than one new housing estate built, very near existing cable areas, like next street, and they didn't go there?
even some of the new homes have the internal part already installed, coax and copper pair for phone put into the house as was being built from front of house to living room, some even with mini ducting to the house, but they didn't ever feed onto the estate?
Posted by otester over 7 years ago
@c_j_ / CaptainHulaHoop

Could well be similar to the situation in Southampton, all the ducting is there, but the system got turned off when VM ditched analog. They never digitised the area.

Could well have been due to take up.
Posted by New_Londoner over 7 years ago
It will be interesting to see if the many companies that have complained about not having access to ducts etc now come forward and invest in building networks. I suspect it will be some time before many actually commit their own funds in any significant way.....
Posted by GMAN99 over 7 years ago
As per usual New_L they'll all want it for next to nothing, including Virgin
Posted by c_j_ over 7 years ago
@otester re ducting etc

In principle you could be right. In practice this already was/is a digital area (one of the last in Birmingham to go digital) so there must be a different excuse. The houses were there and cabled before the rebuild, the street cabs are still live - they serve my street, but not the rebuilt houses?

incidentally if anybody wants to buy the domain name now's your chance:
Posted by otester over 7 years ago

VM has a habit of doing this, maybe skipping their sales system and going to management level might work.

Could also be cabinet capacity, new ones aren't cheap.
Posted by AspieMum over 7 years ago
As I can only get about 1.5MB because I'm too far away from the exchange its going to take some fibre connections for me to get broadband that's broad enough to cope with a level of use that probably doesn't need more than 8MBs. I don't really need superfast broadband but I'd have to pay for it just to get broadband that would enable all 3 of my kids to do homework at the same time (2 on laptops and one on the desktop computer) when 8MB/10MB would probably be fine if I could get it (and certainly the 20MB SKY advertises would).
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