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Openreach looking at towards a more symmetric future
Saturday 02 August 2014 13:43:43 by Andrew Ferguson

Joe Garner joined Openreach as its Chief Executive in 2014 and has held his first large briefing to world of tech journalists this week on the same day that the latest BT Group financial results appeared. For those who feel they have had a poor deal from Openreach in terms of fault repairs and quality of service a few important things were stated by Joe Garner.

  • He wants to change the concept of homeowners being considered 'end-users' and the providers being the Openreach customers, he wants Openreach to consider everyone an important customer.
  • Some 25,000 applications were made for the 1,600 vacancies at Openreach and he wants to try and ensure that of the 100,000 home visits per week for installs/repairs that lots more are down by Openreach staff, rather than contractors.
  • The Openreach Where and When website is due a revamp, and will have information at a more granular level to help people learn more about the roll-outs. He also highlighted that dealing with just postcode level information will not give the full story, due to the size of postcodes and things like exchange and cabinet coverage boundaries mixing up inside a postcode.

Fibre to the Remote Node and G.Fast combined with vectoring were the two main techie messages to come out of the briefing. While we have known that FTTRn was to be trialled in North Yorkshire via the NYNet project, down in London a few nodes will be deployed around the Tech City area to see if there is actual demand beyond the many thousands of words of complaint. FTTRn will deliver a GEA-FTTC based service, but since the node itself is self-contained and can be shoved in pavement chamber on a pole there is more scope for it being located closer to the properties it covers.Vectoring on the standard GEA-FTTC services got a short mention, but is still in the test phase, with the current self-install process and the need to ensure that all the various modems providers sell and consumers can buy from elsewhere will play nicely is the reason why nothing has appeared yet. Mr Garner was non-committal on the possible speeds, but the thinkbroadband crystal ball suggests we might see a 110 Mbps maximum speed product eventually, with longer lines still benefiting from an uplift.

Looking further into the future it is clear that while Openreach is doing some FTTP roll-out still, technologies that exploit the copper assets are still popular simply because it avoids the need to totally re-work the network and looking at it from the viewpoint of a busy road closing it as you string up overhead fibre over the last 50m of drop to each home is going to be expensive and unpopular, and as Sky has recently found out even bringing symmetric Gigabit to an area does not stop people complaining about new telephone poles. What we can expect is G.Fast combined with vectoring to deliver 500 Mbps symmetric type speeds, with the hardware placed on the last pole or pavement chamber before a group of properties.

We asked if there was a specific timeline for announcements on the £50m of extra funding that was found to extend the commercial roll-out, and the FTTRn stuff for Tech City around Old Street tube is part of this, but otherwise no specific dates or areas are available as yet.

What we look forward to now is the other telecoms operators coming up with news on how they plan to help areas like Tech City, London has a wide range of both fixed wireless and fibre based solutions available. The problem from what we can see is that Tech City is a rapidly changing area and a common feature we have seen has been landlords and other building owners asking for expensive wayleave agreements and being slow to respond delaying the install of better services. For a business balancing, rent per sq ft, nice cocktail bars and quality of Internet access are key things in the decision making tree on where to locate an office, maybe Tech City is not the best place for a start-up that wants cheap, symmetric fast Internet access.

The diversity of connections in the Old Street area is shown by the White Collar Factory that looked like a building site when we dropped by on 31st July, but lists AboveNet, BT, Cable & Wireless, Colt, Verizon and Virgin Media as all having fibre running past the site and available on the doorstep. Whether the raw and exposed aesthetic will involve getting this fibre into the main building so that start-ups can quickly rent a chunk of bandwidth or whether they will each have to negotiate from scratch a new connection is unknown, but they will be able to run around the rooftop 148 metre running track once the building is complete.


Posted by JNeuhoff over 3 years ago
This is good news. The more BT clings to old copper wire technologies, the more it will fall behind current standards. BT has already pretty much given up on FTTP, and on FoD, and for many small towns and rural areas BT is virtually not present anymore with any useful telecom products.

Why is this good news? Because this will give more and more alternative telecom companies a chance to come with some innovative genuine fibre-based, or perhaps long distance wireless, nextgen broadband products, something BT will never be able to do.
Posted by StevenageNeil over 3 years ago
@JNeuhoff I think you would be better off pointing the finger at bureaucratic planning regulations rather than BT as a Company.
Posted by burakkucat over 3 years ago
". . . and can be shoved in pavement chamber on a pole there is more scope for it being located closer to the properties it covers."

I suspect that in the haste to make this item public, the word "or" was omitted from between the words "chamber on".

Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 3 years ago
Debate the topic not fight each other.
Posted by WWWombat over 3 years ago
Any word on the physical wiring of an FTTRN node?

With a separate interconnect (ie the PCP), the tie lines help demarcate the work done by serious line engineers in Openreach from the "home visit" technical staff.

Without a PCP, it'll be interesting to see how they manage to keep the "ordinary" staff & contractors away from the innards of a hardened DSLAM - especially if it does get put down in a footway chamber.
Posted by WWWombat over 3 years ago
There is also the question of powering the FTTRN node. Will there be problems in putting power lines into existing footway chambers? Won't it cause some additional risk to users/staff, especially if the chambers are prone to flooding?

And will the boxes need metering? Or have they reached agreement with the electrical distribution firms to avoid metering?
Posted by TheEulerID over 3 years ago
It's far too expensive, and potentially dangerous, to run mains power into footway chambers. The efficient way is to use reverse line powering from customer premises. 48v at 100ma would provide over 4W per line, and the voltage drop would acceptable on short lines.

It would need very efficient electronics, but that's clearly essential to minimise heat dissipation for equipment installed in footway chambers.
Posted by Blackmamba over 3 years ago
Hi Broadband Watchers.
Look back 30 years how do you think the regenerators on PCM were powered up on junction cables. I just hope the CEO (Joe) lets the field staff and managers (Openreach) get on with their work that they are paid for and not be petty over regulations and he will get results very quickly.
Posted by WWWombat over 3 years ago
Agree the 48v makes sense. Plenty of that in the chambers.

Reverse powering looks to be in FTTdp, but is it standardised for anything else? Are there modems available now that would do that job?

If the RN nodes are always subordinate to an FTTC node at PCP, I guess it could be forward powered from there, even if a little longer distance.
Posted by TheEulerID over 3 years ago
24 SWG copper has a resistance of about 7 ohms per 100m, so for a copper loop, that will be doubled (I don't think earth return is a viable option). So that 100ma at 100m will drop about 1.4V. At 1000m it becomes a rather more significant 14v and the power delivered would be about 3W.

As to the availabity of reverse-power modems, then I'm sure if there's a demand, it will arrive. I don't think it would be technically difficult.
Posted by michaels_perry over 3 years ago
I note that there is no mention of the service standards for rural areas. We are still without any dates or confirmation for any potential fibre-based service. Why fiddle in towns that already have reasonable to good speeds when rural businesses are suffering extremely poor service?
Posted by FibreHasNoCopper over 3 years ago
Why oh why does Openreach both investing in everything but FTTP. It's cheap and simple to install and operate fibre and it won't need revisiting, at risk of guessing they'll probably recoup the installation costs by saving on the electricity they waste sending down the copper. Such a colossal waste of money trying to keep copper going and giving the country a dreadful service! Wake up customers, BT know they can string Govt along and tinker with mild improvements until the next round of funding.
Posted by TheEulerID over 3 years ago

The lowest vaguely credible average estimate for installing fibre per household is over £1k, that's an awful lot of electricity. If an terminating DSL takes about 4W per line (which is generous), then that's approximately that's about 35kWh per year, or perhaps £5. So it would take 200 years to recover the cost...

Do people never event do basic sanity checks on their claims?
Posted by TheEulerID over 3 years ago
nb. looking around for DSLAM power consumption figures, the following gives 150W max for 48 ports, or about 3W per line. Not VDSL I know, but it does for sanity checks.
Posted by Dixinormous over 3 years ago
Love a bit of FTTPR - Fibre to the Press Release.
Posted by JNeuhoff over 3 years ago
@TheEulerID: "The lowest vaguely credible average estimate for installing fibre per household is over £1k,"

Any links or sources for this bold claim? I seriously doubt that BT will come anywhere near such a low installation costs for fibre installs.
Posted by AndrueC over 3 years ago
@FibreHasNoCopper: Cheap and simple to install? Digging up roads (even micro trenching) isn't cheap. It costs far less to install a new road-side cabinet than it does to push fibre out to the several hundred properties it serves.
Posted by AndrueC over 3 years ago
@JNeuhoff: "for many small towns and rural areas BT is virtually not present anymore with any useful telecom products."

Lol - really? Gosh. So telephone lines aren't useful? ADSL2+ is not useful? My particular small town has had FTTC for over two years now.

You really should tone down the hyperbole.
Posted by fabrettitd over 3 years ago
Our exchange has FTTPoD - Had FTTC fitted recently engineer said they are in the planning stages of deploying Fibre in our street via the telegraph poles. Mine is outside :)
Posted by JNeuhoff over 3 years ago
@AndrewC: Stick to the topic, which is about broadband, not telephony. Quite a few use mobiles for the latter.

And yes, many small towns and rural areas are NOT being served by useful broadband services from BT, so for all intense and purposes BT isn't present for users from those areas, they are beyond BTs commercial reach.

BTW.: It's interesting to see that it finally dawns upon BT (though many years too late!) to think about symmetric broadband. We know of local wireless providers who have been doing symmetric broadband for years. A 10/10 up/down is far more useful than an ADSLx 1/20.
Posted by WWWombat over 3 years ago
This Report by Analysys Mason estimates cost per premises connected for both FTTP and FTTC:

FTTP averages near £3000ppc, while London is about £1600ppc.
Posted by WWWombat over 3 years ago

Look at the same report above. The average cost for FTTC (per connected premise) is one-fifth that of FTTP. Even with lhat advantage, the investment cost for FTTC requires a 12 year payback period (and longer for the BDUK-subsidised cabinets)

Look at the breakdown, and you'll see that the vast majority of the cost for FTTP is the civils for getting the stuff into the ground. Fibre might be cheap, but civil engineering isn't.
Posted by WWWombat over 3 years ago
@both of you
The inconvenient truth is that there is little business case for fibre for the masses - only a case for community-based charity.

The reality is that stepwise investment is the only way this will happen, with each step getting fibre deeper & deeper into the network, and investors getting a stable return. FTTC gets fibre to within 1km of the majority of the UK (within 500m on average). FTTdp is a likely second step that gets within 100m of most.
Posted by WWWombat over 3 years ago
@jneuhoff finally
BT has long had symmetric services targeted, as expected, at businesses.

SDSL has been around since 2003, and is so old it is being withdrawn. The common replacement is either EFM (ethernet first mile, copper bonding) or Fibre Ethernet.

Nowadays you will also see symmetric leased line services, which give a 1:1 uncontended route in the core network, but using GEA-FTTC as the access network component.
Posted by JNeuhoff over 3 years ago
@WWWombat: Thank you for the links, even though my question was directed at AndrewC who seems to have quoted from another source.

As regards SDSL: The vast majority of exchanges, especially in smaller towns and rural areas, never had SDSL. I am not going into the leased-line debate again, it isn't available in all areas, and in many other areas it doesn't make economic sense. Ask BT Business for quotes and availibility if you don't believe us, we did (and don't expect them to always reply!)

BTW.: The topic here is about broadband, not leased lines, anyway.
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 3 years ago
Broadband generally means, a service where backhaul capacity is shared to lower the cost of access well below that of a dedicated connection, often called a leased line.

Why asking BT Business for leased line quotes? Plenty of others will provide them, hence why CityFibre exist.

Posted by TheEulerID over 3 years ago

I would suggest you read the Broadband Stakeholders Report (by far the most comprehensive I've seen). Note that £1K per household is with a very high take-up.

Jersey's fibre broadband project is almost exactly £1K per household (with 100% enforcement - no copper) and the island's population density exceeds that of Surrey (the most densely populated UK county).
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 3 years ago
While I applaud Jersey for the roll-out of FTTP, the product is of concern since no reasonable cost unlimited option available, even at a slower speed.
Posted by JNeuhoff over 3 years ago
@TheEulerID: Thank you for your link. That's what I suspected: This installation price target can only be achieved when there is a near 100% takeup, which basically boils down to REPLACING all copper with fibre.

What are the average installation costs of a VDSL line, assuming an average takeup of 15%?
Posted by TheEulerID over 3 years ago

Jersey probably has particular problems with peering due to geography.

As far as "applauding" goes, then bear in mind that it's only possible with a local monopoly and political support. It's wildly different to the UK as a whole. Only Hull comes near.
Posted by TheEulerID over 3 years ago

So at least you accept £1K is not a silly number. I'd invite you to consider how 100% take-up could be achieved in the current regulatory environment which emphasises LLU, not to mention VM's network.

As far as FTTC goes, the commercial case is built round 20% takeup. That fits in with estimates of £200 per household (which I think is generally accepted).
Posted by JNeuhoff over 3 years ago
I have heard about cases with the Essex BDUK where the VDSL line installation costs exceeds £2000 per premise, assuming the normal low takeup rates, so we requested more details from the county on this. Similar inflated costs showed in parts of Suffolk BDUK. The counties usually hide the publications of the true costs under so-called 'commercial confidentiality' reasons.
Posted by TheEulerID over 3 years ago
The figure of £200 is a (very rough) national average.

A figure of £2,000 would be amazingly high. Is that per premises passed or just those enabled. If takeup is very low, then a large capital cost would be divided by a small number. If it's per premises passed, it would imply even a small cabinet would have cost approaching a quarter of a million pounds.
Posted by themanstan over 3 years ago
I´m not surprised about BDUK "cases", there will always be those scenarios where there are outlier costings.
And can be very easily conceived,such as a cab that serves a hamlet of a dozen or so properties, instant high expense, for which BDUK funding is ideal as seed funding.
Posted by Blackmamba over 3 years ago
Broadband Watchers (Costings on Cab)
Just checked the take up rate on Cab 12 HDJ the extra fibre used 300 Mtres in Subduct 100 tie plus two cards 90 customers on take up total homes 143 this in five months. (Surrey County council section)
Posted by JNeuhoff over 3 years ago
@TheEulerID: "A figure of £2,000 would be amazingly high. Is that per premises passed or just those enabled."

If memory serves me right, there was a news story in the EADT24 which recently reported about the BDUK "progress" in Essex. It was refering to 3 cabinets serving a total of 300 premises at the most. A reader estimated that, given a generous 25% takeup, and the known cabinet costs, it would cost an average of £2400 per installed VDSL service.
Posted by New_Londoner over 3 years ago
So not a number based on actual costs at all then, but an estimate that could be based on nothing in particular. Did the reader include their cost assumptions to allow others to sanity check them, or just this estimate of the cost per home?

Posted by ahockings over 3 years ago
BT are already testing the ECI 64v remote node.
A box maybe twice the size of a shoebox that can be stuck up a pole (with an aggregation point nearby).
These don't necessarily need reverse power from the customer. They can be fed power from the exchange using any spare copper pairs there may be.
A pretty neat solution.
Posted by ahockings over 3 years ago
Ok, it's slightly bigger than 2 shoe boxes.
See the ECI 64v at about 2:43 in this video.
Posted by Dixinormous over 3 years ago
Thought CapEx on the commercial rollout was considerably less than £100 per premises passed?

The £2.5 billion figure includes OpEx and £500 million of spend brought under the NGA umbrella.
Posted by JNeuhoff over 3 years ago
@New_Londoner: I am not going to argue with you, because whatever the installation costs in above mentioned example, they are quite execessive. Do you own Google search on the EADT and ispreview. Just keep your 'I am all right Jack' thinking to yourself if you are happy with your FTTC and the BDUK money pit.
Posted by New_Londoner over 3 years ago
The costs are only excessive if accurate, not if made up based on rediculous assumptions like the recent estimate of the value of copper in the BT network.
Posted by chrysalis over 3 years ago
So the self install has slowed down vectoring? yet no mention of lack of testing on ECI cabs.
Posted by fastman over 3 years ago
cchtlig you so have a choice you either wait for SEP ands see if oyu get any additional beneift or you work with your community to fund a private solution in your locality assume there are a number of you close to where you are - see openreach FAQ's
Posted by WWWombat over 3 years ago
North Yorkshire's project is spending £31.5m on cabinets (£10m is BT's share) bringing superfast speeds to 150,000. It upgrades 670 cabinets, so averages 220 superfast lines per cabinet.

That cost would be £47k per cabinet, or £213 per line passed, or about £700 per line connected at 31% takeup (same value as the Analysys Mason report).
Posted by WWWombat over 3 years ago
That isn't bad, considering that Analysys Mason estimated FTTC to be £500 per line connected at 31% takeup as a national average; The subsidised chunk of the largest rural county in England isn't ever going to be close to average.
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