Broadband News

Chancellor hints at Government setting a copper switch off date

We are already in a period of consultation in the telephone industry around the switch off of the old voice network (WLR PSTN) network thus moving millions of WLR lines to a new voice over broadband service, but plans may have to accelerate if a full copper switch off date is set. The voice over broadband (VoB) service that will replace WLR will work over copper, part fibre or full fibre.

The Chancellor Philip Hammond is rocking the boat and doing his best to promote the vision the Government has of 50% of the UK having full fibre access by 2025 and 100% in 2033 and in a meeting on Monday in the UK Parliament, Ross Hawkins a BBC journalist for the BBC Today programme heard the Chancellor touting plans to announce a copper switch off date (clip from BBC Today show 17th July available online - 1 hour and 18 minutes into show)

We will use the full range of tools available to Government including announcing a date for copper switch off...

Quote from Chancellor as repeated by Ross Hawkins, BBC

This is not the first mention of copper switch off, in a speech to the CBI back in May the topic was raised.

Full-fibre networks are faster, more reliable, and cheaper to operate than their copper predecessors.

Over a million premises already have direct access to them 70 % of those connected in the last 18 months alone.

But if we are to achieve our ambition of a truly high-speed economy, and keep up with our competitors, then we need a step change in our approach.

So I am now setting a new target to see full-fibre to the premises connections being available to 15 million premises, that’s the majority of homes and businesses, by 2025.

This is ambitious and it will require industry to connect more than 2 million additional premises a year for the next seven years.

We won’t do that by government diktat.

We will do it by creating the conditions for the market to deliver and we will use all the tools at the government’s disposal to ensure that target is met and we’ll go further, by committing to finish the job – and deliver a nationwide full-fibre to the premises network by 2033.

Running both copper and fibre networks indefinitely will not benefit either the consumer or the industry.

so we must start thinking now about that switchover and how to sharpen the incentives for industry to move customers away from copper and on to fibre.

And Matt Hancock, the DCMS Secretary, will set out our strategy to deliver these ambitious targets in the Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review, later this Summer.

Chanceller talking at 2018 CBI Annual Dinner

The Today programme featured Clive Selley from Openreach talking about the cost implications of a copper switch off, with the CEO suggesting that a full switch off would mean a price increase of around £5/m per line at the wholesale level. Currently FTTP services are priced the same as the equivalent speed FTTC services, but if FTTC is available there is a £1.60/m price premium due to the forced price reductions by Ofcom in the wholesale cost of the GEA-FTTC 40/10 service. It may be that Clive Selley was referring to the extra cost for those who currently consumer ADSL/ADSL2+ based services in upgrading to a FTTP product, which seems likely given that the 18/2 GEA-FTTC service is £4/m at wholesale prices.

A lot will hinge on the timescales involved, and given the complexity involved in a copper switch off that is going to affect some 20 million to 30 million premises a lot of planning will be needed and serious questions around areas such as burglar alarms and copper lines used for emergency phones in lifts. We suspect the Chancellor may announce a target date, but this cannot be before 100% of broadband lines are on full fibre and the problems in particular arise for those who have no interest in broadband (hard to believe but there are people) and need to have fibre rolled out to them and since this is a switch-off of copper this means not just to the edge of the pavement but actually into the home. Other questions arise too, i.e. are dormant lines e.g. homes where phone and broadband is via the coax of Virgin Media does Openreach have to replace that copper line with a fibre one, or can it skip that home until someone orders a service that needs their network? Another area is stubborn landlords blocking work to upgrade existing copper infrastructure to full fibre infrastructure.

The decisions are also not all down to Openreach, the MPF LLU operators such as TalkTalk and Sky need to be on board, currently TalkTalk has stated it is going to continue its MPF voice service after 2025, i.e. DSLAM in telephone exchange to terminate the voice line.

At a time when rivals to Openreach are finally scaling up to deliver millions of premises of full fibre, if the Government was to seriously push Openreach via the regulatory instrument that is Ofcom for copper switch off it is no surprise that CityFibre seems keener for the current situation to continue.

Switching off the copper network is a vital part of moving the UK to a full fibre future, but leaving decisions on how it is done in the hands of the incumbent risks imposing costs and delays on consumers.

As Clive Selley’s comments on the Today programme make clear, Openreach’s approach to the switchover would result in unnecessary and unwelcome price rises for both consumers and internet service providers.

To put consumers and businesses at the heart of the full fibre upgrade, the Government needs to harness the competitive benefits of new market entrants and set out a carefully managed copper switch off process that prevents Openreach from hijacking the migration process, as this would re-establish its monopoly position and hold back the UK’s digital economy.

Greg Mesch, CEO of CityFibre

A copper switch off (and possibly removal to make duct sharing easier) is something needs to be discussed, but the cautionary notes about recreating monopolies is important. Though with Virgin Media coverage likely to reach 60% in the next few years, the monopoly position of Openreach for the local loop is on the wane, but we do have monopoly worries both around Openreach and the new fibre networks, i.e. the broadband landscape in terms of pricing, speeds, peak time performance and packages may be a lot more fractured with local franchises dominating.

Rolling out full fibre is not free of costs and it would be amiss to not raise a comment about a note in the CityFibre release where they said "CityFibre can bring consumers the benefits of reliable gigabit connectivity, without requiring them to pay more for it", which seems to be a way of saying hey we can do full fibre without the costs Openreach are talking about. A lot of this is down to the model that CityFibre operates on, i.e. key anchor tenants (e.g. council) to make a metro network profitable, and then business fibre to other businesses in the area and partners to ensure that eventual full fibre roll-out down residential streets is kept to a minimal cost with high uptake. Also as a new entrant with lots of investment available they don't have the regulatory baggage that comes with Openreach or the pension commitments. Currently the York UFO TalkTalk service is cheaper than the FTTC services from TalkTalk, but if CityFibre and other partners are to roll-out to 1 million premises and then onto 5 million it seems unlikely that the low prices will continue, or the old model as was seen with satellite TV is get people onto the platform and slowly increase the price over the years, since once you've gone full fibre you do not ever want to go back to a partial fibre or copper service.

To conclude, announcing a copper switch off date will be a popular move but the question is how will it be implemented and with the UK lagging in the full fibre league tables what we don't need is lots of shouting and arguing but rather implementation of full fibre networks at a pace that means we see new areas of 10,000 premises popping up every day.

Everyone now awaits the Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review and what tools it sees as being most useful to ensure that the targets are met, the 50% which is going to be more than 15 million premies due to the construction of new homes in the next six years is possible but a lot of that depends on what happens in terms of take-up and regulatory decisions between now and the end of 2021.

Update 6:30pm Changed iPlayer link so that it jumps to correct time point, remember you need to be logged in to the BBC iPlayer for it to work.


Maybe one small spelling error in para 4.

"this means now just to the edge of the pavement"
should this be "this means not just to the edge of the pavement"?

City Fibre also do not cover rural areas, wonder what their costs would be to cable Powys!

  • jumpmum
  • over 2 years ago

Fixed my typo earlier, and have also improved the iplayer link to jump to the appropriate part of the audio file.

  • andrew
  • thinkbroadband staff
  • over 2 years ago

Does 100% mean 98% and the remaining 2% will be request lead as long as it doesn't cost more than £3400

  • nobroadband
  • over 2 years ago

@nobroadband. May I suggest you wait and see what the Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review has to say but even then I doubt that it will deal with specifics such as costs for another 20 years or so.

  • MCM999
  • over 2 years ago

£5 per month extra, but to what obvious benefit? The existing copper delivers adequate speed to most people, as evidenced by the fact that there are still plenty of basic ADSL2+ connections around even where FTTC is available. I don't see the point in replacing copper for its own sake - yes, fibre is theoretically more elegant and doesn't have problems like distance dependent speeds, but that doesn't seem compelling.

  • TechnoLion
  • over 2 years ago

@TechnoLion, the benefits to the customers who are happy with their present service may be limited (or even nil) but there would surely be a long term reduction in costs to the supplier(s). We might hope that this is passed onto the customer. I'm sure there are others who can comment more authoritatively but surely; reduced maintenanace, reduced fault numbers and couldn't some of the smaller exchanges go? Then there's the value when the house is sold. Plenty of people are off, even now, by slow broadband. There is more benefit than you think.

  • JHo1
  • over 2 years ago

What was it on news today? IIRC up to 30y.o. now watches more on Netflix and Amazon than sky, the average age of BBC viewers is over 60, it's only a matter of time before a large proportion of people will be wanting fibre speeds.

  • burble
  • over 2 years ago

Admittedly I'm taking that £5 per month figure at face value, but I assume it includes the benefits from reduced maintenance etc. I'm not disputing that slow broadband can be a problem, just saying that it doesn't seem to be necessary to have FTTP to avoid it - FTTC delivers good enough speeds for several simultaneous HD streams to most people.

I'm talking here about the idea of a copper switch off really, which seems to be a lot of expense for not a huge gain in practical terms. FTTP may well make sense in specific areas, and for new builds it's the only sensible choice.

  • TechnoLion
  • over 2 years ago

@Technolion they are talking about 15 years time. 15 years ago ADSL MAX hadn't even been released. When it was released (2006) a number of people said "what's the point, 2Mb/s is more than enough for what most people need". Bandwidth requirements grow constantly - whilst we may not think more is required 15 years is a long time and we may be thinking 1Gb/s is not enough by then let alone 40Mb/s. If most of the world has gigabit connections then services will grow to fill them and anyone that doesn't will be left unable to partake in the modern world.

  • ian72
  • over 2 years ago

Well, I'm a bit sceptical that we'll ever need gigabit. I've been around long enough to have gone from dialup -> 512k ADSL -> ~ 5M ADSL -> 40M FTTC, and each jump is less significant than the last, though still worthwhile. I'm happy with what I have now. But I could be wrong and there may be some amazing upcoming high bandwidth application I haven't thought of.

The post also mentions voice-only customers. I would have thought you could replace those with some kind of wireless solution with a standard interface for a phone rather than have the expense of running cables just for that.

  • TechnoLion
  • over 2 years ago

@TechnoLion. You are short sighted. Future generations are going to benefit massively from this. Data usage is only going to go up and new technologies will use the bandwidth. As someone already said, Netflix (and other streaming services) is the way the world is going. Not to mention gaming has recently become the most popular form of entertainment (yes overtaking TV/Film/Sports). Gaming benefits a lot from FTTP.

  • steve14
  • over 2 years ago

JHO1 writes:
there would surely be a long term reduction in costs to the supplier(s). We might hope that this is passed onto the customer.

ROFL as a pig flies past my window!

  • mike41
  • over 2 years ago

I remember back when people were saying we'd never need FTTC... smh.

  • DrMikeHuntHurtz
  • over 2 years ago

£5pm per line? That low?

To get the cost as low as possible is going to need the exact opposite of what Greg Mesch is suggesting ... BTW/Openreach is going to have to decide on the order & priority of things being switched off.

Greg's right that some individuals may not find the price to their liking. but if we, as a nation, want the best outcome nationwide, we have to put aside some of the petty concerns from competition.

Now Matt Hancock is no longer in charge, there might even be a chance it happens!

  • WWWombat
  • over 2 years ago

Too many, including the Chane=cellor, are assuming that 'everyone' wants broadband to use for internet and other services. A significant number, mainly older people, do not want the internet and never use it. Copper (or in some cases aluminium) to the home is perfectly adequate for their telephone only needs. So they are very unlikely to want to pay extra for VoIP equipment as there is no benefit to them and some will not be able to afford it anyway.

Please will people stop assuming 'everyone' wants or even needs these services. We managed perfectly well without them for many, many years.

  • michaels_perry
  • over 2 years ago

Copper Switch Off? What about the lead cables, and in my case, aluminium! Several streets in central Winchester use Aluminium pairs connected to a 60 year old cabinet.

In the last 8 years I have been with BT, Openreach has visited at least 20 times, and patched up this cable. I get ADSL2+ but that's the limit.

Last year Openreach offered to replace this old cable by copper and "Infinity would be available". It almost happened, but changed their mind. I am off to Virgin CATV.


  • Gethryn
  • over 2 years ago

Plenty of rodding of ducts and chambers locally to check for blockages so they can 'roll out fibre' and that is causing lots of faults for services provided over copper. Where ducts exist (and even where they don't) there is a five year block on digging up the newly laid pavements so while they might lay fibre in the main duct there can be no fibre duct access to any properties.

So round here its a case of forgetting the government deadline Openreach might eventually get round to doing something a decade or two after a copper switch off date. I'd bet they'd sooner lose customers first.

  • M100
  • over 2 years ago

In B4RNland (N Lancashire, S Cumbria and the Yorkshire Dales) we have already gone down the Gigabit FTTP fibre optic route, so as far as we are concerned BT/Openreach can switch off their ancient 'twisted copper pairs' network and get a few ££ back in scrap copper.

Let's just remind ourselves, Alexander Graham Bell patented his first workable telephone system using tiny copper wires in 1876, in Queen Victoria's reign.

It may have been cutting edge tech then, but nearly 150 years later (142 years to be very exact), forcing highspeed high bandwidth data down copper wires is very 'old hat'.

  • B4RN_Volunteer
  • over 2 years ago

Yes I wouldn't be surprised if the Gov switched us off altogether. There is no way we will ever get fibre, superfast, medium fast or even steady slow fast. Sinking in W. Cumbria.

  • galacticz00
  • over 2 years ago

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