The scale of the problem of Openreach cabinets at capacity
We looked the problems around VDSL2 cabinets being full or waiting on some other upgrade so that more orders can be taken back in April 2018 but what we did not share back then was that we had been tracking since January 2018 the number of cabinets at the capacity limit and we can now share that there are some 51 cabinets that were seen as being full in January 2018 which 11 months later are still showing as being at capacity.
The list was 68 cabinets long when we contacted Openreach for some more detail on why these cabinets were waiting but in the week or so since then the number has dropped to the 51 shown below. It should be noted that it is possible due to the way the waiting list and some interim capacity upgrades work that some people on the cabinets listed may have been able to place a migration or provider order since January 2018.
|List of 51 cabinets on waiting list since January 2018|
|Exchange Code||Exchange Name||Cabinet Number||Notes|
|WSDMS||DUMFRIES||116||FTTrN with 16 port capacity and work in progress to return some faulty ports to service|
|EAHAS||HADLEIGH||19||FTTrN with 16 port capacity, issue with system/records was blocking 5 ports and still showing as waiting list. Cabinet appears to cover an area of 12 premises.|
|EAHAS||HADLEIGH||20||FTTrN where all 16 ports are now in use. Cabinet covers an area of 25 premises.|
|NELEB||LEYBURN||10||FTTrN with just 16 port capacity. On 30th November there was one port apparently spare, but showing as waiting list again|
|SMSWD||SHIPTON U WYCHWOOD||2||Needs the copper cabinet to be expanded, with work due to be completed February 2019|
|LVSIM||SIMONSWOOD||76||Work to extend the copper capability was due to complete on 28th November, but cabinet is still showing as on the waiting list.|
Those cabinets with notes are from 6 examples we gave Openreach to seek further information on back in November. The surprise was that four of six long term waiters we asked about were FTTrN based, i.e. small 16 port DSLAM bricks.
There are of course many more cabinets that have hit a capacity issue during the year and the current list is running at some 3,120 cabinets out of the 81,409 VDSL2 cabinets we have in our database.
Across the United Kingdom the situation is that almost 1 in 20 premises trying to migrate or order a VDSL2 will see their order fail and providers are often very poor at communicating why the order the failed. The dangerous result of this is that some people shop around until a provider takes the order but this is a provider who 'temporarily' connects someone on ADSL or ADSL2+ until a VDSL2 port is available and there has been over the years the odd person who has had this happen when they intended to migrate between VDSL2 services.
|Coverage of Superfast Broadband and the impact of cabinets which are at a capacity limit as of 2nd December 2018|
|Standard Coverage Figures||Change Due to Capacity Issues|
30 Mbps and faster
|% Openreach Superfast|
30 Mbps and faster
30 Mbps and faster (All tech)
|Openreach Any Speed||Openreach|
30 Mbps and faster
|East of England||94.8||94.5||91.1||-3.1||-5.8||-5.6|
|Yorkshire and Humber||95.2||90.6||88.2||-2.8||-5.1||-5.0|
Percentages reflect the number of premises that are present in the various regions, thus a cabinet serving 450 premises being at capacity will have a greater impact overall than one serving just 180 premises. Coverage figures are taken from our analysis of coverage on 4th December 2018 and data on the cabinets with at capacity messaging from the 2nd of December 2018. The number of active VDSL2 lines on each cabinet is not accounted for, so the numbers will be lower in reality, but those people will also encounter issues in migrating so we have not attempted to compensate.
Openreach does offer a waiting list system so that providers can place orders on a full cabinet into a first come first served queue, but us of this is generally poor with many orders simply being rejected. In an online world that is always endeavouring to avoid any work for a human it is how broadband providers handle these edge cases that define good customer service.
In terms of the cabinet capacity slowing down take-up, while it is incredibly frustrating for those affected so long as the majority of cabinets do get capacity expansions to add more VDSL2 ports etc then seeing cabinets hitting capacity is actually a good indicator that people are buying the service in those areas. What the future holds for those areas where Fibre to the Remote Node (FTTrN) is deployed and the 16 lines are all used up is something that only time will reveal.
Demand for partial fibre (FTTC) has been climbing and looking back at our speed test data in Q3 2012 just 10.7% of tests were on a VDSL2/FTTC connection, jump forward to Q3 2016 and this had risen to 33.8% and in Q3 2018 it had climbed further to 47.3%.
Of course we gave Openreach an opportunity to add some comments alongside our various queries on the capacity issues and this is reproduced in full below:
Resolving issues that can cause delay in adding extra customer capacity in our network is a top priority for us and we have made significant progress over the year in reducing average waiting times. We have introduced a number of innovations such as fibre connectivity that uses power from one existing fibre cabinet to power a second cabinet - which has helped reduce the build time taken to commission and build new fibre cabinets by up to 12 weeks.
We’ve also introduced a raft of new measures to help speed up the building of extra capacity into our copper cabinets, such as cabinet top boxes which extend the size of our cabinets creating space for the extra connections required to provide additional fibre capacity.
In addition, we are working closely with our vendors Huawei and Nokia to develop quicker alternatives to building new fibre cabinets – which can traditionally take up to nine months to complete. We are about to launch technical trials for a fibre cabinet side-pod and new fibre cabinet equipment capable of supporting double the current capacity. Following successful trials we are aiming to start deploying this kit in the next financial year.
We continue to invest heavily in our fibre broadband network and have already upgraded and increased capacity on more than 25 per cent of our entire estate – over 22,700 fibre cabinets . We plan to have upgraded more than 40,000 fibre cabinets by the end of this financial year.Openreach spokesperson on VDSL2 cabinet capacity issues
We are not going to stop tracking the capacity problems now but will perhaps every six months or so return to do a summary of what is happening, unless of course we see a large spike in the number of cabinets on the waiting list.