Openreach launches consultation to create road map for shift to full fibre
Openreach exists to serve multiple providers and with the Fibre First roll-out rapidly approaching a footprint of 1 million premises on its way to 3 million by the end of 2020 it is time for Openreach to consult on how providers would like to migrate customers onto the full fibre network and then eventually how the copper network should be retired.
To make the transition as fast and beneficial as possible, Openreach is seeking input from Communications Providers on three key areas:
- How it builds the new network, which is growing fast
- How the industry should migrate customers smoothly onto the Openreach network, once it’s built and
- How Openreach should eventually retire the existing copper network.
Within the consultation, Openreach has also outlined a number of guiding principles, which it says will be crucial to achieving a successful transition. These include:
- Building contiguous footprints within its exchange areas to avoid creating new not-spots
- Working closely with CPs to upgrade every customer in those areas quickly once the new network is built
- Offering a compelling, simple portfolio of products that supports new retail voice and broadband services
- Upgrading the large majority of people voluntarily, whilst developing an industry process for late adopters
- Withdrawing copper-based services progressively
- Developing a consumer charter with industry and Ofcom that encourages transparent communications to homes and businesses affected, and includes protections for vulnerable customersKey points from Openreach FTTP migration consultation
Developing a bulk migration process achieves several things beyond improving take-up of the new network, by doing bulk upgrades it should be faster per property as a team can start at one end of an urban street and work their way along the street, retail provider support teams can dedicate a small team to handling any queries the public has before and afterwards, for the public it may be less disruptive and for those not able to be at home during the week for installing the physical fibre if the neighbour is being done the same day they may be more willing to lend the neighbour the key for a day.
For those reading this and worrying that this will mean paying more per month, it is possible that the cost may be low enough by doing bulk upgrades than any £50 or £99 upgrade fee is waived by the retailer, especially if they get people to agree to another 12 or 18 month contract. The Openreach FTTP services are available at the same speeds as the VDSL2 service, but you get the connection speed that it says on the tin with FTTP and don't have problems such as electrical interference causing a one minute long retain of the line at random times. There is one regulatory snag for same price upgrades from the 40/10 FTTC service to a 40/10 FTTP service, since in areas where the speeds are good on the FTTC service the FTTP service has a regulated higher wholesale price, but if the copper is removed or the VDSL2 service is retired this regulatory intervention becomes a non problem.
The Digital TV switch over was a much simpler process as the vast majority had little or nothing to do, only those who needed new aerials or amplifiers fitted may have needed someone to visit but for full fibre it does require the company to visit and change the physical wire coming into the property.
Of course all of us will have our opinions on the best way to achieve a smooth switch over and competitors to Openreach such as Vodafone Gigafast and TalkTalk Fibre Nation will also be exploring similar issues, the difference with Openreach is that need to be seen to be open in consulting the providers who sell their sell services.
Openreach has increased the stated pace of its roll-out and is now saying they are passing 14,000 homes per week and consultations like this are so that the provider can start to talk about an ever increasing number of premises actually connected to the network. The premises passed statistics are often attacked as being meaningless in comments and on social media but they are the pre-cursor to being able to talk about take-up in subsequent months and with ambitions of 50% premises passed with full fibre by 2025 there is a good reason for tracking passed. Investors will be very concerned and would most likely pull the plug on further investment if in 2022 we are at a situation where six million premises were passed by full fibre but only a small fraction of those were connected and thus helping to provide a return on the investment. The exact take-up rate that investors are looking for is likely to be different for each provider, but we would suggest a take-up rate of around 1 in 3 three years into a roll-out would be seen as good but if it is under 1 in 6 then there will be lots of questions.
With the Openreach FTTP roll-out often being in areas that have a Virgin Media presence it will be interesting to see if Virgin Media reacts with targeted marketing since once people have switched to full fibre getting people to switch to Virgin Media will probably be harder.
While we do expect objections from competitors to some extent one reality of a progressive copper switch off and if that also entails removal is that the ducts are suddenly a lot emptier and therefore more available for things like supporting extra fibre to various bits of street furniture to bring the reality of multi Gigabit 5G mobile broadband speeds into the cities.