Broadband News

Openreach looks set to replace ECI cabs with Huawei - UPDATED

It is looking like there will be a big chunk of work undertaken by Openreach to replace ECI based VDSL2 cabinets with the Huawei equivalent.

Our tracking knows of some 25,191 ECI cabinets that could be replaced, what we do not know is what sort of timescale is involved and how many will actually be replaced. Variables we suspect include whether an area is on the FibreFirst plans in which case a bulk move of everyone to FTTP may mean there is no point in doing the upgrade, for other areas where Openreach FTTP may be ten years away putting in new electronics may be worth the expense.

One advantage to the Huawei cabinets is that the performance is measurably better than the ECI ones, the combination of G.INP and vectoring are two big factors in this, the graph below showing the median speed test result for FTTC tests on the relevant cabinets shows that the difference is worth around 3 Mbps on average.

ECI vs Huawei VDSL2
Average median download speeds on ECI VDSL2 cabinets versus Huawei VDSL2 cabinets

The 25,000 ECI cabinets were largely part of the original commercial VDSL2 roll-out so more often deployed in urban environments but the 64,000 Huawei cabinet areas are a mixture of urban and rural and with rural areas likely to have more longer lines this makes the average difference more of a suprise. We suspect the improvement in ECI performance in July 2018 may have been down to the limited deployment of G.INP.

The support for vectoring which mitigates almost all the impact of crosstalk is an important consideration, especially now that take-up is so high, i.e. the more lines running VDSL2 in a cable the higher the crosstalk levels and this means slower speeds. 

Once the Openreach PR team is back in the office on Monday we will fire off our questions, mainly around how many cabs will get replaced and what sort of timescale is involved. The mechanism for moving people is likely to be similar to the live to live process that happens for infill cabinets, i.e. minimise downtime during the switchover and be co-ordinated with providers.

In the meantime there was the a snippet of news around G.fast services on the Openreach site which ISPreview covered on Friday, we are working to get caught up on our list of exchanges were we believe there is more G.fast available and all the usual end of quarter activity in terms of speed test analyis and we will then run the numbers to show what difference we see as we shift our own systems from a 100 Mbps minimum speed for G.fast to a 120 Mbps figure. This of course will also get reflected on our maps and availability databases and report back when this is all complete.

Update Saturday 6th July: A comment arrived on Friday from Openreach in response to our enquiry.

We’re constantly working on ways to upgrade and extend our network but we have no immediate plans to swap out fibre cabinets on any significant scale.
Statement from Openreach spokesperson

So no big programme to swap the hardware in the cabinets in the short term. For the small number (maybe around 200) where this does happen it is believed this will take place overnight with the existing ECI hardware removed and new Huawei kit installed in the same cabinet overnight.

While updating there is another ECI topic around, and that is Openreach FTTP locations restricted to 330 Mbps due to the ECI hardware in the handover exchange and the lack of a switching layer. This has been covered by ISPreview and The Register.

Only a tiny proportion of our FTTP footprint, covering less than 50,000 premises, is limited to 330Mbps download speeds – and we're constantly working on ways to upgrade and extend our network.

We're investing billions of pounds into FTTP ahead of widespread consumer demand, and all of our current and future build is capable of offering gigabit speeds.

Openreach statement on ECI 330 Mbps FTTP limit to The Register

The statement issued to The Register seems to suggest that Openreach believe the footprint affected is some 50,000 premises and that it should not be growing and we disagree on the not growing, since in the last day we have seen some BDUK infill FTTP restricted to 330 Mbps and some Fibre First style overlay in Northern Ireland in Dundrum. In the case of Dundrum the handover is thought to be at the Ormeau exchange where the Fibre First FTTP we've seen in 2019 looks to be proper Gigabit capable.

While the main retailers still only sell a maximum 330 Mbps FTTP product this may be of little concern but in a year or two when maybe we have several big (read advertise on TV) providers pushing Gigabit options this 50,000 and it seems growing (though slowly) footprint may be more of an issue.

Comments

Seems a big risk with the uncertainty over Huawei. It ties all their eggs into one basket. They've always tried to split their risk (2 providers )previously as any sensible biz would. Whether PR will give you can answer on that one....?

  • Croft12
  • 4 months ago

My understanding is they will target a small number initially, maybe 200, that either are out of capacity or are most unreliable, and replace the electronics with Huawei MA5818 DSLAMs in the same ECI shell. The eventual aim to replace all, maybe bypass some straight to FTTP

  • ribble
  • 4 months ago

Mr Ribble - I understood replacement with MA5616s was also on the cards. Has that been discarded in favour of the G.fast capable, system-wide vectoring capable MA5818?

  • CarlThomas
  • 4 months ago

@Croft12 The use of Huawei and its associated risks can be mitigated almost entirely by due diligence. Such as x-raying and also lab testing the kit before deployment. Such inspection, would be mandatory regardless of origin (or should be). Further you can install the kit yourself rather than outside techs etc. The risks from Huewei becomes the same (to other manufacturers ) once you do that testing.

When ever you talk about Huawei risks, you have also factor in that this political and that the us is having a trade war with the Chinese.

  • taras
  • 4 months ago

My point was more if the kit is banned. In terms of due dil you can't even hope to properly examine the code completely. And frankly China's state sponsored commercial and political hacking is not simply the same risk as other providers of tech.

  • Croft12
  • 4 months ago

Huawei fixed line access network kit isn't getting banned.

  • CarlThomas
  • 4 months ago

Thats the present position certainly but biz usually have to plan for contingencys

  • Croft12
  • 4 months ago

Huawei fixed line kit isn't getting banned. Businesses plan for realistic contingencies not all contingencies. Risk assessment: likelihood, impact, cost of remediation versus impact.

It would be incredibly disruptive to UK fixed line networks for Huawei equipment to be banned and removal forced. BT, TalkTalk, Vodafone and others would take the government to court immediately and, perhaps more relevantly, the government can provide no viable reason why such action would be necessary.

  • CarlThomas
  • 4 months ago

As far as having a second vendor goes Openreach's second vendor is now Nokia, however Nokia don't have equipment that can be placed into the shell of an ECI cabinet. Huawei likely had the brief to work on this for a little while, selling 25,000 DSLAMs plus the OLTs to support them is a bit of an incentive to do some development, and have hardware that ticks the boxes.

  • CarlThomas
  • 4 months ago

If the gov did as some other countries are to varying degree and simply stopped new H hardware being installed its not that disruptive unlike a removal.

"the government can provide no viable reason why such action would be necessary."

Security; given the Chinese Stats's hacking activity (widely known) and legal powers over Chinese firms (Again widely known); beyond that we can't possibly know what the security services are aware of.

  • Croft12
  • 4 months ago

Mr/Mrs/Ms Croft12 - equipment at the edge of fixed line networks can't magically start talking to China. The Huawei equipment in question is well known to the security services: chances are government traffic at some level already runs across it.

There is no need to plan for a sales ban - Openreach just stop replacing the kit.

  • CarlThomas
  • 4 months ago

Quite Carl, it would be blatantly obvious that such a slup was happening from cabs. you can't magically slurp data without noticing. It becomes easier on servers in a data centre as you don't need any extra hardware. Further it would be better to target high value assets via the data centres than via the cab as you can then track them, regardless what differing networks they are on.

  • taras
  • 4 months ago

Don't worry Huawei will be trading across the world close to normal soon, Chump's game play to keep US domination is already being countered, there will most likely be a nod towards some face saving for him but he played the ace too late.

  • burble
  • 4 months ago

Is a 10% improvement in average download speeds really worth the effort of upgrading? I doubt it; more likely Huawei equipment will go into new cabinets or broken cabinets, not existing (working) cabinets.
OpenReach have bigger fish to fry than polishing around the edges of this sort of equipment. Their first target is to get the rest of the country up to a decent basic standard and off ADSL.

  • p6resthome
  • 4 months ago

OpenReach couldn't care about the ”10% improvement".
They get paid the same for lines connected to both DSLAM vendors so make no financial gain from improving performance.

The maintenance cost between the 2 vendors is huge though.
The ECI kit is unreliable, overheats and brakes down more often.

Huawei parts are cheaper, more reliable and easier to source.

The duff ECI OLT's in the exchanges can start to be removed after the DSLAM's are gone.

  • j0hn83
  • 4 months ago

I hope they are better than the Huawei cabinet I am connected to.

  • zyborg47
  • 4 months ago

Croft12 I expect one of the advantage's of using two vendors is if one is subpar, (its fair to say ECI has been very subpar) then you could replace the bad vendor with the first, so by not replacing the ECI kit, it kind of negates the reason for using two vendors in the first place. It is a shame tho that openreach waiated so long and this might be related to length of support contracts and perhaps openreach not been willing to renew those contracts.

  • chrysalis
  • 4 months ago

You get special broken hardware selected just for you, Zyborg47. Guess the hardware remembers when, a few years ago, you couldn't imagine anyone wanting 38Mb let alone more.

  • CarlThomas
  • 4 months ago

Excellent. My ECI cab is full and extra capacity is being activated in July. A new much larger Huawei cab has sprung up next to the ECI, maybe they'll move all the lines across to it? Hopefully!

  • flilot
  • 4 months ago

The new Huawei is for additional capacity.
I've never seen them do a switch like you want and that's not at all what this story is about.

They are replacing the electronics inside ECI cabinet shells with Huawei electronics.

If you want off your ECI cabinet then you will need to wait till the Huawei is live and then order a 2nd line, cancelling the 1st just after.

  • j0hn83
  • 4 months ago

@j0hn83

Oh I'm certainly not expecting anything of the sort, so no need to be all early Monday morning gruff.
It was a throw away comment, and as I said - "Hopefully" i.e wistful in an ideal world, of which we don't live in.

  • flilot
  • 4 months ago

@CarlThomas, I don't think i said anyone would not want more than 38Mb/s, I presume some may, but a lot of people including myself, never use the full speed.
something is certainly wrong somewhere here, I done an update on my Zyxel last night and thought that may solve the problem, but connected it directly this morning using the internal modem and it still won't sync and yet the Huawei modem will syn first time.

  • zyborg47
  • 4 months ago

@j0hn83: "The ECI kit is unreliable, overheats and breaks down more often."

The presumably-ECI VDSL2 cabinet to which we are connected seems to have a permanent "cabinet tea-cosy" of insulation on top and at the sides - the opposite of what you say.

Does anyone have any idea how much downtime for the connected users would be involved in a cabinet exchange?

  • John_Gray
  • 4 months ago

No business would replace 25,000 equipment boxes for a 10% speed improvement to the customer. They must have done the cost analysis of trying to develop a technology for ECI cabs and added in the cost to support and repair ECI cabs and realised they are better off merging the replacements with the future upgrade to FTTP plans. Otherwise its not really a wise economical move to just replace them because the other ones are better.

  • oldskool
  • 4 months ago

  • Post
  • 3 months ago

Hi Broadband Watchers.
I would think the equipment that they ( Openreach) will change out is where the customers are receiving under 10 Meg Down but they will not change out only on request after 20/3/20. Letting the market dictate the situations putting the onus on the public.

  • Blackmamba
  • 3 months ago

And for someone getting 2 Mbps demanding under USO a new model of DSLAM in the existing chassis might increase speeds slightly but not enough to go above 10 Mbps

  • andrew
  • thinkbroadband staff
  • 3 months ago

Hi Andrews staff.
I completely agree with your remarks but at what. range will this kick in 1.5 miles from the FTTC or more plus the (2 Meg % TBB ) dropping fast with the all in FTTC being fitted and sections being overlaid with pure fibre.

  • Blackmamba
  • 3 months ago

I notice on my exchange that on roadworks.com there are suddenly a lot of "re-shelling dslam" and looking at codelook these are from initial glances all ECI cabs.

  • rolandrat
  • 3 months ago

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