Broadband News

Why is full fibre provider CityFibre consulting on a copper switch over? UPDATED

Sometimes in the broadband industry if one firm does something, offers will simply follow to ensure that they get talked about and don't miss on out media coverage, and while the consultation with industry around a copper switch over by CityFibre sounds a bit like that, we believe there is some logic to it all. A key point is that this is a switch over NOT a switch off.

Only by collaborating as an industry, with the full support of Government and Ofcom, will we be able to switch-over the UK from legacy copper networks to a future-proof full fibre platform. Our consultation will ensure that we play our part in this switch-over and that the eventual retirement of the copper networks is managed in a way that promotes sustained infrastructure investment from a range of organisations.

With rollouts underway to reach over 20% of the UK market, our city-wide full fibre networks like that in Stirling will soon be of sufficient coverage to play their part, enabling a copper to fibre switch-over for the benefit of Communication Providers and their customers. Through our consultation, we look forward to engaging with the whole industry, including Openreach and BT Retail, to help develop a national plan to efficiently and smoothly upgrade Britain.

Greg Mesch, Chief Executive Officer at CityFibre

So what is the logic about running a consultation with industry for a copper switch-over in Stirling in summer 2020?

If you consider that CityFibre own Entanet which as its wholesale broadband provider, with a long tail of retailers offering phone and broadband services over the existing Openreach copper network it makes a lot more sense. In effect this is not about switching off copper services, but about migrating Entanet customers in Stirling onto the CityFibre full fibre network, even in cases where the final end customer has not ordered a full fibre product. For Entanet this should mean customers are on a more reliable network, and it will increase the take-up in cities where CityFibre has built an extensive GPON network.

We have asked CityFibre about retail customers, since there is an exclusive deal in place with Vodafone for residential services. So while its easy to assume existing Vodafone customers on the Openreach VDSL2 or Vodafone LLU ADSL2+ service will be switched across, the question is whether the exclusivity period will change and other consumer providers could migrate customers to the CityFibre GPON full fibre network.

Many of the issues around vulnerable customers, power back-up for business and emergency use, along with things like burglar alarms and lift phone lines will be identical to those that Openreach is seeking to solve and find solutions for as part of its Salisbury (which should be a move to full fibre) and Mildenhall (a mix of FTTP, G.fast and VDSL2). So the industry working as a whole seems the right thing to do.

There of course concerns in terms of market manipulation, and this applies to Openreach, CityFibre and any other infrastructure provider planning massed migrations to full fibre. It will be very easy for vulnerable and disengaged customers (both consumer or business) to feel that the move means they MUST move and remain with their existing provider. The uncertainty is likely to be more around what will happen to the telephone number i.e. a concern many will have is that they will worry about losing a phone number they have had for decades. In short existing problems with number porting need to get fixed in addition to all the other more physical issues.

Update 1:20pm A small correction we originally said that Vodafone has an exclusive deal in place for a number of years, but we are told that this is exclusivity period is set to end in Stirling next year. The exclusivity is related to the build period for each CityFibre town/city.

CityFibre has also told us it is in consultation with a broad range of providers about coming onto their network. Of course no names yet, but no doubt we all hear more in 2020. 

In cities such as Coventry where it looks likely that the CityFibre full fibre network will overlap with the Openreach network rolled out under the Fibre First programme it will be interesting to see which wholesale provider is chosen by those providers signed up to both wholesale programmes.

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