We were created with a simple mission: to maintain and develop the phone and broadband network – the pipes and cables that connect the nation – and to sell products and services to communications providers.
We were created as a result of Ofcom’s strategic review in 2005. Before that, BT owned and managed the phone and broadband network. But Ofcom decided a new organisation was needed to make sure all communications providers could access this network fairly.
We started as we meant to go on – by improving access to our network. By 2007 we had 10.7 million lines available in the UK and 400 communications providers using them. And we employed 20,000 engineers to keep everything running smoothly.
We showed how serious we were about innovation by announcing the largest ever investment in Britain’s communications infrastructure of £1.5 billion. We later increased this to £2.5 billion.
More and more people and businesses wanted access to new applications like video-on-demand. So we launched a new product – Ethernet Backhaul Direct – to meet the need for high bandwidth broadband and make these new technologies the reality they are today.
In another first we brought Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) to a new 1,000 acre greenfield site in Kent. This offered speeds of up to 100Mb – at the time the fastest available speed to UK home customers.
We began pilots of Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC) technology in Muswell Hill, North London and Whitchurch, South Glamorgan, delivering download speeds of up to 40Mb.
Then at the end of the year the UK saw one of the worst winters in recent history. Snow and flooding affected most of the country. Conditions were so bad that in Cumbria nearly 10,000 phone lines and 37,000 broadband lines were cut off as bridges collapsed and homes and businesses were flooded. Our engineers pulled out all the stops to get phones working for most people within 12 hours, and broadband back on within 36 hours.
2010 began with more than 99 per cent of people in the UK being able to access our first generation broadband, with speeds of up to 8Mbps.
By 31 March our second generation broadband was up and running. It was based on ADSL2+ technology and meant that more than half (55 per cent) of the UK could get speeds of up to 20Mbps.
Fibre was rapidly overtaking copper across our network. And now five million UK homes and businesses could order faster fibre broadband.
Our network was at the heart of the London Olympic and Paralympic games. Thanks to us around 19,000 athletes and officials at the Olympic Village in east London got broadband speeds of 100Mbps.
But 2012 wasn’t just about the Olympics. While GB athletes won medals and broke records, we continued to improve our services – in April we doubled the download speeds of our FTTC technology to up to 80Mbps.
In July we launched a range of FTTP products including some of the fastest wholesale services in the UK. And in November, we unveiled the world’s fastest high-speed broadband service at engineering firm Arcol UK Ltd in Cornwall.
We won 19 Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) bids to deliver fibre broadband in hard-to-reach areas. (BDUK is a Government plan to improve broadband in the UK.) And in December, less than six months after signing the contract, we connected the first BDUK customers in North Yorkshire.
Our fibre improvement plans continued. Our first ‘fibre only’ exchange went live in Deddington. And we launched FTTP on demand – which meant even more people could get fibre connections.
By 2013, 15 million UK homes and businesses could order fibre broadband over our network. And more than 1.5 million homes and businesses were connected.
By 2014, over 2.7 million homes and businesses were connected. And we added another five million homes and businesses to our fibre network – which meant 20 million UK homes and businesses could now order it.
We announced plans to make even faster broadband speeds available to 12 million addresses by the end of 2020. To do this our plans used a mix of technologies – with 10 million locations getting Gfast and 2 million getting FTTP.
We also launched our new 10Gbps Ethernet Access Direct service for business and corporate customers.
We kept on innovating, trialling pushing three wavelengths (40Gbps, 2.5Gbps and 10Gbps) over a single fibre simultaneously. This was a first in Europe. It showed our lasting commitment to meeting the bandwidth demands of the future.
On top of this, our fibre revolution continued. By 2016 we’d connected around 5.9 million homes and businesses to fibre broadband, and it was available to 25 million.
Ofcom published its Digital Communications Review, aiming to make sure digital communications markets continue to work for consumers and businesses. As a result, Openreach Limited was incorporated as a wholly owned subsidiary of BT plc. That meant we became a legally separate company with our own staff, management, purpose and strategy.
We continued our mission to bring fibre to the UK. By 2017 it was available to 27.4 million homes and businesses, with over 9.2 million fibre broadband customers. More than 590 communications providers were using our network, and we had more than 30,000 employees making sure Openreach kept the UK connected.
We continued to cement our status as a legally separate entity to BT. On 1 October 2018, more than 31,000 people transferred from BT into the new Openreach Limited in the largest TUPE transfer of people in UK corporate history. We also created Openreach Northern Ireland.
We accelerated our fibre build programme to keep us on track to get FTTP broadband to three million homes and businesses by 2020. To help us do this we added to our workforce, hiring 3,500 new trainee engineers – the biggest recruitment drive in our history. And to make sure they get the best training we can offer, we opened a new fibre training centre in Peterborough. The 100,000 square-foot facility includes a mock-up of a suburban street to help our engineers develop their skills in a real-life environment.
We stepped up our build plans, increasing our target from three to four million homes and businesses with access to Full Fibre service by the end of March 2021. And announced that we'd be fibre'ing up the whole of the city of Salisbury in what's expected to be the fastest city-wide network build in the UK.
To help us achieve this we hired another 3,000 new trainee engineers and doubled the number of female engineers working for us.
Our engineers were key workers through the Covid-19 pandemic. While the nation was locked down they continued working to keep customers connected so they could work from home, school their children, stay entertained with streaming and gaming services and, most importantly, stay in contact with their loved ones.
During 2020 broadband usage more than doubled with 50,000 Petabytes (PB) of data being consumed across the country. On average that's equivalent to two to three HD movies being streamed to every house in the country, every day.
We also carried on building our full fibre network at pace making Gigabit capable broadband available to 43,000 homes and businesses every week, that's one every 14 seconds.