Openreach proposes new trials to help broadband industry upgrade to faster, more reliable connections


Salisbury and Mildenhall trials will continue preparations for nationwide upgrade programme

Openreach has kicked-off a proposal to conduct two trials – in Salisbury and Mildenhall – to prepare the UK for the future nationwide upgrade to full fibre and ‘All-IP’ technologies.

The move is part of its ongoing work with the UK’s Communications Providers (CPs) to withdraw ageing telephone and broadband infrastructure and move the country’s consumers and businesses onto faster, more reliable and future proof broadband connections.

The company continues to consult and will now work with its CP customers (including businesses such as BT, Sky and TalkTalk) to ensure a smooth migration of homes and businesses onto it’s new ‘full’ Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) network, once it’s built and to migrate customers from the traditional analogue telephone network to new digital ‘All-IP’ voice services.

Openreach passed 1.2m with FTTP (announced 12th April) and in terms of current build rate is now passing c.20,000 premises with FTTP per week. This supports the renewed target for Openreach to reach an extra one million premises within our original timeframe, meaning four million homes and businesses will have access to a full FTTP service over our network by the end of March 2021.

This upgrade of customers onto full fibre broadband and digital voice services is a hugely complex task and the trials will help the company and CPs prepare for the process of a wider migration across the UK. A consultation will now run until 31 July 2019, after which Openreach will confirm the trial details and timescales with industry, with a view to launch in October this year.

Openreach Chief Strategy Officer, Richard Allwood, said: “We welcome the wide range of Communications providers who have already been working with us through our previous FTTP consultations and we’ve taken on-board a lot of valuable feedback already. These trials are the natural next step on our journey to help the Government deliver a future proofed, fully fibred UK. We’re going to continue working closely and openly across the industry and we’re determined to make the upgrade to FTTP as smooth and seamless and beneficial as possible for every customer.”

Salisbury, Wiltshire, has already been earmarked by Openreach as the first UK city that will gain universal access to its FTTP network, so it’s a logical choice for Openreach to trial it’s ‘FTTP Exchange Upgrade’ processes. The trial in Mildenhall, Suffolk meanwhile would focus on the move from analogue telephony to digital voice services, given it represents a typical exchange area that’s highly representative of others across the UK in terms of geography, the range of CPs offering Openreach services and its mix of businesses and consumers. The trial will help prepare the industry for the upgrade to ‘Voice Over IP’ technology and the withdrawal of wholesale products and services that run over the traditional telephone network – which is due to close in 2025.

A previous consultation focused on an exchange-based approach to upgrading UK’s digital infrastructure with FTTP and introduced the principles of product migrations to a contiguous FTTP access infrastructure. The responses to this consultation revealed key themes from the broad range of CPs who provided input:

• A belief that the large majority of customer upgrades should be voluntary
• An agreement that the roll out should be done area-by-area, exchange by exchange
• A desire from CPs to have more input into how we select areas to upgrade
• An understanding that trials are a necessary next step
• A joint vision that we should develop a customer charter – using our engagement with customers in the trial areas to develop a clear set of commitments to protect them through the upgrade process

The new upgrade trialling consultation opens today until 31 July and will be made available to CPs and a variety of other stakeholders. After that, Openreach will publish a summary of responses along with next steps including the trials to begin in October 2019.