Openreach rallies telecoms providers to upgrade customers onto faster, more reliable broadband connections

Openreach is launching an industry-wide consultation to map out the largest digital upgrade in a generation. It believes upgrading customers onto its new, ‘full fibre’ network will future-proof the digital economy and boost productivity.

Openreach, the UK’s digital network business, today launched a consultation for the country’s leading broadband and telephone providers to help it upgrade consumers and businesses throughout the country onto next generation ‘full fibre’ broadband connections.

The company is seeking views from its wholesale Communications Provider (CP) customers (businesses such as BT, TalkTalk and Sky) on how best to upgrade their retail customers throughout the UK from copper connections onto faster, more reliable Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) technology, which it is building throughout the country.

Unlike the move to digital TV, the process of upgrading broadband connections to ‘full fibre’ will require physical fibre connections to be made to individual premises, and involve significant investment from Openreach and support from Communications Providers. But the transition will also deliver huge benefits to the industry and UK in general, providing greater broadband speeds and reliability, a significant boost to productivity and competitiveness, and a digital platform that’s expected to serve homes and businesses here for many decades to come.

To make the transition as fast and beneficial as possible, Openreach is seeking input from Communications Providers on three key areas:

  1. How it builds the new network, which is growing fast
  2. How the industry should migrate customers smoothly onto the Openreach network, once it’s built and
  3. 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 progressivelyi
  • Developing a consumer charter with industry and Ofcom that encourages transparent communications to homes and businesses affected, and includes protections for vulnerable customers

The company is already on track to make FTTP broadband technology available to three million homes and businesses by the end of 2020, and it wants to go much further – to 10 million premises and beyond under the right conditions.

Agreeing an approach to this upgrade process is a key enabler to deliver that larger ambition, and to bring the UK closer to the Government’s aim of nationwide FTTP network by 2033. Openreach is determined to put customers at the heart of the process, so it will be speaking to the Government, Ofcom and key consumer, business and public sector groups as part of the consultation process.

Minister for Digital Margot James said:"We're building a Britain that's fit for the future, and our plans for a national full fibre broadband network underpin our modern Industrial Strategy. Upgrading to gigabit capable connections will benefit homes and businesses all across the UK. I welcome Openreach's consultation on how to make this process as simple and efficient as possible whilst ensuring a competitive market is in place for all consumers and infrastructure providers."

Felicity Burch, CBI Director of Innovation, said: “Upgrading the UK’s digital infrastructure will add billions to our economy, enable companies to adopt new technologies and close the productivity gap.

“Engaging business and consumers will be crucial in achieving the Government’s vision for nationwide full fibre by 2033. Smoothing out the details through this consultation will help ensure the UK remains the number one place to start and grow a digital business.”

Katie Milligan, Managing Director for Customer, Commercial and Propositions at Openreach said: More than 16 million homes and businesses could order better broadband connections over our network right now, so we’d encourage everyone to check the services available to them and upgrade today.

“At the same time, we’re consulting with broadband providers to decide how and when we upgrade customers to even faster, more reliable and future-proof, full fibre broadband.

“Our new network will place the UK at the forefront of the global digital race and provide a major boost to the UK economy, so we’re determined to create a plan that will benefit of every UK community, by upgrading customers quickly, smoothly and affordably.

“We believe this consultation is crucial to that process, and it will support further investment from across the industry. We’re really ambitious about upgrading the UK to the fastest, most reliable broadband there is.”

Openreach is making full fibre infrastructure available to 14,000 homes and businesses each week, as part of its ‘Fibre First’ programme, thanks to the hard work of its 31,000 employees working in every UK community. In the first phase of the project, The company has already announced twenty-six locations across the UK where it’s building the new network, and it remains on track to reach its target of making FTTP available to three million homes and businesses by the end of 2020.

A previous consultation with industry welcomed Openreach’s ambition to build an FTTP network across the country, and uncovered broad support for an approach which would migrate all customers onto the new platform – and retire the old one – as quickly as possible after it has been built in a given area.

Openreach has also already consulted with Communications Providers on the withdrawal of analogue services which run over its copper wiresii by 2025. And, whilst this new consultation is about the withdrawing the underlying infrastructure (rather than the services which run over it) the company sees the two as complementary processes which will occur over a staggered timeframe.

The new consultation will be open for six weeks until 3rd May. After that, Openreach will publish a summary of responses along with next steps.


i The process would start with a ‘no move back’ policy for premises connected with FTTP, followed by a ‘stop-sell’ of copper services to new customers, and ultimately a withdrawal in full.

iiIn May 2018, Openreach consulted with Communications Providers on the withdrawal of Wholesale Line Rental (WLR): a copper-based services that relies on the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN). Openreach will stop selling WLR, ISDN and other services that rely on the PSTN national from December 2023, and will withdraw those service altogether in December 2025 when the PSTN reaches end of life.