Author Mark Fairlie

10 million UK homes are set to have their current copper-wire based broadband upgraded to ultra-fast fibre broadband by 2025 by telecoms infrastructure provider Openreach, according to the Independent newspaper.

The projected cost of the project is between £3bn and £6bn, according to Openreach’s chief executive, Clive Selley. Openreach has started consultation with other telecoms and broadband providers to help them with the cost and is lobbying OFCOM to provide it with a regulatory climate which it argues would be conducive to making a return on its investment.

“Openreach wants to build a full fibre network…But equally, we are not stupid. We have to make an economic return. We need to have a business case that washes its face, that I can take to our shareholder – which is BT – to get them to invest in and to come up with the cash,”

The Openreach chair told the Broadband Futures Conference in Sydney, Australia, as reported by IT news website, the Register.

Copper wire internet

Previously, most broadband internet services in the UK are delivered from the exchange by the existing copper wire infrastructure. These copper wire connections were used to deliver voice and fax calls.

As broadband demand grew in the UK, the copper wires that were used to deliver internet services to the cabinet in your street (which links your phone point and your neighbours’ phone points to the exchange) were replaced in large parts of the country by fibre optic connections for greater speed and so that users could download more data.

However, once the data had reached the cabinet, internet services were then delivered by copper wire to your home or office.

There are physical limits to how much data copper wire can carry and many internet commentators said that the slow roll-out of full fibre optic broadband was holding back the UK. One competitor to BT even claimed that the UK lagged behind Ukraine for internet speeds.

Full fibre optic broadband

Full fibre optic broadband, also know as Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) broadband, involves the installation of fibre connections directly into customers’ premises. BBC News claims that these connections provide a

“more stable, effective, and reliable connection than the hybrid copper and fibre systems…(supporting) speeds of up to 1Gbps”.

Openreach’s approach to FTTP roll-out

Openreach, an arms-length part of BT plc, is the company which owns, maintains, improves, and extends the telephone and broadband network in the UK.

Other telecoms and broadband operators provide their services over Openreach’s network. This is a similar model to Network Rail which maintains the UK’s rail infrastructure which trains operating companies then pay Network Rail to access.

To build the network to bring FTTP to 10 million homes, Openreach wants “a supportive policy and regulatory environment that encourages investment”, reports the Telegraph.

Industry commentators interpreted this comment as being directed toward the regulator OFCOM which unveiled in 2017 plans for wholesale price caps on existing super-fast broadband services. Openreach has argued that, at the current prices, it has not been able to make a “fair return” on its previous investment and that any price cap imposed by the regulator would delay development of the FTTP network or stop it altogether.

At the end of this year, both Openreach and OFCOM will produce detailed plans for the rollout of FTTP including information on both pricing and coverage areas.