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Openreach starts roll-out of dark fibre product

Openreach is soft-launching a wholesale dark fibre product in eastern England ahead of a wider national roll-out

Openreach has begun to roll out a dark fibre product across the UK, enabling communications service provider (CSP) customers to use their own electronics to light fibre backhaul cables, speeding up the wider national roll-out of ultrafast full-fibre broadband services and improving market competition.

This follows Ofcom securing permission from the European Commission at the end of June 2019 to move ahead with the imposition of new regulations governing access to Openreach’s duct, pole and dark fibre infrastructure.

Besides extending access to Openreach’s ducts and poles to business as well as residential CSPs, CSPs will now be permitted to use Openreach’s dark fibre in areas where the regulator does not believe sufficient network competition will emerge for connections.

In practice, this means Openreach must offer dark fibre as a product to CSPs from exchanges where no rival backhaul providers are present, or within 100 metres in any direction – this is known as a BT Only Dark Fibre Exchange – to any other exchange within 86km.

Darren Wallington, head of high bandwidth and passive products at Openreach, said: “We have worked closely with our communications provider customers and wider industry to develop an inter-exchange dark fibre product, which we are launching today.

“Starting in the east of England, we will be making our dark fibre product available across the country ahead of our full launch in early 2020.”

Openreach programme manager Alister Cullum said eastern England had been chosen because it is home to more than 1,000 exchanges classed as BT Only, and therefore maximises the product’s potential.

“It gives CSPs a greater opportunity to place orders, and what we want is CSPs placing orders,” he said, noting that the product would ultimately succeed or fail by whether or not CSPs, which have been clamouring for dark fibre for some time, actually take it up.

Cullum said Openreach was satisfied that the new product – developed in collaboration with a Dark Fibre Industry Working Group – met both the new regulations laid down by Ofcom and the demands of the CSP community.

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Meanwhile, Openreach’s “virtual dark fibre” or “grey fibre” Optical Spectrum Access (OSA) Filter Connect product, which uses Openreach’s active electronics to light dark fibre on behalf of CSP customers and was launched after previous plans to offer full dark fibre fell through because of legal challenges, will remain available to any CSPs that want to take it up, said Cullum.

Although confident in its new product, Openreach has also made it clear that, to some extent, changing the regulations around access to its infrastructure only serves to address one barrier to the wider full-fibre roll-out, and that serious attention needs to be paid to legislation and regulations covering fibre tax rates, wayleaves, new-build homes, and so on.

Last week, BT chief executive Philip Jansen urged the new government to act decisively to make prime minister Boris Johnson’s pledge of 100% full-fibre coverage by 2025 come true, sentiments echoed by the heads of three UK broadband trade and industry bodies, who have warned that meeting this goal will essentially be impossible unless broadband policy can be fundamentally reformed by next summer.

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