Openreach claims UK first as it moves from copper to full-fibre in Salisbury

Salisbury takes a step closer to becoming the UK’s first ‘fully digital’ city with full-fibre deployment

In the next step in the transformation of Salisbury from cathedral city to digital powerhouse, Openreach, the UK broadband provision division of BT, has announced that customers in the Wiltshire city will no longer be able to buy a traditional copper landline or broadband product, and instead will only be able to order fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP or full-fibre) broadband technology.

Since March 2020, more than 22,000 homes and businesses in Salisbury have been able to take advantage of Openreach’s full-fibre broadband network following a multimillion-pound investment in the city by the UK’s digital network builder. The Openreach fibre network gives users the potential to access gigabit services through a selection of retailers.

Salisbury has been a pilot location for Openreach’s full-fibre programme of investment in digital infrastructure, with the company developing and testing ways to upgrade the UK’s landline network to full-fibre – in which voice calls are carried over the same fibre cables as broadband, instead of over copper wires.

In a recent report, the FTTH Council Europe released a study on copper switch-off, highlighting the potential benefits to the environment, society, consumers, investors and operators, as well as possible implications for policy-makers and regulators. It drew attention to the challenges and potential solutions that will ease the transition to fibre infrastructures across Europe.

“Salisbury is now one of the best-connected places in the UK and we want everyone in the city to benefit from our investment,” said James Tappenden, Openreach’s Fibre First director. “The traditional landline has served us well for generations, but it can’t go on indefinitely – and by December 2025, it will have reached the end of its life. 

“By September 2023, Openreach will stop selling copper-based products nationally in preparation for withdrawal at the end of 2025. Our new network is future-proofed, so will be ready for the next wave of bandwidth-hungry applications which residents and businesses will demand, and so will serve Salisbury well for decades to come.”

In June 2020, Openreach revealed that in its role at the spearhead of the national programme to roll out gigabit broadband across the country by 2025, it had enabled Salisbury to become the first entire city in the UK to gain access to its FTTP broadband technology. Between March 2019 and March 2020, Openreach engineers completed the fastest city-wide network build in the UK, making the new technology available to thousands of homes and businesses.

Openreach noted that the new full-fibre network would allow those still at home in the wake of the first strict lockdown to work remotely, unlocking smarter ways of working, better public services and greater opportunities for the next generation of home-grown businesses.

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Making the case for fibre, Openreach cited research that it had commissioned in October 2019, undertaken by the Centre for Economics and Business Research, which calculated a potential productivity benefit of £59bn to the UK by 2025, enabling 400,000 more people to work from home.

Specifically, for the South West region where Salisbury sits, the research showed that connecting everyone in the region to full-fibre broadband would create a £4.3bn boost to the local economy. It also found that 42,000 people in the region could return to work through enhanced connectivity – including small businesses and through entrepreneurship.

As part of the deployment of the network in Salisbury’s medieval city centre, Openreach engineers were the first in the world to use new super-small “connectorised” block terminals that discreetly connect fibre cables to people’s homes. The slimline units are designed to connect up to eight premises in one go, without having to erect new poles.

They also blend in with surroundings, helping to preserve the character of Salisbury’s historic buildings. More than 2,500 homes and businesses in the city have upgraded to the new full-fibre network in the last nine months.

The build in Salisbury forms part of a £12bn investment that will see Openreach’s ambition to build full-fibre infrastructure to 20 million premises throughout the UK by the mid- to late 2020s – delivering what it said would be significant economic, social and environmental benefits for rural and urban communities, assuming that the right regulatory and political fibre enablers are in place.

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