98 more Openreach exchange areas to go digital in copper network shutdown

Mildenhall and Salisbury test sites will be first to stop selling copper-based services in 2022 in a further acceleration of Openreach’s plan to halt traditional broadband and voice services across the UK by 2025

BT-owned UK broadband provision firm Openreach has begun the new year by adding more momentum to its plan to phase out the UK’s old analogue phone network (PSTN), announcing a further 98 exchanges where it plans to stop selling legacy analogue services and instead focus on digital services.

Openreach announced its plan in 2020, proposing that by December 2025, the existing network would have reached end of life and that new digital services will be in use. The programme is intended to result in homes and businesses not being able to buy copper broadband if they are upgrading, regrading or switching telecoms provider, and instead will only be able to order fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP or full-fibre) broadband networks.

Voice services will be an add-on to broadband, rather than a service in its own right. When 75% of the homes and businesses connected to a particular exchange can get full-fibre, end-users will not be able to buy the old copper products if full-fibre is available at their premises.

To make good on its plan nationally, Openreach said it would need to transition more than 14 million traditional lines onto new digital services. Following the decision to shut down the PSTN, the firm agreed to test processes for migrating customers to fibre services and, ultimately, withdrawing legacy copper services and the wholesale line rental (WLR) products that rely on them. Openreach is giving communication providers 12 months’ notice that it will no longer sell copper-based products and services in those areas.

The new batch of 98 exchanges that will no longer sell copper-based products and services covers 954,000 premises, bringing the total number of exchange areas now notified for “stop sell” to more than 550, covering about five million premises. Openreach’s “stop sell” policy is now active across 181 of these fibre exchanges, covering nearly two million premises.

Salisbury was the first exchange in the UK to move to stop-sell status in December 2020, and in May 2021 a trial began in the Suffolk town of Mildenhall. Openreach chose these test sites because it regarded them as typical exchange areas, representative of others across the UK in terms of geography, the range of communications providers (such as BT, PlusNet, Sky, TalkTalk and Zen) offering Openreach services and the mix of businesses and consumers.

The Mildenhall trial is testing the processes for withdrawing WLR and migrating customers from legacy copper services to replacement fibre services that will support the delivery of telephone services over broadband connections. The Salisbury trial will test the processes for migrating customers to fibre services and, ultimately, withdrawing legacy copper services. 

Openreach is now notifying communications providers in the Salisbury and Mildenhall areas that legacy products will be withdrawn in spring 2023. The notice period will begin on 19 January 2022, with product withdrawal on 19 April 2023.

James Lilley, Openreach director for managed customer migrations, said: “Twelve months ago, we informed our communication provider customers that we would stop selling copper products in exchanges that reach 75% full-fibre coverage. This is now a reality for 181 fibre exchanges in what is a major stepping-stone in our 10-15-year journey to move from a copper network to full-fibre. We are working closely with broadband providers and the wider industry to make sure customers can be upgraded smoothly and these trials are helping us to identify and address any issues that might prevent that.”

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