back to article Openreach fibre plan for 10m premises coming 'before Christmas'

Openreach chair Mike McTighe says the carrier has concluded its consultation on how to deliver fibre-to-the-premises connections across Britain by the year 2025 and will deliver its plan to do so “before Christmas”. “We will be publishing Openreach's response to that consultation before Christmas, and in that we will put out a …

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Isn't Wifi/5G a viable and cheaper option

With the increase in Wifi/5G speed wouldn't it be a better option to concentrate on Wireless solutions rather than digging up roads and pulling expensive cables/fibres..

I am sure that even a 100Mb wireless solution would be preferable to a 20Mb existing broadband connexion.

I have very little knowledge of the constraints behind Wifi/5G but it appears as though a physical cable/fibre would result in a higher TCO although I could be completely wrong on all points..

( By Wireless I mean any solution that doesn't involve cables/wires/fibres)

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Re: Isn't Wifi/5G a viable and cheaper option

You may find this hard to believe but those who dont have fibre generally dont have 3g let alone 5g. I'm on 2Mb and cannot recieve 2G here.

Its due to the laws of physics - they wont open their wallet until the government had opened theirs first.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Isn't Wifi/5G a viable and cheaper option

100 houses sharing a 100M 5G connection means they get an average of 1M each. Probably more in practice; but if half of them decide to stream iPlayer or NetFlix at the same time, it isn't going to work well.

High-frequency microcells may have a role to play - but as Mr BT acknowledges, by the time you've got the fibre to all the lampposts down the street, you may as well have connected the homes as well.

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Meh

Re: Isn't Wifi/5G a viable and cheaper option

Wireless solutions are heavily contended in the 'last mile'. Ignore the hype from operators claiming gigabit speeds. Those are what the mast can handle under laboratory conditions. In the real world masts have to avoid interfering with other masts, buildings reflect the signal outside and prevent quite a few frequencies reaching inside, trees and geography block the signal. Distance from the mast weakens the signal. And perhaps worst of all everyone within range of the mast is sharing that juicy-sounding bandwidth.

Increasing the number of cells can help but by the time you've got a high enough density (assuming NIMBYs allow it) you might as well go the whole hog and run fibre to people's homes.

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Re: Isn't Wifi/5G a viable and cheaper option

wouldn't it be a better option to concentrate on Wireless solutions rather than digging up roads and pulling expensive cables/fibres..

High-speed wireless connectivity can only be achieved by installing a very large number of wireless transmitters, all of which need to to be connected to the network somehow. It doesn't matter if the last 100 metres is wireless or fibre, you still need a core fibre network in place to support those final links. This is why Openreach wants to install the microcells that the article refers to; by installing one fibre network and connecting both homes and microcells to it, they can get both FTTP and 5G. As noted, though, the large number of cells means that they need to be hidden somehow, most likely in "street furniture" (which means 'lampposts")

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Re: Isn't Wifi/5G a viable and cheaper option

As many of you realise my knowledge of 5G/Wireless is limited, hence my questions.

So how do they manage to get Wireless solutions working so well in the likes of train stations etc where there is a very heavy concentration of people, watching videos/tv/facebook etc.. Is it simply the fact that there are many/many antennae nearby ?

Why did I ask my initial question : I have just recently moved and had to use a 4G Router during the period that my new broadband line was being connected and I was able to surface/download at respectable speeds, around the 20Mb mark which was fine except for the fact that it ate up my 40Gb limit in only a few days.. ( had to buy another 60Gb)

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Re: Isn't Wifi/5G a viable and cheaper option

"With the increase in Wifi/5G speed wouldn't it be a better option to concentrate on Wireless solutions rather than digging up roads and pulling expensive cables/fibres.."

Sure, if you lived in a lovely climate. But we have crap weather in this country, which would affect wireless transmissions.

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Re: Isn't Wifi/5G a viable and cheaper option

"rather than digging up roads and pulling expensive cables/fibres."

In some areas al that is needed is a small change in the law to allow BT to use competitors ducting.

(It'd mean I could get full-fat fibre)

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Joke

Re: Isn't Wifi/5G a viable and cheaper option

Where do you think they plug the Wifi/5g socket/hub into? Thin *air*!?

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Boffin

Re: Isn't Wifi/5G a viable and cheaper option

So how do they manage to get Wireless solutions working so well in the likes of train stations etc where there is a very heavy concentration of people, watching videos/tv/facebook etc.. Is it simply the fact that there are many/many antennae nearby ?

It could be. If they only intend to cover the station they can use lower power allowing more antenna. Another possibility is if most people aren't streaming content. Where data access is bursty (eg;most email, web browsing) you can tolerate far higher levels of contention. In fact it's quite amazing how far you can 'overload' a network when everyone is only pulling down data intermittently even if they are pulling down quite a lot of data each time. The important bit is how much time each individual is not using their connection.

Voice calls appear bursty in comparison to the data rate these days so aren't as much of a problem but I remember being in Kings Cross during the millennium celebration and even texts weren't getting through. You could forget trying to make a voice call.

Imagine you were serving tea to an office. If people keep wandering up when they want a cup you can probably manage with a single kettle. You might need a rolling boil kettle but basically you can just deal with each customer as they arrive. But now imagine what happens if Roger turns up and ask you to fill his two litre flask. That's going to take longer and increases the chance of someone else having to wait.

Contention is not unique to wireless solutions - almost all parts of a network are contended to varying degrees. It's interesting to note that cable connections are more contended than xDSL connections although so far DOCSIS seems to be keeping pace at least in the downstream direction.

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Re: Isn't Wifi/5G a viable and cheaper option

That bastard Roger, every flipping day looking for 2 liters of tea, a bag of sugar and a pint of milk.

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Re: Isn't Wifi/5G a viable and cheaper option

So how do they manage to get Wireless solutions working so well in the likes of train stations etc where there is a very heavy concentration of people, watching videos/tv/facebook etc.. Is it simply the fact that there are many/many antennae nearby

This answer is in two parts:

a) lots of antennae

b) it still doesn't work correctly.

Eg, when there is an event at the stadium near my house, 3G/4G data service is basically impossible nearby. This leads to things like trendy pop up retailers (there's a cracking bar in a canal boat by the stadium) who take payment by the ubiquitous iZettle suddenly can't process any payments, which leads to confused hipsters and much stroking of beards.

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Re: Isn't Wifi/5G a viable and cheaper option

Khaptain - for reasons that others have pointed out, this isn't really an option - even so, your question was a perfectly reasonable one so I'm not sure why you're deep in downvotes. Have an UV from me to compensate.

Folks - can we try to reserve downvotes for comments that are factually wrong, trollish, offensive, off-topic or otherwise don't advance the conversation?

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Re: Isn't Wifi/5G a viable and cheaper option

@David,

Thanks, like you I don't really understand the down-votes, I too thought my question was valid. Fortunately some people did take the time to answer the question.

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Re: Isn't Wifi/5G a viable and cheaper option

... and use Virgin Media's ducting too.

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Meh

“But equally we are not stupid. "

Citation Needed.

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Meh

Christmas?

Which Christmas? I don't notice a year :-(

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Christmas?

They were going to say 2026 but brought it forward 7 days. Personally I think it'll be more like Zager And Evans.

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“Let me be very, very clear,” he continued. “Openreach wants to build a full fibre network.... 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.”

There I was thinking that Openreach was supposed to be independent of BT... I'm sure any other shareholder (e.g. if Virgin Media has shares) is just as interested in making it happen too.

I really think it's about time someone stepped in and nationalised Openreach and the BT infrastructure to put things back on a level footing rather than faffing around trying to get a BT-owned middleman to work to anything other than BT's advantage.

Internet infrastructure is too important to be faffing about with BT "when we get around to it" schedules still.

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There I was thinking that Openreach was supposed to be independent of BT.

Bear in mind that Openreach is the network operator only - it doesn't own the assets, they're still owned by BT, in order to tie them to the vast pension liabilities some of which date back to GPO days. In terms of "investor cash" I doubt that McTighe is relying solely on BT for the cash, and with the regulatory certainty that he's asking for, other options become available, such as BT selling regional asset bundles, as has been done with gas distribution - but only the ownership interest, with the operations still undertaken by Openreach (like the concept of "System Operator" for electricity transmission networks). Another option, again with regulatory certainty, is securitising the future income streams to raise the capital to do a fibre roll out, and that becomes a form of secured debt that's very attractive to infrastructure investors.

I really think it's about time someone stepped in and nationalised Openreach

You obviously don't recall the sloth and customer-loathing disinterest back in the days when the state owned the telecoms network. I do, and its only the naieve who think that nationalisation would cure anything. But you'll have your chance in three years time, just vote for Comrade Jezza.

Another pertinent example is the water industry, privatised specifically so that somebody would manage the assets properly, and somebody would invest the money to improve performance, after multiple decades in which both Labour and Conservative governments had refused to invest (whilst happily signing up to much tighter EU water standards). That's the problem with government - they never will invest carefully and sensibly, and even where they go for some madcap rush to invest, eg in electricity generation, they screw it up, they don't invest from taxation or government debt, they just foist it on customers who have neither say nor choice.

Of course, Openreach could have found the money to install FTTP for a small housing development in its own pocket if McTighe wasn't fucking off to Australia to pontificate at conferences. Then again, one of his previous roles was as chairman of that customer-champion, and worker's paradise, JJB Sports, where he was shown the door after a string of problems and "profits warnings". Some might conclude that Openreach have selected the usual sort of fat cat part-timer.

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Noooooo!

"I really think it's about time someone stepped in and nationalised Openreach and the BT infrastructure to put things back on a level footing rather than faffing around trying to get a BT-owned middleman to work to anything other than BT's advantage."

Ah, the good old days. Where all equipment was restricted and had to have green labels before being allowed to be connected to the GPO owned infrastructure. Some of us remember the reality of having a GPO setup.

Ummm - no thanks.

Openreach are crap. But going backwards is really not the answer.

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Re: Noooooo!

The main complaints about the GPO days where delays in getting a new line and call quality. The green sticker thing continued long after privatization, and has *ONLY* gone away as approval is now done at an EU level; what did the EU ever do for me and all that... Note further that the BS6312 socket as used by telephones in the UK where introduced on the 19th November 1981. I was not till the 19th July 1982 that the government announced it's intention to privatize BT.

The call quality was fixed by replacing the older mechanical exchanges with SystemX and all the inter exchange links with digital ones. This was well under way before privatization, however many people ignorantly presume that because it improved after privatization it was the result of privatization.

The other issue when the GPO where running the telephones was the delay in getting a new line. This was almost entirely down to the huge and I mean huge increase especially in the 1970's of the number of households with a telephone line. In 1970 that stood at 35%, by the end of the decade it was around 80%. That meant over half a million new lines where being installed every year, and thus resources where short. Not long after privatization the growth in new lines fell back sharply and thus waiting times dropped to something sensible. Again ignorant people presume that because the situation improved after privatization it was the result of privatization.

I for one would be happy for the infrastructure to be spun out into Openreach and for Openreach to build a regulated monopoly fibre infrastructure. That we don't have one today is entirely the fault of Rupert Murdock who lobbied the government back in 1997 to reject BT's then offer to lay a full fibre network to every household in the UK.

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"privatised specifically so that somebody would manage the assets properly" - Pardon?

@Ledswinger - You must be thinking of a different part of the UK to where I'm living! I haven't noticed any inclination from my local lot to manage the assets properly.

As you even say in your comment, it's been crap for years because of underfunding from successive gummints. This is the old outsourcing story. You decide to systematically underfund something, so (not surprisingly) the service drops. You then declare that the only way this can be rescued is to flog it off to your mates (sorry, I mean "private enterprise"), who will of course run it "much more efficiently". This seems to be usually accompanied by hefty subsidies from the public purse (I'm looking at you, railway franchises). So, quiet board positions/consultancy fees to look forward to for those concerned, beers all round!

Even recently, we've seen this trajectory with Royal Mail. Years of underfunding, declaring it unsustainable, flogging it off => price rises for the punters. A good example of the better efficiency of the private sector, of course.

None of this rant defends McTighe, of course...

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "privatised specifically so that somebody would manage the assets properly" - Pardon?

As you even say in your comment, it's been crap for years because of underfunding from successive gummints. This is the old outsourcing story

It's also because gummint doesn't have the balls to reduce staffing levels when it would actually be prudent to do so, due to the concept that anything run by the gummint must provide jobs (even if they are pointless ones)

Therefore, any technology upgrade which would pay for itself by reducing staff numbers can't happen on the gummint's watch.

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How about Virgin media opening up their ducting/netowrk to competitors too.

Sauce for the goose.. n'all.

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Anonymous Coward

Paying more

> as Openreach builds fibre connections, it will need to encourage internet users need to pay more for their services

Why? FTTP networks cost much *less* to operate than copper ones, because of lower fault rates and lower theft. Plus, with a fibre network you have the opportunity to sell more services over the top.

This is rather like the migration from vinyl to CD, or from VHS to DVD. The companies took the opportunity to charge more, because the product was "better" - even though CDs and DVDs cost less to manufacture than records and tapes.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Paying more

That's true once you have the network in place. However it will cost billions to fibre up even 90% of the network. Billions that will have to be borrowed from banks and from openreach's parent company. Not only will the banks require payment with interest, BT will no doubt want some return on investment. Like it or not BT and be extension openreach are public companies with shareholders who expect the company to make money.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Paying more

Why? FTTP networks cost much *less* to operate than copper ones

BT and especially Openreach is a company where the union tail wags the dog. Even the middle management is unionised. The issue in this case is exactly the workforce reduction. 10 years ago it would have been from ~ 40k to ~ 16k. Anyone suggesting what he is saying today 10 years ago was immediately sentenced to detention in "Her Majesty Correctional Facility Adastral Park". It was suggested by quite a few people at the time as a natural conclusion to 21CN and it was killed in favor of FTTC (and whoever suggested it was made to regret it).

The only reason he can suggest it today is because:

1. Over the last 10 years the permanent Openreach staff has decreased naturally through attrition and was not replaced by new permanent staff, but by contractors like Kelly Communications. The size of the tail wagging the dog has decreased.

2. The rollout of 5G will provide enough work for the remaining unionised permanent staff to be employed until it naturally drops to the number which is needed to keep the broadband + mobile backhaul network running. So the happy wagging of the tail will direct the dog in the needed direction.

3. Openreach is a cost+fixed profit regulated company. Even if it was not for the union, the more staff, the more cost, the more profit. A massive rollout mandate agreed by the industry can offset to a point where there is no overall reduction and keep shareholders happy.

If it was not for these three, he would have never suggested it. In fact, I still remember the days when anyone who provided him with this rather obvious brief would have been made to regret it. Thankfully, things have changed (hopefully for the better).

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Paying more

Whilst the do pay their taxes, they do also get rebates/grants. Something for the govt to consider as a "stakeholder" too.

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Re: Paying more

What, and kill the cash cow? Copper land lines make a heap of money for BT. They are not going to drop that in a hurry.

Down here in Sussex I notice many properties far from civilization have fibre brought to a pole next to the house. Then at a small green box on the pole the signal is converted to copper for the last 50 metres or so. Why?

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Re: Paying more

Why didn't the cost prevent mass electrification and the creation of the national grid in the UK then?

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Re: Paying more

Her Majesty Correctional Facility Adastral Park

Snigger. I don't agree with your post, but that is an accurate representation of Martlesham Heath :)

It was much better when it was BTRL.

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Re: Paying more

You seem to be forgetting the capital cost, and running of the equipment/routers etc. Full fibre os more sophisticated than 2 tin cans and some string.

Also to ensure SLA, you need to contract and resource support. This costs too.

Everyone wants broadband for the price of a tin of beans.

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Re: Paying more

BT may be unionised, but the Union tail definitiely does not wag the dog.

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Thumb Up

They know what they need to do. They know what's needed to achieve that. But as ever it's the practicalities that cause the problem.

Remove copper: Yes. Sadly its scrap value probably doesn't meet the removal costs. Ofcom and BT seem to be in agreement on the issue of power backup though so seems reasonable. Just got to hope all the CPs agree to moving their reluctant customers on to it.

Changing the pricing environment: Ofcom did say a couple of years ago that it felt it had achieved satisfactory take up so was prepared to allow prices to rise to encourage investment. But the evidence for willing customer participation is weak.

It'll be very interesting to see how the new report is received. I hope there will be some thought given to avoiding overlaying coax with fibre. The project would be a lot easier if everyone accepted that VM cable was good enough. Unfortunately that's effectively handing half the country over to VM. That will cause tears in two boardrooms. BT won't like relinquishing control. VM won't like being forced to offer a wholesale product.

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Anonymous Coward

"Real" fibre?

Or something like G.PON? I want decent upload speeds as well as download, as does anyone who wants to use cloud backup and the likes.

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Re: "Real" fibre?

I had 1G up and down fibre, which could run steadily at 1G both ways all day long, for 6 years. This service was provided by G.PON equipment. Now I've moved to the UK, and I get 1Mbps up/500kbps down on a good day. Welcome to the third world.

G.PON allows for fast balanced up and down speeds. Its a matter of how it is configured. Over 6 years of use the Alcatel G.PON boxes in our 2 apartments hiccuped 2 or 3 times, and needed a power cycle. Those are the interruptions we had. G.PON seems like a very solid system.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "Real" fibre?

Typical GPON is 32 users on one fibre port sharing 2.4G down and 1.2G up.

For the vast majority of users, this means they'll get 1G/1G in those short bursts when they need it (mainly when accessing speedtest.net :-)

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Removing Copper

The problem with removing the old copper cabling, is that you can't remove a copper cable until EVERY service has been removed from it. But to do that, you need to have installed all the fibre in the first place.

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Anonymous Coward

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.

I stopped reading right there. Why would BT invest in fiber optics when it can continue to milk the copper cash cow?

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Why would BT invest in fiber optics when it can continue to milk the copper cash cow?

One possibility is that a tipping point has been reached. BT has been pressured into reducing the line rental for telephone-only copper and many households have dispensed with fixed lines altogether. That essentially means their profit comes from broadband subscribers but they represent a diminishing proportion of their infrastructure. Their competitor broadband providers see the costs BT charge them for access to the local loop going up while their ability to deliver increased speeds is reaching a practical technology limit. If BT isn't going to start delivering FTTP, they'll do it themselves.

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Why would BT invest in fiber optics when it can continue to milk the copper cash cow?

It's not as simple as milking the copper cash cow. Consider what's behind this quote

“we need to be able to switch off the copper network. The economics don't make any sense if we keep the copper network running at the same time as we overbuild with a fibre network.”

Why don't the economics make sense? Because customers with a satisfactory copper connection, either POTS or FTTC won't want to pay FTTP prices. All fibre would be a much fatter cash cow. Make no mistake, if OpenReach can get rid of copper everyone pays more.

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Take a for-instance:

A large rural site I work for, with many incoming lines, just went all SIP.

BT / Openreach couldn't be bothered (literally) to run a leased line when requested. They dragged feet for THREE YEARS. I'm not even kidding. So the order was forcibly cancelled. That woke them up enough to wonder why, because I think they were convinced they were the only ones able to actually get a line there.

Turns out, even though Virgin's business postcode checker "said no", the man on the end of the phone said "Yes" when I asked. We moved heaven and earth and had to do all kinds of things to get it in (including digging our own trench through neighbouring land, etc.) but we got it there. And it's been there three years, speed as promised.

BT / Openreach even tried to access the site AFTER their install was cancelled "to finish connecting us" and I had them removed. Literally, they took three years to put in three bits of empty plastic tubing that weren't even jointed. VM got their line there in 3 months.

So would BT have wanted the work? No, because of one simple reason. In the years of flawless service since, we've ditched every BT line coming into the property and replaced them with a single SIP trunk over the fibre. It's cheaper, easier, allows us to redirect the lines on a whim from a smartphone, can be run over literally ANY internet connection technology we go to in the future, and "just works". Nobody outside could even tell we did it, we still have all the same numbers, better call quality (BT's copper cables collapsed at least once, and every time it rains we lost four specific lines or they went incredibly crackly), and no hassle.

That's what BT don't want people doing, over their own fibre or over their competitor's. They know they'll lose all that easy money from the copper analogue/ADSL/ISDN lines overnight.

I think SIP really worries BT. And I really hope I'm right. Maybe it'll force them to change their ways. I'm still surprised that Virgin Media don't just have a "SIP" option in their default home router (hell, with a Draytek router at home, I can plug in an analogue phone and it becomes a normal SIP client with failover-to-analogue-line if I want - and when unpowered is just a straight analogue phone connection) rather than faffing about with cable-splitters and whatnot like they still do. Surely one device could do cable TV, cable Internet and be an analogue phone interface.

To be honest, workplaces are almost entirely IP and PoE now - phones, wireless, CCTV, etc. I think it's only a matter of time before some small startup pushes it into homes as a commodity technology with some IP/PoE gadget.

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Many a negative anedcote of Virgin media's crummy installs would make even GPO Engineers of Yore chortle.

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Unhappy

“We need a regulatory environment that moves away from lower pricing to encourage investment in the network,”

Given the continual above inflation increase in the line rental changes from all Openreach sellers, that excuse isn't washing with me.

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Anonymous Coward

Openreach don't see that money. The line rental they receive is £7 a month.

Broadband in the UK is really very cheap - the model Ofcom adopted has driven pricing down and encouraged wholesaling but it doesn't provide much incentive for infrastructure investment.

The iron triangle in last mile networks consists of cheap, widely available and fibre. You can pick two of the three.

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Anonymous Coward

Business plan

1. Maintain monopoloy on local loop.

2. Get Vladimir Putin's phone number in case we have to swing the government decision.

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Personally, I read that as...

My translation - "You've nobbled our ability to rip people off on the copper network, so we want to switch it off and lock people into our fibre product instead."

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Openreach FTTP creates a monopoly for BT

If you move to FTTP and don't have a copper line as well as fibre you will be given a new phone number. BT are breaching Ofcom rules because they can't transfer numbers from copper to FTTP or vice versa, nor can they transfer numbers between FTTP premises even when both locations are on the same exchange.

For those unfortunate enough to be on FTTP only (without copper) and having to use Fibre Voice Access (FVA) for voice telephony, you can't change provider because BT are the only provider to support FVA. In my opinion, from the emails I've seen between BT and Openreach, this was and is deliberate market manipulation to give BT a monopoly on provision of service.

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Re: Openreach FTTP creates a monopoly for BT

can't transfer numbers from copper to FTTP

As far as I'm aware, FVA is just a VoIP solution. There's nothing to stop you getting a VoIP service from anyone and installing your own adapter box for your existing phones. You can usually port an existing landline number to a VoIP service - though you have to port it while it's still in service, it's too late once the original service has been disconnected.

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