Openreach tests streamlined duct and pole sharing processes

Stinging from criticism that has led UK regulator Ofcom to direct that it make its infrastructure available to more service providers, BT local infrastructure unit Openreach says it has begun a trial of a simplified duct and pole sharing process. The regime under trial is designed to give alternative service providers the ability to perform more of the attachment work themselves and without Openreach's permission.

Stinging from criticism that has led UK regulator Ofcom to direct that it make its infrastructure available to more service providers, BT local infrastructure unit Openreach says it has begun a trial of a simplified duct and pole sharing process. The regime under trial is designed to give alternative service providers the ability to perform more of the attachment work themselves and without Openreach's permission.

The trial comes in the wake of a recent Strategic Review of Digital Communications that has had Ofcom ponder whether BT should spin out Openreach completely (see "Ofcom: BT can keep Openreach for now, but changes needed"). Several BT competitors have complained that Openreach has made access to poles and ducts too cumbersome. Perhaps as a sign of such troubles, Openreach says that the trial, in which five service providers are participating, represents the largest use of its poles and ducts so far.

The new procedures derive from three enhancements:

  1. Faster survey and build processes that allow operators to inspect Openreach's ducts and poles and, if there is space, install fiber cables immediately without seeking additional permission
  2. Autonomous blockage clearing, which gives operators the authority to clear any blockages they find without needing Openreach's permission
  3. New distribution permissions that enable operators to install new distribution joints inside Openreach junction boxes; previously, competitive operators could only insert new joints and connections within their own underground chambers.

An industry working group launched in November 2015 suggested the new procedures, which have found favor from at least some of the five trial participants.

"We have been using Openreach's duct and pole access since 2011, and consider ourselves experts in this area," said Andy Conibere, managing director of trial participant Callflow. "These trials mean we can build significant superfast and ultrafast networks quicker and cheaper, and can potentially make a massive difference to spreading fibre broadband to the most difficult to reach areas."

Openreach also says it is hard at work creating new digital maps of its UK network infrastructure.

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