Is Openreach seeking the justification to cool off on fibre?

Openreach has weighed into the fibre shouting match, calling for greater collaboration and research into the customer demands of FTTP infrastructure.

It might be an innocent consultation designed to meet the demands of Ofcom, which has asked the wholesaler to be more transparent with its plans, but it also might be a bit of penny pinching. In a very glorious statement, Openreach has called on greater collaboration from the industry to make Britain great again, and the need to spread the risk of future investments.

“With the right conditions we believe we could make FTTP available to as many as 10 million homes and businesses by the mid-2020s, but we need to understand if there’s sufficient demand to justify the roll-out, and support for the enablers needed to build a viable business case,” said Openreach CEO Clive Selley.

“That includes removing barriers to investment and incentivising those, like Openreach, who are prepared to take a commercial risk.”

It’s a slightly odd statement to make. For clarity, the statement itself is not odd, such PR laden and over the top rhetoric are common place, but the fact that Openreach is making it is. It’s a bit out of the blue from an organization which is usually happy to keep itself to itself.

The statement also requests that the industry research whether there is actually customer demand for FTTP deployments. Considering this is something which has been promised for some time, perhaps this question should have been asked a few years ago. Questioning the commercial case for such a deployment is quite sensible, but there are numerous government commitments and think tank notes that demonstrate the necessity of such a network for the UK to remain globally relevant.

Throughout, there is a slight undertone which may indicate Openreach is looking for a reason not to spend big on fibre infrastructure. Perhaps this consultation is seeking justification to downgrade fibre ambitions to G.Fast or other copper based alternatives. Maybe the team lacks the ambition to look far enough into the future and realise the acceleration of data services and internet based business models demand the presence of fibre. This might not be for 10 or 15 years, but to meet these requirements, the groundwork needs to start now.

In that sense its very British. Its conservative by nature, sceptical of ambition and afraid of commitment. The government doesn’t seem to want to fund the fibre revolution and now the dominant wholesaler doesn’t seem to want to either.

What is likely to be the case is that Openreach doesn’t want to spend the money on its own. Ofcom has forced the wholesaler to open up its ducts and poles to allow operators to lay their own fibre should they choose to, however such statements would suggest there has been little uptake. The operators are happy to moan about Openreach not investing in fibre, but they don’t want to spend their own cash either. Perhaps this is a passive-aggressive strategy to get either Ofcom or the Government to force the operators to chip in as well?

The future is not looking particularly bright for the British digital economy right now, but on the plus side, at least Three will have something to moan about in a self-righteous press release tomorrow.

  • Cable Next-Gen Technologies & Strategies

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