Transitioning to a fully digital world

14 million copper lines need to convert to digital lines in the next four years. Matt Dexter, head of client partnerships at Openreach, explains why the company’s new Equinox product will help turbo-charge digital migration.

Twelve months ago, we told our communication provider (CP) customers that we would stop selling copper products in exchanges that reach 75 per cent full fibre coverage. At the beginning of last month this became a reality for 134 fibre exchanges covering around 1.3m premises across the UK in what is a major stepping-stone in our 10-to-15-year journey to move from a copper network to full fibre.

We’ve now notified industry of 458 exchange areas that have now stopped selling copper products and services or will go ‘stop sell’ over the coming months. More are being added every quarter as our full fibre build continues, but we still have a long way to go with some 14 million lines needing to convert to digital lines.

To succeed we need our CP customers to be selling full fibre products and services on our network to their end user customers. We’re confident that Equinox, which officially launched on October 1, will turbo charge the drive to full fibre adoption.

Simple and competitive

Simply put, the deal offers CPs the supply of FTTP at a connection and rental discount to its standard prices, in return for a CP agreeing that a minimum proportion of the new broadband and voice orders it decides to place with Openreach will be for FTTP (where that is available). We believe Equinox offers simple and competitive pricing which gives them the long-term certainty and flexibility they need.

So far this has been borne out with the response from CPs with a least eight customers now contracted and taking advantage of the pricing discounts. We fully expect the majority of our FTTP customers will sign up to the contract across the next 6 months. Despite the early signs of success, there’s been a lot of talk and frankly disinformation about Equinox. Let me try to put the record straight here.

Alt-nets have run two broad arguments against, first, that Equinox prices are too low and won’t support competitive build in some rural areas where costs are higher. Ofcom does not accept this and the Wholesale Fixed Telecoms Market Review set regulated anchor prices at uniform levels across the UK. As Equinox pricing is consistent with those anchor price levels, it makes sense that Ofcom finds no concerns about the ability of efficient network builders to enter the market and compete effectively.

Second, they’ve argued that CPs will continue to rely on the Openreach copper/FTTC network for some volume of new orders. This may mean that using alternative networks to supply their other orders leads to the Equinox targets being missed and the CP paying higher prices for remaining Openreach FTTP lines.

Alt-nets argue this risk could act as a deterrent to using Alt-nets. Ofcom does not agree that this risk arises given that CPs will be shifting sales activity to FTTP and away from copper/FTTC to the benefit of all ultrafast capable network builders and that Openreach is, in any event, introducing stop-sell rules in exchange areas over time which will prevent any new copper/FTTC orders being placed. Furthermore, the CPs themselves have been clear that Equinox will not impact their choice of network supplier and that, if they saw a risk that it might, they would have objected. CPs will want to see full competition on the merits between networks as they are built out.

FTTP-first

We want customers to use the new network for the flow of new orders. You win a customer from another CP, put them on FTTP. You upgrade a customer line speed, put them on FTTP. You sign up a new premises or a household that was mobile only, put them on FTTP.

This is only about ensuring orders placed ‘with Openreach’ are placed on ‘Openreach’ FTTP rather than ‘Openreach’ copper/FTTC. We are not making prices conditional on placing any particular volume of orders with Openreach and limiting the use of the new networks or on retaining volumes on our network.

To attract business to their networks, Altnets will need to offer better prices, better speeds. Better service and/or better network reliability than Openreach offers to support the supply of services to end customers.

Openreach has now been working on our All-IP program for several years and over the last 6-12 months we’ve seen much greater engagement and innovation from the channel as you have embraced that this is happening in 2025. I am sure that in this edition of Comms Business multiple partners of ours will be upselling there IP offerings and there will be lots of discussions about what tomorrow is bringing.

As well as the launch of Equinox, we’re looking to make the transition to a fully digital word as easy as possible by evolving our portfolio and the offerings. For example, we are looking a how do we make the install process of SOGEA (Single Order Generic Ethernet Access) more ‘business friendly’ and through the working groups industry is helping us shape our product for the future.

As many of you will be aware the digital upgrade will affect everyone in the UK using the current analogue (copper based) phone lines (and ISDN digital lines). It will impact everyone from consumers to suppliers of specialist services such as lifts, alarms, card payment readers, fax machines and health pendants.

To help ease the transition – Openreach last month opened the Digital Services Test Lab located at our Judd Street HQ, the first to offer hardware device providers from industries as diverse as telecare, alarms, CNI telemetry and lifts. It gives vendors of hardware used on our telephony network the opportunity to test their current and future devices, in an All-IP environment, against FTTP and SOGEA and on different CPs routers at the same time.

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