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Openreach tells El Reg it'll kill off copper sales in 118 UK locations next year

Comms regulator Ofcom yet to rubberstamp proposals

Broadband plumber Openreach will discontinue sales of copper-based products in more than 100 exchange areas across the UK, starting from June 2021, it said today. The move is part of Openreach's effort to discontinue the legacy analogue network in favour of full fibre connectivity.

The 118 exchange locations (PDF) selected by Openreach represent ones where fibre-to-the-premises (FFTP) connections are most prevalent. These encompass over 1.2 million premises across all four home nations, and include urban areas like Dagenham and Liverpool, as well as less densely-populated locations, like Boreland in the Southern Uplands of Scotland.

Speaking to The Register, Mark Logan, Openreach director of products claimed that for his employer to cease selling copper-based products in an exchange area, the rate of FTTP penetration must reach 75 per cent, or be likely to surpass 75 percent within a calendar year.

“We consulted with our customers on what was the right trigger-point for implementing stop-sell. We proposed 75 per cent and got some fairly okay feedback from that,” he said.

As time goes on, the pipe-slinger will discontinue copper sales in more exchange areas, with Logan expecting a further 100 to be announced this year. “This will be a rolling programme,” he said. “We haven’t decided, but we might [announce new batches] every month or every quarter.”

Openreach’s stop-sell policy will be formalised by Ofcom in as part of its upcoming market review, due to be published in March 2021.

Logan said he doesn’t expect any real hurdles, but acknowledged that the finer details of Openreach’s stop-sell policies could potentially be changed if the regulator objects, or receives critical feedback from industry.

Openreach expects that full-fibre will be available to 4.5 million premises by 2021, bolstered by ambitious subsidies from central government. This is part of an overall effort to modernise the UK’s telecommunications infrastructure, which would, in turn, allow Openreach to switch off the legacy copper network and reduce its operational costs.

There is no formal date when the copper network will be retired, although Openreach is reportedly aiming for a 2027 timetable. The National Infrastructure Commission is even more ambitious, mooting a 2025 deadline, with the nationwide FTTP deployment concluded by 2023. ®

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