Openreach trials simplified duct and pole sharing process

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Openreach, BT’s local network division, has begun trialling new, simplified duct and pole sharing processes with five communications providers across the UK.

The trials could encourage more broadband providers to invest in new fibre networks, as they give companies the ability to carry out more work themselves, more quickly and efficiently, without seeking permission from Openreach.

Duct and pole sharing processes have been in place since 2011, but have received little interest. It is perhaps a reflection of this fact that Openreach says the current trial represents the largest third-party use of its ducts and poles to date.

The changes are being made in response to the regulator’s Digital Communications Review, published in February this year, in which Ofcom demanded that Openreach’s duct and pole sharing processes be improved (see BT avoids breakup following Ofcom digital review).

The trials will test several enhancements to the current process, including:

  • Faster survey and build – allowing companies to inspect Openreach’s ducts and poles and, if there is space, install fibre cables immediately without seeking additional permission.
  • Autonomous blockage clearing – giving companies the authority to clear any blockages they find, without needing consent from Openreach
  • New distribution permissions – allowing companies to install new distribution joints inside Openreach junction boxes, making deployments quicker and more cost effective. Previously CPs could only insert new joints and connections within their own underground chambers.

These efforts to streamline the process have been developed by an industry working group, which launched in November 2015, according to Openreach.

Separately Openreach is working to create new digital maps recording the location and condition of its UK network infrastructure, which will be available to other companies wishing to plan and deploy their own new fibre networks.

Callflow, NextGenAccess and WarwickNet are amongst the communications providers taking part in the trials, which have already begun. The trials are open to all companies on an equivalent basis. This means that any company can participate under the same timescales, terms and conditions, and using the same systems and processes.  

Andy Conibere, MD of Callflow, said: ‘We have been using Openreach’s duct and pole access since 2011, and consider ourselves experts in this area. 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.’

Commenting on the improved duct and pole sharing process, Clive Selley, CEO, Openreach said: ‘This is an important step which gives greater access to our network and encourages other companies to join Openreach in building better, broader and faster communications services for the whole UK.’

He added: ‘Our ducts and poles have been open to these companies for several years, and Ofcom has been clear that the price to access them is in line with international comparisons, but they haven’t been used on a large scale to date. We hope that these new, simpler processes – which have been designed and developed in partnership with the industry – will encourage more companies to invest, particularly in parts of the UK that aren’t already served by high-speed networks.’

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