Openreach’s New Broadband Extension Pods are Popping Up All Over



Officially speaking Openreach (BT) hasn’t yet announced the start of their post-pilot commercial roll-out of 330Mbps capable (ITU G.9700/9701) hybrid fibre broadband technology, yet unofficially the related PCP street cabinet extension pods have been popping up all over the place.

Lately all the talk in the media has been about the growing plans for large-scale deployments of ultrafast “full fibre” (FTTP/H) broadband and the proposed 10Mbps USO. Even Openreach are now in the process of consulting on a project that could theoretically see their own 1Gbps Fibre-to-the-Premise network being extended to cover up to 10 million UK premises by around 2025, which could cost anything from around £3bn to £6bn.

The situation has left some to ponder, ourselves included, about what impact all of this might have upon Openreach’s existing plan to make their new 330Mbps technology available to 10 million homes and businesses by the end of 2020. Officially the technology is only being deployed to cover around 138,000 premises in 20 UK locations as part of the pre-commercial pilot phase, but unofficially there seem to be more happening.

Over the past few months we’ve received various emails, tweets and comments about extension pods (Openreach builds these on to the side of existing PCP street cabinets) popping up outside of existing pilot areas. This is what we’d expect to see ahead of a large-scale commercial deployment.

Industry observers with a long enough memory will quickly recall that we saw almost exactly the same approach being taken during 2009-10, between the large-scale pilot of early 40-80Mbps Fibre-to-the-Cabinet (FTTC / VDSL2) technology and its commercial roll-out. Back then BT quietly set about merrily building FTTC cabinets all over the country and the service thus launched with much larger footprint than its pilot.

We asked Openreach about the latest activity in July but so far they’ve been reluctant to respond. At this point we could list some of the many non-pilot areas where people are spotting pods (note: some people get these confused with general extension pods for other purposes, which look similar) but instead we thought it might be better to focus on one, which has a particularly interesting history.

One of the most recent examples comes from the now infamous Hunslet Cabinet 82 in Middleton (Leeds), which several years ago was described by Openreach as being a “small cab with a small number of premise connected to it … it would not be commercially viable to upgrade.” This was despite local campaigners being able to show that there was in fact plenty of demand. Eventually the problem was solved.

Today Hunslet 82 is a full size cabinet, which is now also flanked by two additional cabs from Huawei. Openreach has even had to build a PCP extension in order to cater for the huge demand. The street with all these cabinets on is beginning to look a touch crowded and locals, who have long suggested that FTTP might have worked better for the area, appear to have been proven correct.

A extension pod appears to have been built on to the side and there’s no mention of this on the operator’s availability checker, which is in keeping with all of the other non-pilot pods that have been quietly popping up over the summer. Admittedly this could be for an extension to the existing pilot but those are usually announced before a deployment begins.

On top of that Openreach has previously indicated that their commercial roll-out of would begin during the latter half of 2017 and we imagine they’d need to stick to that in order to keep within their 2020 target. All of this is interesting because we had wondered whether or not the operator might sacrifice some or all of their areas in favour of FTTP, although on this point there is an alternative argument to be made.

The problem with FTTP is that it’s slow and expensive to deploy, while is fairly cheap and quick to roll-out (e.g. 10 million premises by 2020 for vs 10 million premises by c.2025 for FTTP). In that sense Openreach may not wish to be left too far behind their rivals (i.e. with only FTTC) as that would be a gamble in a market that is becoming increasingly competitive at the infrastructure level.

Put another way, until there’s more certainty then Openreach doesn’t have much to lose by deploying to their original plan. It’s entirely possible that some plans could still be changed for FTTP in the future (they might even do and FTTP in some areas) but for the time being the operator appears to be in the process of ramping up.

No doubt those new pods will all suddenly go live at some point in the future and it would be nice to know when that will happen.


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