FOXed by the detail?

FCS members are encouraged by the announcement of Openreach's plans for Fibre Only trials, and in particular by the news that BT Wholesale will be developing a voice product for service provider and reseller CPs. However, FCS will continue to monitor detailed delivery carefully, writes FCS General Manager Michael Eagle.

Openreach has now announced plans for its first Fibre Only Exchange (FOX) trial, which will take place in the Deddington area of rural north Oxfordshire. Deddington itself is a village on the edge of the Cotswolds and about six miles south of Banbury. The exchange area also includes the outlying villages of Clifton and Hempton. In presenting its plans at the first FOX industry forum, held on 4th May, Openreach explained why it chose Deddington. With around 1,400 lines, Deddington meets the basic profile on size and also provides an exchange with a relatively simple technology profile - a low number of businesses using ISDN or multiline and no LLU or pre-existing next generation technology.

It is worth noting, and is also a testament to the success and depth of competition in the sector, that some 55 CPs have customers in this very small exchange area. This diversity means that it will be crucial for Openreach to take proper account of the needs of a wide range of CPs of very different sizes and business models and to ensure that all are provided with products that will enable them to continue to compete effectively. FCS has been invited to play a central role on behalf of its members in coordinating these requirements.

Openreach has also clarified that there will in fact be two exchange based trials - the Deddington trial will be based on the deployment of Fibre to the Premise (FTTP) products and an additional exchange will be selected for a further trial using Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC) products. At the forum Openreach explained its objectives for the trial and the reasons for the timing of the pilots. Essentially, the aim is to provide all stakeholders (including Openreach and its customer CPs) with a practical learning opportunity within an enclosed environment but very much in the real world. This will enable all involved to get ahead of the curve as the growing need for speed and the development of new products drives the demand for Fibre Only infrastructure. The experience will also enable Openreach to plan more effectively for future upgrades of what is now an aging legacy network.

From the perspective of FCS members, the Deddington trial is vitally important because it will set the scene and define the competitive marketplace for all Fibre Only areas. Logic dictates that Fibre Only is the future, whether this takes two years or 20 years to become reality. In the short to medium term, however, new sites are increasingly likely to be Fibre Only (up to now Openreach has continued to provide a parallel copper line where FTTP is used at new sites - a policy which is likely to change soon) so availability of the right next generation products is key. In terms of supporting competition, therefore, appropriate product offerings at these new sites are arguably even more important than the exchange pilots.

The main issue for FCS members in all of these fibre environments is voice provision. As reported in Comms Dealer earlier this year, FCS members have major concerns that reseller and service provider CPs will not be able to compete effectively in this new environment because they do not have the necessary infrastructure to consume the voice products being provided by Openreach.

It was very welcome, therefore, that BT Wholesale has announced plans for provision of a new Fibre Line Calls (FLC) product. BT Wholesale confirmed that its objective is to provide an end to end Wholesale Calls type product which will run over the fibre connection. The aim is for FLC to replicate most features of the current WLR/Wholesale Calls model. BT Wholesale has also indicated that commercials for FLC will be broadly comparable to existing voice products.

Although these initial indications are encouraging, the devil will undoubtedly be in the detail and, as noted above, FCS will be representing the views of its members in these discussions to ensure that the service which is ultimately delivered for reseller and service provider CPs will be effective in supporting competition with the bigger players developing their own voice services. FCS has already submitted a shopping list of requirements to BT Wholesale which can be simply summed up as ‘a service which replicates all the key functionality of WLR'. The debate starts here.

Phasing of product delivery and the physical network build is also a very important consideration. These aspects of the project must be managed in a way that does not provide a competitive advantage to any CPs or enable them to poach customers due to unavailability of products for resellers (even temporarily) during the trial period.

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