Ofcom to look into dark fibre in business comms review
UK communications regulator Ofcom may consider making BT offer a dark fibre product when reviews the business connectivity market later this year.
It’s about time. The business community in the shape of the Communications Management Association, whose members buy £13bn of communications products a year, has been calling for access to dark fibre for years.
More recently, Europe’s Digital Agenda champion Neelie Kroes said national regulators should force incumbent telcos to offer dark fibre if they wouldn’t do it voluntarily.
Bill Murphy, the man in charge of BT’s next generation access project, is on record saying BT would never offer dark fibre because of the collapse of prices following the dotcom crash.
Businesses and BT competitors would love access to BT fibre, even if most of it only goes as far as a street cabinet. This is because they can put their own active electronics into exchanges and cabinets and operate the fibres at a lower cost than BT charges.
Ofcom looked at dark fibre in its wholesale local access review in 2010. It said then, “The reality is that in the UK – even in large metropolitan areas – there is very little dark fibre deployed in the access network. Dark fibre therefore does not represent a realistic option for competition at this point in time (October 2010).”
Which missed the point that it has never insisted that BT provide such a product. It also ignores the fact that there are plenty of suppliers that offer dark fibre, including BT. But these offers are to the corporate, rather than the residential or local internet service provider markets.
BT is one of nine dark fibre suppliers listed in the government’s framework procurement list. The others are Carillion, Easynet, Fibrespan, Global Crossing, Siemens, Synetrix, Thus and Virgin Media Business. Other UK suppliers include Geo Networks and Vtesse Networks.
BT claims to have over eight million kilometres of fibre installed (in addition to 121 million km of copper, and to have supplied more than 50 wide area or metropolitan area networks that use its DWDM (dense wavelength division multiplexing) for network speeds between 2.5Gbps and 10Gbps.
However, most of this fibre is in its core and “middle-mile” networks. Rather than have fibres running from point to point, it uses GPON, a gigabit-capable passive optical network architecture that uses a point-to-multipoint scheme that allows a single optical fibre to serve multiple premises.
In Ofcom’s wholesale local access consultation in March 2010 it said it did not “consider fibre unbundling to be a realistic option on a GPON network.”
Instead it proposed to make BT offer Vula (virtual unbundled local access) and access to its physical infrastructure (PIA). This would allow competitors to offer services over rented BT fibres, or to install their own fibre (or copper) on BT’s ducts and poles.