back to article Openreach needs to snap that BT umbilical cord, warns Ofcom

Openreach still needs stronger independence since being not-quite cut from the BT fold, telecoms regulator Ofcom has found. In its first annual monitoring report (PDF) on how the legal separation is going, the regulator also expressed concern at the UK's pitiful full-fibre connectivity of 7 per cent. In 2017, Ofcom decided …

  1. Halfmad Silver badge

    Mobile is faster

    I pay £20/month for unlimited data on my phone, I tether it to my PC at home in order to download large files.. it's 5 times faster than my FTTC home broadband.

    Latency is an issue with mobile, but pure download/upload (which is 3x faster) it's crazy how poor the old copper is.

    1. Headley_Grange Silver badge

      Re: Mobile is faster

      "it's crazy how poor the old copper is".

      I'm on twisted pair that must be at least 40-years old and originally designed to carry 4kHz analog voice. It's laid in-the-soft, about 200yds from the cabinet and I still get 8.9Mbps down. I'd say it's crazy how fast the poor old copper is, considering.

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Mobile is faster

        I'm about 150 feet from my VDSL cabinet.

        I was getting 80Mb/s when it was first installed and the router claimed it was good for 100Mb/s

        Now it's down to 68Mb/s and declining every day as more VDSL clients get added (This is _entirely_ down to crosstalk, not rotten copper)

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Mobile is faster

      >Mobile is faster

      Try the hills of Derbyshire and you'll be lucky to get a mobile signal outdoors never mind indoors in a lot of areas. Fortunately we have FTTC but how I wish I was in a b4rn area.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Mobile is faster

      Lucky you. That's all I can say.

      For me, 4G is only available (2 bars) in one room at home. Otherwise it is 3G only. That's with '3'.

      Voda and EE are worse coz I've tried them.

      I get on a good day 70mbits down and 20mbits up.

      Sky passed my home but there is no way to connect it as the scumbag installers who worked for NTL didn't put connection points in for my home and around 20% of the other houses in the street.

      So it is a BT owned line that comes overhead. I don't hold out much hope of getting FTTP this side of the next millenium.

      So carry on gloating about how good and cheaper your mobile connection is. There are millions of people in the same situation as me.

      1. Roland6 Silver badge

        Re: Mobile is faster

        >I get on a good day 70mbits down and 20mbits up.

        If that is on the '3' mobile connection then that is good!

        >So carry on gloating about how good and cheaper your mobile connection is.

        So you're not using a '3' truly unlimited SIM?

        > There are millions of people in the same situation as me.

        Agree, I was in that category: sub 512kbps on ADSL and 2+Mbps on '3' (before external antenna) then we got FTTC a couple of years back and now get 40/10Mbps which outperforms (and cheaper) what I can get get currently on mobile...

      2. Tom 7 Silver badge

        Re: Mobile is faster

        Nowhere in my house gets more than 1 bar for 4g. As a yokel though we got a free external aerial and now we are getting 30MBps in the evenings and twice as much during the day. Though it may be dropping out when one of those 20' high hay-bobs goes past the LOS which can be quite frequently during a silage frenzy.

        Best of all we have switched our phone over from BT and it looks as if they will get openretch to fix the copper which BT couldnt get them to do for some reason.Which will make those 'Hello BT calling to tell you your broadband is going to be switched off' a lot clearer!

    4. Lee D Silver badge

      Re: Mobile is faster

      I pay £25 for unlimited data on a 4G SIM with explicit tethering allowance of 1000Gb / month.

      It's faster than all the broadband I was offered when I moved into my BT-provision-only flat. I didn't even bother to activate the phone line. It would literally cost more to activate a dead line and get it up to scratch than it would to pay for a year of 4G. And the line is dead-dead, as in nothing, not even a message.

      The speed is fine, the latency is fine (I game over it all the time), and BT could only promise me "up to 10Mb" if I went with ADSL2, and VDSL wasn't available.

      It's cheaper to use a mobile telecoms network to connect to the Internet, run SIP over it, and tie it into my network as the primary gateway than it is to faff around with fixed-line stuff. That's a bad sign.

      And I'm sitting here with a decent router with ADSL/VDSL already built into it.

  2. J. R. Hartley

    Fibre

    If Thatcher hadn't scuppered fibre back in the 80s, the UK would be leading the world in fibre right now. But alas, she did, and here we are. And then BT shafted Marconi to go to Huawei, so we dont even have the technology in the UK any more.

    We really know how to fuck things up in the UK alright.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Fibre

      I thought you would like BT, they did help you get your copy of Fly Fishing via the yellow pages.

      1. J. R. Hartley

        Re: Fibre

        That bloody book has caused me more heartache than anything else in my life. I do wish people wouldn't go on about it so much. I have a vast canon of other books you know.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Fibre

          The Thomson local?

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Fibre

          >I have a vast canon of other books you know.

          I'm looking for a book on canons, do you have one ?

          1. TimMaher Bronze badge
            Coat

            Re: Fibre

            Books on canons seem to be out of stock.

            How about "Vergers, Clerks and Choristers in the moden world"?

            I'll get my coat. It's hanging in the vestry.

        3. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse Silver badge

          Re: Fibre

          And a jam and condiments empire also yes?

    2. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Fibre

      "And then BT shafted Marconi to go to Huawei"

      Macaroni did a very good job of shafting themselves, which is a pity because in the late 80s they'd started turning out some bloody nice test kit.

    3. Tom 7 Silver badge

      Re: Fibre

      We probably do have the technology - I left some of it in my desk at MH when I left. I am still amazed when talking to FO engineers that we actually had the technology at the end of the 80s that is still leagues ahead of what the market seems to offer, or a fuck of a sight cheaper if not both.

    4. leexgx

      Re: Fibre

      Yep we have fiber right now if it was not for that stupid decision (I understand why they did it because at the time there was no unbundling or virtual unbundling light we have on vdsl I am not calling it fiber)

      bt actually built a factory for all the fiber and equipment (most of it any way) there wouldn't of been a single copper line at all apart from cable

      Virgin cable would actually have to compleat with open reach and fix utilisation issues in certain Street areas and we would of had docsis 3.1 > 1gb speeds last year (not long after docsis 3.1 was made)

      1. J. R. Hartley

        Re: Fibre

        Yep. And most people seem to be unaware of the whole scandal. Even on here apparently.

  3. steelpillow Silver badge

    4G router

    Have a 4G router sitting on my windowsill. Reception is dodgy for phones but the router laps it up. It has a socket for a booster antenna were I to need one. FTTC is a frikkin' joke round here.

    1. Lee D Silver badge

      Re: 4G router

      Same.

      I bought the antenna too.

      It didn't make a huge difference in top speed (because that's limited by what they want to give me, really) but it made the connection much more stable and predictable.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Expecting 5g to beat fibre

    As Halfmad, I use a three contract instead of a wired connection. For me, its 3x faster than my 17Mbps FTTC connection was. It looks likely that the 5g rollout will reach me a couple of decades before Openreach are willing or able to provide a faster connection

  5. Keith Oborn

    Pedant alert

    <pedant> s/chord/cord/ </pedant>

    Unless the intention is for Openreach to mess with BT's organ playing? Must admit I have no idea that an "umbilical chord" sounds like ;-)

    1. jonathan keith Silver badge

      Re: Pedant alert

      It's a sort of squelching twang. Deeply unpleasant by any measure. (Ergo the perfect metaphor for BT.)

  6. HmYiss

    but but but..

    but then how are BT supposed to corrupt the entire telecoms landscape?

  7. Alan Brown Silver badge

    Well gosh

    Not-separated company is still beholden to mummy's apron strings.

    Who'da thunk it?

    Not the New Zealand Commerce Commission, obviously

    Lesson: One needs to cleave the lines equipment (and management) from the dialtone company (and management), or else the one can leverage the other to enforce its anticompetitive behaviour.

    This is what the New Zealanders thoroughly documented about the UK market when Telecom NZ tried to rollout the BT model - showing that BT was still a monopolistic player - and told Telecom NZ that they had to split the company entirely in two, not just flip off the lines servicing company and keep the copper.

    Documented here: https://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/05/25/tnz_split/

    The effect on the market was STARK and shows what happens when a regulator grows some bollocks - the NZ commerce regulators documented how much damage the telco monopoly was doing to the national economy (about 10% of GDP) and said "enough is enough"

    It also shows that the CORRECT regulator is the monoplies and markets side of the government, NOT Ofcom. They're utterly incompetent to regulate business operations (as was the NZ version of Ofcom) and should stick to their core competencies.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Well gosh

      Ofcom don't appear to have any competence left, sadly.

      The radio experts are long gone, and they never had any real business regulators. Maybe there are still some packet switching experts?

      One can hope, but it is a vain hope.

  8. Thunderpants
    Mushroom

    Fibre?

    Still annoys me that they are allowed to brand FTTC as fibre.

    1. Oliver Mayes

      Re: Fibre?

      Virgin run coax into homes and call it fibre, marketing is the death of truth.

  9. Claverhouse Silver badge
    Flame

    Wait and See --- It Will All Come Out Right in the End --- Mustn't Rock the Boat

    Ofcom has awesome powers, but it's greatest strength is knowing when not to use those powers.

    1. steelpillow Silver badge

      Re: Wait and See --- It Will All Come Out Right in the End --- Mustn't Rock the Boat

      "Wait and See --- It Will All Come Out Right in the End --- Mustn't Rock the Boat"

      Upvote bases strictly on assumption of irony.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    About that fibre roll out...

    Until the government and the VOA seriously re-evaluate how fibre infrastructure is taxed, especially for smaller firms, the UK will continue to lag behind and lack progress in this regard...

    BT (sorry, Openreach!) get some pretty substantial advantages over competitors from their dealings with the VOA, not to mention their sheer size affords them further benefit.

    Unless this substantial part of the cost for any smaller operator is overhauled and substantially streamlined, the smaller guys will focus purely on smaller sections of "infill" and more lucrative apartment blocks, leaving the wider rollout to Openreach and Virgin, who will continue to use network designs like FTTC to ensure they lay the bare minimum amount of glass for the highest number of subscribers.

    1. SImon Hobson Silver badge

      Re: About that fibre roll out...

      Too true. With a previous work hat on, we saw some of the effects of that (almost) first hand.

      We had quite a few very rural customers, and some of them were connected by various local providers/schemes. After the VOA fired both barrels into the business landscape, we had a number of customers shafted by providers shutting down what was now untenable (loss making) infrastructure and forcing them to change to some other option - in one case, almost nothing else to move to !

      At one point, we had a customer who could only get connected by having a 3G router stuck at the top of a rather tall pole. Use satellite you say ? Well that's just fine till the provider goes titsup and the first thing the customers know is when there's no internet one morning. It's a while ago now, but IIRC we had this one customer who was originally connected by a small local outfit using about 5 radio hops to reach them. That small company pulled the plug (with notice) after the VOA blunderbus'd the business - and out customer went to satellite. And not too long after, that provider went titsup.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: About that fibre roll out...

        And this is exactly the issue - large businesses like BT/Openreach and Virgin will only "innovate" within very strict margins of safety, and more importantly, cost.

        The true innovation and groundbreaking (quite literally in this case!) comes from the smaller businesses, the community networks, and such. These organisations are not constrained by risk-averse shareholders and a (supposed) reputation to uphold. Having a system that requires them to pay tax on every metre of fibre that they lay, regardless of income from it, just doesn't work for these people. And unless things have changed, once they commission a fibre, it's taxable until they prove it has been ripped out - not just switched off!

  11. Alsibbo
    Coat

    Gigaclear are currently have subcontractors trashing my street installing FTTP, and I live in a village in gloucestershire....They are offering up to 900Mb/s but I'm struggling to work out why I would want it...I don't watch HD video or play games...Does (up to) £75/Month for loading the reg a fraction quicker seem like a good idea? My ADSL is perfectly adequate over crappy old copper

    1. Tom 7 Silver badge

      Why would you want 900Mb/s

      My dad got B4RN fibre installed. That's 1Gb each way for £30/m. Apparently the equipment to do this and the bulk purchasing of bandwidth means its not worth them fucking about with ADSL or other bits of kit that will require replacing in a few years after the customer has been squeezed and can be squeezed again. Talking to locals I reckon I could host around 2 or 300 small business web sites at my house on that and provide working hours support for them for about a 10th of what they pay for what would be a far better service than they get. Given the fibre is probably capable of much more than that just changing bit at each end I could go quite big - except there aren't that many businesses within 'sensible reach'.

      I could do some serious wealth creating and train up a few people to do shit other than bloody wordpress.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Why would you want 900Mb/s

        Good luck trying to train a few people past Wordpress.

        Frustrated charity IT manager here.

    2. GlenP Silver badge

      Exactly the same in the village where I live, much disruption and damage to pavements and roads to install FTTP.

      If we still only had ADSL over copper (I did well, thanks to extensive rewiring between the house and the exchange I got 2.8Mb/s down and about 800K up, elsewhere in the village 1Mb/s down is common) I'd see some point but with FTTC running at around 65Mb/s down I doubt anybody, certainly in the street, is likely to want any better so there's no point paying the higher price.

      For the record mobile is a waste of time, to get a text for 2FA on one occasion involved hanging out of an upstairs window with the phone in hand, hoping it would get through within the 15 minute time limit for a response! WiFi Calling has cured that now.

    3. Lee D Silver badge

      To be honest, I run entire sites off a 100Mb leased line that do traffic like nobody's business 24 hours a day. You'd be hard pushed to care about the top-download speed more than the latency, DNS lookup time, etc. Usually the top-download speed makes little difference to web browsing as your browser is being asked to fetch a hundred pages/images per tab from all over the web before it can draw anything on the screen. It's the session connection setup/teardown and associated latency that "feels" slow, not the actual download speed.

      You only need more if you download lots of static huge files (e.g. downloading Gbytes of stuff all the time), want a better upload (definitely better to be on a symmetric connection for anything that goes up, and *absolutely* for hosting anything on-site), or you are literally maxing out the connection for most of the days (most people/places aren't, I promise you).

      Sure, I'll take a free upgrade to 1 Gbit/s, but I wouldn't pay for it until it was the bottleneck. It rarely is, especially if you bother to put in any kind of content caching, proxying (DNS/HTTP), firewalling, QoS, etc.

      I once promised to triple a school's "speedtest" result once. It was literally a "job interview dare". They were moaning about how the line was constantly jammed up and slow and speed tests were showing pitiful numbers. I was allowed a cursory peek at the router. The line speed was fast, but I could see the entirely unmanaged network behind it, repeatedly asking for the same things over and over and over again. I bet them that I could improve it, giving specific targets. They employed me. Day 1, Job 1: Prove yourself. Eek!

      I changed the DNS lookup to a local machine instead of every machine trying to get out to the ISP (the router was just passing on the ISP's DNS), put in a transparent caching HTTP proxy on the main line (to catch all the common page accesses) and set up WSUS local Windows Update caching and it dropped to 10% usage of the line. Their speed test results went from "pathetic" to "the full line speed" (give or take) because it wasn't competing with loads of junk any more. Did the same again when they started buying IP phones... 6 phones were struggling to keep calls going, breaking up, cutting out, etc. QoS the network and they had 50+ phones of the same models, no problem, no breakup, no upgrades required.

      Even at home, it matters much more what you're sending/receiving/expecting of the connection than anything to do with its headline speed. QoS your TCP SYN/ACK (if possible) packets, implement a global DNS proxy (you can prioritise that too so it gets first-pick of the Internet connection to resolve new websites), stick in a caching proxy even if it does nothing else and is "optional" (i.e. not enforced by Windows, browsers, etc. so you can turn it off it it gives you gip). Prioritise your gaming ports too, you'll be amazed how much lag is caused by your UDP "non-urgent" packets being held up by the girlfriend browsing Facebook. She won't notice a 10ms lag, you will.

      Then most things are going over your (presumably Gigabit) local network, with delays around 0.01 - 0.1ms, while the stuff you need to go out to the Internet fresh for is - at worst - as bad as having nothing at all the first time you do them, but all the small, urgent packets, connection initiations and multiple repeated lookups are cached locally or prioritised over bulk traffic.

      If you have the option (e.g. Draytek router) Airtime Fair Sharing is also good... it basically shuts up noisy wireless devices on your network so they don't steal all the airtime from devices trying to do stuff. Less disconnections, faster wifi speeds and much better latency.

      Most internet connections are akin to a room full of people all yelling at full volume to people in another room Making the door between them bigger isn't going to help much, because they're all still shouting and yelling and jostling and getting in each others way. Much better is to *organise* the communication, centralise parts of it that are repeated ("You want to know the time? Go ask John on this side, no need to yell all the way other to the person standing by the clock in the other room... he asks them for you, then he can tell everyone on this side"), cut out unnecessary communication entirely, and ensure that when someone *does* need to communicate urgently, they can do so without vying for place, multiple retransmissions, etc.

      1. jonathan keith Silver badge
        Pint

        Thank you for that highly informative (and now bookmarked) post, Lee.

        Have an imaginary one of these on me. -->

  12. Jove Bronze badge

    Is Ofcom's assessment balanced?

    In terms of network infrastructure, Ofcom is focusing attention on BT and Openreach, but should we not expect to see more effort from the other carriers? Should Ofcom be demanding more from the other carriers instead of their constant complaints about getting (or not getting) access to another company's infrastructure?

    1. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: Is Ofcom's assessment balanced?

      Also I suspect Ofcom are very much in danger of not seeing the wood for the trees - probably because it is blinding itself in its tirade against BT/crusade to show that it can stand up to BT. It is so intent on closely monitoring BT/OR that it is failing to step back and see the big picture.

      Is OR delivering new fibre at the previously agreed rate, is it on target to hit the 3m homes by March 2021 (3m out of circa 25m, namely 12%)?

      Is OR doing enough to gear up to deliver on the target of 15m premises by the mid-2020s?

  13. Moosh

    I understand the underlying logic in the BT/Open Reach split...

    But in reality its just caused problems. Now you need to deal with twice the headache when wanting something done. When I had issues with my fibre installation, BT and Openreach were constantly mis-communicating and having to chase each other up via phone calls and email. I was more in the know than either of them because I had people from both BT and Openreach talking to me when they weren't to each other! I was actually acting as a third party mediator between them; ferrying information to and fro. Instead of being separate entities, they're now just a company with poor cross departmental communication.

    1. SImon Hobson Silver badge

      Re: I understand the underlying logic in the BT/Open Reach split...

      The "reality" though is that the "only had to deal with one company" benefit only accrued if you used BT for everything. That meant BT could give itself massive advantages over competitors - having been (as part of the job) involved in telecoms and networking for the best part of 3 decades, it had been clear that many decisions have been made on teh basis of a) not compromising their own cash cows, and b) giving themselves a head start over the competition.

      When ISDN-2 started getting rolled out, some of the product features were nobbled compared to ISDN-2 services in other countries. Clearly designed to avoid people switching from expensive leased lines to dial-on-demand ISDN. Around this time, I worked where we had several sites connected by (expensive) leased lines and would have loved to use the slow speed packet service offered in (eg) Germany with dial-up configured for the higher speed bursts. When most of the time your traffic is a handful of people pecking away on a keyboard, packet over the D channel would have been quite enough.

      Similarly, when ADSL came along, it was quite clear that some of the decisions were made to benefit BT - and again, not nobble their cash cow leased line business.

      And thanks to those who further up the comments mentioned NZ. There's a worked example of what can happen when you stop an incumbent being able to dictate policies designed to protect it's business rather than offer better services to both end users and the service providers who service them.

      But having said all that, lets not try and pretend that a mass rollout of fibre isn't going to cost a lot of money. It is, and that's going to have to be paid for somehow.

      1. Jove Bronze badge

        Re: I understand the underlying logic in the BT/Open Reach split...

        Some of BT's competitors have been in the market just as long; there would be more balance in the market had they also made investments in their infrastructure.

  14. SDM Extraordinaire

    We moved to New Zealand from North London 4 months ago

    I now pay the equivalent of £50 a month for unlimited fiber straight to the door 900 mbps down 400 mbps up and pretty constantly get that speed

    Considering I was paying £47 a month back home for Virgin and was lucky to get 120 down and 6 up I think the market in the UK is severally flawed

    p.s I have just released my work keyboard does not have £ sign and had to google it to copy and paste, this strangely upsets me

  15. This post has been deleted by its author

  16. anthonyhegedus Silver badge

    Shitshow

    Even with full Fibre in the UK, through BT wholesale, you can only get 30Mbps up and 330Mbps down. Why such a poor maximum rate when 1000/1000 should be available? Even BT's "G.Fast" offering allows 50Mbps up!

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