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Sky wants BT Openreach to physically unbundle fibre broadband cabinets

Sky wants BT to let it take physical control of fibre broadband connections in the same way it does for conventional ADSL broadband.

Unbundling BT’s fibre cabinets would allow ISPs like Sky and TalkTalk to customise their services or connect up to their own backhaul network instead of using BT’s.

It’s similar to the model used for opening up conventional copper-based ADSL broadband to ISPs, and could influence BT’s decision on which cabinets it upgrades for FTTC (fibre-to-the-cabinet).

Sky wants BT Openreach to physically unbundle fibre broadband cabinets
Will Openreach allow ISPs into its cabinets?

Sky said: “We are constantly exploring ways in which we can customise our services, innovate further and encourage more of our customers to take our unlimited fibre products. 

“We have submitted a set of requirements for an unbundled fibre-to-the-cabinet service to BT and the rest of industry. Such requests are standard business practice between communications providers and BT.”

Sky’s FTTC unbundling request was made in January 2013, and Sky said it expects a response shortly.

Ofcom said that it won’t force BT to allow FTTC unbundling unless there are obvious benefits for competition and consumers.

Revealing Sky’s request in its Fixed Access Market Review of the UK broadband industry, Ofcom adds: “We are generally supportive of products that offer increased dynamic benefits arising from a greater level of control.

“However, the communications provider demand and precise requirements (including the preferred backhaul option) for this product has yet to be established, which makes it difficult to assess what those dynamic benefits would be, particularly what those benefits would be above and beyond the current VULA product.”

The Fixed Access Market Review is open for consultation until September 25, with Ofcom’s conclusions expected by the end of March, 2014.

What is FTTC unbundling?

Sky, TalkTalk and other ISPs currently provide FTTC connections using Virtual Unbundled Local Access (VULA), which gives them some control but uses BT’s equipment in the cabinet and uses BT’s fibre backhaul network to reach the internet.

FTTC unbundling, also known as SLU (sub-loop unbundling) Bitstream, would allow an ISP to put their own equipment into a BT street cabinet, and connect it to their own fibre backhaul network.

It’s similar to Local Loop Unbundling for conventional copper-based broadband, where ISPs put their own equipment into BT exchanges, connected to their own backhaul network.

With FTTC unbundling, the final part of the connection from the cabinet to the customer’s house will still use the old-fashioned copper wires.

Once they’re unbundled, an ISP controls how much bandwidth its customers receive, potentially opening up higher speeds than BT Openreach can provide in crucial periods such as peak-time.

Image: ell brown/Flickr

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