Openreach Plots Closure Of 4,600 Local Telephone Exchanges

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UK’s transition to full fibre network, sees Openreach consultation on the closure of thousands of local telephone exchanges

Openreach last week opened a new consultation on its plans to close down thousands of its local telephone exchanges, as part of changes to its core network.

The BT unit is taking action as it changes its telephone network away from copper-based lines that provide both telephone and broadband services, towards a full fibre model known as Fibre to the Premise (FTTP), which requires substantially fewer telephone exchanges to support.

Last week Openreach had announced a ‘UK first’, after customers in the Wiltshire city of Salisbury became the first to switch to a full fibre network. That meant that customers in Salisbury would no longer will be able to buy a traditional landline or broadband product that utilises the copper-based network that has existed in parts of the UK for as long as 140 years.

Exchange closures

But now ISPreview.co.uk has reported that Openreach is consulting on its plans to close 4,600 exchanges across the United Kingdom.

In the past, Openreach needed approximately 5,600 telephone exchanges located in most cities, towns and villages, in order to support its traditional copper-based network that spans the UK.

But the advent of fibre has drastically reduced the need for these exchanges, with only roughly 1,000 ‘super exchanges’ required to manage the fibre network.

Telephone exchanges are often nondescript buildings that often occupy valuable real estate and land.

Some of these exchanges can be very small indeed (think garden shed), but some of them can be large buildings, as historically they were required to house lots of bulky telecoms equipment back in the day.

Telephone exchange copper loop unbundling © pixbox77 Shutterstock

Often this equipment nowadays requires a fraction of the space, and certainly a tour of London telephone exchange by Silicon UK many years ago, revealed that large telephone exchanges have plenty of empty spaces, with only a tiny portion of room being used by modern equipment.

telephone exchange - image from telephonesuk.co.uk

That is not to say that the removal of these telephone exchanges will be straight forward, hence the Openreach consultation on the matter, and the long lead time needed to close these exchanges down.

This is especially true if the exchange hosts equipment from rival ISPs, or if it provides leased lines.

Openreach itself predicts that by 2025, the number of copper broadband customers being served by the 4,600 exchanges will fall to just 1 million.

Complex issue

“We’re launching a consultation today to get our customers’ views on proposals to close 4,600 exchanges throughout the UK,” David Belcher, Openreach’s Strategy and Transformation Directors, told ISPreview.co.uk.

“Today these exchanges support traditional copper-based phone and broadband but, as we prepare to take the next step in upgrading the UK’s from analogue to digital, we’re investing in new, fibre-based networks that will support upgrades to faster speeds and digital voice services,” Belcher reportedly said. “That means many of these exchanges will eventually become unviable for both Openreach and Communication Providers (CPs) to operate from, so their closure will be a natural next step.”

“This is a complex, long term issue with implications for the whole industry, so we want to work closely with our customers and the wider industry to help determine our strategy and plans,” he concluded.

According to ISPreview.co.uk, Openreach’s proposed plan is to close at least 100 exchanges by December 2030, with full decommissioning of all equipment following one year later.

This closure rate will then reportedly speed up until the other 4,500 have been closed, which is slated for the early years of the 2030s.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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