What is Openreach?

Openreach is a functional division of telecommunications giant BT Group, created in 2006 to ensure equal access to the vital telecoms infrastructure for all service providers in the UK.

What Exactly is Openreach?

Openreach is responsible for running the UK’s digital communications network, comprising 688 communications providers whose services include phone, broadband and Ethernet to UK homes and businesses. Openreach is actually a wholly owned subsidiary of BT,  and you may remember it as BT Openreach which is what is called prior to rebranding to Openreach in October 2018. That rebrand was prompted by discussions in March 2017 in negotiations between Ofcom and BT Plc, who agreed to divest Openreach’s staff and network assets into a legal separate company. This involved the changing and removal of thousands of BT logos from vehicles, uniforms, and buildings. In fact, the physical rebranding alone included updating 27,907 vehicles, 42 offices, 33,479 pass cards, and 1,531 web pages to reflect the Openreach brand.

Today the company is made up four divisions – (1) service delivery, (2) fibre and network delivery, (3) strategic infrastructure development, and (4) headquarters. It has 37,000 highly skilled and innovative employees who handle intricate engineering tasks that involve liaising with various stakeholders such as councils, highways agencies, energy suppliers, and landowners. Their work entails installing and maintaining sophisticated equipment for providing fibre broadband services.

Key Facts about Openreach

  1. 99% of UK homes and businesses can connect to the Openreach Network
  2. They have 29,000 highly skilled engineers – more than any other network in the UK 
  3. It works with over 650 service providers including Sky, O2, Vodafone, Plusnet, TescoMobile and  Talk Mobile

Openreach, with its impressive footprint in the communication industry, has come to shape the way people connect and communicate in the UK. With an aim to bring full fibre to 25 million homes and businesses by December 2026, Openreach is churning out connections every 10.4 seconds, demonstrating its commitment to bring cutting-edge technology to the masses. This formidable target comes in response to the growing demand for faster and more reliable connectivity, which has become a necessity for most people.

Operating as a network builder, Openreach is responsible for building and maintaining the UK’s largest broadband network. This includes managing the traditional copper phone line network and rolling out state-of-the-art full fibre broadband, ushering in an era of ultra-fast connectivity. However, the role of Openreach extends beyond network building; it also covers network services supply to over 650 service providers, such as Sky, BT, Vodafone, and TalkTalk, who use these services to deliver broadband packages to the end-users.

As a network supplier, Openreach handles the installation and repair of the network on behalf of service providers. It constructs the physical connections that carry broadband into your home, while the service provider supplies the broadband package. However, it’s crucial to note that Openreach is not a service provider itself; it doesn’t supply the packages that allow users to use broadband, watch TV, or make phone calls.

In terms of scale, Openreach has some staggering figures to its credit. Currently, 28.6 million homes and businesses can get fibre broadband speeds of over 30Mbps across the Openreach network. Further, Openreach’s Ultrafast Full Fibre broadband reaches 11 million homes and businesses, and a total of 15.7 million homes and businesses are connected to their fibre network.

A Brief History of Openreach

Openreach’s history is an instrumental to the UK’s telecommunications industry. It’s a journey marked by regulatory decisions, strategic separations, and a drive to connect the UK through high-speed communication networks.

Openreach was established in January 2006, following a review by Ofcom, the industry regulator, of the UK’s telecommunications sector. The review’s focal concern was the dominant position of BT Group in the market, which was perceived as a hindrance to fair competition. As a solution, BT Group agreed to Ofcom’s request to form a new, independent entity that would manage the UK’s broadband network infrastructure, ensuring equal access for all providers. This entity was Openreach.

Openreach’s establishment came as a significant shift in the telecommunications industry, moving away from the vertical integration that had been the norm. Its creation effectively separated the provision of services from the ownership of the network, allowing a more level playing field for competitors.

Since its inception, Openreach has been instrumental in the UK’s ongoing digital transformation, building and maintaining the fibre and copper networks that underpin most of the country’s broadband connections. A few years after its establishment, Openreach embarked on a significant mission to roll out fibre broadband across the UK. By 2012, it had successfully deployed fibre to the cabinet (FTTC) services to millions of homes and businesses, marking a substantial milestone in its history.

Continuing its momentum, in 2017, Openreach committed to bringing high-speed fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) connections to ten million premises by the mid-2020s. This ambitious goal was complemented by a digital switchover plan, intending to retire the analogue phone network by the end of 2025 and upgrade the UK to digital phone lines.

In 2018, another important shift took place. To further ensure competition and transparency, BT Group and Openreach were legally separated. Though Openreach remains a wholly-owned subsidiary of BT Group, it operates independently, with its own staff, management, and strategy.

By 2023, Openreach achieved another significant milestone by connecting ten million homes and businesses to Full Fibre, demonstrating their commitment to achieving their ambitious targets and making faster, more reliable connectivity accessible to the masses.

Openreach Services

Openreach, as the UK’s primary communication network, offers a broad range of services that play an instrumental role in the nation’s digital infrastructure. These services enable millions of homes and businesses across the UK to access high-speed, reliable broadband, which is now considered a fundamental utility. Below, we explore the three key services offered by Openreach: Physical Infrastructure Access (PIA), Ethernet services, and Dark Fibre.

Physical Infrastructure Access (PIA)

Physical Infrastructure Access is a significant offering from Openreach that allows other telecommunications providers to utilise its physical infrastructure. It provides access to Openreach’s ducts and poles to enable communication providers (CPs) to install their own fibre cables. The service is designed to promote competition and stimulate investment in broadband networks by reducing the cost and complexity of deploying new fibre infrastructure. This effectively accelerates the rollout of new, high-speed connectivity options to homes and businesses across the UK.

Ethernet Services

Openreach’s Ethernet services offer a variety of connectivity solutions for businesses, providing dedicated, high-capacity and high-speed connections. Their Ethernet products range from traditional Ethernet Access Direct (EAD) with bandwidths from 10Mb up to 10Gb, to the cutting-edge Ethernet Backhaul Direct (EBD), which provides a point-to-point fibre optic connection, typically used to connect mobile phone masts and data centres.

These services cater to the growing demand for high bandwidth applications, offering reliable and secure connections for transferring large amounts of data. By providing scalable solutions, Openreach’s Ethernet services can grow with the business, ensuring that the connectivity needs are always met.

Dark Fibre

Dark Fibre refers to the fibre optic cables laid down by Openreach but not currently in use. These unused strands can be rented by other service providers to implement their own networks without having to lay down new infrastructure. The term “dark” refers to the absence of network services on the fibre, meaning it’s up to the lessee to ‘light’ the fibre by implementing their own hardware.

In 2020, following a review by Ofcom, Openreach introduced a Dark Fibre X product, which allows other telecommunications providers to use these unused fibre optic cables. This offering is particularly beneficial to businesses and service providers that require control over their own data, large bandwidth capacities, or custom network configurations.

Role of Openreach in UK’s Broadband Infrastructure

Openreach’s impact on the UK broadband market has been transformational. As the primary custodian of the country’s telecommunications infrastructure, it has shaped the digital landscape of the UK, defining how millions of people connect, communicate, and access services in an increasingly digital world.

Impact on the UK Broadband Market

Openreach operates the lion’s share of the UK’s broadband infrastructure, including the legacy copper phone line network and an ever-growing fibre broadband network. The organisation’s reach extends to nearly all corners of the country, enabling a myriad of internet service providers (ISPs) to deliver broadband services to homes and businesses. By offering equal access to its network to all ISPs, Openreach has helped foster a vibrant and competitive broadband market, which in turn has led to a wide array of service options for consumers.

Moreover, Openreach has played a key role in propelling the UK towards a future-proof, fibre-based broadband infrastructure. Its commitment to retiring the legacy copper network and replacing it with more reliable, faster, and more efficient fibre connections is a significant step forward in future-proofing the UK’s digital infrastructure. This transition not only increases average broadband speeds but also reduces maintenance costs and improves network reliability.

Commitments to the UK Broadband

Openreach’s ambitious goal to provide Full Fibre to 25 million homes and businesses by the end of 2026 illustrates its commitment to enhancing the UK’s broadband capabilities. This goal aligns with the UK government’s target for nationwide gigabit-capable broadband, thereby ensuring that Openreach’s operations dovetail with the broader objectives of the UK’s digital strategy.

In addition, Openreach has committed to ensuring the resilience and security of the UK’s broadband infrastructure. In a digital age where cyber threats are ever-present, this commitment plays a crucial role in protecting the nation’s digital economy and securing the data of millions of broadband users.

Furthermore, Openreach’s dedication to investing in its people is another important facet of its commitment to the UK’s broadband. By fostering inclusivity and diversity in its workforce, Openreach ensures that it is equipped with the broad range of skills and perspectives necessary to meet the evolving needs of the UK’s broadband infrastructure.

Openreach and its Relationship with BT

The relationship between Openreach and BT is complex and significant to the overall structure of the UK’s telecommunications sector. Born out of BT Group in 2006 as an entity to manage the UK’s broadband network, Openreach’s relationship with its parent company has been marked by shifts and changes influenced by the UK’s regulatory body, Ofcom.

The Separation from BT Group

The initial formation of Openreach was a response to Ofcom’s Strategic Review of Telecommunications in 2005. This review found BT to have significant market power and, in the interest of promoting fair competition, required BT to create a functionally separate entity to manage the broadband network infrastructure. Openreach was born as a result, ensuring that all service providers have equal access to the UK’s telecommunications network.

In 2016, Ofcom announced that greater separation was needed to ensure transparency and prevent any undue influence by BT over Openreach’s strategic decision-making. This led to the legal separation in 2018, where Openreach became a distinct company with its own employees, management, and strategy, albeit still wholly owned by BT Group.

Current Relationship and Implications

In its current structure, Openreach operates independently, making decisions that impact the UK’s broadband infrastructure without direct interference from BT. This independence is seen as a vital step in ensuring that Openreach treats all its customers, who are service providers, equitably, without favouring BT.

However, while Openreach is independent in terms of operations and decision-making, its financial results are consolidated within the BT Group’s accounts. The dividends it generates are a significant income source for the BT Group, and decisions about Openreach’s high-level investment strategy are often made in conjunction with BT.

Despite the legal separation, BT continues to play a crucial role in Openreach’s operations. For instance, many Openreach customers still perceive BT’s influence due to the former’s dependence on BT’s systems and services for certain operations. Additionally, the workforce culture and policies of BT have inevitably shaped those of Openreach.

This relationship with BT has both advantages and disadvantages. On the one hand, BT’s vast resources and technical expertise can be beneficial for Openreach. On the other hand, Openreach’s close association with BT may lead to public perception issues, especially when service issues arise, as some customers might not understand the distinction between the two.

Note: Deals on Broadband is a comparison website for broadband providers. We don’t own any services. Broadband deals and packages change frequently. While we aim to keep all information on this site up-to-date, we strongly recommend checking the current information for each service provider for accurate and recent pricing, information, and terms and conditions.

© 2024 Deals on Broadband