What is BT Openreach?

Everything you need to know

If you haven’t heard of Openreach you won’t be alone. But you will have heard of BT, BT Broadband and BT Infinity1. Openreach is a huge division of BT, or British Telecommunications PLC, now known as BT Group. BT Openreach was established in 2006, owns the telecommunications pipework and phone cables in the UK, and employs 32,000 people. Essentially Openreach owns the entire UK phone and broadband2 network – and those 32,000 employees are very busy3, making around 9.5 million visits to homes and businesses a year; 25,000 per day.

The rest of BT, like other phone providers such as TalkTalk and Sky4, are essentially ‘customers’ that have equal access to the Openreach network. Virgin Media5 isn’t included because it does not use the copper network – it has its own cable network.

What does Openreach do?

ASDL broadband6 or phone lines? Openreach owns those. Openreach also manages the connection between the phone lines and the other providers that connect up in the exchange.

Why does Openreach exist?

ADSL broadband7, the need arose for the network to be somehow separated from BT’s phone services division. After Ofcom’s 2005 Telecommunications Strategic Review (TSR), the solution was the establishment of Openreach, even though it remained under full ownership of BT.

Over 500 different companies now sell services that run via the Openreach network.

What is happening now?

cheaper broadband deals8 for you, the consumer. Without a vested interest from BT, the hope is that there will be more independent consideration regarding investment in the network. BT dragged its heels over the situation in early 2017, but suddenly ceded to Ofcom’s demands before the regulator had chance to take the case to the European Commission. However, it’s worth noting that BT Group will still own Openreach but it will have independence. One of the ways the network investment could happen is by Openreach co-investing with different key partners in particular areas; previously it could only really upgrade the network if BT thought it was worthwhile (usually if there were enough people who wanted to pay for faster broadband).

But there is some network investment already underway. Very recently Openreach has experimented with G.fast9, which enables the company to bolt on a pod to existing green fibre cabinets to offer next-gen fibre broadband speeds using existing copper phone lines – up to 330Mbps. BT had already committed to give two million customers full fibre connections into their homes and businesses. Currently Openreach’s network is FTTC – or Fibre to the Cabinet, again these are the green boxes you see on street corners. The connections from there to your home are traditional copper phone lines.

By bringing fibre to your premises (or FTTP), consumers will be able to experience much higher speeds – up to around 1Gbps.

^ BT, BT Broadband and BT Infinity (www.techradar.com)

  • ^ broadband (www.techradar.com)
  • ^ very busy (www.openreach.co.uk)
  • ^ Sky (www.techradar.com)
  • ^ Virgin Media (www.techradar.com)
  • ^ ASDL broadband (www.techradar.com)
  • ^ ADSL broadband (www.techradar.com)
  • ^ cheaper broadband deals (www.techradar.com)
  • ^ experimented with G.fast (www.homeandwork.openreach.co.uk)
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