The following is brief summary of the latest OpenReach meeting on the closure of PSTN – WLR sub-group

On Friday 5th October the first industry working group for the withdrawal of Openreach’s WLR product was hosted in Ofcom’s Riverside House offices.  The session included presentations from five members of the Openreach project team and was co-chaired by a representative of the Office of the Telecommunications Adjudicator (OTA). The agenda included a review of the feedback received during the initial consultation, and a more detailed look at Openreach’s Single Order Transitional Access Product (SOTAP).

The group consisted of around 50 participants including representatives from the UK’s dominant CP’s such as Talk Talk Business, Sky, Vodafone and Virgin Media Business.  There was no representative from Ofcom present and Openreach confirmed that Ofcom will not be part of the working groups and will only intervene where regulatory changes are required.

After a brief review of the feedback received, the group was reminded that the withdrawal of WLR is being driven by the decision to switch off the public switched telephone network (PSTN), the deadline for which currently remains as 2025.  Whilst a number of topics were discussed in some detail, there is a clear message that there is still a lot of work to be done and a number of problems to overcome.  At this point, it is unclear what role Openreach will play in resolving these issues and how much responsibility will be placed with the CP’s who will remain after Openreach’s departure from the wholesale voice market.

One of the key topics discussed was communication and possible media coverage.  The general public are largely unaware of pending industry changes and whilst Openreach are committed to supporting a communications plan, it is currently unclear whether this process will be driven by Openreach, Ofcom or government or if in fact CP’s will be expected to run their own communication programmes.

Significant concerns were raised around the current use of the 32 million lines currently provided by Openreach.  Not all of these lines are used for voice traffic and will therefore not have a direct IP voice replacement.  There is significant reliance on these lines to support other services such as security alarm monitoring lines, PDQ machines and medical alert pendants.  Similarly, Openreach’s monitoring of their own infrastructure and services relies heavily on the copper network.  There is currently no central database detailing what each line is used for and compiling such a database will pose significant challenges.

For “voice only” customers who don’t currently have broadband, there is a real possibility that Internal wiring works may be required.  If a phone socket in a premise is not located near a power outlet, it will be necessary to shift this socket before a voice over broadband service can be provided.  Openreach have committed to make engineer resource available for this type of transition, but it is yet to be decided who incur the costs for this work.  Currently, Openreach are not offering to fund this work, and unless that changes it will be the responsibility of the CP or the end user to cover these costs.

A big part of the agenda was reserved to discuss Openreach’s SOTAP product.  SOTAP is intended to serve as a stop-gap to provide service to non-fibre enabled premises.  However, the question was raised early on whether there is significant justification to warrant investment in a temporary product.  Further suggestion was made that this time and money could be better spent on other areas to support the overall withdrawal project.  Openreach acknowledged this and have set a milestone of January 2019 to make a firm decision about continued investment in SOTAP’s development.

Openreach were very keen to receive feedback from this initial session and encouraged the group to raise any questions, concerns or ideas.  The next steps include a review of the items discussed during the session as well as any feedback received and planning the next working group.