Telecoms giant Openreach has launched a consultation to agree a plan for retiring the UK’s copper lines as it looks to begin the rollout of a new full-fibre network.
Openreach is seeking opinions from broadband and telephone providers such as BT, Talktalk and Sky on how customers can be upgraded from existing copper connections to the fast full-fibre network.
The firm, which is a division of BT and controls the majority of the country’s telecoms network, has outlined plans to provide full-fibre broadband to 3m homes and businesses by the end of 2020.
But Openreach has said the process must take into account the removal of existing copper cables before it can reach its target of 10m premises.
The move comes as the firm faces pressure from government and business groups to speed up its rollout of the new technology as the UK lags behind other countries. In a telecoms infrastructure review published last year the government laid out plans to achieve full coverage by 2033.
Katie Milligan, managing director at Openreach, said: “More than 16m homes and businesses could order better broadband connections over our network right now, so we’d encourage everyone to check the services available to them and upgrade today.
“At the same time, we’re consulting with broadband providers to decide how and when we upgrade customers to even faster, more reliable and future-proof, full fibre broadband.”
One of the concerns around the process is a potential forced upgrade of customers. But Openreach has said it aims to upgrade the large majority of people voluntarily.
Openreach currently dominates the UK’s telecoms network, but is facing increased competition from challenger firms such as Cityfibre, Hyperoptic and Gigaclear.
Cityfibre yesterday said it will roll out full-fibre in Bournemouth and Northampton, taking its target to 1m UK homes and businesses by 2021.
Minister for digital Margot James said: "We're building a Britain that's fit for the future, and our plans for a national full-fibre broadband network underpin our modern industrial strategy.
“Upgrading to gigabit capable connections will benefit homes and businesses all across the UK.”
Openreach said it has already consulted with providers on the withdrawal of analogue services that run over their copper wires by 2025. But the new consultation, which will last six weeks, focuses on the withdrawal of the underlying infrastructure.