Virgin Media UK Use Openreach Cable Ducts to Expand Wales Network

virgin media engineer ofcom observing

Cable ISP Virgin Media has announced that, for the first time, they’ve officially expanded the coverage of their Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) based ultrafast broadband and TV network to a further 2,000 premises in Pontyclun (South Wales), albeit this time by using Openreach’s (BT) existing cable ducts.

Openreach has just launched a revised Physical Infrastructure Access (PIA) product, which was updated to reflect Ofcom’s new Duct and Pole Access (DPA) requirements. In simple terms this is intended to make it cheaper, quicker and easier for UK ISPs to deploy their own “full fibre” broadband networks by harnessing OR’s existing cable ducts and telegraph poles.

The revised product is more flexible and we note that Virgin Media did conduct a limited trial of this last year under a railway line in Stallingborough (Lincolnshire), although today marks the first time that they’ve officially used it as part of their wider £3bn Project Lightning network expansion.

Cabling an area with fibre is a complex engineering task and Pontyclun provided some build challenges, especially when attempting to carry out expansion works close to bridges. To overcome these issues [we] made use of existing Openreach cable ducts as part of Ofcom’s PIA remedy. This allows other broadband builders to use Openreach ducts, which are the tubes broadband cables run through underground,” said Virgin Media.

Apparently much of the PIA related build was carried out close to a bridge crossing, which connects Llantrisant Road and Cowbridge Road in Pontyclun.

Alan Bristow, VM Build Director for the South, said:

“Local residents and businesses in Pontyclun can now reap the benefits of the UK’s fastest widely available broadband speeds. Making use of Openreach ducts has helped to make this build possible and give the local area faster, more reliable, connectivity.

We will consider using their ducts again so that more areas of the UK get a much deserved broadband boost from Virgin Media.”

Strategic use of PIA is now growing in popularity, although a number of providers like Cityfibre and Hyperoptic have recently raised concerns about using it more widely to help support major city-scale style deployments (here).

Cityfibre told us last month that, in its current form, PIA / DPA remains a “fundamentally non-equivalent proposition and its full potential to accelerate competitive rollouts unrealised.” Meanwhile Hyperoptic warned that “Openreach has no incentive to treat its competitors fairly – instead it is attempting to slow us down and make us pay to unblock and repair its Victorian infrastructure.”

However, Openreach itself has said that it wants to be a “dependable partner for all our customers who want to use our ducts and poles, and we’ll continue to work closely with industry over the coming months as the product continues to evolve.”

Speaking of evolution, Ofcom has already begun a consultation that could result in further changes to PIA, including the possibility of a new requirement for “unrestricted usage” by rivals (here). Currently PIA primarily only focuses upon the residential and small business market, while making it unrestricted could aid the business case of rivals by opening it up to those offering high-speed lines for large businesses/mobile/broadband networks etc.

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