A High Court Competition Appeals Tribunal told Ofcom it had wrongly defined the dark fibre market and the leased lines business, claiming it should have taken into account the different connection speeds available, regional variations in Openreach’s dominance and the core parts of its network where there is already competition.
Dark fibre is optical fibre infrastructure (cabling and repeaters) that is in place but is not in use.
Optical fibre relays information in the form of light pulses, so being referred to as ‘dark’ means no light pulses are being sent. Optical fibre cable may be installed where there are already power lines and where these installations are unused, they are described as dark.
The term ‘dark fibre’ also now refers to the increasingly common practice of leasing fibre optic cables from a network service provider. It may also refer to fibre installations not owned or controlled by traditional carriers.
A dark fibre network is a privately operated optical fibre network run directly by its operator over dark fibre leased or purchased from another supplier. Dark fibre networks may also be used for private networking, as Internet access or infrastructure.
Dark fibre poses a challenge to the dominance of Openreach in the lucrative leased lines business.
Worth more than £900m a year to Openreach, leased lines are dedicated, high-capacity broadband links used by large businesses and other telecoms companies.
Mobile operators also use leased lines to connect their masts and with the introduction of next generation 5G mobile networks expected to increase the demand, mobile operators are likely to plan more masts.
Dark fibre would reduce operators’ dependence on Openreach. For example, it would allow Vodafone, Three and other telecoms operators to install their own equipment that would enable signals to be sent along fibre optic lines rather than paying to use the Openreach network.
The new service, scheduled to become available in October, now looks doubtful at all and it is unlikely dark fibre will become available until next year.
Following this tribunal, Ofcom must look again at its proposals and admitted it did not know how the ruling will change its plans.
A spokesman for the regulator said: “Once we have the Tribunal’s reasoning, we will know how best to proceed in order to protect competition and consumers. We continue to believe that dark fibre can bring significant benefits for businesses and consumers.”
An Openreach spokesman said: “The UK has a vibrant business connectivity market with a large, diverse and growing choice of providers – and this decision means that future regulation, where necessary, can be placed on a sound footing.”
Why have leased lines for your business?
- Internet access is critical to your business
- You need constant high capacity internet access or a managed IP VPN
- You require good control over your network traffic and performance planning
- You would like to benefit from cheaper business calls using VoIP service telephony
- You get a fixed service level agreement (SLA)
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