Exclusive: SSE launches UK wholesale backhaul to compete with BT and Virgin

Exclusive: SSE launches UK wholesale backhaul to compete with BT and Virgin

UK energy company SSE is launching a wholesale backhaul service today to compete with BT Wholesale and Virgin Media Business.

SSE Enterprise Telecoms will offer 100G and faster connections to mobile towers or from BT exchanges into core networks to companies such Sky and TalkTalk, as well as to broadband urban operators such as CityFibre.

Services will be launched by the end of the year from 29 or 30 exchanges, extending to 170 over time. Ultimately SSE has its sights on 450-500 exchanges, said Conrad Mallon, the company’s chief technical architect.

“The fibre we’re using is a mixture of third party and some digs of our own,” Mallon told Capacity. “We’re putting leading-edge technology in that fibre to provide multi-terabit capacity to every BT exchange.” SSE is not using BT fibre, he added.

Infinera will be supplying SSE with kit developed following its acquisition of Swedish company Transmode three years ago. “It will offer 100G services – and multiples of 100G at a competitive rate,” said Mallon.

He said that rivals, which offer 10G services, charge pro rata for multiples of 10G. However, he would not give Capacity SSE’s rates. “That would get me into all sorts of trouble.”

SSE “can support 18Tbps of capacity out of every exchange with this technology”, he said.

The first wholesale customer traffic will be on SSE’s network “in the second half of this year” – a period that starts at the weekend but “it finishes in December”. SSE plans to operate the service in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, he said.

SSE’s parent company is one of the partners in the last candidate for the contract to build theRepublic of Ireland’s national rural broadband network – along with Irish metro operator Enet and infrastructure investor John Laing.

SSE Enterprise Telecoms is not formally connected with the Irish National Broadband Plan (NBP), said Mallon, though he admitted that he’d worked with the consortium as a consultant.

At the same time SSE – whose parent used to be called Scottish and Southern Energy – is looking at ways of offering last-mile services in the UK, he added. “We have potential mobile network operator customers for things like 5G masts, that will need a huge amount of connectivity. We’re also talking to some of the service providers about how we can help them service fibre-to-the-home, mostly as partners.”

SSE has a window of opportunity because BT’s last-mile subsidiary, Openreach, had suspended plans to offer dark fibre access (DFA) after a regulatory dispute. The Competition Appeals Tribunal ruled in August 2017 that Ofcom, the UK regulator, had “erred” on its dark fibre rules, meaning that an obligation for Openreach to launch DFA in October was removed.

According to Mallon, around six service providers had been planning to use Openreach’s DFA service to offer something similar to what SSE is now planning. “Our initial plan was to build this via the BT dark fibre between key exchanges. All [six] had tenders from equipment companies.”

Now Ofcom is “back to the drawing board” and last October Openreach started a public consultation on a possible alternative and it launched a virtual dark-fibre service in April “If BT does make DFA available others could build similar networks, but we’ve got the commercial lead,” said Mallon. 

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