Openreach launches virtual dark fibre service

03 April 2018 | Natalie Bannerman

Openreach has launched its high-bandwidth managed service that allows communications providers (CPs) to operate private data connections using virtual dark fibre.

In what the company is calling a ‘UK first’ the new service called Optical Spectrum Access Filter Connect (OSA FC) will enable customers to scale up its capacity to support 100Gbps with a maximum of bandwidth of more than 3 Terabits.

“We’ve re-engineered our high-bandwidth optical services to give our wholesale customers far greater flexibility at a fantastic price,” said Darren Wallington, Openreach’s general manager for high bandwidth and passive products. “OSA Filter Connect allows providers to grow their needs affordably, at their own pace and using their choice of innovative equipment.”

Openreach says that the offering gives CPs all the benefits of dark fibre such as the ability to o control and increase bandwidth usage at no extra cost – without compromising on service and maintenance levels. OSA FC does this by enabling CPs to operate their own network electronics on top of managed connection that is monitored by Openreach on a 24/7 basis. One of the major sells of the of the new service is that it has a five hour repair time in comparison to the days it would take to discover and repair faults on dark fibre. 

Speaking exclusively to Capacity, Simon Williams, head of high bandwidth optical service at Openreach explained: “We have a five hour SLA on our existing OSA product. And that’s because we constantly monitor the network.”

“By innovating a virtual dark fibre service, we can give customers that extra flexibility whilst still being able to monitor our network and respond to faults and issues proactively. With a regulated Dark Fibre Access product, we would’ve literally been left in the dark with no monitoring capabilities and significantly longer service interruptions due to the reactive nature of fault reporting, but this means we can commit to a national five-hour response time,” added Wallington.

OSA FC is an extension of Openreach’s OSA portfolio and is built over a new or existing Optical Spectrum Access service – a dedicated optical fibre link. The Filter Connect element uses spare capacity on an optical filter and provides additional channels so that CPs can connect their own equipment to manage and transmit data free of charge on top of the service.

As for how well OSA stacks up against dark fibre access Williams says “they are different beasts. They key thing about OSA is that you’re getting the benefits of a managed service infrastructure that allows you to scale as dark fibre would.”

Since the announcement made in October 2017 that Openreach was planning to launch this product, the company also held a month long consultation to discuss how the product could be tailored to meet customer needs and offer a viable alternative to the Ofcom-proposed regulated Dark Fibre Access (DFA) product.

“This consultation has been completely different for us,” said Williams. “The customers have been very vocal about what they want, how to meet their needs and how they are going to be using this network. So the customer has been so valuable on this one and across the piece so not just our traditional customers, we’ve had input from a range of stakeholders.”

The results of said consultation helped Openreach to identify a number of benefits including:

Scalability - the Optical bearer includes 10Gbps of capacity by lighting the first wavelength. allowing customers to access the remaining capacity and manage it themselves.

Pricing – customers can decouple the cost of connectivity from bandwidth scaling while Openreach assumes responsibility for non-domestic rates.

“We arrived at the prices we have based on “a lot of time spent with customers about dark fibre access. And there was a lot of expectation in the market that this was coming and a lot if business cases were prepared for that,” explained Williams.

Flexibility - upgrade and certification options are available so customers can convert their existing installed OSA FSP3000 base to enable the addition of their own equipment through the optical filters.

“What we didn’t want to do was isolate the equipment our customers could use when deploying their network. So we needed that to be as fluid as possible,” commented Williams.

Assurance – established service level agreements; 35 working-day delivery lead time and five hour fix time. 

Space – Design premise based on minimal space usage and the Ability to support fast evolving technology including 5G technology.

“We’ve listened closely to our customers. They wanted something that would address the perceived failings of a ‘one size fits all’ regulated product and they’ve helped us to shape the product we’re launching. Both large and small customers told us they wanted a service that offered more competitive high bandwidth pricing with low incremental scaling costs. They also wanted more flexible and configurable services that give them more control, the ability to support fast evolving technology – like synchronization, and more efficient use of space and power,” concluded Wallington.

Williams says there are a number of additional phases to follow this launched that will include a number of new efficiencies and point to point solutions. But for now he says “it’s been a rapid six months up to this point, so we will be taking a short break.”