Unless your broadband service comes from a provider with its own network - such as Virgin Media - you're likely to be using the Openreach network.
But what does this mean?
It means that your Internet Service Provider (ISP) has bought the right to use Openreach's network infrastructure. This is so they can provide you with broadband and/or phone-line services.
The following guide covers what Openreach is, its history, and how it works.
What is Openreach?
Openreach is a subsidiary of BT and operates the network infrastructure arm of the business.
As the sector responsible for this infrastructure, Openreach installs and maintains all of the cables, street cabinets, and connections to the local telephone exchanges.
Although Openreach is owned by BT, you don't need to be a BT customer to be on their network. Most broadband providers in the UK use the Openreach network to deliver broadband to your home.
Is Openreach a broadband provider?
In short, no. Openreach operates and maintains the network. Most internet service providers purchase access to this network in order to be able to offer broadband or phone services.
The history of the Openreach Network
In the 2000s, BT had a monopoly on the UK's copper-based telecommunications network, which created discord with the UK telecoms regulator Ofcom.
The communications regulator for the UK, Ofcom, argued that BT had significant market power in the telecommunications market and began to investigate BT. Eventually, Ofcom concluded that BT held an unfair advantage in both the wholesale and retail supply of broadband and telephone services.
In 2005, Ofcom and BT came to an agreement: the creation of BT Openreach, which would see Openreach become the infrastructure arm of BT Group in 2006.
The purpose of creating Openreach was to allow rival broadband providers and telephone operators fair and equal access to BT's local network.
But in 2017, rather than remain the infrastructure arm of the business, Openreach was incorporated as a separate company within the BT Group. The change was imposed by Ofcom as a means to foster more competition in the UK broadband market.
Over the years, BT Openreach has been the subject of many customer complaints regarding poor service. They've also faced criticism from competing broadband providers about the charges they enforce for access to their infrastructure.
Which broadband providers use Openreach?
More than 650 ISPs use the BT Openreach network, including big providers like:
- NOW Broadband
- Zen Internet
Some of these providers will also use other networks. For example, Zen Internet and Vodafone also use CityFibre.
Alternatives to Openreach
Although most major broadband providers operate on the Openreach network, there are a few alternatives out there.
CityFibre is the largest independent, carrier-neutral provider of full fibre (Fibre to the Premises/FTTP) infrastructure in the UK. Similar to Openreach, CityFibre rents its services to broadband providers wishing to offer ultrafast full fibre broadband.
Providers who use CityFibre's network include:- Vodafone, Zen Internet, iDNET, and TalkTalk.
London-based CommunityFibre is another broadband provider that operates and maintains its own network. It is also one of the fastest full fibre broadband providers in the UK. Unfortunately, their services are currently limited to 32 boroughs of London.
Another London-based broadband provider with its own infrastructure, G.Network currently covers around 400,000 premises across the Capital. It’s long-term aim is to reach 1.3 million premises by end-of-year 2026.
Gigaclear is the UK's leading rural broadband provider. It's entire network is fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP), meaning people living in rural and remote areas are able to get access to broadband speeds usually only available in larger towns and cities.
Hyperoptic runs an entirely independent full fibre broadband network. And, although they're based in London, their FTTP packages are available to homes and businesses across 13 UK cities and towns: Birmingham, Bristol, Brighton, Cardiff, Greater London, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham, Reading, and Sheffield.
Does Virgin Media use Openreach?
No. Virgin Media builds and operates its own fibre network. It is the UK’s largest gigabit broadband provider – offering download speeds of up to 1.3 Gigabits (Gbps).
Is Virgin Media broadband full fibre?
Despite the speeds on offer, Virgin’s network mainly relies on Hybrid Fibre Coax (HFC) technology. This means that, rather than a full fibre connection, Virgin uses a combination multi-core-copper coaxial (DOCSIS 3.1) and fibre-optic cables to deliver its broadband. In other words, Virgin Media uses an upgraded version of Fibre-To-The-Cabinet (FTTC) broadband.
Virgin Media has announced that it has begun to upgrade its infrastructure, with plans to switch their entire network to full fibre by 2028.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why is the broadband connection bad in my area?
The most common complaints with Openreach stem from issues to do with 'Fibre to the Cabinet' (FTTC) and standard (ADSL) broadband connections that suffer from signal degradation over distance. While homes located near the cabinet exchange can likely access advertised download speeds, these speeds drop the further your home is from the exchange.
If I have a problem with my broadband, should I contact Openreach?
No. If you're experiencing problems with your broadband, you should contact your broadband provider. After speaking with your provider, if a technical fault is found, they will organise for an Openreach engineer to come out and correct the issue.
Does BT still own the Openreach network?
At the time of writing, Openreach is still a wholly-owned subsidiary of BT.
I chose a broadband package through EE/Plusnet/Sky etc. Why did an Openreach engineer come to install and connect my broadband?
Openreach install and maintain the cables, street cabinets, and connections that carry your broadband service. The use of these services is rented out to the provider you've chosen.
Unless you've chosen a provider not on the Openreach network, an Openreach engineer will carry out the work when you need a new broadband service or telephone line activated.
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