TalkTalk announced on Wednesday that it is to offer its customers fibre-to-the-cabinet services at speeds of up to 40Mbps, after agreeing to become a wholesale customer of BT's fibre-access network.
The move came shortly before Ofcom formally established the rules governing BT's fibre project on Thursday. The terms, approved by the European Commission in June, mean that BT has to 'virtually unbundle' its burgeoning network so rivals can offer fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC) access to their customers without having to roll out their own fibre networks. TalkTalk will now become the first significant ISP to do so.
Under the new rules, BT has to give rivals access to its underground ducts and overhead pole infrastructure so they can roll out their own fibre if they wish, Ofcom said. The telecoms giant will have to give details of the ducts and poles it is offering to its rivals by mid-January 2011.
TalkTalk's plans were revealed in the Financial Times. Chief executive Charles Dunstone said his ISP — the UK's largest domestic internet provider — is working on a commercial launch for its up-to-40Mbps services. By comparison, BT's DSL network offers theoretical speeds of up to 24Mbps and Virgin Media has its own cable network, which goes up to 50Mbps.
However, TalkTalk declined to release further details about the timing or pricing of its future FTTC services.
When the Commission gave the green light to BT's virtual unbundled local access (VULA) product, it said this should be a "transitional measure" only and that BT will have to at some point allow its rivals to physically unbundle its fibre. This will give rivals greater pricing and strategic flexibility than they get with VULA, and bring regulations for fibre more closely in line with the UK's rules on copper-network local-loop unbundling (LLU). It will also require BT to deploy more fibre than it needs for itself.
However, Ofcom said on Thursday that it was too early to mandate physical unbundling. Its reasons for this are because there was no significant demand from ISPs for such access and because those ISPs will be able to deploy fibre more easily now that they can use BT's ducts and poles.