DFA might be dead…

…for now. But is this a catalyst for an innovation boom in the telecoms industry?

In 2015, Ofcom released a Business Connectivity Market Review which made some bold proposals about how the industry should be making use of Dark Fibre Access (DFA). The proposed DFA product would have allowed ISPs to utilise BT’s existing fibre optic cables. Forcing BT to provide ‘physical access’ to its network would have provided more choice to end-users and increased competition in the market.

However, the decision by the Competition Appeals Tribunal in July 2017 to overturn Ofcom’s DFA plans putting its Business Connectivity Market Review on ice, brought any immediate opportunities to explore DFA to a sharp halt.

The ruling over the summer was a blow for many telcos who saw great potential in DFA, not only in the fact that it made expanding UK networks quicker, easier and cheaper but that it also gave others the opportunity to bring innovative services to market quicker – increasing competition and breadth of choice to businesses across the UK.

But could this set-back actually be an opportunity, and a chance to drive new innovation in the market?

We think so.

A consequence of the recent DFA ruling is that telecoms and network providers who were planning network build-outs in anticipation of DFA’s launch in October 2017 will have to go back to the drawing board. This means that many will need to explore other innovative ways to enable wide-spread connectivity for customers. If DFA is off the cards (for now at least) then how else can new network cable be deployed?

Utilising existing infrastructure is an avenue which network providers are being actively encouraged to explore. EU directives to share utilities will place legislative pressure to share utility infrastructure. But there is also a compelling commercial case to do so. The European Commission says, “For companies deploying networks, access to existing physical infrastructure can allow significant savings, up to 60% in some cases, as compared to excavating afresh”.

At SSE Enterprise Telecoms we are seeking out innovation in a number of areas:

  • Using waste water systems as new paths for network routes. The benefits of using these pre-existing sewer networks to deploy fibre are multiple; this approach is secure, has a lower cost to deploy than traditional digs and the cables are safe and secure (located deep below street level). What’s more, the existing infrastructure already connects urban areas. At SSE Enterprise Telecoms we have already formed a partnership with Thames Water to do just this and implementation with further water utilities will follow.
  • Rail networks also provide intriguing potential for alternative network cabling. Whilst not benefiting from the deep underground security that comes from installing fibre in the sewers, rail networks are inherently less susceptible to interference and damage than street level cabling. They also follow direct routes between cities, reducing latency.
  • Utilising physical fixed infrastructure such as buildings and street furniture is also an opportunity to reduce costs and bring services closer to customers. From hosting equipment on water towers, to utilising bus stops for near-field communications in city centres, the opportunities for innovative connectivity are endless.

The DFA discussion is unlikely to be gone forever. Eventually a new proposal will be tabled by Ofcom and the legislation – in some form – will be passed. But the smart move for network providers is to explore other ways to utilise existing infrastructure and drive innovation across multiple platforms and outlets. For more information about what SSE Enterprise Telecoms is doing right now, click here.

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