ADTRAN breaks ground at Openreach

Ray Le Maistre
By Ray Le Maistre

Feb 10, 2021

Picture courtesy of Openreach

Picture courtesy of Openreach

  • ‘Very different’ ADTRAN system added to Openreach FTTP mix
  • ADTRAN tech allows for disaggregation but single vendor deployment still preferred
  • US vendor is third supplier alongside Nokia and Huawei
  • Chinese vendor’s future role still up in the air as consultation continues

Less than a year after selecting ADTRAN as its third supplier of fibre broadband network technology, Openreach, the semi-autonomous fixed access network division of UK national operator BT, is using the US vendor’s gear to provide broadband services to paying customers.

ADTRAN got its break at Openreach after the UK government last year set a limit on how many premises could be connected using Huawei technology: No more than 35% of premises can be connected using Huawei technology after 28 January 2023. That prompted Openreach to add to its GPON system supplier roster, which already included Huawei and Nokia. (See BT’s Openreach adds ADTRAN to its FTTx Mix.)

“The disaggregated solution that ADTRAN offers is very attractive to us and they came up trumps on the financials, which is always important,” said Openreach’s Director of Technology, Peter Bell. “The first head-end is deployed, the fits customer is connected and getting 330 Mbit/s, and this is just the start… ADTRAN has a big chunk of the pie it can get hold of, and the attraction is that the system can be configured for smallish but also large deployments,” added Bell, though he wouldn’t say how big ADTRAN’s piece of pie might be. 

But there’s plenty of opportunity: Openreach, which currently passes about 4.1 million premises with its fibre access network, has been rolling out its FTTP network at a furious pace – it says it’s passing 42,000 additional UK premises each week currently – and is on track to hit 4.5 million by the end of March. The ultimate target is to pass about 20 million homes by the mid-to-late 2020s, so that’s a lot of new lines for Nokia and ADTRAN to fight over, especially while the situation regarding Huawei is still a bit uncertain and subject to change. “We’re in consultation with the government and the NCSC [National Cyber Security Centre] and will ensure that our networks are secure… but it’s still subject to legislation coming through,” notes the Openreach man. 

Unless the government decides that the UK’s broadband networks must be purged of all Huawei technology, the Openreach network will be a “mix of three vendors,” says Bell.

So what does ADTRAN’s technology bring to the party? Its deployment scenario flexibility appears to be the key benefit, currently, and that’s something the Openreach operations team has needed to adapt to. “The ADTRAN solution is very different to what we get from the other vendors, so there's been a lot of internal training to understand how it works... It's not a cookie-cutter solution. So we've had to educate and inform our engineers,” says Bell. 

But this doesn’t mean ADTRAN’s technology is being used in a radically different way: While the vendor’s CTO for EMEA and APAC, Ronan Kelly, says the SDX system is designed to work with third party management systems and customer premises equipment (CPE), the preference of operators right now is still to deploy the network system (the optical line terminal head-end) and CPE (optical network terminal, ONT) together in a single vendor solution, rather than mix and match. 

In the meantime, the current package should be good news for ADTRAN’s international sales, which accounted for about a quarter of the vendor’s total $130 million revenues in the final three months of 2020.

And if things go well, those overseas revenues could get a further bump from SDX deployments in Europe, as both Deutsche Telekom, which recently debuted its Access 4.0 platform, and Orange opted last year to include the vendor’s software-defined platform in their broadband network plans. (See Deutsche Telekom hands ADTRAN a major software-defined broadband access deal.)

- Ray Le Maistre, Editorial Director, TelecomTV

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