Christian M. 5 min read

What is Openreach?

Openreach is one of the cornerstone actors of British telecommunications, yet few businesses ever get to hear their name.

While Elon Musk’s Starlink receives all the media limelight, Openreach has been on the crucial mission of rolling out fibre-optic cables to all businesses in the UK for the past 15 years, allowing our country to remain competitive amid the rapid transition into the era of ‘The Internet of Things‘.

This article explains what Openreach is, its role in UK fibre optics, and everything else you need to know to get you up to speed in a heartbeat.

💡 Key takeaways:

  • A special company: Openreach is a branch of the BT Group with a special arrangement with Ofcom, allowing them to have a monopoly over the physical telecoms infrastructure while providing equal and fair access to broadband providers.
  • Fibre-optics everywhere: Openreach’s next milestone is to extend full-fibre to 25 million properties in the UK by 2026.
  • Not customer-facing: Openreach has no customer support. Businesses needing help with fibre broadband should contact their broadband provider instead.

What is Openreach?

Openreach is a semi-independent division of BT Group responsible for maintaining and developing the UK’s physical telecoms network, including broadband and telephony. It was established in 2006 as part of a deal with Ofcom, the British telecoms regulator, to ensure that the bulk of the nation’s infrastructure was managed effectively through a single company instead of multiple competing companies.

In other words, Openreach has an exclusive arrangement with the government and manages all the wiring, cabling, street cabinets, junctions, and any upgrades like the rollout of fibre-optic broadband across the UK, including fibre-optic and full-fibre broadband.

In return for this monopoly, Openreach must give other telecom companies equal access to this network and are closely scrutinised by Ofcom. Their business model consists of charging broadband service providers (including BT broadband itself) for the use of its network.

💡Openreach is the monopoly landline telephony provider for all of the UK except the Hull area, where KCOM provides this.

Openreach and fibre optics

Openreach has been tasked with replacing the UK’s ageing copper cables with fibre-optics technology. The aim is to provide fibre-optic broadband to 25 million premises in the UK by the end of 2026.

This ambitious upgrade began in the early commercial stages of fibre optics technology in 2008 and has seen significant progress over the past 15 years. Here’s a brief overview of Openreach’s contributions to the UK’s infrastructure growth:

YearTargeted PremisesDetails
2009Initial pilot areasPilot deployments in select areas. Technology used: FTTC/FTTC
2010 - 2015Expansion to major citiesReached millions of homes and businesses. Technology used: FTTC/FTTP. Significant expansion in urban areas.
2016 - 2020Nationwide coverage goalsAdded millions more premises. Technology used: FTTC/FTTP, Introduction of technology to boost speeds.
202120 million premises by 2025Ongoing deployment. Technology used: FTTP. Shift towards predominantly FTTP deployment.
2022Increase in rural and hard-to-reach areasEnhanced focus on rural expansion. Technology used: FTTP. Government and Openreach initiatives to cover rural areas.
2023 - 202625 million premises by end of 2026Targeted future achievement. Technology used: FTTP. Continued efforts towards nationwide gigabit-capable coverage.

While most of the country’s businesses (except rural ones) are now supported by partial-fibre FTTC, about 60% of them now have access to full-fibre FTTP.

💡 Boosted productivity: The Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr) found that Openreach’s fibre optics network is expected to boost the UK’s productivity by £72 billion by 2030.

Fibre broadband: The UK vs the world

Unfortunately, Openreach’s achievements appear modest on the global stage, at least until recently.

This report positioned the UK 49th globally in terms of fibre broadband penetration, coverage, and speed, trailing behind most European nations and even developing countries like Mexico.

However, Openreach has significantly stepped up its efforts since then. According to this recent report, the rapid deployment of fibre optics by Openreach and its competitors has propelled the UK to lead the FTTP growth rates across Europe in 2023, with an addition of 4.2 million premises in just one year.

Nonetheless, the UK still lags considerably behind other European countries like Latvia, Portugal, Spain, and France, which have been developing their networks for much longer.

When will the Openreach Network reach my business?

To find out if fibre broadband (i.e. the Openreach Network in this context) is available to you, compare business broadband deals with us or use Openreach’s fibre checker. The advantage of using our comparison tool is that it will also show you full-fibre options available through some of Openreach’s competitors.

Note that most UK businesses now have access to some form of fibre-optic broadband. See our article on FTTP vs FTTC to see the detailed availability statistics for each type of fibre connection.

Openreach – FAQs

Our business broadband experts answer commonly asked questions on Openreach.

How is Openreach different from BT broadband?

Both are different subsidiaries of the multinational BT Group and provide different services within the UK’s telecoms market:

  • Openreach: The engineering division responsible for maintaining and upgrading the UK’s physical telecoms network, as explained in this section.
  • BT broadband: The telecoms service provider offering BT business broadband, among other bespoke services such as VoIP and business telephone lines, using Openreach’s infrastructure.

What is the Openreach Network?

The ‘Openreach Network’ is simply a colloquial name given to the physical infrastructure managed by Openreach, including all fibre optic cables, remaining copper wires, cabinets, servers, etc.

For all intents and purposes, business customers ‘connect’ to this network through a business broadband provider like Sky, bOnline and Onebill, who use the physical Openreach network to provide your business with a connection, customer service, billing, and even liaison with Openreach for any required engineering work.

Other business broadband providers who have equal access to Openreach’s network include:

What companies compete with Openreach?

While Openreach is undertaking the bulk of the upgrade, other smaller companies like Cityfibre, Virgin Media, Community Fibre, and Hyperoptic are working on upgrading their local fibre networks to serve yet unreached communities and niche applications.

Ofcom allowed this to accelerate the crucial roll-out of this technology across the UK, especially in hard-to-reach rural areas that compose the remaining 20% of all properties (business and home alike).

Does Openreach work cause disruptions?

Like any engineering work, the roll-out of fibre optics causes disruptions.

Road and pavement excavations cause traffic disruption, and there may be temporary broadband outages (mostly planned downtime) while Openreach upgrades key public infrastructure like junctions and street cabinets. Typically, Openreach will notify residents in advance.

Additionally, businesses installing full-fibre broadband must wait for Openreach engineers to lay fibre from the nearest street cabinet to your business broadband router for the final missing journey.

What is the phone number for Openreach?

Openreach does not have a customer support phone number because they are an engineering division exclusively in charge of network upgrades and maintenance. See our What is Openreach? section for details.

Instead, it’s broadband service providers (also known as ISPs) who are responsible for answering questions and complaints about broadband bills, contracts, service quality, faults, and even queries regarding the visit of an Openreach engineer. They will liaise with Openreach through internal channels if necessary.

The only reasons for contacting Openreach are to report public network damage (e.g. fibre cables exposed to the public), fibre availability, to thank an engineer or a query on street cabinet artwork, and you can do this through their website.

What is an A55 Openreach?

An A55 is a detailed engineering report of any work required for a business to get full-fibre broadband. It is filled and sent back to headquarters by an Openreach engineer seeking to cost and plan the required work.

The report includes details on excavations, materials, staffing and any traffic management and planning permissions that may be required to extend the fibre-optic cables into the property.

The timeframe from submission to the engineering works varies depending on the availability of engineers, materials, local councils’ efficiency, and the work’s complexity.

How many engineers does Openreach employ?

Openreach employs around 35,000 engineers and technicians dedicated to the rollout, maintenance and upgrades of the broadband network.

As such, it is the largest employer in the British telecommunications market.

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