UK broadband needs more than an Openreach rebrand

12 July 2017, 13:45   By Samantha Smith

OPENREACH have announced they've begun rebranding their distinctive white vans, which now will no longer feature the BT logo.

fibre broadband
Credit: Benedek Alpar/

They've described this move as a "small but symbolic step" in the process of their legal separation from BT, which was confirmed by Ofcom back in November after months and years of debate within the broadband industry.

And in addition to the repainting of their vans, Openreach will also be redesigning their website, their logos, buildings, workwear, and will officially establish themselves as a limited company.

However, given that this whole process of rebranding and legal separation is expected to be completed "Around Apr 2021", it raises the important question of just how much longer it would take for the separation to make itself felt in the quality of the UK's broadband.


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At the moment, Openreach currently uses 22,000 vans, yet only a segment of these are part of the initial wave of rebranding underway right now, with the rest due to be reimagined later.

Still, the unveiling of the redesigned Openreach van and logo is being presented by Openreach as an important milestone, one which marks how they'll be operating differently in the future.

new openreach van

Source: Openreach

In particular, they're taking pains to make it clear that they'll be treating all internet service providers to the same level of service in the future.

As the Openreach chief executive, Clive Shelley, explained, "We're removing the 'BT' element from the Openreach logo. This is a visual sign to reflect how we deal with everyone on equal terms."

Of course, the implication here is that they weren't dealing with everyone on equal terms in the past, something which is perhaps supported by how BT were fined £42 million by Ofcom in March.

This was because an investigation found that, between 2013 and 2014, Openreach had not paid enough in compensation to ISPs such as TalkTalk and Vodafone for late and delayed installations.

Now, however, Openreach have turned a new leaf, what with the establishment of their new, independent board in February, and what with the present launch of their new logo.

Elaborating further on what this launch means for the company, Shelley said, "We are committed to delivering the highest standards to everyone and we're doing this well ahead of Ofcom's timeframe as we feel the re-brand is an important step in building trust with you and our stakeholders."

Improving quality

As important as such a rebrand may be in encouraging trust, the fact that it will take four years to implement suggests that it will take much longer for the UK's broadband to reap the full benefits of Openreach's legal separation from BT.

Indeed, the separation was brought about, not so much because Openreach were failing to treat all ISPs equally or inspire trust, but because investment in Britain's broadband network(s) was deemed to be inadequate.

As Ofcom said when they first recommended legal separation in July 2016, "Ofcom is pressing ahead with its plans to improve broadband and telephone services for people across the country, pursuing better service quality and encouraging greater investment in networks. Creating a more independent Openreach ... is an important part of achieving this."

Yet given that the improvement of UK broadband is the ultimate aim of Openreach's independence, it's clear that it will take more than rebranding, or even full impartiality, to achieve it.

That's because, what's also necessary is that other ISPs beyond BT take the opportunity to work more closely with Openreach and to invest in the nation's broadband infrastructure.

This will be made easier by the fact that Openreach's new constitution allows for confidential talks between the network and other ISPs, so that these other ISPs can make proposals regarding new network development without them being relayed to BT.

However, to date, few ISPs beyond BT have shown any real interest in investing in network expansion, casting doubt on whether such providers as TalkTalk, Sky and Vodafone (three of BT's biggest critics) will actually make the most of the new confidentiality arrangement.

Who will invest?

For instance, TalkTalk and Sky both partnered in a York-based fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) broadband project in 2015, with TalkTalk even going so far as announcing plans to build a nationwide FTTP network that would reach 10 million premises.

Yet since their joint trial in York things have been quiet, with Sky's broadband CEO Jeremy Darroch confirming in 2016 that Sky had no plans to invest in a network of its own.

Similarly, TalkTalk have completely failed to confirm or follow up on their insinuation that they're aiming to spread their York-based FTTP network to 10 million homes, which perhaps isn't entirely surprising given the commercial trouble they've been in since their infamous October 2015 hack.

Admittedly, this doesn't prove that such ISPs won't want to work more closely with Openreach in the future, yet it does cast doubt on any suggestion that they're serious about supporting a substantial step-change in the quality of the UK's broadband.

And until they do become more serious about collaborating more with Openreach, it will be left primarily to BT to invest in and develop the latter, meaning that customers won't be seeing a significant departure from what BT already has planned for the future anytime soon.

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