Insight Article: SOGEA, SOTAP, so what?
You’ve probably heard of SOGEA, you may have heard of SOTAP, you may even heard of SOGFAST – these are new products from Openreach that will be vital in the coming years to fill the gap between the withdrawal of the analogue technologies and the nirvana of a full fibre network. So what is their relevance, where will we see these products and what do you need to know about them?
BACKGROUND – Analogue Retirement
Openreach is retiring its analogue network by Dec 2025. There are already several trial exchanges that are at various phases of this retirement. The retirement is being done in batches of exchanges and, at the moment, about 200 of the ~5,600 exchanges in the UK are on notice. Other batches will come through in future months, with the majority of the exchanges entering the first phase in 2023. This first phase is the “stop sell” of the affected analogue products. This means no new lines (including shifts and upgrades) can be sold. The second phase is the withdrawal of the products altogether and, for most, this will be December 2025.
The reason for this retirement is that Openreach is driving towards an “all IP” network and, whilst many associated this with the complete replacement of copper with fibre, this is not going to be the case for some users (certainly for some years after 2025). It is these users that do not have access to fibre that these new products – SOGEA , SOGFAST and SOTAP – have been designed. These products will enable Openreach to continue to deliver services over legacy copper lines where fibre has not (yet) been installed after the analogue system has been switched off.
By 2025 it is predicted that 80-90% of the network will have access to fibre and thus any legacy copper product will be replaced by FTTP offering speeds up to 1Gb. However there will be places where it won’t have been feasible (usually due to finances) to install fibre, and for these sites copper will still be retained. So whilst the copper is not being withdrawn, the traditional products that this copper supports will be – so we say goodbye to ADSL2+, ISDN and FTTC and will see these replaced by SOGEA, SOTAP and SOGFAST (where FTTP is not available).
So, what are these products, and what do you need to know about them?
- SOGEA – Single Order Generic Ethernet Access is effectively the replacement for FTTC/ADSL2+. This is a delivery of broadband over a copper-terminated line without the use of the PSTN element. This is already an established product (sometimes referred to as “naked DSL”) and can be ordered today. However, there is a major question outstanding with SOGEA – how will a migration take place from the traditional products to SOGEA? Amazingly enough, there is no answer to this question right now and is undergoing trials by Openreach. The speed offering on SOGEA matches that of FTTC of up to 80 Mb
Click here for further information – SOGEA
- SOTAP Single Order Temporary Access Product – the replacement for ADSL where FTTC (and thus SOGEA) or FTTP are not available. In theory SOTAP will offer speeds up to 17Mb but may be much lower. Whilst in development for a long time this is a very new product in terms of consumer availability having only just been launched as a trial product in Mildenhall (one of the two analogue retirement pilot exchanges) at the end of May 2022 and going live in several other exchanges in late July 2022. Full commercial launch is probably 2024. The product however (as defined in its name) is meant to be temporary until complete fibre roll out.
Click here for further information – SOTAP
- SOGFAST is an enhanced version of SOGEA offering speeds up to 330Mb
The reality is that these products are intended to be the exception, not the rule, and therefore only sold for a minority of locations. Openreach has set a hurdle rate of achieving 75% fibre coverage of an exchange footprint before putting it on “stop sell” and, in all likelihood, is likely to continue deployment of fibre beyond this hurdle.
Thus by 2025, it seems likely that the vast majority of installations/migrations will be fibre. However, where it doesn’t make commercial sense for Openreach to deploy fibre then it may look to the end customer to share some of the commercial burden. Openreach is also likely to encourage further deployment of fibre through softer measures such as withdrawal or reduction of SLAs on legacy copper products and price increases. Furthermore, where copper lines develop faults Openreach may replace these with fibre rather than repairing the copper.
Taking all this into account therefore, if we are to assume that Openreach reaches 90% fibre coverage for most exchanges by 2025 with the legacy sites perhaps being the most isolated locations, then the chances are that most business customers will not have to worry about these products. And don’t forget for these sites there may be alternatives such as LEO and 4G/5G that may provide significantly more data especially compared to SOTAP.
In summary therefore, you may well consider SOGEA, SOTAP and SOGFAST as three services you may never need, or certainly you may hope you never need. If Openreach’s plans reach fruition, the vast majority of users will move straight to fibre for either new provisions or replacing analogue services being retired. However, analogue retirement is a huge programme, and many businesses have very diverse requirements and sites across the UK so be prepared for some SO-based products coming your way over the next 2-3 years.
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