If you’re shopping for broadband deals and doing your research, you may have encountered the term 'LLU'.
This sounds like it should be something complicated and confusing if you’re not tech-savvy, but the reality is that it’s just a term for how multiple providers can use the same lines.
Read on to find out what it means and why it matters when buying broadband.
LLU: the key points
What does LLU mean?
LLU is an acronym for Local Loop Unbundling.
It’s a rather clumsy name for the mechanism that allows other ISPs or internet service providers to resell BT Openreach network access as their own broadband connections.
This was initially put in place by the government to increase competition and open the market up to new ISPs.
Before unbundling, BT was the only provider with the network capable of offering telecommunications access to the majority of properties within the UK. It had the monopoly, so was blamed for stifling competition, innovation, and development of internet access and technology. Without competition, there wasn’t any real reason for BT to improve their telecoms and broadband network, or make it more reliable or faster. So, the UK could have been left behind.
Back in 2001, Ofcom compelled BT to allow access to its local exchanges for other companies. That meant competing providers could effectively buy wholesale bandwidth from BT and resell it as their own. BT Openreach was formed to manage this new arrangement, and still does today.
The result of local loop unbundling was that competition entered the market. BT had competitors for broadband and also large wholesale customers who demanded reliability, connectivity, and speed. All things Ofcom wanted to encourage.
What do we mean by a local loop?
So, we know what unbundling means, but what about the local loop?
The local loop is the technical term for the "last mile" of the provider network. That last mile includes your local telephone exchange, the phone lines to the green street cabinets, and the connection between your property and the street cabinet.
Installed and owned by BT, the company leases this last mile to ISPs to resell to you using their own equipment. Openreach is responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of this last mile and will perform any repairs. This is why even if you’re a Sky or Plusnet customer, it’ll still be a BT Openreach engineer, or an engineer contracted by Openreach, who will come to fix any problems.
Who offers LLU broadband?
The majority of the major home broadband providers, with the exception of Virgin Media, will likely be using LLU broadband. If the ISP hasn’t installed its own network, it’ll be using Openreach infrastructure.
Virgin Media has its own completely separate network, it doesn’t need to use the BT telephone lines. However, it isn’t the only provider with its own network. Full fibre providers like Hyperoptic and Community Fibre operate their own lines. And if you live in or around Hull, your local network is the responsibility of KCOM.
Advantages of LLU broadband
There are many benefits of LLU broadband. It’s created the competition that Ofcom originally wanted, forcing BT to up its game by making the network more reliable and faster and developing technologies to keep Britain’s internet infrastructure improving.
By having larger and more influential customers, BT is also encouraged to develop and maintain its network. It not only has Service Level Agreements, or SLA, for end-users but wholesale SLAs for those ISP's resellers too.
LLU also allows ISPs to offer a range of services at different price points. These can offer much more flexibility and better pricing than BT’s own line rental and/or broadband packages.
Finally, LLU broadband has enabled more properties to be connected in more ways by more companies. Choice is always a good thing in a market, and that’s no different here!
LLU is just another way of describing broadband on the BT Openreach lines that doesn’t come from BT itself. This’ll be the majority of broadband providers in the UK.
What this means is that, unless you can get a separate network from someone like Virgin Media, pretty much all the providers in your area will offer similar speeds. It also means that regardless of who your provider is, you should easily be able to get an engineer visit quickly, as they’ll be provided by BT or someone they’ve hired.
LLU broadband has led to massive improvements in broadband speed and technology in the UK. And it’s going to help it keep improving in the future too.
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