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What is Openreach?

openreach van

What is Openreach?

Have you ever walked down the road and seen an Openreach van pulled up alongside a green cabinet on the pavement? You’d be forgiven for thinking Openreach is just another internet service provider, but there’s a little bit more to it than that. Instead, it builds and maintains the network of cables and exchanges throughout the UK.

Many broadband providers piggyback off this network to offer their own broadband and telephone services. You can’t sign up for a broadband package to Openreach directly.

Over the course of this page, we’re going to take a deep-dive into what the Openreach network is. We’ll explain why it was set up, who owns it and who uses it.

Key points: the Openreach network

  • Openreach was original owned by BT, but it’s now a separate company under the BT group
  • It maintains and builds the phone and broadband infrastructure that serves UK homes and businesses
  • More than 650 service providers use the BT Openreach network
  • Openreach plans to roll out Ultrafast Full Fibre broadband to 25 million homes and businesses by December 2026.
  • As a customer, you shouldn’t need to get in touch with Openreach for most broadband issues. Openreach is not an internet service provider (ISP).

Who are Openreach? Is it part of BT? Aren't they the same company?

Openreach was set up in 2006 to maintain and develop the UK’s broadband and phone network.

Previously, Openreach was owned by BT. This explains why it was, and still is, known to many as 'BT Openreach'. However, since 2017 it runs as a separate company, although one that’s still a subsidiary of BT group.

Following pressure from MPs and BT’s competitors, a review was set up by the UK’s telecoms regulator, Ofcom. It was concerned that as BT owned the network most other broadband providers used, it held a monopoly over the UK telecoms industry, as well as an unfair advantage. There was also criticism that faults weren’t being fixed for competitor internet service providers (ISPs) as fast as they were for BT.

Calls were made for BT to put its local access network (LAN) up for sale, but instead, the decision was made for this network to be a completely separate entity. To this day, it’s still owned by BT group, and Ofcom regulates this to make sure all communications providers can still access this network fairly.

A process called 'Local Loop Unbundling' (LLU) allows Openreach to open up parts of its telephone exchange to ISPs who have their own networks.

Throughout the UK, most exchanges are now LLU. Those that aren’t have a more limited range of broadband providers. That means less choice when it comes to speeds and packages.

You can find out what your local exchange is capable of by entering your address in Broadband Genie's deals checker. This is clever enough to only show you the deals that are available to your door.

Check the best broadband deals in your area

Which providers use Openreach lines?

More than 650 service providers use the BT Openreach network. This includes many well-known ISPs, including:

Dynamic deal panel

What services does Openreach provide?

Openreach maintains and builds the phone and broadband infrastructure that serves UK’s homes and businesses. It’s responsible for maintaining cables, telephone exchanges, and telephone network poles.

What are the fibre rollout plans for Openreach?

Back in 2009, BT announced plans for Openreach to give full fibre access to 2.5 million homes. By 2012 it was intended for 25% of the UK to have access to a high speed Fibre-to-the-Premises network (FTTP). This goal and since shifted to offering Ultrafast Full Fibre broadband to 25 million homes and businesses by December 2026.

  • What’s FTTP and FTTC broadband?

    Full Fibre broadband is also known as ‘Fibre To The Premises’, ‘Fibre To The Home’. This is often shortened to FTTP or FTTH. They’re all the same thing!

    Instead of copper telephone wire making up the final part of the journey from that green cabinet on the street, fibre optic cables are installed right up to your home.

    It’s amazing the difference in speed this small data journey can have. With full-fibre broadband you can expect to receive speeds of 1Gb+.

    The downside is full-fibre is only available to a small percentage of homes in the UK, and it’s taking a good while to get everyone up to speed.

It’s also made efforts to develop GFast technology. Instead of installing a completely separate fibre network, this uses the same lines that currently supply fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC) broadband.

This bolt-on technology changes the frequency of a connection and increases speeds up to 330Mb.

Whilst this is a clever upgrade that requires less installation time and money than full fibre, it’s only useful for connections over a short distance. This means Openreach can only offer GFast broadband technology to homes and businesses already close to an exchange.

When 75% of homes and businesses are connected to an exchange in the UK, older copper wire-based ADSL networks will gradually be phased out. You won’t be able to sign up, switch, upgrade or regrade to an ADSL broadband contract if full fibre broadband is available at your premises.

  • What does ADSL mean?

    ADSL stands for ‘Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line’. It’s broadband technology that allows the transfer data across regular telephone lines. You can make calls at the same time as being connected to the internet.

    An ADSL line will, at minimum, allow for a broadband connection of up to 8Mb. These days, that’s pretty slow and won’t allow you to do much other than emailing or basic web searches.

    ADSL2+ is now available at nearly all exchanges across the UK with slightly faster data transfer rates of around 10-11Mb.

Interested in finding out how your area’s doing when it comes to full fibre? Use our FTTP deals checker:

Broadband Genie full fibre deals checker

Openreach and rural areas

Slow expansion and development is one of the biggest criticisms of the Openreach network. As part of its target to reach 25 million homes and businesses by the end of 2026, it’s made a commitment to upgrade around 6 million rural premises in the UK. But this is a slow process if you don’t have access to a decent fibre broadband connection.

For those in an area outside of Openreach’s own rollout plans, or the plans of other companies and subsidised projects, the Fibre Community Partnership (FCP) programme exists. Residents and businesses who are interested in gaining access to Ultrafast Full Fibre can enter their postcode to get the ball rolling on a customised installation plan.

There are a few schemes Openreach are involved with that help fund a Fibre Community Partnership. These include:

  • Voucher Funded – using UK Government funding from the Department of Digital Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). With this, all eligible properties can get a voucher worth up to £4,500. Communities can pool these totals together to pay for the installation of fibre cables.
  • Community Funded - co-funded by the community and Openreach
  • Community and Voucher Funded - using a combination of DCMS vouchers and co-funding by the community and Openreach.

Who’s responsible if my broadband service goes down if I’m on an Openreach network?

If your connection is struggling, it’s down to the individual service provider to deal with any issues. They’ll be able to request a visit to your street cabinet from an Openreach engineer if this is necessary. Please remember though, an Openreach engineer will never knock on your door without an appointment

How do I find out if there’s a problem with the Openreach network?

The best way to do this is to get in touch with the internet service provider you’re signed up with. A customer service department will be able to help investigate whether any problems stem from your home, Wi-Fi router, your local telephone exchange, or if there’s a more drastic issue. You won’t be able to reach out to Openreach directly.

If you’re worried about loss of service, you can find more hints, tips and contact information with our broadband connection problem guide.

How do I get in touch with Openreach, and why would I have to?

It’s highly unlikely the average home or business owner would need to get in touch with Openreach directly. If you’re having technical issues, and you’re already signed up to a broadband provider, you should get in touch with the appropriate technical support. If an engineer is required to visit your local telephone exchange, or you’ve signed up for a broadband package that needs installing, your provider will get in touch with Openreach.

Looking for a quick way to get in touch with your provider? Here are a few links to quick jump to some customer service pages and grab the right telephone numbers:

The only reason you might need to get in contact with Openreach directly is if you need to report network damage or a health and safety issue. Openreach can’t be of help if you:

  • Have a question about your bill
  • Have a problem with your service or a fault with your phone line
  • Have a query about an engineer visit
  • Want to order phone or broadband, or upgrade to fibre

Why would Openreach need to get in touch with me?

It’s critical to be able to spot whether text or phone messages you receive are authentic. Sadly, fake Openreach texts and phishing emails are quite common.

  • What is ‘phishing’?

    Phishing is the act of luring unsuspecting internet users into providing personal information or installing malware. Typically this is achieved with the use of fake emails or text messages which contain links to clones of real websites.

If you’re expecting a visit from an Openreach engineer, you can enter these phone numbers into your address book. That way, you can be confident to spot an authentic message:

If an engineer intends to visit your home, you'll always be notified in advance and given an estimated time. Never let anyone into your home if you’re not expecting them. When an Openreach engineer arrives, they should be willing to show their ID.

Openreach would never ask customers for bank details. 

Are there any downsides to Openreach?

There are plenty of grievances with Openreach. High profits, slow rollout and poor customer service are often touted as being the biggest downsides to the network. Service providers who operate on the network have also been vocal against its underinvestment and poor customer service.

Homeowners of new-builds have, in the past, complained about delays for phones and broadband. There’s also a concern that the Openreach set-up means there’s less need to keep prices competitive for customers.

When it comes to future-proofing, the worry is that customers have been given half a bargain with the rollout of the GFast fibre. Although this provides faster speeds, its download cap of around 100Mb is far inferior to the broadband speeds that would be experienced with an extensive full-fibre network rollout.

What are the alternatives to Openreach?

For the majority of internet users in the UK, the main alternative broadband provider who uses its own network and doesn’t rely on Openreach is Virgin Media. Of course, there’s also the opportunity to jump onto a 4G or 5G mobile broadband network. It’s a costly alternative, but satellite broadband is an option too.

Other ISPs who have their own network, but serve smaller areas throughout the UK, include:

  • Hyperoptic (central London-based)
  • Gigaclear (a network set up specifically to serve rural areas)
Dynamic deal panel
Dynamic deal panel

Switching broadband providers

If you’re having issues with your broadband provider, or you’ve found a better, cheaper or speedier deal elsewhere, then switching is simple. You'll just need to make sure you're out of contract to avoid any nasty early cancellation fees.

Expert Summary

For the most part, you shouldn’t need to get in touch with Openreach unless you spot any dodgy damage to telephone exchanges - your broadband provider will arrange an Openreach engineer to come to you. However, it can be of help to those who don’t have access to broadband; either because they’re living in a rural community, or if they’ve moved to a new build.

If you have any questions about fibre broadband availability, you can add your name to a contact list. If you’ve received excellent service from an Openreach engineer, you can also get in touch and pass over your positive feedback.

Those interested in finding out more about developments on the Openreach network can do so by following it on social media - either the Openreach Twitter / X account, or its Facebook page is a good start.

Meet the author:

Online Editor

Broadband Genie's Editor, Emma Davenport, has been contributing to the site since 2007. She has 20 years of experience writing articles, guides and tutorials on consumer technology for magazines and online.

Specialist subject: Broadband advice for vulnerable people

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