The case for open fibre networks periodically invites expert third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Matt Rees, Chief Technology & Operating Officer at Neos Networks, argues in favour of opening up fibre networks.

Guest author

June 4, 2024

5 Min Read

Accelerating and expanding fibre network rollouts continues to be a priority for governments, businesses and society at large. In the UK, significant public funding has been unlocked to deliver lightning-fast gigabit-capable broadband, most notably with the government’s £5 billion program for Project Gigabit. As a result of these initiatives, the recent Project Gigabit Spring Update announcement from DSIT revealed that gigabit broadband coverage across the country has skyrocketed from just 6% in January 2019 to 81% in April 2024.

This significant progress can also be partly explained by the rapid increase in network builders in the country. The UK now has a market of over 100 providers who are investing over £4 billion into rollouts, with alternative network providers (AltNets), like CityFibre, challenging incumbent providers like BT’s Openreach.

Technological innovation is a key way that operators can extend and improve the performance of networks. However, most service providers are tied to a single technology vendor because of the closed nature of vendor equipment, meaning that technology from different vendors is incompatible with one another. Service providers are therefore dictated by the costs, timescales and range of new technology that their preferred supplier provides, which impacts their ability to upgrade, meet demands and extend networks to reach new customers.

This challenge could be overcome with the embrace of the ‘open network’ approach, which means the separation of hardware and software – allowing different vendor technologies to work together. The concept of open networks has become a prevalent trend already in the mobile sector, particularly in the radio access network (RAN). This ‘open’ and disaggregated approach is now extending beyond the RAN, to encompass benefits throughout all network layers, from access to the core.

The advantages of open networks

Embracing an open infrastructure approach to support network rollouts in the fixed-network space could offer many advantages but primarily, it’s about incorporating best-in-breed technologies to bolster network foundations. In a multi-vendor environment, there is flexibility to adopt the most innovative or cost-effective technologies, irrespective of the supplier. This not only liberates networks from dependency on a single vendor's solutions, but also helps navigate supply chain challenges that could otherwise constrain access. Adopting such an approach in the fixed access layer, for example, will start to lower the cost of the network technology – helping to accelerate FTTx deployments. 

Orchestration software will also need to play a fundamental role in facilitating open networks. This software empowers service providers to efficiently manage and seamlessly assemble inventory across the network while also incorporating a diverse range of vendors. 

Facilitating open access networks across both long-haul and metro networks will mean being able to use different vendor hardware across the same part of the network. For example, for long-haul networks, it could mean pairing optical equipment from one vendor with Open Line Terminals (OLTs) from another vendor, offering network builders a greater choice of providers. In metro networks, this could look like different Passive Optical Network (PON) technologies working together cohesively, not only providing cost savings but also more scalability and flexibility.

Supporting fibre deployments

As AltNets make strategic moves to stay competitive with legacy providers, opening up their networks provides an opportunity to remain profitable. Operators are likely to use Software-Defined-Network (SDN) controls to enable the integration of multiple proprietary closed networks into one single mixed vendor ecosystem. If interconnection agreements that eliminate barriers between providers are established, this will allow seamless inter-network connectivity and traffic exchange. One of the benefits of open networks for AltNets is the option for ‘resource pooling’, whereby providers can pool their resources (for example, fiber optic cables, wireless spectrum, or network infrastructure) and share among participating providers. This allows for more efficient optimisation of infrastructure assets and reduces redundant investments.

With networks becoming more open, this can also provide a platform for network infrastructure sharing, making it easier to extend services over the same physical infrastructure. With a large number of siloed networks being developed at significant costs, sharing infrastructure will improve the economics of extending FTTx across the country. Rather than each provider building and maintaining separate infrastructure, they can share the costs of infrastructure deployment and maintenance – reducing overall expenses and overall network disruption.

Obstacles to ‘openness’

Before we reach this ‘open’ end state, however, there are several challenges to be overcome – one of them being hardware interoperability. Without industry-wide standards or interconnection frameworks, integrating equipment from different vendors may cause performance issues or service disruption if these are not thoroughly tested before implementation.

Network management will likely become complex. In addition to having different hardware interoperability challenges, network operations centres may not be able to easily detect and understand how a service is performing across a mixed vendor ecosystem without software that can decipher all the different layers. Software must be able to present data in a way that operators or any operations automation can process, to enable service monitoring and restoration.

Open networks may also pose security challenges, due to the inherent complexity and diversity of components involved. This complexity could hamper effective security monitoring, and businesses may face dependency issues on different vendors for timely updates and support. This multidimensional nature makes securing open networks with mixed vendors more intricate. As a result, providers must develop comprehensive strategies that will bolster the network’s overall security posture.

Slow and steady wins the race?

Over the coming years, we may see a slow but steady growth in the adoption of open networks. However, this will rely on established vendors pursuing interoperability, giving other vendors a potential foothold within their customer networks. These incumbents may be hesitant to back an approach that risks eroding their position with a customer where they are the dominant supplier, but consolidation in the AltNet market could serve as the catalyst for open networks.


As Chief Technology & Operating Officer at Neos Networks, Matt’s role is concentrated on ensuring the smooth running of Neos’ network, as well as the delivery and rollout of its network technology strategy. Matt has over 20 years of experience within the telecoms industry, with the majority of his career, prior to Neos, spent at NTL (more recently known as VMo2 and Liberty Global).

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