“Open Access is about creating competition in all layers of the [Internet] IP network allowing a wide variety of physical networks and applications to interact in an open architecture. Put plainly, anyone can connect to anyone in a technology-neutral framework that encourages innovative, low-cost delivery to users. It encourages market entry from smaller, local companies and seeks to ensure that no one entity can take a position of dominant market power. It requires transparency to ensure fair trading within and between the layers based on clear, comparative information on market prices and services. It seeks to build on the characteristics of the [Internet] IP network to allow devolved local solutions rather than centralised ones.” — InfoDev

It seems just about every big South African telco has decided that their FTTH network is an “Open Access” network recently – even though it’s a wholesale model and always has been. In a wholesale model the infrastructure provider also provides ISPs services on its network. This is all part of South Africa’s Telkom legacy and it is not Open Access.

Open Access is all about extending the OSI model of service layers further up the value stack. In an Open Access model the infrastructure provider must not be competing with the service providers on the network. It’s all about neutrality and not blurring the lines between value layers.

Some local telcos are abusing the term “Open Access” and using it in their marketing, but nothing has changed in the way they do business. This just creates confusion for end users trying to decide which fibre to the home providers best suit their needs.

Open Access is great for the end user because it creates competition on the service provider layer. This drives down pricing and keeps service levels high. Open Access networks also offer more flexibility and usually have month to month or no contracts. End users can upgrade, downgrade or switch ISPs quickly and painlessly.

Open Access makes infrastructure providers more focused and incentivises them to roll out fibre quicker. The infrastructure provider can also expect higher take-up in each area it deploy fibre if customers have a choice of ISPs.

ISPs like Open Access because they are all on an equal and neutral playing field and there is no conflict of interest when dealing with the infrastructure provider.

Open Access has been a very successful model in Europe since the early 1990s. In Europe there is a clear separation between the infrastructure providers and the ISPs. It just makes sense.

Make sure your FTTH network is really Open Access.

An Open Access network refers to a specialised and focused business model, in which a network infrastructure provider limits its activities to a fixed set of value layers in order to avoid conflicts of interest.

The network infrastructure provider creates an open market and a platform for internet service providers (ISPs) to add value. The Open Access provider remains neutral and independent and offers standard and transparent pricing to ISPs on its network. The Open Access provider never competes with the ISPs and does not offer any retail services to end users.

Fibre optic Open Access networks focus on the “bottom” layers in the stack of services provided to customers: building passive fibre networks and in some cases providing GPON or Active Ethernet switching services. In terms of the OSI model, they provide Layer 1 and/or Layer 2 services only.