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Last updated: 26 March 2021
Unless you have been really doing your research on how broadband works, you may not have heard of LLU (Local Loop Unbundling). Introduced in 2001, LLU was introduced by the government to try to increase competition in the broadband market, and has led to a number of benefits for the consumer.
What is local loop unbundling?
Before the 2001 decree, British Telecoms (BT) owned and ran the main telephone and broadband lines in the UK. They still own the majority of it, but the rule meant that they had to allow other internet service providers to access their local loops. These local loops are the system which connect telephone exchanges to households in the UK, and allows BT to lease their connection to other service providers, who in turn sell broadband to you.
This led to the setup of the BT Openreach Company, who maintain the network of local loops. This is also why if there is an issue with your WiFi, you may receive a visit from a BT engineer rather than from, say, a TalkTalk engineer.
The Benefits of LLU
The main aim of opening up the local loops to other service providers was to increase competition. It used to be that entering the broadband market was too expensive for most companies to bother, because of the cost of building a whole telephone network. The scheme has been successful, as there are now a number of players, with companies like Sky and Plusnet being able to offer customers their own broadband deals while using BT’s lines.
LLU has also allowed companies to be able to able to create packages that suit their own customers’ needs, or fill any gaps in the market that they find exist. For example, a company such as EE can set their own download speeds and set their own prices, which means more (and often cheaper) options for you, the customer.
While technically LLU refers specifically to ADSL (the traditional copper phone lines), there is a similar system of technology in place for fibre-optic connections, meaning that there is competition in this area too.
Which broadband providers use LLU?
In practice, the majority of the providers that you will come across when you are searching for broadband deals use BT’s network. However, the main company that does not, and uses its own cables, is Virgin Media. This has allowed them to build their own network of superfast fibre optic broadband, which is available to around 52% of the country, and can reach up to speeds of over 500 Mbps.
BT’s network reaches most of the country (96%) and for the majority of this, fast fibre optic connections mean that speeds can reach 60-70 Mbps. BT’s network does also offer a superfast full-fibre connection, but this is only available to around 7% of the country currently.
Here are some of the Internet service providers who use BT’s network through LLU: