Telefonica will say adios to its copper network in Spain next year

Telefonica finalized plans to shutter its copper network in Spain, informing the country’s National Markets and Competition Commission of its intent to close the more than 3,000 remaining copper central offices it has there by April 19, 2024.

The final closures will cap a 10-year effort to decommission its copper assets in the country and switch to a full fiber network. The operator previously notified the Commission of plans to shutter 5,203 copper exchanges, with 2,236 of these shutdowns completed to date. It just notified the Commission of plans to turn down another 3,329. That means it has 6,296 central offices to close over the next 12 months to complete the network shutoff.

Telefonica expects to reap a variety of benefits from the move, touting fiber’s increased energy efficiency compared to copper, faster speeds and improved reliability. It noted in a press release a single fiber exchange can support the same number of customers as four copper exchanges combined.

During an earnings call in February, Telefonica COO Angel Vila noted it was also benefitting from the sale of copper and real estate as the shutdown progressed.

“In OpEx and CapEx, we are already experiencing lower cost of maintenance, energy consumption, less filler rates, less call center attentions,” he said at the time. “So, in 2023, we will continue gradually capturing those. And then the process will continue when, in 2024, as was said in the presentation, we would be the first telco globally to switch off the copper network. Due to regulatory obligations, we will need to maintain the wholesale services for extra six months after switch off, but that will be the case.”

It was not immediately clear whether Telefonica’s claim that it will be the first telco to shutter its copper network will bear out.

Copper fades away

In Canada, Telus has been working toward its own copper network shutdown for several years. Telus executives previously said they expected to “largely conclude our copper-to-fiber migration by year-end” 2022 and would completely wrap the project in early 2023. As of August, 2022, Telus said around 7% of its customer base remained on copper. It did not provide an updated figure during Q3 or Q4 2022 earnings. Its next earnings call, covering Q1 2023, is on May 4.

Other operators around the globe are following similar paths, but don’t appear to be quite as far along. In the U.S., AT&T is working to cut its copper footprint in half by 2025. Verizon began its copper retirement process in 2016 and in March 2022 revealed it had already converted 4.5 million circuits on its network from copper to fiber.

Meanwhile, U.K. operator Virgin Media O2, which is jointly owned by Telefonica and Liberty Global, is striving to convert its entire network to fiber by 2028. Rival BT is similarly working to replace its copper network by the end of 2025.

As far as how the copper to fiber migration is progressing in Spain overall, data released by the National Markets and Competition Commission this week showed that between February 2022 and February 2023, the number of fiber to the home lines increased by 1 million while the number of DSL lines fell by 400,000. The country now has a total of 13.9 million fiber lines, with Telefonica’s Movistar brand responsible for 5.1 million of these. Fewer than 1 million DSL lines remain.