UK telecoms regulator Oftel has told BT's rivals which of the UK's 5000 or so local exchanges they can begin to install their equipment in - and denied allegations that its choice favours BT.
BT's 28 competitors have been trying to decide which one of them can operate in which local exchanges since the start of the year. Only one operator can co-install equipment in each exchange. The telcos now have less than 10 months to install and test their equipment to ensure they can roll out services on schedule - by July 2001.
Oftel said the telcos were today informed they will be able to move their equipment into 361 exchanges included in the first stage of allocations.
Of the 361 sites, 137 are in London and the Home Counties, 55 are in the Midlands, 51 are in Wales and the west of England, 26 are in the North West, 34 are in the North East and 58 are in Scotland.
Oftel refused to give further details of where the exchanges were located, because the telcos told them the information is commercially sensitive.
RSL Com, which is targeting small and medium-sized businesses, bid for exchanges where there is a high density of businesses close by, such as the M4 corridor. However, the company pulled out of the process on Tuesday, saying Oftel would include only the least populated exchanges, and that decision would give BT a head start.
"Oftel has given BT time to tighten its grip in the prime markets while the competitors are left to struggle for market share in the least popular exchanges," said an RSL Com representative.
Analysts said RSL Com may be right. "If the majority of these locations are in rural exchanges then it would certainly give BT an unfair advantage," said Jonathan Doran, an analyst at the Yankee Group Europe.
Oftel said it chose the 361 exchanges based on how popular they were with the bidding telcos and how quickly equipment could be installed. It stressed that this was just the first allocation of places in a process that was a "logistical nightmare".
Operators are scheduled to install and start testing their equipment in exchanges by January 2001 with commercial services promised to be widely available across the UK by July 2001.
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