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Friday, 18 November 2011

True Cost of Copper Infrastructure - correction

Suddenly remembered the other night that many moons ago I stood in a scrapyard next to a complex and expensive piece of machinery, feeding in bits of cable, and then took a large amount of copper granules to weigh-in in Leeds or somewhere over that way. The reason it had escaped my memory was that that was the beginning of a 3 day mission/adventure to Sussex via a circuitous route that included the wilds of Lincolnshire and a 1948 Leyland Beaver to pick up my 1966 Magirus Deutz. Which takes precedence over bags of copper in the memory stakes.

This blog post can be read at

However, it prompted a call to the scrapyard where that happened to get some grassroots information about this copper malarkey. "Hi, it's Lindsey. Where would I find out accurate prices for copper?" "You'd ring me." "Err, yeah, well, that's what I've done!"

"What copper?" "Well, it's BT's copper and there is rather a lot of it. Tonnes of it."

"Firstly, there is no way you can sell this to anyone without a certificate. No-one will touch it, well, no-one honest would. It's marked and traceable. To find out prices you talk to LME or Simms here in the North but you can't deal direct with them with BT copper straight out of the ground."

This is where we had a lengthy conversation about the machinery I remembered. Not this model but a cable granulator, which crushes the components of the cable, separates it and sorts it, to get the highest grade of copper possible, which will in turn fetch the highest price.

And here comes the rub: "But BT copper is low grade. Really low grade. The lowest of the low. It is made up of lots of fine copper wires and needs plenty of work to get anything useful from it. In fact, you'd be lucky to get, um, a grand a tonne."

(The 'um' was telling. Bear in mind, this is a successful businessman who makes his money out of scrap so you can choose your percentage to add on to that for what he gets for it!)

"How much have you got?"

I've known this guy a long time and he knows full well I would not have stolen anything, so there was no point stringing him along with answers like 10 million tonnes so I said, "It's not actually mine..."

"Don't get involved, it's not even worth the hassle for the price you can get for it, especially if there are no certificates from BT saying you have permission to recycle it. The only way to make anything back from it is if it's yours ie if you are BT, and if you have access to a granulator [Which is a £20k+ piece of kit] and have someone like me to process and trade it for you."

So, a quick back of the envelope calculation says that to someone like me with a few tonnes of the stuff, selling it through my mate the scrapman who is going to take his margin, we are down to £10bn instead of £50bn. Which shows just how unreliable both El Reg and the Telegraph articles were in getting to the nitty gritty.

It's still one helluva lot of money to have in the ground hindering progress, especially when you think that the readjusted figure for ubiquitous FTTH across the whole of the UK is now between £10 and £14bn. BT are apparently putting in £2.5bn to do Infinity, Fujitsu want to spend £1.5bn, and companies such as Iuhba are threatening to spend another £1.5bn etc. Either my maths is very poor or those three companies plus weighing in the copper could see us fibred to the home UK-wide.

(Not that I am suggesting we pursue this route of allowing a handful of companies to do it and own it all as I remain convinced that open access is the *only* way forward for this country and others, but I'm just pointing out that the figures stack!)


chris said...

Great post. shame you don't know any scrap dealers who would take stolen bt copper, we could get some grannies over from poland to dig it all up and get shut of it for good...
only joking. honest.
regarding 'open access' I don't think this country will ever see it. What is called 'open access' currently is a bit of a joke, when one company owns all the infrastructure and another monopoly sells the capacity. Even if there were 4 or 5 big companies it would be some sort of progress? surely?
We all know the real answer is to get the communities digging for victory. They could also recycle all the copper for BT and clean up all the wires and mess cluttering the place up eh?
What are tv antenna made of? we could recycle all those too.

Somerset said...

What's the weight of copper in a typical exchange line?

About 8kg/km. What does that work out at?

At £1000/1000kg then £20 of copper?

Somerset said...

What's the value of the copper in a typical 2km? line?

FTTC potentially removes a lot of copper from the network.