A broadband network consists of different geographical elements and is divided into network layers. Access to the broadband infrastructure is possible via different network nodes on the infrastructure and application level. The two basic access types are physical access and virtual access.

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Infrastructure and applications

Generally, market participants (e.g. infrastructure owners, service providers) can manage infrastructure and provide applications (to end customers):


  • physical infrastructure including buildings, ducts and masts;
  • fixed and mobile networks (in particular for roaming);
  • network elements and associated facilities (e.g. switch, router, repeater);
  • local loop (last/first mile).


  • Services: relevant software systems including operational support systems (administration for networks and services, e.g. Triple-Play; conditional access systems for digital television services (e.g. Nagravision for Pay TV, HD channels) and virtual network services (e.g. remote maintenance).
  • Customer support: information systems or databases for e.g. pre-ordering, provisioning, ordering, maintaining and repair requests, and billing.

Open access describes the non-discriminatory opening of the passive and/or active network infrastructure to third parties, i.e. for all market participants on an NGA infrastructure (in particular FTTH access networks). There are two basic access types to be distinguished.

Physical access to network infrastructure: On different network levels

Here, a competitor is able to completely take over the access and the operation of the downstream infrastructure or access to the end user at defined network points. This means that the service provider is able to ensure the highest degree of flexibility in the design of possible end customer products. At the same time, the physical access to infrastructure requires appropriate measures on the part of the competitor for providing the relevant products in the respective infrastructure segment.

Virtual access to network infrastructure: At different quality of service gradations

In contrast to physical access, there is no physical switch made to downstream network infrastructures and retail lines, but the required access is provided virtually by the owner of the infrastructure. That is, the competitor leases respective accesses without operating the necessary network components. The actual operation of the network and the downstream end user lines remain with the infrastructure owner. With regard to these access types, it is to distinguish to what extent such performance can be made available. Generally, it is to differentiate between the accesses based on layer-3 and layer-2, which differ in terms of the possibility of the design of standalone product offerings and features (e.g. a typical layer-2-function is static routing; typical layer-3-functions are virtual LANs and Quality-of-Service).

It should be noted that the physical access type demonstrates the highest degree of independence when making own end customer products available and cannot be exchanged easily with the appropriate virtual access types.

The entire spectrum of access types is thereby not feasible for every infrastructure or technology. In general, the following distinctions can be made in terms of access to the end customer:

Read more on how to choose the right infrastructure type.

23 April 2015
Last update: 
17 April 2018
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