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What is fibre broadband?
Fibre broadband is a new type of broadband that is currently being deployed in the UK by BT, Virgin Media and other operators which uses fibre optic cables to help increase the speed of your broadband connection. It is often referred to as 'super-fast broadband' or 'next-generation broadband' as it offers faster speeds than have been available to date using older generation networks. It is available to both home and business users.
There are generally two types of fibre broadband connections
Fibre to the cabinet (FTTC)
Fibre-to-the-Cabinet (FTTC) involves running fibre optic cables from the telephone exchange or distribution point to the street cabinets which then connect to a standard phone line to provide broadband.
This is combined with a copper cable from the cabinet to the home or business which uses VDSL or similar technology that can deliver much faster speeds over shorter distances.
Fibre to the home / premises (FTTH or FTTP)
Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP), also often referred to as Fibre-to-the-Home (FTTH) provides and end-to-end fibre optic connection the full distance from the exchange to the building and can deliver faster speeds than FTTC as there is no copper leg at all.
While the image showns the fibre going underground which is the most common method, fibre can be run between telephone poles and the splitter node can be mounted onto a pole too.
How fast is fibre broadband?
Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC) broadband comes in three main variants which offer a downstream line connection speed of 80 meg (80 Mbps), 55 meg (55 Mbps) or 40 meg (40 Mbps), but the actual maximum throughput speed of the service will be slightly lower than this at around 76 / 52 / 38 Mbps. Different upstream speeds are available at either 2Mbps or 10Mbps on the 40 Mbps variant, with 10 Mbps on the 55 Mbps version and finally 20 Mbps up on the 80 Mbps.
Not everyone will receive the maximum speed as it depends on the length of your phone line to the cabinet which is providing your broadband service, it should be noted that since all the FTTC services rely on the same VDSL2 technology that unless you are getting the maximum speed from a 40 Mbps product upgrading to a 55 or 80 Mbps product will not boost your speeds.
If you already have fibre broadband, why not try our broadband speed test to see how fast your connection is. It is best to carry out speedtests at a variety of times, both peak and off-peak, as at peak times the congestion in the retailers network may affect your speed significantly. Our tbbMeter tool will let you keep an eye on your browsing and download speeds when using your connection, plus has a variety of testing tools built into it.
If you are lucky enough to live in an area that will receive Fibre to the Premises (FTTP full fibre), download speeds of 330Mbps and upstream speeds of 30Mbps are available. The FTTP products offer the same speed options as on FTTC (at the same price) and also faster versions at 100meg down /15 meg up, 110/15meg, 100/30meg, 330/20meg, and 330/30meg. Further speed upgrades for full fibre to 1Gbps (1000Mbps) are expected to be on sale later in 2017. The massive advantage FTTP has is that the connection speed is not affected by distance.
The speed of your connection will vary depending on the distance to the fibre cabinet that serves your house. If you know roughly how far the cabinet is, you should be able to calculate the speed you should receive based on the figures in the table below:
|Distance to cabinet (metres)||Estimated downstream connection speed||Estimated upstream connection speed||Cumulative %'age of premises at this distance|
|100m||100 Mbps||25 Mbps||5%|
|150m||80 Mbps||20 Mbps||10%|
|200m||65 Mbps||18 Mbps||20%|
|300m||45 Mbps||17 Mbps||30%|
|400m||42 Mbps||16 Mbps||45%|
|500m||38 Mbps||15 Mbps||60%|
|600m||35 Mbps||14 Mbps||70%|
|700m||32 Mbps||11 Mbps||75%|
|800m||28 Mbps||10 Mbps||80%|
|900m||25 Mbps||9 Mbps||85%|
|1000m||24 Mbps||8 Mbps||90%|
|1250m||17 Mbps||5 Mbps||95%|
|1500m||15 Mbps||4 Mbps||98%|
The distance estimates are designed so that we expect the vast majority to exceed these guideline figures, and for individuals factors outside your control such as whether the Openreach VDSL2 cabinet is ECI or Huawei based will have an impact. Additionally so will the parameters set by the Dynamic Line Management system and whether options like G.INP, lower target noise margins are vectoring are being used on your line.
Technologies such as FTTP and DOCSIS (cable broadband) are fixed speed connection technologies so you will get the connection speed you pay for, of course the speeds you see from speed tests may not always reach the maximum speed that the connection speed allows.
Can I get fibre broadband?
Fibre broadband currently has a limited roll out. As of March 2012 around seven million premises had the option of fibre from Openreach (28% of UK premises) this was expected to rise to ten million by the end of 2012 and in October 2017 91% of UK premises had an Openreach fibre broadband option, once you add other operators this increases to over 96% of premises. It should be remembered that while an exchange is announced for FTTC/P that not all premises served by an exchange will benefit, the roll-outs assess each cabinet individually.
The commercial roll-out by Openreach finished the bulk of its roll-out in the 2009 to 2014 period, with the delivery via the BDUK scheme forming the bulk of volume delivered between 2013 and 2017. Virgin Media in 2016 started its Project Lightning roll-out expanding the cable network and while this will invariably overlap with the Openreach VDSL2 options there will be premises were still stuck on standard broadband that can benefit.
Current roll-out plans are predominantly FTTC and back in 2010 BT expected FTTH/P to make up around 17% of the completed fibre deployment but the labour costs and time to deliver a large full fibre footprint meant the FTTP footprint largely got converted to a FTTC one. In 2013 the FTTP on Demand launched, and while the initial offering was very tempting for pro-sumers subsequent price changes have meant it is a little cheaper then an Ethernet business service and in urban areas competition means you may get an Ethernet service with better bandwidth guarantees for less.
To check if you can get FTTC broadband, follow the below steps:
- Check your postcode on the thinkbroadband availability checker which lists both FTTC, FTTH and a number of wireless options for faster broadband and the speeds recorded by our speed test in your area.
- Visit the Openreach Superfast broadband website and enter your postcode to see if your telephone exchange and more importantly if your cabinet is enabled.
- If your exchange is marked as 'Accepting Orders', enter your telephone number on the BT Wholesale broadband availability checker.
- If you Cabinet is scheduled to be enabled for FTTC broadband, you should see a paragraph such as "Your cabinet is planned to have WBC FTTC by 30th June 2012." This will also provide an estimated speed that you should see.
If your area is enabled, you may not be able to get fibre broadband from your current provider. Below is a list of fibre broadband providers and some of their products.
To find Fibre based broadband packages please visit our fibre broadband package list.
Do Virgin Media offer fibre broadband?
Virgin media run a cable network which is a coax-fibre hybrid network. It works in a similar way to Fibre-to-the-Cabinet (FTTC) where fibre is run to a street-side cabinet and from here a connection is made to your house using a coaxial cable. This coaxial cable offers more resilience to interference than a standard phone line so it is possible to run faster services over this. These Virgin FTTC cable products currently offer speeds ranging from up to 50meg to up to 152meg.
The architecture of the Virgin Media network is often referred to Fibre to the Node, and is based around DOCSIS 3.0.
FTTC for a number of years required an engineer to visit to install it, but this has not been the case for a couple of years now, meaning you can easily upgrade from ADSL to FTTC without any need to be at home on the day of the switchover.
FTTP is an engineer installed product since the final run of fibre from the street into your home needs to be physically done, it can be done in a single visit but this depends on the type of figure configuration in your area. You will need to connect a device that supports PPPoE to the Openreach ONT (fibre modem) and generally the broadband provider should have posted this to you ahead of the install date. This is usually a standard 'broadband router' or 'cable modem' router which has a Ethernet WAN port (sometimes labelled EWAN).
If you currently have an older ADSL router with a built in ADSL modem, this will NOT work with the FTTC or FTTP services and you will need to get a new router, that has the correct type of Internet interface.
Gigaclear who install full fibre in rural areas supply a DIY fibre install kit, so that you can install the fibre across your gardern and into your home as part of the standard activation fee. If you need assistance engineer install options are available with the price varying based on the distance involved.
How does FTTC broadband work?
Fibre-to-the-Cabinet broadband uses fibre optic cable from the local telephone exchange to connect to the nearest street side cabinet which serves your property. This is normally within a few hundred metres of your property. BT Openreach will usually install a new cabinet adjacent to or near the existing 'green cabinet' which serves your phone line. The new cabinet will house a VDSL2 capable DSLAM (a mini-version of what currently provides your ADSL broadband service) to which your phone line will be connected. As the cabinet is close to your property and also uses newer VDSL2 technology, the speed of your broadband is usually much higher.
The cabinets are available in a variety of sizes, and installation requires the cabinet to be supplied with mains power, as well as ducting to link it to the old cabinet and of course ducting to carry the fibre back to the telephone exchange. In some areas the fibre from a cabinet does not go back to the existing exchange, but a neighbouring exchange. This does not affect the speeds possible, since fibre can run for many kilometres without the signal being affected.
How does FTTP broadband work?
Fibre to the Premises runs over a fibre optic cable from the telephone exchange, all the way to inside your property. The fibre from the exchange is normally terminated on the outside wall of a home, and a short fibre lead run inside to the fibre modem, which then offers an Ethernet connection to a broadband router.
The fibre itself is relatively fragile, so rather than being pulled through ducts or hung directly over telegraph poles it is blown through tubes that have been installed into the ducting. The installation of this tubing is the most obvious sign of fibre to the premises being deployed.
In areas where ducting is available, the hardware for FTTP is installed in the various chambers, in areas with telegraph poles, weather proof enclosures are used to house the fibre splitters that take the fibres from the exchange and divide them out to go to individual premises.
A big advantage to FTTP is that is not subject to interference, which can affect ADSL and VDSL2, thus fibre connections are generally a lot more reliable. Alas the extra work to get each fibre to the home makes it expensive to deploy to every home.
How does Openreach FTTP and Fibre Voice Access work?
Fibre Voice Access is an Openreach product that allows your telephone service to be delivered over their FTTP product. At the start of 2013 we are only aware of BT Retail offering a BT Fibre Home Phone service. The service is optional, with the majority of providers currently opting to still use the old copper wiring for the phone service. The telephone service is presented on the Tel1 socket of the Fibre ONT that is installed by the Openreach engineer and if Fibre Voice Access has been ordered, the engineer should also install a faceplate to the Openreach master socket in the property.
The fibre service for broadband will usually go live before the fibre voice access, but once the voice has switched (indicated by the green Tel1 LED on the fibre modem) to arriving down the fibre optic cable, the customer needs to flip a switch on the new interstitial faceplate from copper to fibre. This switch isolates the external copper wiring at the property and allows you to use your existing telephone extension wiring.
Fibre Voice Access (FVA) can support two distinct telephone numbers, by switching on the second Tel2 socket on the fibre modem.
If there are problems connect a telephone directly to the Tel1 socket on the fibre modem to check that the issue is not something to do with the telephone wiring in the property.
What is Fibre on Demand, is it different to FTTP?
Around Spring 2013 Openreach will made available a new option for people wanting to improve their broadband speeds. Fibre on Demand will only be available to a subset set the of areas where Openreach has its Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC/VDSL2) network, the on demand product means that when you order the service Openreach will plan and provide details of the cost to install a Fibre to the Premises (Home) product to that property. Once installed the service behaves identically to the FTTP product that is available to some properties in the UK.
The cost to install will vary according to how much work is needed, which is governed by the distance to the nearest aggregation nodes which is usually a major junction in the local fibre network, this may or may not be located near your VDSL2 cabinet (aggregation nodes can serve multiple VDSL2 cabinets). The minimum install cost is usually around £1,500 plus as providers who sell the service generally use business grade hardware this adds to the costs. The monthly cost for the 330 Mbps down, 30 Mbps is likely to be in the £250 to £300 region and carries a 3 year contract. Ofcom rules mean consumers can only enter a two year broadband contract and a work around is to spread the three year contract pricing over two years.
The costs of FTTP on Demand are high for installation, and while the monthly price is high for three years you will be able to swap to any of the usual GEA-FTTP speed points after the minimum term. NOTE: November 2017 proposals are underway to change the pricing of the FoD product to make the monthly price the same as the native products, but the downside is likely to be a much higher On Demand build charge.
Native GEA-FTTP has a different set of pricing and products with its lowest speeds with a 40 Mbps connection speed costing the same wholesale price as the GEA-FTTC (VDSL2) services, which means an entry level 40/10 FTTP product should be the same monthly fee as the 40/10 FTTC product. As native GEA-FTTP requires an engineer to install the setup fee is £99+VAT but this is often spread across the 12 or 18 month contract. Native GEA-FTTP has a range of speeds with 330 Mbps available now, and 500 Mbps and 1000 Mbps versions on the way shortly.
The choice of providers who sell Fibre on Demand is limited, but Spectrum Internet in Wales, and FluidOne across the rest of the UK are the two best known names.
The most common issue is that people misread the BT Wholesale checker and confuse the section where they talk about FTTP and people get excited about it saying FTTP is available and miss the crucial On Demand part. Another clue is that it is rare for people to have the option to order FTTC and also native GEA-FTTP (we have found a few areas where this is the case, e.g. new build estate with copper but developer chose FTTP for the new homes).
The screen shots show what you expect to see when native GEA-FTTP is available and what a home where only Fibre on Demand is available look like. The checker used was the BT Wholesale one and there is the simpler Openreach checker which only ever talks about FTTC or native FTTP thus avoiding the Fibre on Demand confusion.