What is ultrafast Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP), and why is it better than the Fibre-to-the-Cabinet (FTTC) we have now?
Ultrafast Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) is the ultimate broadband technology in terms of reliability and performance, but is the most expensive broadband technology for broadband providers to install. FTTP is often termed ‘full fibre’ or ‘Gigabit broadband’. With FTTP, fibre-optic cables are used all the way from the exchange to your home or businesses, improving reliability and speeds.
Across the UK, a cheaper technology called Fibre-to-the-Cabinet (FTTC) has been installed on a widespread basis. At the time, budgets were insufficient to deploy FTTP on the same scale and widespread FTTC deployment maximised the number of households with ‘superfast’ speeds (more than 30 Mbps) for the available budget. FTTC has delivered significantly greater speeds than standard ADSL broadband.
Unfortunately, Fibre-to-the-Cabinet (FTTC) is not perfect. With FTTC, a fibre-optic cable is used to connect the green BT street cabinet (next to The Comet) to the BT exchange in Hurworth. However, FTTC still relies on existing copper cables to connect the street cabinet to homes and businesses. As a result, FTTC has two main weaknesses:
- only households close to the street cabinet achieve the highest speeds
- copper cables between the street cabinet and premises are susceptible to interference and cable problems.
Why opt for FTTP? What are the benefits?
If you currently benefit from Fibre-to-the-Cabinet (FTTC) services, which offer higher faster speeds than standard ADSL broadband, why go for FTTP? There are a number of reasons why broadband users should pledge their vouchers:
- Ultrafast FTTP is needed to support a rapidly-increasing number of devices in the home (including smart TVs, mobile phones, media players and tablets).
- Without ultrafast broadband, households can miss out on bandwidth-intensive services such as streamed TV and video services offering the best picture and sound quality. A single live stream from BBC iPlayer (in Ultra HD 4k format) requires a download speed of 40 Mbps. Ultra HD programmes from the BBC will only be available via iPlayer online and will not be available via Freeview through a conventional TV aerial.
- Ultrafast broadband provides substantially improved performance for delay-sensitive services, such as online gaming and voice and video telephony (e.g. Zoom and Skype).
- Ultrafast FTTP broadband delivers a more responsive experience for many applications.
- With much bigger upload speeds, online back-up and file sharing is much quicker, as this could take much longer with fibre broadband.
- Ultrafast FTTP broadband better enables home working and can improve work-life balance.
- Ultrafast FTTP broadband is more reliable than standard ADSL broadband and fibre broadband, suffering from fewer faults due to the use of fibre-optic cables all the way from the exchange to households and businesses.
- Ultrafast FTTP broadband could increase your house price, or decrease it if you don’t have it. Many of those looking to move regard the availability of high-speed broadband to be as important as the availability of good schools and transport links.
Is FTTP expensive? What are the costs?
FTTP is not expensive. For the same speeds, FTTP matches superfast fibre broadband prices but bear in mind that you actually get the speeds you pay for with FTTP. For example, a 150 Mbps FTTP service will deliver an average speed of 150 Mbps wherever you are located. In contrast, a fibre broadband service delivering up to 74 Mbps close to the street cabinet may deliver a speed of 20 Mbps or less if you are situated a significant distance from the street cabinet.
FTTP services are available from a broad range of providers, including BT, Sky and TalkTalk. This means that most households will have the simple option of staying with their existing ISP. However, you may wish to use the opportunity to find a better deal. With many households outside a contract, it’s very likely that you’ll pay less with FTTP than you do now, for a service that is faster and more reliable. We recommend that you check what you are currently paying for your phone and broadband so you can compare this with the table below.
The beauty of FTTP is that you can choose a tariff with the speeds you require, and can change/upgrade when and if you need more speed (for example, if you want to enjoy Ultra HD programmes after upgrading to a new Ultra HD TV). Alternatively, you have the option of reducing speeds if you do not need them. So, while FTTP is capable of impressive speeds (currently up to 910 Mbps), you do not need to subscribe to the fastest packages. You may just want FTTP for a more reliable broadband service.
What commitment am I making pledging a voucher?
By pledging your voucher, you will not have to pay any cost towards the installation of FTTP to your home or business premises.
Your only commitment is to subscribe to an FTTP service that delivers at least a doubling of speeds compared with the service currently being consumed by you. This is for a 12-month period and you are free to take any service with any speed after this.
Your new connection must be installed within 12 months of the issue of a voucher.
For the avoidance of doubt, here are some examples:
Those who are located very close to the street cabinet, and achieve the maximum real FTTC download speeds (e.g. throughputs measured by online speed tests) of about 70-74 Mbps, can subscribe to a 150 Mbps FTTP service (or any service with speeds higher than this). As shown in the pricing table above, there are several affordable 150 Mbps FTTP services available.
Those with standard ADSL broadband can subscribe to any FTTP service offering a download speed in excess of 30 Mbps.
Those achieving the highest possible speeds on packages that have been often referred to as ‘up to 40 Mbps’ (which actually achieve real throughputs of about 35-37 Mbps) can subscribe to FTTP packages with a speed of 74 Mbps or above.
We have been informed by the Department of Digital, Culture, Media & Sport that voucher holders can measure their current download speeds using an online speed test, and choose an FTTP service that delivers at least a doubling in speeds. To understand your current speeds, we recommend using an accurate online speed.
Obviously, you are free to choose faster services than the minimum speed requirements. After the initial 12-month period, you are free to choose any package with any speed.
What type of businesses can pledge business vouchers? What if I am self employed and/or a sole trader?
Different types of businesses can pledge business vouchers, including the self-employed and/or sole traders. It is really important to the success of a community FTTP project that those who run businesses from their homes declare this as business vouchers are generally so much more valuable than ‘standard’ residential vouchers.
In order to qualify for a business voucher, you will be asked to self-certify that you meet the European Commission definition of a Small or Medium-sized Enterprise (SME) and that:
- you have fewer than 250 employees
- your turnover is no greater than EUR50 million per annum
- you have a balance sheet of no more than EUR43 million
- you have received less than EUR200k in public grants in the last three years.
You may be asked to provide evidence of your status as an SME or sole trader, but the requirements are not onerous. Documentation that would be acceptable includes:
- VAT registration
- charity registration
- HMRC notification
- sole trader UTR number (used for self assessment)
- certification of incorporation (limited companies)
- business bank account statement issues within the last three months.
Will I need to change my supplier?
The vast majority of broadband users will not need to change broadband provider as FTTP services are already offered by many of the most popular broadband providers (including BT, TalkTalk, Sky and EE) and more providers will be joining them over the coming months.
However, you may wish to change supplier to get a particularly attractive deal. That’s why we recommend that you do not tie yourself into a long contract for FTTC fibre broadband to give you the full range of services to choose from when FTTP is switched on.
If you currently subscribe to BT, TalkTalk, Sky or EE, you will be able to upgrade to FTTP services even if you are in contract. Unless you have a burning desire to stay with your existing broadband providers, we feel that it makes sense to keep your options open though.
I’m currently with Plusnet, when will they offer FTTP?
In an interview on 16th February Sam Calvert, Marketing Director of Plusnet, said that they would introduce FTTP during 2021.If you are with Plusnet, it may be better for you hold off on signing a new contract until we have confirmation that Plusnet will deliver on their promise to offer FTTP this year. If they don’t, you would then be free to move to another supplier.
Will the roads or my drive be dug up?
Because Openreach will be doing the installation, all existing ducts and poles will be used wherever possible. At the start of the project, these will be tested and rodded to ensure they are clear and there is enough capacity for the fibre-optic cables. Openreach has absolutely no authority to dig up, or interfere with, driveways. Additional chambers, junction points and aggregation boxes for the fibre-optic cables may need to be installed on pavements at intervals within an area, but disruption will be minimised.
Do I have to take traditional telephone services with line rental?
Traditionally, standard broadband and fibre broadband services have been sold along with telephony services and line rental. With FTTP, you have the option with some FTTP services to remove your traditional telephone service and the line rental charge, and use your mobile phone(s) or voice-over-IP services delivered using the FTTP fibre-optic cable rather than the copper cables that have been used to date. Eventually, copper cables will no longer be used for phone services.
In many households the traditional ‘home phone’ has already been replaced by mobile phones. Many people have got used to calling or messaging individuals on their mobiles rather than calling a location, and relish the opportunity to get rid of line rental charges. If you do not wish to continue with line rental and your traditional ‘home phone’, you may be able to save money opting for an FTTP package without this.
The situation is a bit confusing at present since voice-over-IP services are not available with all Openreach FTTP connections. In compatible areas, BT offers its ‘Digital Voice’ voice-over-IP service with a ‘free’ digital handset. As well as offering improved voice quality (with its ‘HD calling’), BT also offers voicemail, call waiting and call divert at no extra charge.
Do I have to take an FTTP service as I don’t want/need ultrafast speeds? Are existing fibre broadband services being phased out?
Unless you have pledged a voucher, you do not have to subscribe to an FTTP service, and FTTC fibre broadband services will continue for several years (although they will be phased out at some point). BT has not yet announced a timescale for the withdrawal of copper-based services in our area.
There is little point staying with FTTC services. Putting speeds to one side, FTTP is simply much more reliable.
Just because FTTP can deliver much faster speeds, you do not have to opt for the highest speeds available. Broadband providers offer FTTP services with a range of speeds. On a like-for-like basis, prices FTTP and FTTC offering the same speeds are similarly priced.
If you think that staying on FTTC while others migrate to FTTP will improve your service by freeing up capacity, this will not be the case. There is no contention at the street cabinet. Furthermore, many street cabinets employ a technology called ‘vectoring’, which cancels out interference on the copper telephone cables from other broadband users. This means that there will be no performance improvement with FTTC as the number of users dwindles.
FTTP will always give better, more reliable performance than FTTC. With FTTP, there is a fibre-optic cable connection all the way from your home to the BT exchange. By eliminating all the processing that takes place in the fibre cabinet and the signal degradation caused by the copper cable connection between the cabinet and your premises, reliability and latency (delay) are significantly improved. So, services that do not need high speeds are also improved.
Even if you don’t think you will need the speeds, you may be surprised just how much your usage and speed requirements increase in the coming months and years. As TV – which is highly usage-intensive – increasingly moves over to broadband delivery, this will place substantial demands on your broadband connection.
Advertised FTTP speeds sound impressive but will I get them?
When FTTC services were first introduced, services were commonly referred to as ‘up to 40 Mbps’ or ‘up to 80 Mbps’. Unfortunately, the reality is that the 40 and 80 Mbps speeds referred to are connection or ‘sync’ speeds (and not actual throughput speeds, which are lower) and they are the maximum speeds possible since actual speeds decline with distance from the street cabinet. The good news is that, with FTTP services, the speeds advertised by many broadband providers are average speeds that can be achieved by broadband users. So, the FTTP service going into your router should provide such speeds in practice.
Be aware that the speeds going into your router are not necessarily the speeds you get if you are using a Wi-Fi connection. Particularly if you are opting for the fastest FTTP services (up to 910 Mbps), we strongly advise that you connect all devices that do not move (e.g. smart TVs, set-top boxes, games consoles and desktop PCs) to your router using Ethernet cables. Gigabit Ethernet will ensure that you actually achieve the maximum FTTP speeds possible, with the least amount of latency (delay). Properly configured, a Wi-Fi connection can typically deliver speeds of 650-720 Mbps at most using modern devices (e.g. mobile phones and tablets). In advance of FTTP arriving, we recommend that you consider optimising or upgrading your home network if you are seeking the best speeds and performance. For example, a single Wi-Fi router or Access Point will not provide adequate coverage and speeds throughout a typical home and the use of multiple Access Points would extract the best performance possible.