The CTO and Co-Founder of business ISP Timico UK, Trefor Davies, has called for a “total network rollout” of true fibre optic broadband (FTTP) services after highlighting how corrosion on his copper BT telecoms line had caused a recently installed FTTC service to drop from an average speed of 53Mbps to just 6Mbps (Megabits).
A modern Fibre-to-the-Cabinet (FTTC) line delivers a fast fibre optic cable from the nearest BT exchange to your local street level cabinet, while the remaining connection (between the cabinet and home) is done using VDSL2 via existing copper cable (VDSL2 is like ADSL2+ broadband but it’s faster over short distances).
In theory FTTC can deliver internet download speeds of up to 80Mbps and uploads of 20Mbps (possibly faster in the not too distant future) but the copper in its diet makes the “last mile” run into your home susceptible to interference (either caused by distance or some other fault), which can sometimes result in service speeds dropping down to single digits.
Now some people might think that it’s only ordinary consumers whom suffer from these problems but, as Trefor explains, ISP bosses can also be hit by similar difficulties and even they still need to rely on a BTOpenreach engineer for the solution. Sadly faulty copper lines are a very common problem.
Trefor Davies said:
“So fibre broadband, or Fibre To The Cabinet, has some copper. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining. Well actually I have been complaining. My home broadband performance had dropped right off from the 53Megs down and 11Megs up to at times a pathetic 6Megs in either direction.
Fortunately I have “a man who does” named Adam Rutter who leads one of our tech support teams. The BT System had rate adapted a line that could theoretically hit 80Mbps (I never expected it to do that – I am a few hundred yards from the cabinet). It normally does this if it finds errors on the line – the speed is adjusted to a point where the errors disappear. In my case the line was synching at 15Megs. Nogoode.”
An engineer from BTOpenreach, Tim Drake, soon arrived and apparently realised that there was no point in performing the normal line test because it would have passed. Sadly not all Openreach engineers use the same initiative but then it would take a brave man to question the CTO of an ISP.
Trefor Davies added:
“Tim spent the next hour or so testing the line looking for the source of the errors. He eventually found it at the top of the telegraph pole down the road from my house.
“Eureka” says I. Tim finished his stuff up the pole and brought down a piece of cable that showed corrosion on both strands of one pair. These wires, rubbing together in the wind and rain would have resulted in noise that was the cause of my errors and the speed downgrade.
I am next week having dinner with a senior team from BT and I intend to specifically commend Tim Drake for his efforts. Openreach engineers have a budget of one hour to fix each problem. Mine took two hours and Tim could have walked away early on in the process with the throwaway observation that the line was in spec and there was nothing he could do.”
The “only real answer” to problems like this, claims Trefor, is to conduct a total network rollout of Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) style technology, which takes the fibre optic cable all of the way to your home for largely future proofed performance. Unfortunately “ubiquitous FTTP ain’t going to happen any time soon, we all know that,” added Trefor, but it would at least help to solve some of the many problems that are inherent with copper (it can be even worse if your line is still aluminium based).
As it stands neither the UK government nor BT are willing the stump up the extra £15bn-£20bn that would be needed in order to make such a development possible. Indeed there are many arguments both for and against such an investment, especially one occurring at a time of economic austerity.
One spot of good news for wealthy individuals is the fact that BT’s FTTP service, which is currently only available to a tiny number of areas around the UK, will soon be made available to all FTTC capable lines from this spring. Sadly this FTTP-on-Demand (FoD) solution is expected to cost around £1,500 to install (the hefty construction price varies based on your distance from BT’s local NGA Aggregation Node). Not ideal but it could be a good investment, if you can afford it.