BTOpenreach has announced that its new and cheaper Fibre-to-the-Cabinet / VDSL self-install (PCP-Only) service, which allows consumers to install an up to 80Mbps FTTC superfast broadband line without needing an engineer to enter their homes, will finally become available to UK ISPs and their subscribers from 31st December 2013.
The new service, which has been under a closed trial for the past couple of months, means that consumers who opt for a self-install solution will now pay less to setup the service (£49 instead of around £99 +vat for an engineer install) and it might eventually also allow for more flexible contract periods from some ISPs.
At the same time ISPs will no longer be tied to offering a separate Openreach VDSL modem with new FTTC orders, which means that more of them will be choosing to ship their own modems or indeed routers with integrated VDSL modems (BT and EE already do this, while TalkTalk and others are set to follow). Alternatively consumers will be able to select their own hardware.
It’s hoped that the move to simplify the service installation and lower its setup price will help to encourage uptake of the service. But for those who would rather an engineer still did all of the heavy lifting then that option still exists.
The New Connection Variants
This is a self-install option where the Openreach engineer performs the necessary work at the local street cabinet (or PCP) and the CP or end customer completes the installation in the premises. The main advantages of this option are that end customers don’t need to be home for an engineer visit and can choose to locate the service on any existing voice extension socket in the home using distributed microfilters (similar to the ones you have on standard ADSL broadband lines today). The connection price for this connection variant is £49.
Managed Engineer Installation with CP Device:
This is where the Openreach engineer visits the end customer’s property to perform the installation but plugs the service directly into the CP Device, rather than installing an Openreach modem. This option is important for those CPs and end customers who prefer to use an Openreach engineer when installing the service.
As part of their visit, Openreach engineers will install a centralised filter to minimise the level of electrical interference within the home caused by voice extension wiring, which can affect broadband speeds. The Openreach engineer will ensure the broadband service is working as it should be before leaving the property. The connection price for this service is £99.
As ever there are some caveats to the new Self Install approach and the primary one relates to service performance. The PCP Only approach effectively replaces all of the hopefully good work to improve your home / office wiring that an engineer would do by plugging in a simple Microfilter.
According to Openreach, “the use of microfilters may result in reduced speeds when compared to an engineer-based installation” and some people fear that the performance detriment could be quite significant. This is very similar to the same issue that early up to 2-8Mbps ADSL lines faced when that product first began to offer a wires-only solution and is one reason why many ADSL / ADSL2+ homes have slightly slower speeds today than they might have otherwise achieved via an engineer install.
In reality it’s difficult to know what kind of performance detriment exists because poor home wiring tends to vary like the wind. A home with a good line, and one that’s closer to the street cabinet, probably won’t be too fussed about the loss of a few Megabits. But the story might be different if you live further away where the evils of copper signal degradation become more apparent and slow speeds to 2Mbps+. In those situations we’d still recommend an engineer install.
It should also be noted that this is an Early Market Deployment (EMD) launch, which is the final step before full commercial availability but one that crucially does not include the same guaranteed service levels as the final product. Openreach notes that its Managed Engineer Install will feed into an existing discount and thus come out £20 cheaper than the above price during the EMD phase.