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UPD Why Fibre Based Broadband Internet Access is Not Always Superfast

Wednesday, March 13th, 2013 (7:49 am) - Score 1,387

Just because your local authority has promised to cover 98% of homes and businesses with “fibre-based broadband” does not mean that you’re going to get a superfast broadband (25Mbps+) speed and, according to at least one council, you might only get downloads from upwards of 2Mbps.

ISPreview.co.uk has delved into the often murky world of “fibre optic” descriptions and definitions before, which culminated in this post-Christmas article: Will the Real Fibre Optic Broadband Service Please Stand Up. But recently we’ve begun to see a new trend where councils are starting to confuse terminologies in such a way that they could be perceived as misleading.

As a quick recap the government of the United Kingdom wants 90% of people in each local authority area to have access to a “superfast broadband” (25Mbps+) service by 2015, while the remaining 10% have been promised download speeds of at least 2Mbps (Universal Service Commitment). The government has so far set aside around £1bn in state aid to achieve this.

Most councils have so far had the good sense to separate out their “superfast” and “fibre-based broadband” commitments from the semi-separate USC. This makes sense because with current marketing strategies “fibre-based” or “fibre optic” is often reinterpreted by consumers to mean a “superfast” connection.

However the recent Connecting Cambridgeshire announcement began to blur the lines slightly by pledging that “98 per cent of homes and businesses across the county can expect to have access to fibre-based broadband by the end of 2015“, though only 90% could actually expect to receive “speeds of at least 24Mbps“. In other words that last 8% would get speeds of 2Mbps to 24Mbps through a “fibre-based broadband” line (i.e. FTTC / Fibre-to-the-Cabinet).

But FTTC, as we understand BT’s documentation, does not actually support lines that run at speeds below a minimum of 5Mbps (Megabits per second). In fact any speed between 0Mbps and up to 5Mbps on FTTC should in theory be classified as a fault by BTOpenreach’s engineers. We put this point to our Cambridgeshire Council contact but have yet to receive a response, though BT have promised to investigate the matter (we will update with clarification as soon as it arrives).

Admittedly the council probably just made a simple mistake, either that or BT has quietly lowered the fault level for its FTTC lines even further but then somebody would surely have noticed.

It’s our view that “fibre-based” or “fibre optic” descriptions should at the very least be kept separate from anything to do with the current USC as it simply results in too much confusion, as evidence by the fact that some reports only mentioned “superfast” alongside the 98% figure for Cambridgeshire (i.e. no mention of the 90%).

It also makes life increasingly difficult for consumers, many of whom expect anything with “fibre” in the name to at least be “superfast”. In an ideal world we’d also like it if “fibre” was only used alongside true services that take the fibre optic cable all the way to your home (FTTP, FTTH etc.), although sadly nobody in a position of any authority seems to care about that.

UPDATE 10:04am

Thanks to one of our readers (Ian) for pointing out that BT appears to have reduced their FTTC threshold down from 5Mbps to just 2Mbps. The last BT WBC FTTC Handbook we saw, which is supplied to ISPs, stated: “Service will only be provided on lines that the Broadband Availability Checker (BBAC) indicate may achieve a downstream speed of 5 Mbit/s or higher.”

But the latest March 2013 (Issue 8) version allegedly states, “For all services, if the line rate (synch rate) falls below 2 Mbit/s, a fault may be reported to BTW which will be investigated.” It’s unclear precisely when this change snuck in, though our primary point about “fibre” and “superfast” confusion still stands.

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21 Responses
  1. Avatar Ian says:

    Openreach will accept a GEA FTTC order with a minimum of 2Mbps so not sure how the fault threshold can be 5Mbps.

    1. Mark Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      Curious as the last BT WBC FTTC Handbook we saw states, “Service will only be provided on lines that the Broadband Availability Checker (BBAC) indicate may achieve a downstream speed of 5 Mbit/s or higher.” 2Mbps was only mentioned for upstream but that’s different.

      Would love to know if they’ve now dropped it to 2Mbps, which would be odd as ISPs are still reflecting the 5Mbps Fault Threshold.

    2. Avatar DTMark says:

      I’m not sure when it changed however I did spot this before, on Zen’s website


      “In order to receive one of our Fibre Optic Broadband services your premises will need to be connected to a street cabinet and not directly into the exchange. You will also need to be close enough to a cabinet to ensure a minimum 2Mbps service before your order can be placed.”

      Therefore the lower limit for any property connected to a fibre cabinet is nil e.g. not available, if it is available, it need only manage 2Mbps for it to be “fibre broadband”. A 3G modem could easily walk all over “fibre” speeds in these cases.

      Certainly when FTTC began rolling out, higher speeds appeared the norm (carefully selected cabinets to demonstrate possible performance?) yet increasingly people are popping up on forums with <20Mbps speeds, in some cases down to 3Mbps, or those with ADSL @ 4Mbps migrated to FTTC @ 4Mbps.

      As Kyle's line may or may not show, a line with aliminium will likely see a performance drop-off from the estimate/theoretical for length of 40 to 50% and I doubt the Wholesale checker knows about such lines, this was also experienced with the Digital Region project.

    3. Avatar FibreFred says:

      How much is “increasingly” DTMark, the odd comment of sub 20Mbps or thousands of posts? 1% of the total FTTC lines are under 20Mbps, 10%, 20%?

      I’d love to know what the average speed is for FTTC, I don’t believe for a second that 2Mbps is common place.

      I’d be very upset if my line dropped to 2Mbps!! 🙂

    4. Avatar FibreFred says:

      I also cannot believe that someone who got 4Mbps on ADSL gets 4Mbps on FTTC, there is something very wrong there if true

  2. Avatar onephat says:

    Do they achieve this by using less green cabs? Or is there another method that allows slower fibre connection of just 2mb. I was of the belief that those who didn’t get fttc 24mb+ would just be left with adsl?

  3. Avatar Ian says:

    Yes, I saw that in older versions. I suspect BTW realised they had a different fault threshold to BTOR and have snuck in a change 😉 The latest version (issue 8, March 2013) says:

    4. Product Bandwidth Rates
    The WBC FTTC product will offer the following VDSL2 line rates:
    – Up to 80Mbit/s downstream, with up to 20Mbit/s peak upstream.
    – Up to 40Mbit/s downstream, with up to 10Mbit/s peak upstream.
    – Up to 40Mbit/s downstream, with up to 2Mbit/s peak upstream.
    Downstream Considerations
    For all services, if the line rate (synch rate) falls below 2 Mbit/s, a fault may be reported to BTW which will be investigated. Additionally, if the line rate has decreased by more than 25% over the previous14 days, then a fault can be reported to BTW.

    As you mentioned in the article, it seems a cunning way of improving ‘Superfast’ coverage.

    1. Mark Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      Good spot Ian, thanks for that. Just trying to get BT to confirm this. Any idea when the 2Mbps change snuck into their handbook? I don’t think it was present in early 2012 as we once had a copy of that issue (currently only got the 2011 one on my HD).

      We also did an article about FTTC at the end of last year that covered fault thresholds, which was run by several ISPs before we published, and nobody spotted any problem with the 5Mbps figure.

  4. Avatar Kyle says:

    Ever since moving from ADSL2+ to FTTC, I’ve regretted it every single day. I have nowhere near the stability I experienced with my legacy product and what really sours this is that the checker isn’t intelligent enough to realise that the advertised 26.2/5.4 speeds are 14.9/0.7.

    I’ve raised this numerous times and had OR out numerous times and had a number of lift and shifts, but to no avail. I’m stuck with this shambles of a service, yet according to the spin, I’m ‘superfast’. Yeah, right.

  5. Avatar zenithal says:

    Any chance we can get a copy of this document ? Ian ?

    We having debate in Australia atm comparing BT Network.

    1. Avatar zenithal says:

      I ment to say Thanks for the article and comments too 🙂

  6. Avatar Mark says:

    I think the article is slightly unfair. Cambridgeshire County Council is still promising superfast broadband to more than 90% of premises so it has met its objective. However, the additional fibre percentage is useful and will positively benefit many more people. While some may not achieve the 25Mbps figure to be regarded as superfast, most will achieve speeds much greater than they are getting today. For example, in my village, many would be extremely happy with 10-24Mbps, when they are currently struggling to get 2Mbps! While theoretically FTTC can go down to 2Mbps, the vast majority of premises would be getting much greater speeds.


    1. Avatar Kyle says:

      How has the objective been met if it is ‘promising’ 90% coverage? Surely the proof is in the pudding?

      There is also no guarantee that people will see any form of increase, especially considering this article suggests that 2Mbps is the ‘new’ fault threshold. Percentage of homes passed means diddly squat until installation day. Only then will you really understand how ‘superfast’ you really are.

    2. Avatar FibreFred says:

      You should have a good idea of how superfast you will be before you buy it never mind installation day.

      I was estimated 35Mbps which I would have been more than happy with, I ended up with 60Mbps

  7. Avatar zemadeiran says:


    If superfast has a minimum 25mbps at 90% then THAT is what should be delivered full stop.

    Is it stipulated anywhere that superfast is up to 25mbps?

    If the technology to achieve this aka vdsl2+ does not deliver then public funds should be withdrawn and the company implementing the infrastructure fined for failing to deliver and squandering public money.

    If the incumbent had started the job properly and went ahead with FTTP/FTTB then we would not be dealing with all these issue’s related to the cons of the copper network.

  8. Avatar zemadeiran says:

    As you guy’s know, I have always stated that vdsl has always been and will be a MDU solution as it is not fit for purpose when it comes to distance.

    It is very cheap to fiber up whole streets with Fibre PON and splitters with conversion to full ip transit for voice etc.

    1. Avatar FibreFred says:

      Sigh when has £20billion been cheap, please explain how this is to be paid for

  9. Avatar MikeW says:

    Spot on. The BDUK requirements are superfast to 90% coverage, technology-agnostic.

    The winning bidder, BT as it turns out, can choose the technology to meet the requirements. If they choose to deploy FTTC in cabinets adjacent to existing PCPs, then they have to factor in the number of lines within the right distance. If they can’t hit 90%, they need to augment the technology somehow.

    But i agree that the councils need to be careful to not mistake ‘fibre-based’ from ‘superfast’.

    Remember too that the current FTTC/VDSL2 deployment is not the end result. Current trials of vectoring show speeds of 100Mbps out to 400-500 metres (this distance matches the typical/average distance for openreach D-sides), but will uplift longer lines too.

    We’re getting close to having ‘typical’ speeds of 100x those of only 15 years earlier.

  10. Avatar zemadeiran says:

    VDSL is an MDU solution and has always been.

    Vectoring has downsides and will not be fit for purpose along with all the ideas for ringing out the last drops of bandwidth from ageing copper.


    You know that I have mentioned Broadband bonds spread over ten years before, or maybe we should force the Gov to give up the white elephant that is HSR or even pull our troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan?

    In this country, over £200 billion per annum is spent on housing benefit alone which we can do because of the UK’s 2 Trillion dollar per annum economy…

    Any other questions?

    1. Avatar FibreFred says:

      Don’t forget overseas aid, we spend a lot on that as well 🙂

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