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BT Wholesale Broadband Checker Adds More FTTC Speed Details

Friday, November 22nd, 2013 (2:24 pm) - Score 15,482

BT Wholesale have once again updated their broadband availability checker and this time they’ve added some additional information to help with the speed predictions on ‘up to’ 80Mbps capable Fibre-to-the-Cabinet (FTTC) broadband lines (aka – “fibre broadband” as some ISPs describe it).

As spotted by Thinkbroadband, the checker has now split its general estimate for FTTC speeds into two categories – Range A (Clean) and Range B (Impacted). According to BT, the term “Clean” relates to a line which is free from any wiring issues (i.e. in good condition) and the term “Impacted” relates to a line which may have wiring problems (e.g. poor extension wiring etc.).

bt wholesale fttc broadband checker output

The two categories are important because BTOpenreach are about to start making a new self-install FTTC service available to consumers (currently being tested by ISPs like Sky), which will save a little money and possibly deliver shorter contract terms by allowing people to order the service without the need for an engineer to enter their homes and do the setup properly (i.e. you’ll just need to plug-in a special filter).

However Openreach has previously warned that “the use of microfilters may result in reduced speeds when compared to an engineer-based installation”, which is partly because an engineer often does more than just connect a filter. A proper engineer install ensures that the wiring is all in the best possible state and changes are made if necessary. Simply plugging in a filter isn’t likely to resolve any underlying issues with the line and so those who opt for a self-install should perhaps pay more attention to the results for the new FTTC Range B (Impacted).

On the other hand the self-installation option, once it becomes available, should be perfectly fine for most people and in the grander scheme of things you probably won’t need to worry. Similarly speed estimates like the ones that BT provide tend not to be very reliable anyway and it’s similarly difficult to account for tricky problems, such as random impulse noise caused by high speed trains (i.e. if you live near a railway line).

At the end of the day if you are worried about a loss of FTTC performance, which is more likely to be a concern for those at the outer edges of the technologies reach, then spending a little extra now for a full engineer install could in the long run end up saving you money and hassle.

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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20 Responses
  1. Phil says:

    Why is Range A & B are the same speed? The Range B should be lower speed than the Range A?

  2. Mark Jackson says:

    In this case I’d guess it’s because the line we tested with is very close to the cabinet and has no known problems.

    1. Ignitionnet says:

      Database isn’t fully or even mostly populated with data yet, Mark.

    2. Phil says:

      U have to ask BT Wholesale of why is Range A and B are the same speed? Quite lot of adsl checker from different post code and also different telephone number are still showing as A & B are the same speed. Doesn’t make any sense at all. Maybe BT Wholesale haven’t updated 100% yet.

  3. Nic Elliott says:

    I blogged about on 19 November – check out the Evolving Networks Blog.

    There are a few problems with this, not least of which is the range of speeds that isn’t a range!

    FTTC can slow down over time just like ADSL has done in the past, and BT will often update the availability checker with slower estimates making it very difficult to report faults, or set expectations with customers.

    At the moment I’m not sure if the changes made to the checker are a good thing or a bad thing, but if anything they make it more difficult to give estimates to a customer that are realistic (not just full potential line rate).

    1. Brian Storey says:

      Speeds decrease over the course of time as uptake in the cab increases due to cross talk.

      The speed estimates actually consider this which is why users will often see a higher sync and service speed if they get in early.

      As such it’s important to highlight what the end customer is predicted to actually get at a later stage right at the beginning to set expectations.

    2. DTMark says:

      It was always my understanding that the customer’s estimate – the one that matters – is the one given at the point of sale.

      If the estimate changes later on in the light of new information (e.g. actually, the line is crap), it’s irrelevant from the perspective of the consumer’s rights under OFCOM’s guidance and code regarding speeds, assuming the ISP subscribes to those.

  4. Spilt Milk says:

    Interesting, i wonder how they are going to predict the “Range B (Impacted)” figure. Surely you would have to know a line is impacted first before you start claiming it may run slower?

  5. John says:

    I wondered what the B was for 😉 Both A and B are both the same download/upload even if they have fell since the 41.6 I was originally quoted when I signed up for fibre

  6. DTMark says:

    Is this just to provide an excuse for BT to charge the ISP?

    Example: I sign up for FTTC with a predicted speed of 30Meg down.

    It runs at 15Meg down.

    I call the ISP to invite them to make it run at 30Meg as predicted, or cancel since I already have a 23Meg/20Meg service (4G) so it’s too slow to persist with.

    In the meantime BT have decided (the joy of being a monopoly) that they are entitled to charge said ISP because the service achieves 50% or more of the estimate, so the ISP loses out here if I cancel and has to pay BT anyway.

    This new “range” simply lowers the bar which BT must achieve in order to charge.

    1. New_Londoner says:

      Sources? Or is the above just speculation?

    2. DTMark says:

      The source for that was this site in a previous discussion.

      Perhaps you can advise – in the above scenario, if I cancel, and then if need be charge-back what I paid the ISP for setup to put me back in the position I was in beforehand after having had my time wasted, so I get nothing and pay nothing:

      How much is the ISP charged by BT?

  7. DTMark says:

    Does the Wholesale checker know the metal and diameter of the D-side cable?

    I suspect not. Until someone signs up. Then the attained profile makes this apparent.

    So if not, it can’t really produce any estimate of “perfect speed” with any reliability let alone what it calls “impacted speed”.

    “Impacted” in this context may well mean “our own poor quality cabling”.

    And this is supposed to be “next generation broadband” – would be funny if it were not for the fact that it seems to be being touted as such.

    Can you imagine the complaints we’d see on e.g. Watchdog if people were signing up for cable, and then being told that the coaxial cable is “too old” or “too poor” or “too low grade” to show HD TV channels, it isn’t going to be replaced, and the customer is committed to a contract now..

    1. MikeW says:

      Yes, I think the checker does know about the thickness of the copper, and the type of metal. Or rather, I don’t think it bases it’s speed estimate on just distance… I think it uses the attenuation of the line, which is a value that depends on length, diameter, metal, resistance, joints and corrosion.

      There are a couple of things that make me believe that…

      Source 1: The Sagentia report on the theoretical capability of the last mile of copper in the UK bases the theory on data from BT, which itself is the distribution of attenuations at 300kHz. This is something BT can measure, so is independent of any database of cable installation or routing.

      Source 2: When I did an analysis of all the homes on my old housing estate, built in 1996, I found every estimate value for the houses to be perfectly consistent with their distance from the cabinet. However, there were 5 blocks of flats dotted around the estate, each with 10 or 12 flats… and the estimates of all those flats were higher than the surrounding houses, but consistently so. It seems that the flats were likely deployed with 0.7mm cable en-mass, while the houses got 0.5mm individually.

  8. Nic Elliott says:

    DTMark – great point about cable. Consistency is non-existent on the BT network.

    I would say it works for and against us an ISP in equal measure. It’s very difficult to get those expectations set right for customers because of so many variables (and an unreliable, changeable availability checker) – businesses phone up saying they want full speed fibre broadband and we have to break the news to them that either its not available at all, or its only 13mbps, not 80mbps.

    On the positive side, we can easily bond FTTC lines like this together if the customer needs the increased speed.

    If speeds for BT services were actually the same everywhere it would change everything.

    1. FibreFred says:

      Re your last point FTTPod will provide that

    2. DTMark says:

      From a customer’s perspective if I order the service and get told it will run at 30Mbps down, I’d expect as many lines as necessary to be bonded without prompting or any additional charge to deliver what I ordered as part of the installation.

      I don’t see why the process of discovery of what a phone line can deliver is at the customer’s or the ISP’s cost.

    3. Nic Elliott says:

      This is unfortunately the nature of this kind of broadband at the moment. If purchasing 30mbps on an Ethernet product there would be commitments for this line speed.

      When buying ADSL, FTTC etc. everything is based on estimates, so the only way of producing a service that is always, for example, 30mbps down it would be based on a different number of lines and different technologies in every location. That in turn would mean a different price at each location as well, because some would cost vastly more than others.

      Maybe FTTPoD will help, but my gut feeling is that it will just produce a situation where people who can afford the ECCs will have it, and leave most businesses and consumers in the same position they are in now.

      Right now, if a customer needs 10mbps upload, and only have an IPStream exchange, then either they need a more expensive Ethernet service, or they need to change location, or change the way they do business. You can basically provide any speed in any location, but if it costs 100k in installation costs or more, then its unlikely to be palatable to the customer.

      The way things stand at the moment (and I agree with you that it would be so much easier if anyone in any location could get every product & speed at the same price) we have to deliver connectivity based on a combination of need, availability and cost. And need doesn’t always win.

    4. DTMark says:

      “Right now, if a customer needs 10mbps upload, and only have an IPStream exchange, then either they need a more expensive Ethernet service, or they need to change location, or change the way they do business.”

      Or, get cable. Or, get 4G.

      Under the government bung scheme to BT, our local cabinet is to get VDSL. No cable here.

      I have the speed I need now from 4G (20 to 25Meg down, 20Meg up); my concern was that I wouldn’t have any choice but to buy a VDSL service and be at the mercy of the appalling quality phone lines round here, but thankfully, that isn’t the case as we are fortunate to have choice.

      If a customer has a choice of several technologies – VDSL, 4G or cable, then the point of sale information is important. Only cable “tries” to perform to the headline speeds and largely succeeds though it has a money back guarantee.

      For VDSL it might be acceptable to get performance of say 28Meg against an estimate of 30Meg. However if the customer only gets say 15Meg, with unusable/near nil upstream, I cannot see why either the customer or the ISP is bound to pay for it though thankfully OFCOM’s Code of Practice on speeds does offer some protection to the customer. I assume the ISP just ends up “shafted” so to speak.. where’s their “protection”?

  9. Darren says:

    Unfortunately the BTw checker is woefully inaccurate, I will personally put my hand up and state that.

    I have been having a ongoing argument with BT for the past 18 months about this, I have even had communication with the head of Openreach and BT Retail, both blame each other.

    On 3 occasions I have placed an order with BT for Fibre and on each occasion the same result was achieved. The checker advises that I can get 18Mbps (recently upped to 21Mbps)Fibre, the end result is always 2 – 2.4Mbps at the Master Socket when an Engineers visits. The house is 5 years old and any interference is without a doubt on the side of 0. I am 1.6 miles from my Fibre cabinet (this is the problem) and a telephone number (not Postcode) is always provided to the checker. BT will NOT update their database to reflect the above, this results in constant marketing calls, emails and post from ISP’s, including BT themselves, trying to sell me Fibre.

    Fibre at 10% of the checked speed is completely unacceptable, especially when I currently get a true 6.5 – 7Mbps ADSL Max, there is now way I would migrate but as my kids get older it could become an issue.

    All I get are shrugged shoulders from BT yet they still persist in pestering me, very, very frustrating.

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