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Virgin Media Adverts Still Can’t Tell Copper Coax from Fibre Optic

Monday, March 7th, 2016 (8:53 am) - Score 12,011

The seemingly endless debate about the pros and cons of advertising hybrid-fibre broadband connections as “fibre optic” has once again reared its head after a number of refreshed adverts for Virgin Media’s cable network began promoting their service as “optical fibre” alongside pictures of what is clearly a copper core coaxial cable.

The situation is of course nothing new and has cropped up plenty of times before (examples here and here), although previously Virgin Media has been slightly better with their promotions and up until recently they were at least mentioning the use of coax cable on some of their ads (we praised them for that).

But today the new norm is for pictures of Virgin’s coax cable to be labelled as “optical fibre“, which is confusing because some ISPs actually do provide significantly faster pure fibre optic connections to homes and businesses (e.g. Hyperoptic, Gigaclear, B4RN).

Coax cables are metal and carry electrical signals, while fibre optic lines are made of glass or plastic and carry signals using laser light (the later method is generally much faster).

By comparison Virgin Media’s DOCSIS cable network is predominantly a Fibre-to-the-Cabinet (FTTC/N) style solution like Openreach’s VDSL based “fibre broadband” products (note: we’ve yet to see an Openreach based ISP show a picture of copper twisted pair alongside a “fibre optic” claim), which only take the fibre optic cable to your local street cabinet and then use an existing copper or coax copper cable to your home.

However it should be said that there are a few minority exceptions. Even Openreach have some pure fibre optic (FTTP) lines (around 200,000 premises are within reach of those) and similarly Virgin Media are also deploying FTTP on a small scale, albeit alongside Radio Frequency over Glass (RFoG) in order to make it compatible with their DOCSIS cable network.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) controversially allows hybrid-fibre broadband products to be promoted as “fibre optic” or “fibre broadband” (this is why we tend to put FTTC “fibre broadband” in speech marks or refer to it as hybrid fibre), which flows from an old February 2008 ruling that found in Virgin Media’s favour and has since irritated proponents of the correct definitions.

At the time the ASA took the view that the coax element of Virgin’s network was only a small part of their fibre optic backhaul and thus the ISP was deemed to have been justified in describing their service as “fibre optic“, even though this sort of promotional flexibility could in theory also be applied to everything from ADSL2+ to Wireless networks and indeed it sometimes has (*cough* “Fibre over Wireless” *cough*).

Mind you the market of 2008 was also a very different one from today and rival FTTP/H services, particularly in the domestic connectivity space, simply didn’t exist to any noticeable degree. Today there are close to 500,000 such premises being covered by related technology and this may rise to 1-2 million within the next few years.

So perhaps now would be a good time for the ASA to review their original decision in order to reflect how the market has changed, which is exactly what France did last year (here) and many of our readers supported their move. For a fuller perspective on this topic, see our article – Will the Real Fibre Optic Broadband Service Please Stand Up.

In the meantime no amount of moaning about the issue will change the fact that ISPs are officially allowed, for good or ill, to promote their services as “fibre optic“; even when the cable or radio link that connects to your home is not an optical one. We just have to live with that fact. Queue the usual battle of comment spam.

Lest we not forget that most people will continue to gauge performance by service speed rather than technical definition.

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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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52 Responses
  1. FibreFred says:

    Now I can see why the ASA let go some previous decisions.

    But this is blatantly wrong

  2. DTMark says:

    The bigger sin, IMO, are the ones which advertise VDSL as ‘superfast fibre-optic broadband’ – not only is it not fibre-optic broadband (as per VM’s claims), but the fact that it isn’t, is precisely why it might not be superfast either. This is stretching it one stage further, beyond what the tech can possibly deliver on a national basis.

    Our broadband is 4G, so “fibre over the air”.

    Allowing “fibre” to become “the new word for broadband” was wrong, and it still is.

    1. FibreFred says:

      I cannot agree with you there DTMark.

      There is one thing calling DOCSIS and VDSL “Fibre Broadband” as a term

      And then there’s another showing pictures of copper cables saying “This is fibre”

      I mean…..

      Two totally different things, this is a separate issue that the ASA should look at

    2. DTMark says:

      Perhaps Virgin are doing this to provoke debate..

    3. FibreFred says:

      Why would they do that though, seen as they set the bar themselves.

      They re-branded their network as Fibre which is how this all started

    4. DTMark says:

      Virgin might be inclined to use these farcical terms with pictures of cables (and I don’t think you call fibre-optic “cable”) if they wanted to make a point.

      “This is how ludicrous the advertising is allowed to be”.

      Their network has the advantage over BT’s that everyone connected to it can get all the speed tiers.

      It would now be to their advantage that *nobody* can use the term “fibre” for copper products because that suggests that BT’s network is similarly capable, and it is not, robbing them of a USP.

    5. FibreFred says:

      They don’t have a fibre usp they don’t sell it.

      At least bt do even on a relatively small scale

    6. Ignition says:

      VM do have some FTTP and are building more and more as time goes on.

      They’ve maybe 10,000 at a guess premises of it coming in Leeds in the not too distant.

    7. FibreFred says:

      Ok some then, quite recently 🙂

    8. Ignition says:

      As I understand it when their project moves into later phases and they are building entirely new areas rather than doing extensions of existing ones FTTP will be the build of choice.

      Faster to build, smaller trenches, lower power consumption in the field, fewer cabinets, no bandwidth restrictions from amplifiers and optical nodes, longer reach drops.

    9. mike says:

      “…And then there’s another showing pictures of copper cables saying “This is fibre”

      Neither image above from what i can see even uses the word “fibre” in either of them so dunno what the 2 twitter loons or you are on about.

      Another day another non-story obviously submitted to this site rather than actual news.

    10. FibreFred says:

      Lol you love your virgin media. Both images state fibre

    11. mike says:

      love virgin? Hardly i personally think neither they nor BT should be allowed to use the term “fibre” for any broadband service which has copper in it.

      Oh and no despite your sarcasm the word “fibre” does not appear in either of the 2 twitter images, i suggest you look and read them again.

    12. FibreFred says:

      Apart from it saying “optical fibre ” you mean? 🙂 on both

    13. mike says:

      I stand corrected one of the new images does use the word.

    14. mike says:

      The image Mr cannings tweeted about does not have that term or the word fibre anywhere.

    15. FibreFred says:

      There’s three images in the article all say optical fibre

      None are new

    16. mike says:

      Please feel free to point out where in the Mr cannings image
      it mentions “fibre” it does not. Regardless i find it hillarious you have such an issue with them using the term but not BT

    17. FibreFred says:

      Are you for real?

      Specs savers? ?

    18. mike says:

      Resorting to your typical insults of “specsavers” and “love virgin”. My appologies for giving you the opportunity and credibility to think you could actually have a normal conversation.

    19. FibreFred says:

      It isn’t an insult it is commonly used in adverts “should have gone to specsavers” 🙂

      Hopefully you’ve seen all three instances now , in which it didn’t appear at all?

    20. MikeW says:

      It took me a long time to find the phrase in Cannings’ picture – I got it on perhaps the third go.

      Three lines above the coax: “It’s our next generation optical fibre”.

  3. RobertRM says:

    I laughed when I saw the bottom on near my house. But then I tried it


    Hmm, maybe for once it’s right

    1. DTMark says:

      It shows that a copper network, which is what cable is (fibre to the cabinet), can deliver if the cables are fat enough and the runs short enough (deliberate cable network design).

      There is no need to twist the truth (at best) about “fibre”.

    2. Mark Jackson says:

      Hi Robert. The conflict isn’t so much over the service speed this time, but more how a picture showing a copper coax cable is being promoted as “optical fibre”. Two fundamentally different cables.

    3. FibreFred says:


      But surprisingly (or not) you will find that in some people’s minds even if its copper it’s ok to call it fibre as long as it provides consistent high speeds.

    4. mike says:

      “.. more how a picture showing a copper coax cable is being promoted as “optical fibre”. Two fundamentally different cables.”

      I guess they learned that trick from BT and all their “Fibre is here” posters on cabinets which have copper cables running from them to peoples homes. Or there proud if not misguided claims about how great a homehub and somehow how that thing receives “fibre broadband”.

      Personally like most id like to see the “fibre” terminology banned, not because Virgin and misusing it but because cretinous FTTC services lept on the bandwagon which sometimes can not even manage maximum ADSL speeds (IE over 24Mb) to some people are being called “super fast” and “fibre”. How are they “super fast” i guess only they know.

    5. FibreFred says:

      Re “fibre is here” , it is in those cabs those are fibre cabs.

    6. mike says:

      Just like virgins cabs then. BT and Virgin are both in the wrong to describe most of their services as fibre, you seem to think its only 1 company though.

    7. FibreFred says:

      No I don’t where have I stated that. They are both wrong for using the term but Virgin’s recent adverts are in a different league of wrong

    8. peter says:

      “They are both wrong for using the term but Virgin’s recent adverts are in a different league of wrong”

      Thank god you and your errr logic are not in charge of what is right and wrong.

    9. FibreFred says:

      And in other news changing name doesn’t make posters any less angry.

    10. Mike says:

      Another punt at me i assume because another user finds you rude and stupid with an inability to discuss like a rational human being.

    11. Cliff says:

      ‘I guess they learned that trick from BT and all their “Fibre is here” posters on cabinets’

      The darlings from BT shove those poster on telegraph poles round here. Our street only gets 19-22Mb on FTTC (so not even “superfast”). There is no FTTP in the street, even more funny is a street about half a mile from me at one point had the same posters on its poles but can not get FTTC or FTTP, i guess BT eventually sent out a kellys clown to take them down due to so many asking in that street asking for a product that does not exist.
      Funny some have issues with VM advertising a product that at least when it comes to 90% of the claims (all except what type of wire) delivers what it promises. If only BT knew what “superfast” meant.

  4. Ignition says:

    This is just too blatant.

    I hope this spurs the ASA into following the French to an extent. If it’s not FTTP (which includes both FTTH and FTTB) it shouldn’t be advertised as fibre optic broadband.

    It wasn’t okay but I guess was tolerable when we didn’t have any FTTP but now we do with prospect of more on the way in the near future through Openreach, Hyperoptic and others enough is enough.

    If it advertises fibre or fibre optic without caveats and fibre isn’t going to the premises, be it MDU or single occupancy, it should be objected to.

    I know coax can deliver multiple gigabits symmetrical, doesn’t make it fibre though.

    1. MikeW says:

      If we are going to accept the upheaval that banishing the term “fibre broadband” from BT’s FTTC implementation and VM’s FTTN/HFC implementation will bring, what definition will be needed for FTTB to remain immune?

      An FTTdp solution around here, located at the actual DPs at the top of all the poles, would be better than FTTB in some MDUs.

      Accepting FTTB as a member of the “pure fibre” group was always a matter of an expedient compromise. One that never envisaged having competition from viable FTTdp technology. FTTdp can justify an equal expediency on technical grounds, but will never be accepted by fibre zealots.

      Could we really justify keeping FTTB as a member of the “pure fibre” club? Would it be time to jettison that compromise too?

    2. Ignition says:

      You have a point. Perhaps the only realistic option would be that if there isn’t light coming out of the connector it doesn’t get to be called fibre optic.

    3. DTMark says:

      I suspect that’s the best idea.

      After all, you’d be a little annoyed if you bought an optical digital cable to connect your TV to your DAC/amplifier, and found that it had a pair of phono plugs at one end.

    4. GNewton says:

      @Ignition: “I hope this spurs the ASA into following the French to an extent. If it’s not FTTP (which includes both FTTH and FTTB) it shouldn’t be advertised as fibre optic broadband.”

      In France, only genuine fibre (FTTH, not FTTB!) is allowed to be called fibre broadband.

      Unfortunately, here in the UK both Virgin Media as well as BT and its various VDSL resellers get away with misleading the consumers. In the case of BT, the practice of misleading adverts goes all the way back to the dial-up internet when BT marketed per-minute charged 0845 dial-up as free internet. The UK telecom industry is a real mess here. And ASA has it share of blame for this.

    5. AndyH says:

      @ Gnewton – Source? What do Numericable or Bouygue call their FTTB then? http://lexpansion.lexpress.fr/high-tech/fibre-optique-free-attaque-en-justice-numericable-sfr_1732021.html

    6. AndyH says:

      A very poorly translated article.

      The government planned to regulate the use of the word fibre last summer, but I believe it’s still under consultation. Look at the FTTB provider sides and they all still advertise their services as fibre.

    7. peter says:

      “I hope this spurs the ASA into following the French to an extent. If it’s not FTTP (which includes both FTTH and FTTB) it shouldn’t be advertised as fibre optic broadband.”

      I doubt that would happen though it would indeed be the solution and get rid off FTTC and FTTH being described as “fibre”

  5. liveinhope says:

    I seen an Openreach van last night with had ‘Superfast Copper’ displayed on the side…………or was that a dream?

    1. DTMark says:

      “was that a dream”

      Are you waiting for someone to come and fix your phone line?

      (grins – sorry couldn’t resist)

    2. mike says:

      Quite amazing some have no issues with flyers claiming fibre on cabinets that have copper running from them and vans with “superfast fibre” plastered all over them driving about in areas that cant get anything “super fast” let alone even “fibre” based, but hell have no fury for any other organisation that makes similar claims and has a product that consistently is more than double the speed and dare advertise it in areas that can get it


    3. peter says:

      Thats called a new level of right, VM doing it is a new level of wrong, of course stating such things is a new level of stupid 😉

    4. Ignition says:

      I guess these vans are supposed to have special GPS that directs them around areas without FTTC/P.

      Presumably in the name of fairness Virgin Media vans also need to ensure that, to reach areas that are covered by their network, they never drive through areas that are not passed by it.

    5. Cliff says:

      Both companies seem to be confused what fibre actually is Ignition.

      Virgin images may be of a copper cable, though BT in their images seem to think everything fibre is either of an alien technology or from chernobyl just after its incident and glow a bluey/purpley/pink in colour all over….. Maybe it makes the wires easier to find in dark ducts 😉

  6. JOK says:

    Was somewhat bemused by a Virgin Media billboard I Saw last week. Cannot remember the exact wording, but it was basically a timeline of various internet/broadband standards & said something like ‘Dial Up’ ‘ADSL’ ‘Fibre’ then ended with ‘VIVID’, implying that ‘VIVID’ was the ultimate/newest technology. What about FTTP – surely FTTP is better than current DOCSIS….it makes me laugh that VM have effectively ‘invented’ a new ‘standard’ just by making up the name ‘VIVID’

  7. M says:

    As people like to say often, write to your MP and try to get a national debate over it.

  8. Kerrycable says:

    Are those coaxial cables in the pictures for real, or something dreamed up by a marketer with a copy of Photoshop? I have never seen anything like it. Is there a make or type? They look a bit stiff, and isn’t the conductive braided sheath in contact with the outer?

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