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Reasons Why You Can’t Get FTTC Broadband, Despite Being Covered

Tuesday, May 31st, 2016 (1:57 am) - Score 23,266
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Computer says “NO!“. Sometimes finding out whether or not you can order an FTTC based “fibre broadband” service on BTOpenreach’s national UK network is harder than it should be. ISPreview.co.uk takes a look at some of the most common issues that might occur when checking for service availability.

Like it or not there are bound to be a few errors, mistakes and oversights that creep into Openreach’s Searchable Database of some 30 million lines / premises or the related BT Wholesale Checker, which can sometimes cause confusion when people start to depend upon them as part of making major decisions, such as moving house.

As a general rule you should always try to test for service availability by using the property’s Phone Number first, which is usually the most accurate check. Failing that you could try the neighbours phone number, so long as it’s in the same building or right next door as this may be a close match (make sure to ask their permission too).

The alternative is to use a Full Address Check, which is also quite accurate, although these can sometimes fail due to small differences in how you write the house name, number or other details (don’t be afraid to try a few variations as some addresses can be a bit quirky).

The least accurate method is to use a Postcode Check, which is unreliable because the results can cover a wide area that may not accurately reflect local infrastructure for your specific property. It’s wise not to make any final judgements about availability or line performance based purely on a postcode check.

Other than those there are still plenty of reasons why a checker might inform you that the service is “Available” or “Accepting Orders“, only for you to learn later that it cannot in fact be ordered or installed. Some of the most annoying reasons, albeit not the only reasons, that people have reported to us over the years have been listed below.

1. Database confusion over cabinets

Recently we had a case where one of our Welsh readers, who has in the past always been connected to a distant Street Cabinet (PCP no. 6), was told by an ISP checker that he could order FTTC, albeit via a new and much closer cabinet no. 13. Other checkers also returned the same result as related databases are often shared from the same source.

However despite multiple attempts he was not able to get the service installed and even Openreach’s own engineers appeared to be stumped. When an engineer turned up at Cabinet no.13 they would find that there was no physical copper line going back to the customer’s property and so the cycle continued.

After some investigation it transpired that he was right on the border in a community that had previously been catered for by Exchange Only Lines (EOL), although part of the area had been upgraded to support FTTC via a complex network rearrangement and for some reason this was either confusing the database or engineers. In any case after three failed installation attempts, all of which initially promised to correct the issue, the customer eventually gave up.

2. Database error – out of sync “availability” status

Sometimes a street cabinet goes live (becomes “available” for new orders) only for Openreach to later discover an unexpected problem and disable it again until resolved. Unfortunately this does seem to occasionally result in some databases becoming slightly out of sync with what’s happening on the ground and as a result consumers may not realise that the service cannot be ordered or that existing orders could be unexpectedly delayed or stopped.

3. Poor estimate of speed vs availability

The databases used by ISPs are largely based upon estimated predictions of copper line performance and live experiences, but sometimes if you live right at the edges of coverage – particularly if it’s a property that hasn’t had FTTC before – then the service may be marked as “available” and yet an engineer might later discover that you would not be able to get a working connection (i.e. the line might not meet basic quality criteria). As such the install could be rejected, unless the engineer can find an easy fix.

Unfortunately issues like this can’t always be predicted by checkers or ISPs and sometimes they only become apparent once an engineer is on-site at your cabinet to connect the service. In other cases the issue may be caused by poor home wiring or some other unusual problem, which might only be resolved through later and often more expensive engineer investigations.

4. Street cabinet lacks capacity

Every new FTTC cabinet that gets built will have a limited capacity for taking on new connections. The capacity of a cabinet will vary from place to place, although those constructed in busy / urban areas can often handle up to nearly 300 lines each.

Sometimes these cabinets will fill up faster than expected (example) and that can result in a situation where the service may technically exist in the area, yet sadly you might not be able to order it until Openreach has expanded the cabinet’s capacity or built an additional cabinet. The latter can take a long time and that’s assuming they choose to expand it at all.

5. The new build homes nightmare

One of the most notorious problems with buying a new home is the fact that the address you receive is so new that it isn’t widely recognised (i.e. has yet to propagate to various databases). Problems like this usually fix themselves, but it can often take several months and meanwhile getting any new services ordered could require extra effort.

In these cases it’s often best to call a provider and speak with somebody directly because the ISP’s online ordering systems may struggle if they can’t identify your address. Similarly you may have trouble confirming whether or not your property can even get an FTTC connection, which adds an extra layer of difficulty (you could try asking Openreach directly to confirm).

As a rule it’s wise to discuss these things with the property developer before you buy and if they do promise a “fibre” based service then try to get it confirmed in writing. We’d also recommend confirming which services will be available and how long they take to install. Some developments may have their own unique fibre optic (FTTH/P) solution, which won’t show up in any checkers.

Most of the issues above are rare and often only catch the unlucky few, but that doesn’t make the sting any less painful. We should add that checking for coverage via ISPs on Openreach’s national network obviously won’t reveal if you’re covered by other platforms, such as Virgin Media’s cable network or a fixed wireless provider.

Similarly testing via an ISP’s availability checker can be a double edged sword as some will retain your phone number and follow it up later with a marketing call, which perhaps crosses too far over into the territory of annoying marketing shenanigans.

Alternatively we’d recommend first conducting a basic check via Openreach’s When and Where page, which can also be followed up by checking via the BTWholesale Availability database for a bit more detail. Finally, CodeLook is another useful one that can reveal more information about local street cabinets and FTTC/P status, although it won’t always reflect if the cabinets are full (at maximum capacity) or not.

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Mark Jackson

By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he is also the founder of ISPreview since 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.

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29 Responses
  1. TheFacts

    The best way is to put just the postcode into the address checker and click Submit, Then a dropdown of addresses appears. Click on the one you want.

  2. Chris

    What are the potential solutions to these issues? Is there an Openreach process to get database errors corrected?

    • Most of the time related problems will be solved automatically, such as when new capacity is added to an area. On other occasions if Openreach or ISPs get enough moans then somebody will eventually come along and correct the issue.

  3. Jazzy

    4. Street cabinet lacks capacity

    This happened to me last year, I wanted to change from Sky to Plusnet but Plusnet couldn’t order my service because my cabinet was at full capacity and there was no guarantee I could transfer my existing pro service to them. I gave up and re-negotiated with Sky without mentioning the problem. All worked out in the end. They have since added a second cabinet a few months ago and now there are no more capacity issues for the moment.

  4. Others worth mentioning are:

    – Some ISPs have decided to install FTTC services if the predicted sync is below a set value.

    – Some ISPs have opted not to support the Waiters List where Openreach add extra capacity based on local cabinet demand.

  5. Gus

    Also direct Exchange lines? for those houses attached directly to exchange, i.e. they have no Cabinet??
    While these people have had fast connections in the past eg approx 15Mbps. They have no way to move to the Superfast connections like 40Mbps or 70Mbps etc. even though people in the next street can get fibre?

    • James

      Not all exchange only lines get 15Mbps, my line from an exchange 2 miles away get me a whole 0.5Mbps, so I have to use a 4G plan and a workaround to get unlimited tethering to all my devices, but this is a world where internet is essential for most things.

  6. GNewton

    I have seen cases where the street cabinet is almost right next to a property, or in clearly visible range just a few metres away, yet you still can’t order a VDSL service because only a certain half of the road, or only one side of it, is served by the cabinet. For a home buyer, always thoroughly check it out first, down to the house number, in order to be sure of available VDSL services.

  7. Don’t forget also that FTTC speeds are calculated based on an estimated distance from the DP to the end premises of around 50m.
    So BT know the rough distance from their FTTC cab to the DP, and add 50m to get the estimate (if I am not mistaken).

    So if you are in a rural location and miles from the DP, then your estimated speed on the checker will be potentially widely inaccurate.

    We have heard of many cases of crazy high speeds reported on checkers and customers placing orders, only for the BTO engineer to turn up and so “no chance” and walking away from the install (sub 10Mb)!
    This is a rural-issue mainly I believe.

    Knowing where your DP is is another challenge. A visual check may be the best option. There is a database available IIRC similar to the FTTC one with a rough address of it – however you’ll need BTO portal access or someone with this knowledge.
    Basically, if you know the premises is miles away from the cabinet and the speed checker is saying something too good to be true, then it probably is.

    • DTMark

      BT’s estimates make me giggle. The DP is about 5m from the house. Estimate (low B, high A) was for anything between 16 and 36 last year. These days it’s between 11 and 29. Next year it will presumably be 8 to 20.

      BT seemingly have no idea what speed 1283m of wire will deliver.

      Either that, or they’d like a fall-back to point to when the ISP complains to them, so they don’t have to do anything in particular and failing line plant is “normalised” and acceptable.

    • FibreFred

      And to give some balance my estimate was under what I get now.

    • earlystock

      The line speed almost certainly will deteriorate depending on take up – the more users on the cable using VDSL, the more cross talk, the worse the performance, vectoring helps but there are limits – laws of physic I am afraid

  8. Tom Rand

    I’m in a situation where Sky opt out of the “local waiting list” so I must call weekly in the vain hope that a slot will be available in the cab for me at the time when I call.
    Virgin is a no go as they still do not have a presence in chineham.

    Guess for now I must be happy that 1-2Mb/s is all I will see of the “superfast” wonderful role out.

    • fastman

      so you should be using the BTW Dsl checker as a guide as that will tell you if their is capacity and then check with the ISP

    • Tom Rand

      @Fastman
      I do & have been for longer than a year. All my neighbours are also sky therefore no accurate results for me all I can use is address. I use a whole bunch of checkers (I worked for an ISP so I kinda know what to look for…)

      It does not & never has told me anything more than basically I can get it “waiting list” which we all know does not exist. Sky say to keep calling weekly but it is not like I have money to throw away on continuous speculative calls.

      Other than stating the obvious I fail to see what your comment provides but thanks.

    • fastman

      @Fastman
      I do & have been for longer than a year. All my neighbours are also sky therefore no accurate results for me all I can use is address. I use a whole bunch of checkers (I worked for an ISP so I kinda know what to look for…)

      It does not & never has told me anything more than basically I can get it “waiting list” which we all know does not exist. Sky say to keep calling weekly but it is not like I have money to throw away on continuous speculative calls.

      Other than stating the obvious I fail to see what your comment provides but thanks.

      Tom !! so the waiting list does exist with some CP’s the Btw checker will tell you when the cab has either had more capacity and as soon as that is done I it will save you a phone call

    • Tom Rand

      @fastman

      I totally get what you are saying but seriously I moved into this place 2014, have been checking pretty much since day 1 & I tell you I have never seen it say “accepting orders”

      To say I am seriously annoyed is an understatement & moving is not feasible either due to cost & work as well as that Basingstoke is one of those towns where half of the place is considered rural/not spot & the other is a mix of business parks & homes with full fttp/c/fttpod.
      I just don’t see it fair that we on slow speeds must pay the same as those who get full whack, the more you read up the more you find the majority get slow speeds!

  9. timeless

    my old neighbour has been suffering from this issue, every week she gets a new live date only to be told she has to wait another week.

  10. Reason number 1 is exactly what’s happened to my business. We used to be on an EOL but at some point got moved onto cab 1 (which is outside the exchange and still 2.7km from us), and BT’s DSL checker says we should receive 80/20 speeds from FTTC.

    • fastman

      Kedogg so either you DP’ in outside the exchange which I could be but that would be rare or your DP has been recorded incorrectly

  11. Karl

    So with a database which is wrong does this mean all their coverage percentages BT love to quote are a load of typical BT nonsense?

  12. Shane

    I experienced number 1.

    I knew there was a new cabinet installed and that was serving my area as I went and questioned the engineer that was installing it on several occasions.

    BT actually knew nothing of this and I had made several phone calls to several different departments to get them to acknowledge the new cabinet, yet they continued to say it doesn’t exist.

    I ordered broadband anyway as I thought the engineer would know the cabinet was there and re-route me through that line/system…..that didn’t work.

    The system was showing I was on cabinet 2 and yet the new cabinet was 6 and I kept repeating that they need to upgrade the system to reflect this and all they kept doing was denying anything was wrong I even used both my neighbours phone numbers which stated they could get faster broadband and they said “of you must be far away from them and connected to a different line” it’s a terrace road and one phone line in…

    I finally found grace when a BT engineer came to fix me ‘slow broadband’ and I told him exactly what he needed to do. At first he didn’t believe me, but I offered to take him to the new cabinet (as he also didn’t have knowledge of it) and he then stated to realise I knew my sh*t he did some investigation, made one phone call to the data team and boom the system now reflected that I was running through cabinet 6 and I could get faster broadband.

    I didn’t get an apology off BT for their lack of knowledge and I still believe (4 months later) that others on the street can only get the slow broadband…

    all in all BT are useless and it took my knowledge and investigations to actually get anywhere

  13. David Ridley

    Interesting article, wish I’d read it before upgrading to Zen Fibre 1. Zen phone line/post code estimated that I could get up to 27/3.3 Mbps, but typically 20 Mbps down. BT Fibre also gave the same figures. This seemed ok since my street cab p36 was just at the end of the road so without further research, I clicked upgrade. Come activation date the line synced at 18/1.8, strange I thought. Yet I’d missed on the activation email that said the line was rated at 15/0.7 meg, I tried to cancel but they refused. They said they sent a email the day after clicking buy, giving this estimate, I insisted never recd this, but too late was reply. Over the next week it dropped to similar adsl figures, down was 2 meg higher but up dropped to 0.7 meg from 1.2 meg.
    So what I should have done was looked at the Kitz web site & use their link to find the street cabs that my line was connected to. Low and behold the line goes to P48, 1400m away and P48 is only 485m from the exchange. In upgrading I’ve only removed 485m from my circuit! So my assumption of connection to the nearby cabinet is not only wrong but Openreach refuse to re-route to it even though my line goes through that cabinet.
    Moreover the fibre service now randomly falls over, which adsl never did. Not only is my line longish its also now randomly very noisy, causing errors and disconnects. Now waiting for the third BT engineer visit to give me a quiet line. First engineer did a quick test & left me with the comment that the line would never support fibre due to aluminium lines & bridge taps & that Zen & BT shouldn’t offer fibre service to our road. The second engineer confirmed this comment but did replace 60m of ally line to the street underground box. Unfortunately I still have a randomly noisy line and disconnects. I’ll continue to log line faults with Zen & BT until the lines re-routed or replace with a full copper one. Zen Tech Support says they won’t do this cos it”s to expensive to do! Although we all pay nearly 20 pound line rental a month that doesn’t entitle us to a quiet line.
    Hope this helps there from falling into the super fast broadband con.

  14. mike

    i’ve just left BT where I was on Infinity 2 for the past 4 years when in may (when they started increasing lower package from 40mbps to 52mbps) it dropped below 60mbps from 75mbps and BT would not do anything about it, even though it was below the quoted guaranteed minimum speed. Switched to Sky and now connecting at 72mbps – connected to the same cabinet for fttc just different port in exchange for line and a different modem

  15. Frustrated

    Been waiting for a Fibre Cabinate to be fitted for 4 years now and still nothing has been done, I am loosing hope in BT ever giving me a great internet connection far better than the poor broadband I am on now :/ so frustrates/angers me, so many people around me have it and yet they keep skipping my area when they move us up the list, to then later find out we are back to the first phase of their plans….. What a joke…

    • Chris

      I can totally sympathise with you, I am in the only street not to have been upgraded to fibre as we are the last street on the line and furthest from the exchange ( about 4 KM ) and consequently have the worst service, problem is there are not enough houses connected to the final cabinet for it to be viable to be upgraded, so all the people who were closer to the exchange with reasonable speeds and least needed the upgrade are sitting pretty with fibre and us poor sods at the end of the line with dial up speeds who desperately need the upgrade have got absolutely no chance, makes me sick! Open reach sucks!

  16. Scott

    In our Village half of it has Fibre and the half I live in has no fibre because we are connected direct to the exchange? I dont understand why we cant have fibre. I live about 500 yards from the exchange and I am lucky if I get 5.5-7mb most days. Highly frustrating. I feel the service being provided is absolutely disgusting I have written to BT to complain and have had no reply or answers as yet the customer service is shocking I would change ISP but unfortunaly even that is not available becasue I cannot get unlimited with the other ISP. I am more or less held to ransom by having to be connected with BT so that I can have a broadband connection

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