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Embarrassing Lack of FTTC Broadband Capacity Hits BT in Whittington

Friday, November 11th, 2016 (8:44 am) - Score 1,953

The Deputy Leader of Shropshire Council, Steve Charmley, has accused Openreach (BT) of embarrassing itself after their new FTTC “fibre broadband” Street Cabinet in the village of Whittington ran out of capacity sooner than expected. It wouldn’t be so bad, except BT have a base in the same area.

We recently ran an article on the issue of full FTTC (VDSL2) based Street Cabinets (here), which is especially common in areas where Openreach installs a new cabinet and then underestimates local demand. On the surface it’s a nice problem to have because it confirms that more people want your service than originally predicted.

However if the upgrade requires an additional or larger cabinet to be built then it can sometimes take several months or even longer to resolve (assuming there are enough customers in the area to even warrant an upgrade) and that may result in frustration and confusion for consumers, many of whom could have been told that superfast broadband is available and yet they can’t order it.

An Openreach Spokesperson said:

“The cabinet in question has exceeded all expectations in terms of take-up, and arrangements are in hand by Openreach – BT’s local network business – to increase capacity as soon as possible to enable more local people to be able to order faster fibre broadband.”

The issue in Whittington is particularly interesting because BT, which happens to be one of the biggest employers in the area, are also based out of the nearby Whittington House on Whittington Road. Despite this the village, which is home to around 2,600 people, was not included in the operator’s original commercial roll-out plan for up to’ 80Mbps capable FTTC technology.

Councillor Steve Charmley claims he “campaigned hard” to get the village included into the programme, which he views as being a bit silly given BT’s base in the area. Needless to say that Steve isn’t best pleased at having achieved this, only for the cabinet to fill up and run out of capacity in double quick time.

Cllr Steve Charmley said (here):

“Why aren’t they building capacity into the system to allow for surges in take up in local areas? That’s my big problem. I’m not comfortable promoting super fast broadband, running around like a headless chicken trying to get people signed up to the service, if there’s no capacity in the system.”

In fairness, most of the time Openreach do get it right and additional capacity can usually be added quite quickly by simply installing some extra kit into the existing cabinet, but if the cabinet fills up completely then more effort is often required. It’s a difficult balancing act and decisions might be constrained by economic models.

Some recent data supplied by Openreach to ISPs revealed that roughly 1,970 out of 77,033 live cabinets were full to capacity and awaiting upgrades (around 2.6%). At present Openreach’s FTTC/P network is available to roughly 26 million premises across the United Kingdom.

It’s worth pointing out that the biggest FTTC cabinets can handle up to 384 active ports, although by comparison Openreach’s forthcoming roll-out of G.fast technology is still struggling to achieve its eventual target of supporting 96 ports via 4 cards (each with 24 ports). So we might see a repeat of the capacity issues when G.fast arrives.

However the initial demand for G.fast may be lower than it was for FTTC, at least until more people start feeling a need for the extra speed it offers. Remember that ISPs will also charge more for G.fast than FTTC to compensate for the heavier requirements, but most people may initially prefer to stick with a cheaper FTTC solution (provided FTTC / VDSL2 offers them decent speed of course).

Meanwhile the people of Whittington will have to wait another 4-5 months before local FTTC capacity is given a boost.

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Mark Jackson
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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47 Responses
  1. Avatar oops-bt-fooled-me-again says:

    Its just a good job that BT don’t make beer, as I can hazard what their chances of being able to organise a p1ss-up….

    1. Avatar AndyH says:

      Thanks for your valued contribution here….

    2. Avatar fastman says:

      what a helpful comment — another person with multiple sign in names ???

  2. Avatar TheFacts says:

    Which cabinet?

    1. Avatar TheFacts says:

      Oswestry 24, commercial. Checker says available.

    2. Avatar AndyH says:

      Is this cabinet just completely full or just a line card?

    3. Avatar brianv says:

      Why would it take 4 or 5 months to install just a line card?

      Oh, hang in, this is BT working flat out. Yawn!

    4. Avatar Steve Jones says:

      @brianv

      My local cabinet having been the recent victim of an errant driver at about 6pm on Sunday, which knocked the cabinet over, wrecking it and, severing several cables and optical fibres. It was replaced with a brand new one on Tuesday and the cables and fibre repaired over the following day. My service came back online about 16:00 on Wednesday, a little less than three days later. That’s pretty rapid. What has taken time is the local electricity company reconnecting the power, so the cabinet is on a 6 hour battery swap cycle until that’s done.

      There are always external dependencies, and any time there are ground works, planning, road closures supply issues and so on, then it can delay things. However, in this case, I think a 72 hour full scale cabinet swap points to a fairly well defined process.

      All on the local forum

      http://forum.charlbury.info/thread/4010

      Not to mention the space occupied by the BT engineers doing the work had been somewhat violently occupied by a 4WD vehicle only a day or so earlier, so the job is not without its hazards.

    5. Avatar GNewton says:

      @Steve Jones: Yours must be an exceptional experience. May you should post it on some of the major review sites, because usually BT is rated as one of the worst companies.

      From our own personal and customers’ experience with BT, we can’t remember BT having ever done a proper job in a timely manner. Thinks like failed engineer visits, sloppy jobs, incompetent customer service etc have been quite common! But maybe this company is finally getting its act together, especially in view of Ofcom’s increasing pressure to do better?

    6. Avatar AndyH says:

      @ Gnewton – Yes, BT is evil. We all know it…perhaps change the record?

    7. Avatar GNewton says:

      @AndyH: Yes, BT is the best thing that happened to your life. It’s amazing how many posters here are so emotionally attached to anything BT.

      Steve Jones posted a positive experience, which is quite rare, so I suggested that for a change he should share it on some of the review sites, other companies seem to be able to also attract some positive experiences on the review sites.

    8. Avatar AndyH says:

      @ GNewton – I am not attached to BT, nor do I have any services currently provided by BT. I speak in what I say is with a rational and objective viewpoint.

      You keep posting the same thing about “usually BT is rated as one of the worst companies” which is entirely meaningless to this article. Worst rated according to who? Trustpilot? I guess by your logic, Virgin Media is equally one of the worst rated companies in the UK.

      I’ve lived in 5 countries and had services provided by numerous ISPs, of which BT was one of the better ones. If you think BT is bad, then you should try O2 in central Europe.

    9. Avatar Data Analysis says:

      “I speak in what I say is with a rational and objective viewpoint.”

      “Worst rated according to who?”

      http://www.ispreview.co.uk/index.php/2016/09/ofcom-q2-2016-report-bt-broadband-attracts-complaints.html

      Rational and objective.

    10. Avatar AndyH says:

      @ Data Analysis

      Where does it say BT is one of the worst rated companies in the UK? I only see a weighted average of complaints, no customer ratings.

      I am primarily referring to the wholesale/provisioning side here also, Openreach. If Openreach is so bad, then why do the likes of Sky/TT/EE have significantly lower numbers of complaints but are provisioned on the same Openreach networks?

    11. Avatar GNewton says:

      @Data Analysis: AndyH is right, there are other companies, in other countries, with poor services, too. Telstra in Australia comes to my mind (used to live and work in Australia in the past).

      Even Ofcom has acknowledged that BT has issues, and that it is only making slow progress. Whether a separation of Openreach from BT will cure it, is an open question. But doing nothing is even worse.

      You wouldn’t get a cowboy builder to fix your house, would you, rather, you’d try to find out in advance whether someone has a good reputation in his trade or not. No different with telecoms.

      Coming back to this news story: Proper assessment of market demands and capacity and planning for future upgrades is essential.

    12. Avatar Data Analysis says:

      “Where does it say BT is one of the worst rated companies in the UK? I only see a weighted average of complaints, no customer ratings. ”

      Oh sorry you want to see how bad they are compared to companies as a whole rather than just ISPs
      Hows..
      http://www.pleasepress1.com/phone-rage-index/

      for starters.

      WARNING i can find links to show how crap they are compared to ISPs and other businesses at things all day, so please do continue.

    13. Avatar Data Analysis says:

      As to openreach and their accolades……
      http://www.theconstructionindex.co.uk/news/view/serial-offender-bt-back-in-the-dock-again-for-dangerous-roadworks

      Congrats to them on being number one for dangerous and disruptive roadworks in south London, worse than even Thames Water

      Like i said we can compare them to other organisations non telecom related also if you wish…… I have a feeling this is going to be fun LOL

      Best you just stick to actual “rational and objective viewpoints” than dreaming of them.

    14. Avatar Gordon says:

      LOL BT not only rubbish but proud to be it and argue even further about how rubbish they are.

  3. Avatar oops-bt-fooled-me-again says:

    But they provide far to much ammo by letting the customers down on a daily basis… 🙂

    1. Avatar brianv says:

      Poor dimensioning to begin with. There’s nothing unusual about Whittington* BT just grossly miscalculated take-up of FTTC. The same penny-pinching clowns are making the same mistakes across Britain.

      * nothing unusual there except a romantic ruined castle with moat.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whittington_Castle

      Not so many fibre subscribers living in there though! Another fine mess BT has gotten us into!

    2. Avatar AndyH says:

      @ brianv – Do you not think that if BT’s modelling for FTTC take up was “poor”, that you would be reading thousands upon thousands of people complaining and wide press coverage? Have either occurred?

    3. Avatar brianv says:

      @AndyH. But that’s what we are finding. Poorly thought-out, penny-pinching provisioning. Thousands of full cabinets. Millions of frustrated householders left with no decent broadband.

      According to the article, 1,970 cabinets are currently at full capacity across Britain. Causing delays of 4 or 5 months (or even longer). Leaving us in limbo and waiting for BT it pull out its finger and provision (and purchase) new subscriber ports.

      That doesn’t even touch on the fiasco with ECI DSLAMs – bought on the cheap by BT – which have no future upgrade paths. What a mess.

      p.s. please do explain why you are so “emotionally attached” to BT. A company with which you claim to have no personal involvement. Why the interest in BT Group PLC?

    4. Avatar Gadget says:

      Brianv – I think a bit of clarification is required for you – adding linecards where slots are available is a matter of days, adding tie-cables should generally be a few weeks, it is only when the cabinet is full to its maximum (or there is no duct space for additional tie-cables0 that longer delays occur, some of which could be outside of BT’s control such as planning, roadworks and power.
      Of course the simplistic solution is to build 100% of capacity from day1 – the ideal answer if cost of stores and stocking is not a consideration, otherwise JIT inventory management and the fine line balance between stockouts and unnecessary costs.

    5. Avatar TheFacts says:

      Checker still says available.

    6. Avatar brianv says:

      So BT’s wholesale checker is broken, too? Reporting port availability when there apparently is none? Does that surprise anyone?

  4. Avatar DTMark says:

    Just to confirm – this was a BDUK funded cabinet, but the local authority hasn’t paid any invoices for the work yet until it’s completed?

    Which is to say that a network has been built capable of servicing 90% at superfast speeds. That hasn’t happened yet, as this article shows.

    Withholding payment of the invoice(s) will focus minds and speed things up.

    1. Avatar TheFacts says:

      You are completely wrong.

  5. Avatar MikeW says:

    Strange story…

    Steve acknowledges that the cab in question – cab 24 of the Oswestry exchange – is commercial. In fact, the three cabs covering the village were all upgraded commercially in 2013-14. Why on earth would there be a link to BDUK or any “hard campaigning”?

    Codelook tells us that cab 24 is one of those that is part of the 18/2 trial. Perhaps this caused excess demand. Though, ironically, the checkers are saying that capacity is available right now.

    The supposed 4-5 month delays don’t come from just a new linecard, or more tie cables. It suggests a real need for a new cab. Has one arrived? Or are we just lucky to see one port having been cancelled?

    1. Mark Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      No that’s my mistake from misreading Steve’s wording about the BDUK programme, the cabinet is commercial. Corrected already.

    2. Avatar MikeW says:

      OK, thanks Mark. I don’t think your story is the only place that mixes up the BDUK aspect with the commercial stuff. Perhaps Steve said something himself that confused the stories.

      I see these cabs are ECI, while some places with existing ECI seem to be being augmented by Huawei cabs – and using the 288 variant.

      Ironically, it may soon become true that the fastest way to create capacity in an FTTC cab could well be the addition of a G.Fast pod instead. Less civils work, perhaps.

    3. Avatar brianv says:

      Only BT could conjure up something so cringeworthy. Tacking a G.Fast pod on the side of a cabinet to create capacity? How are they gonna ram that idiocy – just think of the crosstalk – past Ofcom?

  6. Avatar Patrick Cosgrove says:

    A delicious irony here as Deputy Council Leader Charmley is the person who pinned his colours so firmly to the BT mast for Shropshire’s Phase 2a – in the face of good advice to consider alternatives.

    1. Avatar paul j says:

      [Admin Note: Comment removed, pleased avoid personal abuse and trolling towards others]

  7. Avatar fastman says:

    its a commercial cab — not funded by Tex payer or any other funding

  8. Avatar jon says:

    cab 24 will have no more space for extra verts to take the tie cables required for extra ports, expect a side pod being added. similar to what happened to chirk cab 4 down the road

  9. Avatar fastman says:

    hiliarious this whole thread is a tirade about how a commercial company spends its own money

    1. Avatar brianv says:

      But BT is not really a commercial company, is it. Bankrolled to the tune of £2.5bn with public money.

      It should, by rights, be in state ownership. Where it can be properly monitored and properly audited to ensure value for money.

      Instead of being run like a charity case. Waiting for its next taxpayer handout to squander on dividend bonanzas for its billionaire shareholders.

    2. Avatar AndyH says:

      Nice to see some intelligent comments there.

    3. Avatar brianv says:

      BAE Submarines? Is that meant to reassure? Screwing the taxpayer is nothing new? Placing BT and BDUK in the same realm as dodgy defence contracts sounds about right. Al-Yamamah redux.

  10. Avatar fastman says:

    brianv you either don’t understand or don’t want to understand

    the £2.5bn was actually BT investment by its own Business to cover 66% of uk — no public money (COMMERCIAL PROGRAMME)
    the BDUk was tendered for and has to be match funded and I think that is in excess of another billion over and above the BDUK monies

    So commercial and BDUK currently coming close to between 3.5 and 4 bn funding from the Business

    all BDUK contracts are monitored and audited up to a period of 7 years —

  11. Avatar fastman says:

    brianv I assume out not old enough the Remember the GPO

    1. Avatar brianv says:

      Yup, the good old GPO. Employing 250,000 highly-skilled linesmen. Compared to BT’s grossloy overstretched 73,000 “technicians” of today.

      The GPO was an era for ‘getting the job done’. By the same afternoon. Or working through the night if needed. With generous customer compensation when it took longer.

      Now what? Expect five month wait for simple upgrade; to provision a new subscriber port.

      And they call that progress? Pathetic.

      Time to get the national telecoms infrastructure back on the public books. For the greater good of our nation.

      The private sector has a try at running things. It’s been an unmitigated, corrupt disaster. Time to put things right for Britain.

    2. Avatar MikeW says:

      Someone conveniently forgets the long waiting lists to get a phone in the first place. And forgets the fact that exchanges couldn’t be built, or grown, quickly enough in the sixties and seventies, to the extent that the GPO had a fleet of mobile relief exchanges. And forgets that the copper lines were in short supply too, forcing party lines on many.

      The months and months of delays back then were caused by the same thing as today … not because the engineers are bone idle or incompetent, but because they were busy installing things elsewhere. Oh, that and a lack of investment from treasury, who saw the GPO as a cash cow.

      http://www.lightstraw.co.uk/ate/main/mndx/

    3. Avatar brianv says:

      Err, no.

      Someone conveniently forgets what the GPO actually achieved over the space of a decade or so. Demand for telephones had hugely increased by the late-60s. The GPO responded rapidly to meet those new needs.

      Installing millions of new subscribers lines in just a few years, throughout Britain. A vast expense, heavily subsidized by the public purse, for which we should all remain grateful. Even today.

      This was a huge amount of new infrastructure. It became a critical national asset. But alas, then siphoned off, for pennies on the pound, through the obscenely corrupt privatization of BT in 1981.

      Imagine all that infrastructure work being done today. All those last mile digs. All those brand new poles, wayleaves settlements, and such. Rolling out virgin metallic paths to almost EVERY home in the country. Extraordinary effort by the state-owned GPO in breathtaking speed.

      This was a project on a scale that the clowns at BT PLC of today could only dream of replicating.

      If there is a parallel today it is a pitiful one. FTTH.

      Constrast that vast GPO programme of installing huge amounts of new copper plant in the 1960-70s — to the pathetic FTTH fiasco we witness now.

      FTTH – a grotesque, half-witted mess by BT. With FTTH passing just 0.3% of premises, more than a decade into the project.

      Leaving Britain squandering at the very bottom of the OECD league of nation for fibre availability.

      That is the legacy of a privately-owned telco incumbent: terminally starved of funds, suffering decades of neglect, and infrastructure decay on an unprecedented scale.

    4. Avatar MikeW says:

      Sorry, my friend. There was no one magic moment for the GPO. No breathtaking speed. Just steady growth over many decades, that happened to begin in the sixties. The peak was probably around 1 million lines per year, perhaps just over.

      60s: 6 million residential lines
      70s: 8 million residential lines
      80s: 6 million residential lines
      90s: 3 million residential lines

      The busiest time was beset by waiting lists, and the build was most certainly not subsidised by the public purse. It was paid for by its customers – just like any business – except the surplus was grabbed by the treasury rather than reinvested in the future of the business. A fact we absolutely certainly should not be grateful for.

      If you think that a million residential lines per year is a “project of scale” that can only be dreamt of nowadays, then I apologise for disabusing you of that notion.

      Digging holes in the streets isn’t the only measure of a project of scale. The original limitation wasn’t just in getting copper lines into the ground, but also (and probably more so) in getting enough exchange and trunk equipment built and installed.

      In comparison, BT upgraded (mostly post-privatisation) the entirety of the exchange equipment to System X and Y – a process that took 17-18 years – around 1.1 million residential lines per year (and a lot of business lines and trunk lines too).

      Since then, we’ve had 2 iterations of nationwide, exchange-based broadband equipment, one iteration of the core ATM network and two iterations of the core IP network. With LLU iterations too.

      In the phase of broadband growth prior to LLU (ie up to 2006), around 8.6 million DSL connections were taken up – mostly over a 4 year period. Around 2 million lines per year.

      I’m not saying that BT are doing anything special here: just that the GPO weren’t mythical supermen back in the sixties. To see similar non-BT rollout progress, just look at the LLU companies from 2006: they grew their DSL business by 6 million lines over 4 years – or about 1.5 million lines per year.

      The current FTTC deployment – putting tens of thousands of remote DSLAMs in the streets – has brought into reach 26 million properties (averaging 3.7 million properties per year), and is currently supplying 7 million lines (currently increasing at 1.5 million lines per year).

      The DSLAMs that are already out there, if fully populated, could likely supply 16-18 million lines. That’s bringing the project into a similar scale to the original System-X/Y rollout (if they chose to use their voice capabilities), but in half the time.

      If we (as a nation) chose to fully embrace an FTTP rollout, then I’d fully expect it to happen at a similar rate to the GPO in the sixties: reaching a million lines per year or just over (lower take-up, of course), or about one-quarter of the rate that FTTC reached homes. That, of course, matches the notion that an FTTP rollout would be roughly 4-5x the cost of an FTTC rollout.

      As for imagining an FTTH rollout – we don’t need to. We can just watch the VM rollout instead (amid the complaints about the streets being dug up). Project Lightning is currently running at around 400,000 premises per year, including Ireland. They need to speed up somewhat to hit their targets to (the figure might not surprise you by now) about 1 million premises per year.

      Are you sure the Sixties were magical? Perhaps we should invoke the old meme: If you can remember the sixties, you weren’t really there.

  12. Avatar fastman says:

    brian V — I assume you angst if you don’t have Fibre or don’t want to fund it — love to fiund out which on it is

    your comment terminally starved of funds, suffering decades of neglect, and infrastructure decay on an unprecedented scale.

    actually that’s what happens to a nationalised industry !!!! sory of British Rail in the 1980’s or so —

    your figures are just barking

    Employing 250,000 highly-skilled linesmen (really that was the total Uk workforce — majority – probably at least 2/3rds of those where never engineering). Compared to BT’s grossly overstretched 73,000 “technicians” of today – that figure of 73 is the whole of the UK employment — less that 30,000 of those work for OR

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