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The UK Impact of Full to Capacity FTTC “Fibre Broadband” Cabinets

Monday, January 23rd, 2017 (3:27 pm) - Score 4,927
openreach fttc street cabinet engineer with beard working

A new piece of research estimates that around 3% of premises in the United Kingdom could be affected by a full to capacity FTTC (VDSL2) “fibre broadband” street cabinet on Openreach’s (BT) network, which might prevent you from ordering a faster service.

Last September 2016 we ran a special article on the subject of “full” street cabinets and their impact upon consumers (here), which explained why such cabinets fill up and the problems that it can cause. Back then we understood that around 2,000 of the 77,000 live street cabinets were full and awaiting upgrade.

Tackling capacity problems is a natural reality for all major network operators and many such issues are fairly quick to resolve, particularly if all that is needed is to simply fit an additional line card into a spare slot inside the cabinet. However where civil engineering work is required to install more equipment (e.g. adding an additional street cabinet) then Openreach told ISPreview.co.uk that the “average” wait was usually around 6-9 months.

Now Thinkbroadband (see TBB for the full table) has run the data and predicted that the number of cabinets affected by this issue ranges from 1,500 to 2,500 out of the installed base of 79,000 VDSL2 cabinet areas (January 2017 data). In terms of impact, around 89.8% of the UK can currently order a superfast broadband (30Mbps+) service via Openreach’s network but this coverage drops by -2.8% due to full cabinets.

Coverage of Superfast Broadband and the impact of cabinets which are at a capacity limit
Standard Coverage Figures Change Due to Capacity Limits
Region % ‘fibre’ coverage % superfast (30Mbps+) % Openreach superfast (30Mbps+) ‘fibre’ coverage 30Mbps+ Openreach
30Mbps+
United Kingdom 95.5 91.7 89.8 -3.0 -2.7 -2.8
London 96.6 95.3 91.5 -1.9 -1.8 -1.8
Northern Ireland 97.5 79.4 78.5 -3.0 -2.4 -2.4
Scotland 92.6 88 85.1 -4.7 -4.4 -4.3
Wales 94.1 88.9 88.4 -2.3 -2 -2.1

NOTE: “% fibre” reflects the raw fibre footprint, which also includes areas that receive sub-30Mbps speeds.

Unfortunately if you happen to live in such an area then this can cause a lot of frustration when attempting to order a new Fibre-to-the-Cabinet (FTTC / VDSL2) based broadband package, particularly if the ISP accepts the order and begins the switch only to later tell you that they cannot complete the upgrade / move.

Meanwhile other checkers may cause confusion by telling you that “fibre isn’t available“, even though most of the local lines might already be receiving it from the same cabinet (a little more detail on those availability checkers would go a long way to avoiding such confusion).

A Spokesperson for Openreach told ISPreview.co.uk in September 2016:

“Openreach has a dedicated team responsible for proactively monitoring take-up across all of our fibre cabinets.

The team considers a range of data to pinpoint exactly where and when more capacity is needed, and in the vast majority of cases we’re able to increase the capacity of a cabinet in plenty of time before it fills up.

On a small number of occasions, cabinets do reach capacity before we can upgrade them, usually as a result of an unexpected spike in demand or difficulties we face in adding the capacity needed.

Having said that, we do appreciate how frustrating that can be for the people affected and we work very hard to resolve these issues as quickly as possible.”

It’s worth pointing out that if Openreach has to build a new cabinet from scratch then that isn’t just a problem of hardware and labour cost. Complex delays can also stem from the need to seek planning permission, road access, wayleave agreements, power supply requirements and so forth.

As we alluded earlier, Openreach are by no means the only operator to suffer from such problems. Most of the time operators will get their forecasts right, but there will always be problem areas and delays.

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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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11 Responses
  1. AndrewH

    What’s the total cost to put in a new cab?
    Why not spend that on FTTP instead.
    There must be areas where that’s viable.

    • The AVERAGE cost per cabinet completed to date (FTTC only) is about £26,500 under Phase 1 of the BDUK programme, but this will obviously go up or down depending upon your specific area. FTTP usually costs substantially more and takes longer to roll-out, but it does depend upon the area.

    • Steve Jones

      Putting a second cabinet in will usually substantially less than the first as much work will already have been done. For example, there will be a nearby fibre distribution point with micro-ducts, the area will have been surveyed and there should be power nearby. No doubt there will be lots of examples where it’s not so neat, but having the backhaul in place will help a lot.

      In contrast, spending (say) £30k might only pass 30-40 houses, and given that this is a capacity enhancement issue, these new customers aren’t all going to be conveniently down one street so it can be done most efficiently. They could be scattered anywhere in the cabinet’s footprint. You’d also have to pass houses as orders came up, so it would look more like FttPoD (and that is an expensive way to deploy).

    • Steve Jones

      @Mark Jackson

      Isn’t that the average cost per cabinet to the public finances under BDUK and not the total all-in cost (which would include any BT capex)? I’m not sure we’ll ever know that as it’s commercially confidential.

      After my local cabinet was flattened by an errant car, the jointer who frequents the local pub claimed that it would have cost £24k for the cabinet, but I’ve no idea if he really knew. They replaced the cabinet in 3 days (including cutting and remaking 500 copper connections as the tie cable had been damaged).

      nb. It ran on batteries for 4 weeks (change 3 times daily) as it took that long for the local electrical distribution supply company to reconnect the power tails. I do wonder if there was some reason for that as, no doubt, it involved a lot of overtime swapping batteries, all to be paid for by the driver’s insurer.

  2. alan

    Is there any way to check if a cabinet is full or near full?

    I currently have FTTC but plan on migrating this year, my concern is being on a full or near full cabinet during the migration something happens, which basically means my spot in the cabinet is taken and im left with no connection.

    Any way to ensure this or similar does not happen?

    • Henry

      Try the BT Wholesale checker (address or telephone but not postcode versions): if the cabinet is full then it will say “Waiting List”. If so, then keep rechecking, as the cabinet becomes “Available” again either if Openreach expands capacity or if a single user stops their FTTC service

      THis does not help with “almost full”

  3. Sledgehammer

    I think what a lot of people are missing is the fact that BT can not supply 95.5% of the people with FTTC because they have not installed the capacity in the existing cabs and those FTTC cabs that are still not connected with power or fibre should not be included in this total.
    It would not be a surprise if BT only have enough connections to cover about 50%. So it’s going to take a very long time before they get anywhere near 95.5%.

    p.s its taken 3 years plus and my local cab is still powerless and fibreless thanks to BT for the speedy service.

    • Steve Jones

      Your cabinet must be very exceptional given that there are approaching 80,000 cabinets in service. There is, presumably, some insuperable reason as it makes not sense to spend money and not get any income. Is there some dispute over wayleaves, power supply or something simpilar

      As far as availability is concerned, then what matters is who can order it, not the take-up at any point. Petrol stations have a fraction of the capacity that they’d need if everybody decided to fill up on the same day (witness panic buying when there’s a hint of a shortage).

      nb. uncommissioned cabinets are not included in coverage by either BDUK or TBB

      Putting in capacity for every line passed is just bad economics. What really matters is just how often and for how long the great majority are unable to get an order filled.

    • Cabinets that have no power or fibre are not LIVE and thus not counted in the coverage figures.

      As to why cabinets are installed without 100% capacity the area covered see the second to last paragraph of my article at
      http://www.thinkbroadband.com/news/7619-how-big-a-problem-are-capacity-delays-on-openreach-vdsl2-cabinets.html

  4. Jazzy

    I couldn’t move from Sky to Plusnet because of this because I would have lost my spot in the cabinet.

  5. FastInternetPlz

    I am still waiting for Openreach to fit a Fibre Cabinet and its been over 4 years now 🙁 I need the better Internet and it seems everyone else in the areas surrounding us has better Internet. It just upsets/frustrates and infuriates me that its taking so damn long for them to even build the thing. Seems like by the time we get connected everyone else will be far ahead of us and we will be left behind……

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