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Shortage of High Capacity Optical Cable Biting “Full Fibre” Broadband ISPs

Saturday, August 5th, 2017 (12:01 am) - Score 1,933
green fibre optic cable expansion

Some fibre optic broadband ISPs in the United Kingdom and elsewhere in Europe appear to be suffering from a shortage in supply of certain high capacity optical fibre cables from major European manufacturers, such as OFS and Tratos, which in some cases is causing huge delays.

Over the past week several Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP/H/B) providers of varying sizes in the United Kingdom have informed ISPreview.co.uk, in confidence, that they’ve been struggling to buy large fibre count cables (especially 192f and 288f cables) and some related kit, which is needed to extend their networks.

As a result the providers are saying that orders, which might normally be completed within a couple of weeks (lead time), are now taking up to 2 – 6 months to fulfil (depending on the size of order / cable, supplier etc.). One of the ISP’s claims to have been told by OFS that it’s a “world-wide problem with demand from the big players soaking up capacity combined with a shortage of pre-forms from China.”

Demand for optical cabling is certainly on the rise (see some examples of recent news here, here, here and here), which is obviously being fuelled by the increasing roll-out of new FTTP/H based ultrafast broadband networks and that’s just as true in the UK as it is elsewhere around the world.

Suffice to say that supply and demand can be a tough cookie to balance and in this case at least some of the main suppliers appear to be lagging behind the demand, which means they’ll have to build more capacity. However there’s a fear that the shortage at some outlets may persist into 2018 and possibly also 2019, although so far none of the manufacturers have responded to our hails with a comment.

The shortage is likely to be less of a problem for major players like Openreach (BT) and Virgin Media, which we’d assume would have plenty of existing stock. Similarly any orders they make are also likely to be larger and suppliers will no doubt prioritise them. However smaller ISPs could be more exposed, especially community projects that often operate on a hand to mouth basis and may not order large quantities due to limited cash.

The good news is that this problem only appears to be affecting large fibre cables, while smaller cables (e.g. ones with 72 fibres) still appear to be in good supply. One workaround might thus be to adopt smaller cables and use Coarse Wavelength Division Multiplexing (CWDM), which combines multiple signals on laser beams at various wavelengths, to deliver the needed capacity (some see this as being a short-term position, while others prefer smaller density cables and so haven’t been hit by the problems).

At present most of the ISPs we spoke to appear to view the situation as being “manageable“, at least for now. Meanwhile others have already begun the hunt for a new supplier and we suspect they won’t be alone.

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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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13 Responses
  1. JustAnotherFileServer

    ….and these cables can’t be made in the UK because???

    • bob

      They’ll cost 4 times as much to produce and destroy the margin on the products the isps are selling.

    • CarlT

      What bob said. Wages in China are less than 1/3rd of those in the UK. Raw materials are cheaper too. We are an island with minimal natural resources.

    • Worth pointing out that the article focuses on EU distributors to the UK, not China to the UK. I’m not sure how much optical cable in the UK stems from Chinese manufacturers, but my email is always being spammed by the latter.

  2. George M

    Because of the past 40 years of political mismanagement of the economy. Politicians don’t want manufacturing industries so no help for them.
    Other Governments did help manufacturers so they make the stuff and the UK is a consumer. This wont change going forward.

  3. Tim Howard

    I don’t think it’s just a shortage of cables, it is also a shortage of skilled resources to deliver projects. Isn’t it about time not only BT invested in apprenticeships but the other providers also do the same?

  4. ali

    Perhaps when seeking ‘Fibre’ one should search using the rest-of-world spelling of ‘Fiber’, of which there seems to be an abundance of suppliers located in the part of the world which manufactures nearly every other components involved in delivering or using the Internet…

    https://www.alibaba.com/showroom/192-core-fiber-optic-cable.html

    https://www.alibaba.com/showroom/288-core-fiber-optic-cable.html

    Many of them even claim to dispatch within 7-10 days of payment, to your choice of carrier which of course gives the option of air freight if the “2 – 6 month” delays mentioned in the article are intolerable!

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