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Tackling the 330Mbps Speed Limit in Some Openreach FTTP Areas UPDATE

Wednesday, June 26th, 2019 (12:01 am) - Score 7,326
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One of the little known gripes against Openreach’s on-going UK rollout of “gigabit capable” Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) broadband ISP technology is that some newly deployed areas are still limiting the network to a top download speed of 330Mbps (50Mbps upload), rather than supporting 1Gbps speeds.

At present Openreach aims to cover 4 million UK homes and businesses with their ultrafast “full fibre” broadband ISP network by March 2021 (1.3 million have already been completed) and there’s an ambition for 15 million by around 2025. After that they also have an aspiration to reach “the majority of the UK, if the right conditions to invest are in place.” All good news.

The network is often promoted as being “gigabit capable” and indeed the operator’s top FTTP tier does offer a Gigabit download rate of 1000Mbps (220Mbps upload). On top of that ISPreview.co.uk recently revealed that they were preparing to conduct trials of several new symmetric speed Gigabit packages via XGS-PON technology (here); their older FTTP network uses GPON and 1Gbps areas can be upgraded to the newer XG-PON standard.

All of this represents a marked improvement over their pre-Fibre First deployments, which were limited to 330Mbps. Nevertheless some consumers and communities continue to be left surprised by the fact that a few recent deployments can sometimes be limited to a maximum speed of 330Mbps and it’s unclear whether they’ll ever be upgraded.

NOTE: GPON means Gigabit Passive Optical Network, while XG-PON is faster and XGS-PON faster still (we won’t go into the details as they vary by implementation).

Extract from a Complaint to ISPreview (one of several)

“We signed up with Openreach last August for a community fibre partnership (a 200 house estate). The project has been a long drawn out shambles but is now finally meandering to a conclusion. We are “surprised” to find that the ‘Gigabit capable’ network we were sold is only an ‘up to’ 300Mbps down.”

Generally this problem can stem from three particular issues or a combination of those. The first issue is the simple matter of ISP choice and consumer awareness about what’s available. At present most Openreach based ISPs with an FTTP product will only offer the top 330Mbps tier because this is comparatively affordable for consumers and capacity / costs to the ISP should be manageable (similar story with G.fast).

Meanwhile only a small number of ISPs offer their 500Mbps and 1Gbps tiers (e.g. Spectrum Internet, Cerberus Networks, FluidOne and Syscomm), which are more expensive (£500 +vat connection fee etc.) and aimed at small businesses (Openreach isn’t pricing them for residential use). Some of the ISPs that do offer this are also more regional in their focus and so may not serve all 1Gbps capable areas.

NOTE: The £500 +vat setup fee for 500Mbps and 1Gbps tiers actually forms part of a reserve, which is put aside to cover a future upgrade to XG-PON technology (i.e. when capacity on the existing PON is exceeded).

The second issue is one of capacity (backhaul). In some areas 1Gbps may in fact be possible via Openreach’s side of the infrastructure but we note that certain checkers / networks, such as BT Wholesale’s, may only report 330Mbps initially; at least until the capacity has been upgraded to support faster speeds (varies from location to location).

The final issue, which is perhaps the hardest to resolve, relates to the constraints of ECI based Optical Line Termination (OLT) kit. The 500Mbps and 1Gbps tiers are deployed nationally using a Huawei head-end, which supports 10Gbps capable GEA cablelinks (capacity supply). The problem is that areas with ECI OLTs don’t support those Cablelinks, which restricts how fast certain areas can go.

Any attempt to upgrade the ECI side of things to Huawei, or that of another supplier like Nokia (Huawei’s fate in the UK is presently somewhat uncertain), would be complicated and require a fair bit of coordination (there are different ways of doing this). For example, some suggest that the operator might even have to go into every premises connected to the PON on the same day or face downtime, although others disagree.

Suffice to say that at present Openreach does not appear to have any plans for an upgrade, which isn’t such an issue now but further down the road it may become more of a problem. On the upside we understand that the operator doesn’t use ECI anymore in their new “fibre cities” (Nokia and Huawei) and are not deploying ECI FTTP (BDUK areas and New sites also use Huawei), other than infill where they already have ECI PONs.

One final point to make is that the scale of this problem is still fairly small. We believe that well below 50,000 total homes passed are currently covered by ECI kit that cannot serve 500Mbps or 1Gbps and only some of those will even be connected to an active FTTP service. So while the volume of those in this boat may increase a little over the next few years, it’s not something that will impact the vast majority of their FTTP deployments.

UPDATE 5th July 2019

A Spokesperson for Openreach has now issued the following canned statement: “Only a tiny proportion of our FTTP footprint, covering less than 50,000 premises, is limited to 330Mbps download speeds – and we’re constantly working on ways to upgrade and extend our network. We’re investing billions of pounds into FTTP ahead of widespread consumer demand, and all of our current and future build is capable of offering gigabit speeds.”

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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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57 Responses
  1. Avatar adslmax

    You don’t need faster than 330/50 at present for all residential for FTTP. The same goes for G.fast 330/50. But, I am still on FTTC 80/20 and that’s more than enough for next few years.

    Why need 1000/220 or 550/220 for home users?

    • Avatar Mike

      Why should everyone else be limited by your ability to use the internet?

    • Avatar Kevin

      People used to say that about the consumer 512k ADSL limit, no home user needs 2Mb, lol.

    • Avatar Pete

      Well said adslmax. I bet one of the complainants to ISPr in a CFP scheme doesn’t realise that most of his fellow residents (assuming a residential area) will only take out the 80/20 tier or less on FTTP – never mind 330/50 or 1000/220. However Openreach aren’t stupid and know full well that 330/50 isn’t going to cut it forever but IMHO when that day comes, they may be better prepared to swap out the ECI kit for Huawei/Nokia/other kit. In the meantime, 330/50 or less for your average punter is going to be perfectly fine for many, many, years (at least a decade imo).

    • Avatar Tim

      It’s like saying “Why purchase a 150mph car when a 70mph car will do”.
      Simple.. Because we can.

    • Avatar Stewart Buchanan

      I have several games consoles in the house. Current game installs can be 50-100GB on day one, with frequent updates being over 10GB for a single game. Try downloading all that on a single console on an FTTC connection and you soon see the benefit of FTTP. Now add in several consoles doing all these updates simultaneously, others in the house streaming 4K content and gaming online, and FTTC, even at it’ max, is sorely unsuited.
      FTTP can’t wait come soon enough.

    • Avatar Dipak

      Poverty of vision

    • Avatar Conor

      @Stewart Buchanan
      You may be in for a shock. Quite often I see game downloads/updates @ < 100 Mbps on my 330 FTTP line. This is on my Xbox One X. So you could have the world's fastest FTTP line but it means diddly squat if the gaming servers (in my case Microsoft Xbox) aren't fast enough.

    • Avatar Mark

      It’s nice you guys have what in our house would be considered insane speeds. But instead of making the fast faster maybe free up the engineers to come and make our area more than 4mb down and 250kb up? Just an idea…maybe..then go back to giving you data junkies some obviously much needed extra juice.

    • Avatar DerfelUK

      Mmmmm, Bill Gates once said 640Kb of Ram is enough for anyone!

  2. Avatar Mike

    OR had better get a move on, VM/altnets/5G are on the horizon…

  3. Avatar GoodNews

    The final issue regarding the ECI OLT replacement and all premises on it needing a visit on the same day isn’t true. The WDM at both ends caters for multiple OLTs so this isn’t an issue.

    • Avatar Jim Weir

      Yes that is an absurd suggestion. As long as the ONT / ONU firmware is correct it is perfectly possible to replace the OLT having preconfigured the new unit.

      If firmware isn’t compatible it is just a prior step to update before moving the port to the new OLT

      You lose the management added features of using a single ecosystem but that is already true of the ECI deployment today.

  4. Avatar Cei

    So if I have a 1000/220 capable line, and currently on a 300/45 service, which technology will I currently be using and will it be upgraded to 1000/1000 in the future? Install date was Jan/Feb this year in one of the Fibre First cities.

    I’m fairly happy with the current speed, but an upgrade to 500mbps would be tempting. Prices for gigabit are, however, completely bonkers from Openreach despite the other specialist providers being far cheaper.

    • Avatar Ixel

      If you see 1000/220 as being available then I believe you’re on a Huawei head-end. As long as the ISP sells the package of either 500/165 or 1000/220 and there’s sufficient backhaul then I imagine an upgrade is possible.

  5. Avatar Christopher Woodhead

    I have 330/50 and I want faster, when you have 100+Gbps Xbox one x games you need faster. Virgin offer faster packs and cheaper.

    • Avatar Joe

      No game needs faster thats bonkers.

    • Avatar Jake4

      The Xbox content servers won’t be able to handle above 1gbps due to limiting each connections speed and the device itself wouldn’t be able to benefit from it.

    • Avatar searedjaguar

      To be honest with 380/36 on virgin I find I download peaking at 240 sometimes, but, then again this is held back by the HDD In the xbox one X, Next Gen consoles will have SSD’s and your games will be able to download at maybe 500mbps or more.

      I have an SSD in my pc and believe me I can see why a faster connection will be amazing with the right hardware.

      No SSD then there is no really much point to 300+ unless you have 3 to 4 people downloading at the same time on slower devices.

    • Avatar mike

      Even a cheap HDD these days can write at over 100MB/sec (that’s 800Mbps).

    • Avatar Blueacid

      @Joe – the game itself doesn’t need the speed to play, but if you’re sat at the games console menu, watching a progress bar creep up – “8GB downloaded out of 72GB, time remaining before you can play 2:32 hours”, every extra bit of speed can be worth it.

      Not saying it’s the end of the world, don’t get me wrong, but reducing the delay if easily possible would surely be good!

    • Avatar Christopher Woodhead

      I have a Samsung 860evo SSD in my Xbox one X and was a great upgrade. And I max out the connection when downloading a game so there is room for improvement for BT to increase speeds to 1Gbps. It’s very frustrating when other company’s offer faster speed at a cheaper price, and I can’t even get faster speeds when I have fttp.

    • Avatar Phil

      100Gbps games? What friggin games are these?

  6. Avatar zen master

    We had FTTPod installed last year and they used ECI gear for us, very disappointing as we use our line for businesses and would greatly benefit gigabit Internet, plus the gigabit voucher scheme is supposed to be for gigabit capable connections so Openreach are crooks

    • Avatar GNewton

      FTTPoD won’t make sense for many businesses. The Achilles’ heel is the slow upload speed of 30mbps, a far cry from a gigabit-capable service. Most small businesses are better off using an altnet, or a proper leased line. And in some cases they still may have to move to a more suitable location, as the availability of proper fibre still is like a postcode lottery.

      This country is incredibly backwards with regards the availability of widespread fibre networks. Decades of failed policies by bigger companies like BT can’t be rectified overnight, it will take time to sort out the mess.

    • Avatar searedjaguar

      wouldn’t that cost an absolute fortune?

    • Avatar Mike

      Don’t think it’s fair to blame BT given they wanted to fiber the country in the 90s but were blocked by Thatcher.

    • Avatar Jonny

      A leased line will often be cheaper than FTTPoD over a three year period, as well as coming with a faster upload speed and better SLAs. The main advantage of FTTPoD is that after a year it just becomes a normal FTTP service so you can go back to paying broadband prices for it.

      You then have to gamble over whether the connectivity options available to you over that 36 month period are likely to improve to decide whether a leased line is worth having. They’re certainly a lot cheaper than they were a few years back, though this does depend to an extent on your location.

    • Avatar Olly

      @GNewton I hear what you’re saying about upload speed. Sure enough, for media agencies or any business uploading lots of data, the upload speed will be the burden. But I disagree that full symmetrical speeds should be the default. They should be AVAILABLE, but not default.
      Speaking from a hosting company’s NOC, we frequently see massive DDoS’ from infected kit on residential networks. Increasing upload speeds 10x by default would push our attack ingress sizes to 10x also, which would be absolutely catastrophic.
      So yes, higher upload speeds should be available for upgrade for sure, but not by default by any means.

  7. Avatar Nic Bedford

    Is there anyway to find out if you on an ECI head end with the slow cable links? BTW checker shows my max as 330/50, so I guess there is a good chance I could be affected

  8. Avatar Nobroadband

    I think I am in the the wrong universe!
    I am still measuring my speed in Kbps
    And if another person tells me to get a mobile aerial I will punch them in the nose!

  9. Avatar Mr realistic

    With Openreach technology is only part of the problem. For instance with higher bandwidth FTTP i.e. 300Mbs and above, you need to control the bandwidth flow to Openreach. If a customer takes a 1Gb service then the port speeds needs to restrict the upload bandwidth to 220Mbs otherwise Openreach with deliberately drop packets. This we assume is to stop Openreach having to use valuable processing power to throttle the incoming data from the ISP. This is a waste of money and energy. Having 1Gb symmetrical services would negate that need.

    But the real problem is cost. The higher bandwidth products are so expensive even to the ISP’s. Then you have to get the data out of the exchange. If you rely heavily on Openreach infrastructure 10Gb backhaul between exchanges is so expensive when compared to 1Gb backhaul. The NGA cable link which connects the Openreach head end to the ISP network in the exchange is cost effective. You simply cannot get out of the exchanges. That is why most ISP’s don’t offer the higher speed services. Many that do use BT Wholesale rather than Openreach but the prices go even higher.

    The Altnets have a massive advantage at the moment. Their networks are not that huge so they have adopted better equipment from day one and the cost of replacing any older kit is not that great.

    Openreach on the other hand are having to upgrade kit before they have completed their network build. In some cases we believe that we are on third generation FTTP builds.

    Therefore for the next few years I suspect we will still see many different speed and technology offerings from Openreach depending on where you live. But this time the speed and cost differences will be even greater. Add into this Altnet activity and choosing a supplier and service is going to be mighty confusing.

    • Avatar CarlT

      First paragraph is wrong. PON works in a similar way to DOCSIS so ONTs are told by the OLT when they may transmit and for how long. No throttling happens inbound to OLT.

    • Avatar Jim Weir

      @Realistic

      I think you’ve got confused. Bandwidth management doesn’t work that way regardless of the transport layer or the headline speed band.

      For ISP’s they have a wide range of choice for exiting the Openreach Access Network, and that is a very competitive segment, with BTWholesale as a provider of last resort (ie they will generally be the most expensive option but is universally available).

  10. Avatar Tony

    To comment on another part of the article. We have signed off and paid for a CFP and Openereach (contractors in the main) have come along and done bits and pieces of the build but have now disappeared and not been seen for over 5 weeks with the excuse of ‘waiting for wayleaves’ and ‘permits’. I have just fired off an email to enquire as to why the install has stopped? The whole lot is a total of 146 properties past and mostly they are bypassed by existing duct (some of which brings in the main cables from the network) and su=ince all these ducts were apparently cleared about three years ago when FTTC was given to the other 11/3 of the village I don’t anticipate much problems there. Anyway it seems in general that CFP’s are allocated a very low or non existent priority even though we are paying for the service. typical Openreach/BT?

    • Avatar Tom Mitchell

      Tony, I was just about to comment separately when I read the inline comment in this article referencing a complaint about a CFP being a long drawn out shambles. Unfortunately, this was the case for me too when I accepted a CFP quotation for FTTC, so prepare to be bold, brave and be acting as a free-of-charge implementation coordinator for Openreach for the foreseeable future. It took OR 15 months to commission 1 x FTTC cabinet supporting 288 end users, with commissioning being completed only on 1 May this year, by which time I considered FTTC technology more or less surpassed by FTTP. After initially providing me with a document to support my campaign which had over 150 addresses on it which already had native FTTP provision, I mentioned in advance things like that the cast iron cabinet would require a reshell. This was completely ignored and this was only identified post the 12 month expected timescale. Not only that, the positioning of the new cabinet is 105m from the PCP under some trees, and no thought was put into how to power the cabinet at this location, so it took another 8 weeks to dig up the road and carry power provision from a residential supply. Stick with it and make sure you double-check your contract and highlight any parts of the contract you feel OR are in breach of. Good luck!

    • Avatar Fastman

      interesting comment

      by which time I considered FTTC technology more or less surpassed by FTTP.

      interesting have you only had a quote that covered only 100 premises your gap would have been significantly greater that what I would assume it actually was as Openreach made its commercial gap considerations using the total number of premises as the time.

      these are complex engineering project and sometimes there are challenges around siting and permissions. the distance wont have any impact on the speed (so not sure what point your trying to make (it sounds like it was a challenge to site – that not easy and can cause significant delays.

    • Avatar Fastman

      interesting you are co funding a percentage of the infrastructure build which the rest is being funded by Openreach. which is why its called a Gap (funded by money or vouchers) these are complex networks to build why lead time are complex and hard. if there is a wayleave that needs to be signed , nothing will get done until is is resolved (is that within the community the wayleave is required. I am aware of one community objected to the siting of the infrastructure it was funding – thereby delaying their own project

      these things are signicantly more complex and challenging that majority of people realise and there are very specific rules around wayleaves and working in Public / Private land

    • Avatar Phil

      FTTP on demand is similar, it gets a very low priority with no SLAs provided, despite the customer paying in some cases significant amounts of money. Many people their FTTP on demand is a year or so before completion, with a large amount of time passing where nothing happens.

    • Avatar Fastman

      FOD is even more of a challenges especially if there is a significant infrastructure build to get to a single premise

  11. Avatar Brian

    Should try downloading games on 4.5/0.45, slowest download 104 hours

  12. Avatar FibreFred

    Is anyone actually griping about this? Being “limited” to 330 down? 🙂

    How many more people would be happy to be limited to that!

  13. Avatar John Birtchet-Sharpe

    I live in a suberb of a town (so not in the sticks) and openreach has not even supplied us with standard fibre.. this sort of article is just daft .. their are 27+ million homes in the uk.. I bet there are more without access to real 3mbps download speed then those supported by 330Mbps. Run those numbers and get back to us with an article that is not advertising fluff.

  14. Avatar Brin

    myfi.wales have just connected the 200th property, outlying 5kms from hub.
    speeds 960 down, 960 upload 1 ms ping zero packet loss
    cost NO installation charge, £30/ month.
    By the villagers for the villagers. not bad lol

  15. Avatar Silverback

    I would welcome the new faster internet, currently on 54 very slow, just spoke to a customer service advisor in Dublin, there not willing to raise the speed up to 72 which is the max limit here at the moment..So my question is I live in a quote rual area, North Devon when will is be available to myself.? Oh this was BT by the way, and the new Hub system there pushing at the moment on Tv, is no better then the system I already had, in fact the new hub system is more slower and more laggy.

  16. Avatar Chap

    I read that there is the possibility of OR switching to fit 1+0 ONTs (possibly Nokia ones). If this happens will they be compatible with Huawei OLTs at the other end?

    Also, does anyone foresee a time when the ONT and router are combined in a single ISP supplied unit much like xDSL routers are/were?

    • Avatar Simon Heather

      I have certainly seen combined FTTP modem wireless routers in Spain where the yellow fibre optic cable comes out of the wall and straight into the router. Although this means just one box which is neater I prefer the UK approach of providing a separate ONT and being able to use whatever router you want. My experience of the wireless performance on the combined router was quite poor.

  17. Avatar Kenneth Scroggie

    Why is Openreach FTTP only 330/50 or 1000/220? I’m on Vodafone’s Gigafast on City fibre 1000/1000.

  18. Avatar Kenneth Scroggie

    Yeah. Obviously. What I don’t get is why their upload speed is so slow. Mine is the same as my download speed. Their network must be capable of the same.

    • Avatar GNewton

      The slow upload speed is one of the reasons why FTTPoD doesn’t make much sense for businesses. You should always go with another network provider if possible!

    • Avatar CarlT

      Conscious decision to avoid the Openreach FTTP network being the bottleneck. Vodafone / CityFibre it doesn’t really matter as there’s just the one operator available. Over the Openreach network the CPs that buy from Openreach expect 100% performance all the time so Openreach play it safe.

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