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The Impact from Full to Capacity FTTC Broadband Cabinets – 2020

Wednesday, May 13th, 2020 (10:24 am) - Score 7,556
bt fttc street cabinet phils photo

The latest independent data has predicted that 1.8% of UK premises could be affected by full to capacity FTTC (VDSL2) based “fibre broadband” street cabinets on Openreach’s (BT) network (down from 3.8% in April 2019), which might in some cases stop you from being able to order a new service.

ISPreview.co.uk first reported on the challenges of “full” street cabinets and their impact upon consumers in 2016 (here), which explained why such cabinets fill up, the problems that it can cause and how long it may take to resolve via upgrades (i.e. anything from a few weeks for a simple line card change to several months, or possibly longer, if additional civil engineering is required).

Toward the end of 2019 Openreach had c.90,000 live Fibre-to-the-Cabinet (FTTC) offering street cabinets (DSLAMS) via around 5,400 enabled exchanges (up from 88,500 cabinets and 5,300 exchanges at the last update). At any given time a small but variable proportion of these may run out of spare ports for new lines and that can prevent new orders being completed (i.e. waiting list) until extra capacity is added.

Think broadband runs their own independent analysis of this problem, which last April 2019 put the figure at 3.8% and this has now fallen to just 1.8% in May 2020. A fall here is good news and perhaps to be expected now that the main roll-out of FTTC technology has largely completed and FTTP is growing.

The analysis suggests, for example, that in ideal circumstances (i.e. no capacity problems) around 96.37% of UK premises should be able to order a superfast broadband (30Mbps+) service via any network today, but this drops to 94.6% due to Openreach’s VDSL2 cabinets being full (88.5% if only looking at Openreach’s network).

NOTE: Openreach’s official figure for the number of cabinets (NOT the same as premises coverage below) in their “waiters list” is 2.7% (Nov 2019). We don’t have a more recent figure.

Coverage Impact Due to Capacity Issues (%)

Region Waiting List Impact (% Premises) 30Mbps+ Coverage After Impact
UK -1.83% 94.6%
London -1.24% 96.3%
Northern Ireland -2.15% 86.9%
Scotland -1.86% 92.8%
Wales -2.57% 92.7%

Take note that this data only considers the impact of capacity issues via Openreach’s national FTTC network and not that of other platforms. Different networks handle different types of capacity issues in different ways and not all are as transparent about such issues. Likewise newer G.fast and FTTP services on Openreach’s network are not yet a factor above and we don’t imagine port capacity will be an issue for FTTP due to how it’s deployed.

Unfortunately if you happen to live in such a “full to capacity” area then this can cause frustration when attempting to order a new FTTC package or migrating your service, particularly if the ISP accepts the order and begins the switch only to later tell you that they cannot complete it. Some ISPs can be quite appalling with how they handle these situations, but in other cases the provider may simply be caught out by a sudden change in status (post-order).

Furthermore there remains a lot of uncertainty over the question of how long consumers will have to wait before the issue is resolved and this is not well communicated by either Openreach or ISPs, which partly reflects the fact that it’s difficult to be accurate with such things.

We should point out that in some cases Openreach may need to build an entirely new cabinet in order to cater for rising demand, which can be problematic due to labour / hardware costs, the need to seek planning permission, permits for road access, wayleave agreements, power supply requirements, local objections and so forth.

In addition, local demand is something that can go up as well as down, particularly if a rival network enters the area and thus some of Openreach’s existing lines may become available to new users. Installing more capacity than needed can carry an extra cost and so this is one of the reasons why big operators often prefer to scale as demand grows, rather than cater for 100% of local lines from day one.

Recently we have heard some people query whether the COVID-19 lockdown might have driven more upgrades from ADSL to VDSL2 lines and created a capacity problem, although the only evidence so far for that has been very anecdotal and other consumers have adopted more of a ‘wait and see’ approach. In any case the waiters list has fallen, which is good.

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34 Responses
  1. Avatar Josh Welby

    This is another good reason to ditch FTTC for FTTP to all premises
    in the UK, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and to rip up all
    of the Cable cables and replace thewm with Fibre Optic cables

    • Avatar 125us

      It’s not really, is it? The briefest of analyses will show that it’s more cost effective to add capacity to the small number of nodes that are full than it is to throw away an entire network.

      Your geography is a little off by the way – the UK is Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Great Britain is England, Scotland and Wales.

  2. Avatar Name

    I will never understand why they can’t provide n*10Gbit/s to each cabinet rather than upgrading by 1Gbit/s (or less) each time. Fibre optic cables are already in place. If that is not because they want to keep their field engineers busy then I don’t know whats the reason.

    • Avatar A_Builder

      The issue here is not the fibre coming into the cabinet but the availability of ports on the line cards that connect to the copper links.

      Why would you supply more capacity to a DSLAM than you needed? Is there any evidence that fibre capacity impacts FTTC performance – I’m not aware of any?

    • Avatar 125us

      Each of those physical links has to be terminated on something. If you double the number of 10Gb links to cabinets you double the amount of core network equipment you need and you double your backhaul costs. Given that people tend to buy whatever is cheapest, making your broadband product more expensive will reduce your sales. Having a more expensive network than your rivals and fewer customers is not sustainable.

    • Avatar CarlT

      They’d have to swap out the upstream interface boards in the DSLAM and the service boards in the OLT in the exchange.

      This would have to be coordinated to ensure that as each cabinet is migrated to 10G the fibre serving it is likewise moved to a 10G port.

      It may even require the moving of the cabinet to a different OLT, meaning all services need remapping to the new OLT and CPs need to be aware that the load on their Cablelink from the new OLT will rise while on the old it will drop.

      While that would certainly keep engineers busy it is unnecessary and would require tens of thousands of outages.

    • Avatar Name

      From my experience my broadband speed is slowing down for about every two years from 74Mbit/s (modem synced to 79998) to even 50Mbit/s and then it takes about three months to upgrade. The explanation from the BT is always the same, too many people connected with the highest available plan (80/20). So clearly in some cases it is about the uplink speed not free ports.

    • Avatar joe

      No. With FTTC you could have crosstalk and other factors as well.

  3. Avatar Gavin

    Would moving people to the gfast box make more lines available in the cabinet, or does the gfast line still use a cabinet connection?

    Where is England in the coverage impact list?

    • Avatar A_Builder

      GFast is totally separate.

      If you migrate from FTTC to GFAST the port in the DSLAM is freed up.

      With GFast the pod is in the PCP and there is no connection to the FTTC DSLAM apart from power and sometimes fibre.

    • Avatar Gavin

      @A_Builder

      So if OR mandatory transfered people closest to the cabinet to gfast then it would at least temporarily increase fttc capacity at the cabinet?

    • Avatar joe

      Yes. But you;d not be able to downgrade!

  4. Avatar Jamie Simms

    A_Builder – If you are on G Fast does that not use the same fibre backhaul back to the exchange than if you were on FTTC ?

    I have seen more people recently complaining of issues with speed during the day while lockdown is on, especially in areas where there is no VM or other Altnets and in areas where there large number of people working from home doing video conferencing but also have the kids at home.

    • Avatar joe

      Given the data use is not exceptional I’d be v cautious of such anecdotes.

    • Avatar Ribble

      G.fast pods have their iwn seperate 10gbits link back to the headend, but the article is about port capacity not backhaul capacity

    • Avatar lexx

      never seen such problems with the fibre backhaul on openreach

      but seen Sky and talktalk cheap out and not pay for enough Virtual bandwidth is another issues, as it happens in a number of areas where they was not paying attention to utilization and needed to pay for more backhaul bandwidth

  5. Avatar chris conder

    And so it came to pass.

    • Avatar Adam Jarvis

      Yep, so frustrating reading my own articles from ZDNet, (now 10 years ago) that are as good as the day I wrote them (sometimes written in through the night to have maximum impact, next morning), in terms of how FTTC and ‘pointless’ G.fast would pan out and turn into a ‘can of worms’ in terms of deployment/fault-finding.

      Impressive even to me (looking back at myself), given how quickly such articles normally date.

  6. Avatar Mike

    Is it possible to check at a cabinet level if it has a wait list ?

    • Avatar John

      Yes.
      Do an address check on the BT Wholesale Broadband Availability Checker.

      If the cabinet is full then FTTC will show “waiters list” instead of available.

    • Avatar Paul M

      Finding the wait list?
      Please can you post a url to the web page?
      I tried the bt checker and it didn’t tell me much.

  7. Avatar Philip Cheeseman

    “around 96.37% of UK premises should be able to order a superfast broadband (30Mbps+) service via any network today” – I always find this figure unbelievable. I’m supposed to get up to 35mbps but only got 30mbps when fttc was new. It’s now down to 20mbps. I know I’m not the only one based on forum comments I see. Does this figure come from actual measured speeds or theoretical speeds?

    • Generally it’s always an estimate. Unfortunately that’s pretty much the only way to do it without every single ISP and router getting firmware installed with tools for conducting performance tests on broadband lines during idle periods, which even then would have caveats.

      So there will be lines that fall below (often due to issues of poor home wiring or faults) and lines that deliver above. TBB, Ofcom and operators all have their own approach to modelling such figures, which generally tend to agree on the end result, albeit with some subtle variances (c.0.2-1% difference here or there etc.).

    • Avatar Mike

      We have the same issue in our village. A lot of people are very annoyed with their ISPs as the speeds are way below what is advertised. We have a village survey underway using the think broadband speed checker to collect actual speeds and I expect a significant number of properties will be below the OFCOM predictions. Happy to share the analysis when complete.

    • Avatar Andrew Ferguson

      If people want me to review what I have for a cabinet and postcodes off of it always happy to do so.

      Just need cabinet, exchange and which postcode in particular is wrong, plus some proof e.g. screen shot of line sync page from router.

  8. Avatar Nick

    The Biggest issue is Crosstalk by far doesn’t help Being on an ECI cab with no likely hood of any Vectoring.

    Gone from 80Mpbs being first activated on the cabinet to 54Mbps. Still getting the max 20mbps up. it now Pays to force the downstream SNR margin on my line upto 8-9db to reduce errors and keep DLM from turning on interleaving and losing yet more speed which would take it under 50Mbps.

  9. Avatar Adam Jarvis

    **A big thank you to Mark Jackson though for raising the issue again, partly on my behalf.**

    My own FTTC cabinet has hit capacity (others in the area contacted me, it’s a mix of overhead FTTP/FTTC), the reason I raised it (and with the local MP). I believe this to be as a result of a big switch from ADSL to FTTC due to remote working, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

    First call Ofcom. Ofcom were utterly useless, they only seem there to block complaints to protect their own narcissism. As useful as a chocolate teapot to be blunt and I have contacts with Openreach, and even then it was impossible to raise this as an issue.

    ISPs including BT Retail pass you to BT Openreach. Openreach won’t record capacity issues as a fault and pass you back to your ISP. Bear in mind too, many ISPs are taking 20 minutes to answer right now. This was a full day of calls, trying different approaches and I literally got nowhere. How a member of the non-technical general-public cope, I don’t know.

    UK based BT Retail orders department were extremely sympathetic (a big thank you to BT Retail for trying their best, even though I’m not a customer, though I did state I was thinking of switching to them ;)), as they did try to think outside the box on ways to solve this without compromising the BTRetail/BTOpenreach legal container divide issue.

    I then tried acting ‘thick’ and reported the cabinet as a fault, for the fact that I (and others) couldn’t place an order through any ISP, and still Openreach wouldn’t log this as a ‘fault’ or issue. It’s the luck of the draw who you get with Openreach and I really lucked out this time. Sadly, even my ‘thick’ was brighter than the person I spoke to.

    The problem here is the Government are saying “Work from Home”. OK, but that requires a fibre FTTP/FTTC connection and it highlights both the lax attitude of Ofcom in failing regulate cabinets from running ‘hot’ with no spare contingency for expansion due to exceptional circumstances and that here is no legal obligation on Openreach to provide additional capacity. Fibre is still a non-essential luxury in the eye of the law, another glaring issue.

    It highlighted that there is no legal obligation on Openreach to increase the capacity of a cabinet that is full. Openreach is utterly unapproachable on this matter. They seem perfectly happy to “sit on their hands”, wait for further funding under BKUK/Superfast Cymru before that expansion takes place on Market 1 Cabinets.

    Last point, I’ve reported the Openreach availability checker to Advertising Standards for displaying “Superfast Broadband coming soon” rather than advertising that the capacity of the cabinet is actually full and the reason the order can’t be placed. This ‘lie’ has the effect of reducing the number of complaints by obfuscating the true reason why there is no availability.

    So watch this space, on that front.

    • Avatar Andrew Ferguson

      When you say Openreach are not accepting the cabinet is at a capacity limit do you mean its not flagging as waiting on the BT Wholesale checker?

      Can usually find out what the capacity is and rough estimate for resolution if I ask, so need to know cabinet and exchange.

      If issue is FTTC capacity it will of course not affect the FTTP properties in the area, if it is then something else is going on.

    • Avatar Adam Jarvis

      It’s (still) flagged as ‘Waiting List’ on the BTWholesale checker. I had to explain this to the person I spoke to via the Openreach faults line, even quoting the BTWholesale availability checker website address at the time (as opposed to the BT Openreach one) so they could see it for themselves, pointing the ‘Waiting list’ info out in the top right, as they denied there was any problem with the cabinet.

      https://www.broadbandchecker.btwholesale.com

      The FTTC Cabinet has an expansion pod (not a G.fast pod). From what I know so far with a little digging, the problem is the lack of copper pairs between the PCP and the FTTC Cabinet. These are opposite corners of the 3-way junction and require road closure/temporary traffic lights for any work to be carried out between the two.

      The main concern is for small businesses in the town, as this pod also supplies the town. Businesses are currently closed and if any business decides to cut costs, ceases their line during the shutdown those businesses aren’t going to be able to get their broadband back as they start to get their business back up and running.

      It’s also a concern for those on a budget, looking to migrate to keep the costs down, as now they are reliant on their existing supplier offering any type of new contract deal.

      Regarding the figures/stats, any chance you can look at just smaller market 1 exchange FTTC cabinets, isolate those by region, and give the number that are at Capacity, as including larger exchanges dilutes the figures, I feel these FTTC cabinets are the ‘capacity hotpots’, having issues right now, and somewhat hidden from view.

    • Avatar Andrew Ferguson

      Excuse the tone, but not about to go running off to create a new table, tweak analysis code, run it, check results on a hunch that Market 1 exchange cabinets are capacity hot spots. i.e. a couple of hours work for what is likely to be nothing. Particularly as market 1 is defunct classification exchanges are market A or B now. Time much better spent working on FTTP coverage

      The Openreach people are correct you do not have a fault you have a capacity issue, two very different things.

      On migrations things are meant to have changed sometime ago so migrations even when at capacity should be possible.

  10. Avatar Adam Jarvis

    Andrew, excuse the tone back. Maybe you have a choice of Broadband suppliers/Technologies outwith BT, where you are.

    You’re missing the point – ANY FTTC cabinet that hits capacity, is a massive problem for those affected (imagine, it was your business) and the whole issue is obfuscated to buggery by Openreach’s “Broadband coming soon” lies, rather than stating a cabinet has hit its max capacity with the realisation, there is no legal requirement to add any further capacity on Openreach.

    Your time might be better spent on FTTP, fine. Not disputing that but there is zero prospect of FTTP, to solving this problem in the near future.

    However small the number of people affected, to those people it’s a huge deal if you can’t order FTTC, to get your business back up and running, as we start to come out this pandemic or finances are tight and attempts to migrate their Broadband to a cheaper supplier, fail.

    And from the information as it’s presented by clunky outdated Openreach systems. I really don’t believe the average person would have a clue regarding the technical reasons why they can’t migrate or order FTTC, when a cabinet does hit capacity.

    • Avatar Andrew Ferguson

      If members of the public reading this are waiting on VDSL2 capacity and it has been longer than a month of waiting then happy as always to chase with Openreach for individuals.

    • Avatar Nik

      Hi Andrew, Adam, Wellesbourne Exchange Cabinet 6 has been full for many months (My postcode is CV359UE). I am stuck with Sky and really want to move providers but can’t (Recontracted to Sky Superfast from Unlimited Pro and now capped at 40mbps instead of the 55 i was getting), BT and Zen reckon I can only get ADSL whereas Vodaphone and Talk Talk say I can get superfast. Obviously I’m not going to risk being de-allocated. I know other people will have it worse as they won’t be able to upgrade from ADSL at all but I wondered if you could find out if there’s a plan to upgrade anytime soon? I am thinking of getting an FTTPod connection but am hesitating due to cost and also I thought if the cabinet is full would they start FTTP instead of building a new cab if that is what is required?

  11. Avatar Tim

    Thank you for the comments posted thus far, most interesting and mildly mind numbing for a layman!
    I would just like to know when our cabinet, (having been FTTC enabled for more than two years) is actually going to be set live along the copper lines that we have here in rural Cheshire? No one appears to be able to give me any clear answer.
    Many thanks,
    Tim

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