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Rise in Impact from Full to Capacity UK FTTC Broadband Cabinets

Monday, August 17th, 2020 (10:09 am) - Score 6,938
fttc cabinet shropshire

The latest independent data has predicted that 2.07% (up from 1.8% in May 2020) of UK premises could be affected by full to capacity FTTC (VDSL2) based “fibre broadband” street cabinets on Openreach’s (BT) network (this can stop you from ordering a new service), but some areas are being hit harder than others.

We 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).

At present Openreach has around 90,000 live Fibre-to-the-Cabinet (FTTC) offering street cabinets (DSLAMS) via roughly 5,400 enabled exchanges. At any given time, a small but variable proportion of these may run out of spare ports for new lines, which often prevents new orders being completed (i.e. waiting list) until extra capacity is added.

Thinkbroadband runs their own independent analysis of this problem, which in May 2020 put the figure at 1.8% and this has now risen slightly to 2.07% in August 2020. However, the overall figure masks the fact that some areas have a much higher proportion of cabinets stuck in a waiting list and naturally those at the top are in some of the remotest areas (i.e. where it may take longer for new kit and engineers to reach).

The Worst Hit Council Areas

  • Isles of Scilly 23%
  • Orkney Islands 17.46%
  • Isle of Wight 17.41%
  • Shetland Islands 10.49%

The latest analysis suggests, for example, that in ideal circumstances (i.e. no capacity problems) around 96.43% of UK premises should be able to order a superfast broadband (30Mbps+) service via any network today, but this drops to 94.39% due to Openreach’s VDSL2 cabinets being full (88% 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 between 2.6% to 2.7% for March 2020 (unchanged from Nov 2019).

Aug 2020 Coverage Impact Due to FTTC Capacity Issues (%)

Region Waiting List Impact (% Premises) 30Mbps+ Coverage After Impact
UK -2.07% 94.39%
London -1.35% 96.23%
England -1.96% 95.05%
Northern Ireland -1.52% 88.42%
Scotland -2.77% 91.59%
Wales -2.94% 92.15%

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 problems in different ways and not all are as transparent about such issues. Likewise we don’t imagine port capacity will be too much of an issue for FTTP due to how it’s deployed (G.fast is another matter but take-up of that is light).

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 migration, 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 as older ones exit FTTC. 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.

So far the COVID-19 crisis doesn’t appear to have had any real impact upon the official waiting list figures (it’s been higher in the past than now) and Openreach told ISPreview.co.uk, “we’ve not seen any fluctuations to cabinet capacity during Covid.”

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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.
Leave a Comment
27 Responses
  1. James™ says:

    I tried ordering g.fast for a relative and TalkTalk said they had no capacity left on the exchange but think they meant cabinet.
    When you check BT they let you order.

    1. Mark Jackson says:

      What does the BT Wholesale availability checker say for G.fast?

    2. CarlT says:

      I’d say the most likely course of events is that TalkTalk have a capacity issue between their network and the Openreach kit carrying G.fast.

      They haven’t released FTTP everywhere they are connected to for much the same reason.

    3. Mike says:

      Try another provider.

    4. James™ says:

      @Mark, Just checked and says G.fast (WBC FTTC Availability Date) is Amber

      And another provider wasn’t a choice due to their budget and was only £28 with TalkTalk, BT was wanting £40 and Sky wasn’t showing available either.

    5. John says:

      Amber availability on G.Fast just means it’s an engineer install and not a self install.

      Most G.Fast is Amber.

      I think self install was only ever trialled?

  2. Jamie Simms says:

    What I find interesting is that this seems to be happening more regular in even urban areas.

    But just today Vodafone have launched a second line service for people working from home at a very good price and I understand EE will follow suit very soon. BT have already done this but does this mean that some people could have two ports in a cabinet yet the next door neighbour could move in and be told sorry no space in the cabinet for you ?

    1. John says:

      It’s pretty rare for them to build a 2nd (or even 3rd) cabinet to ease capacity issues now.

      The preferred capacity upgrade is now the VDSL sidepods which look identical to theG.Fast pods.

      The only reason I can see for them adding a new cabinet is if both sides of the PCP already have a pod or PCP’s with a wall or lamp post very close by, blocking a pod being installed.

      Installing a VDSL Sidepod is quicker (no roadworks permit required), cheaper (no plinth needs installed) and should give better performance (much shorter tie cables) compared to installing a whole new fibre cabinet.

    2. A_Builder says:


      VDSL side pod is a new one to me: although very logical as it simplifies and expedites at the same time.

      Wonder if the GFast pods can supply VDSL as well – should be possible depending on the cards purchased…..

      The “problem” may also be caused by higher uptake and 2nd lines to support WFH so Zoom calls don’t seize up when the kids do homework. Although ironically higher uptake of faster tiers of FTTC makes a better case for FTTP investment.

    3. John says:

      VDSL sidepods have been around a while.
      They contain Huawei MA5818 DSLAM’s (which can do G.Fast but VDSL line cards are used).

      Codelook recently started showing where VDSL Sidepods are installed on PCP’s.

      There’s no way to tell the difference between a G.Fast pod and a VDSL pod from looking at them.
      It might be the same MA5818 DSLAM inside both? (No idea what G.Fast DSLAM’s OpenReach use).

      They’ve been discussed on the kitz forum a fair bit.

    4. A_Builder says:


      Thanks for that – I learned something

    5. Jonathan says:

      On my exchange they eventually added a breakout cabinet in the grounds of the exchange to cover the exchange only line. They installed a large Huawei cabinet. Fairly quickly it was full and they installed a second large Huawei cabinet. That was less than two years ago. The second cabinet went in *after* they added g.fast pods to all the original PCP cabinets (I was checking to see if a g.Fast pod was added to the breakout PCP from time to time which is still a no). Both cabinets now have the extension bits on the side. For two of the g.Fast pods Openreach must have been on the crack pipe given how few people can order g.Fast from them. Bizarrely the third has near universal g.Fast coverage at >200Mbps as far as I can make out.

      Then again all these cabinets where all BDUK funded because they where not commercially viable. Again Openreach/BT must have been on the crack pipe when they came up with that excuse. Moral of the story Openreach should never be trusted *EVER* when they claim something is not commercially viable. They are either utterly incompetent or brazen liars.

    6. Fastman says:


      Then again all these cabinets where all BDUK funded because they where not commercially viable. Again Openreach/BT must have been on the crack pipe when they came up with that excuse. Moral of the story Openreach should never be trusted *EVER* when they claim something is not commercially viable. They are either utterly incompetent or brazen liars.

      you clearly no nothing about commercial case and aow it played about to determine national criteria it depends what exchange and what cab it was (so you comment They are either utterly incompetent or brazen liars. is factually incorrect unless you have the entire decisionsing process of every exchange and cab in the country (or understand that not – no thought not) – your through process is driven by one cab in one exchange (hardly great science where there is close to in excess of 95,000 street boxes or more in the uk

      actually there will have been significant clawback on the scenario you mention

  3. Adam Jarvis says:

    I raised the FTTC capacity issue in April. In terms of an update, the FTTC cabinet in question that I referenced, has only recently become available again after 4 months of showing “waiting list”. This has led to the situation of being locked into a new contract with the existing provider that I would have preferred not to be.

    Worth stating:
    Notifying the MP for the area, the local councillor/town council+council making a formal complaint to Ofcom and BT/Openreach back in April, made absolutely no difference to the timeline to get this fixed.

    To do all this, takes a massive amount of time and effort and it’s shocking how collectively all these people/organisations (especially ‘utter waste of space’ Ofcom, failed in the respective roles, to take action to get this resolved promptly, given Openreach workers were designated as ‘key workers’ and Broadband an essential service, during the lockdown.

    The cabinet in question also affected at least 100 other people, in terms of being unable to switch providers during this time.

    ** The role of Ofcom / BT Openreach needs a root and branch review **, just not acceptable to have a single point of failure “FTTC Capacity issue” that prevents switching providers, taking up fibre.

    Intend to pass the findings to the Communications and Digital Select Committee chair, what happens when there are no other avenues to pursue.

    1. The Facts says:

      What would you have expected Ofcom to do?

    2. Andrew Ferguson says:

      Well the solution is to always install 120% capacity and thus retro fit the network to that level at their own cost.

      Downside is that this will impact on roll-out of things like FTTP since teams will be busy doing other stuff.

      Pretty sure Openreach would also use this a case of base line prices to increase, since their costs are increasing eg. line cards, link cables, extra cabinets paid for so costs need recovering from somewhere.

      Ofcom position is generally promote competition so there is a choice of multiple networks. For those areas with no prospect of competition then its a long process time wise for Ofcom to mandate things.

    3. JmJohnson says:

      I can see the frustration here however Openreach had stated they were falling back to faults and core infrastructure.
      New installs and works required were put on hold… I imagine that includes upgrading a cabinet for additional capacity.

    4. A_Builder says:

      “I can see the frustration here however Openreach had stated they were falling back to faults and core infrastructure.”

      Equally Clive Selly was quite clear that socially distanced work could and would continue.

      This kind of work can be done socially distanced.

      So I’m not sure why you would think they want to commercially delay it as the more ports connected = more income for OR.

      As I said above the big capacity squeeze has more to do with businesses ponying up to pay for 2nd connections. The fact this is a thing is evidenced by the majors offering packages for this: they wouldn’t if it wasn’t.

      However, this does mean that when FTTP is a thing the number of discreet terminations will fall – as you won’t need two discreet termination if the bandwidth of one will do.

    5. CarlT says:

      https://www.ispreview.co.uk/index.php/2020/05/the-impact-from-full-to-capacity-fttc-broadband-cabinets-2020.html#comment-222534 is informative but the rant below is quite funny.


      So it’s not like installing a line card. 3 way lights, permit required, advanced notice period would not have been short due to non-emergency nature of works and traffic control required.

      There’s a really good reason your complaints have fallen on deaf ears. While you were fortunate enough to apparently have days to spend on the phone / writing to everyone possibly related because you wanted to change provider and believed you couldn’t Openreach, running on reduced staff, were not.

      Contractors were sick/isolating. Openreach staff were sick/isolating.

      There was a special code for orders for key workers. They were prioritised for repairs, provisioning and, indeed, network build.

      I know this because an issue of mine I was told would not and could not be resolved in the normal way due to available resource.

      Openreach built FTTP clusters to connect doctors, other medical professionals, scientists, surgeries, etc, to facilitate those key workers working from home to help the nation function during a pandemic and the NHS convert to telemedicine.

      They should, clearly, have dropped it all to plan and request the required permits and traffic control to upgrade your cabinet because you couldn’t change provider.

      By all means complain to DCMS. Openreach can point to the frankly amazing work they and some other telecomms companies did between March and June, and continue to do as they work through backlogs.

      Still it’s your own time you’re wasting. Unfortunate you’re wasting taxpayer money too.

    6. Adam Jarvis says:

      I’ve heard some pathetic excuses from (potential) company stooges in my time, but the ones you’ve mentioned take the biscuit. Four months plus, to fix the FTTC capacity of a single cabinet, isn’t Covid-19 related, it’s utter incompetence from everyone involved including BT, Openreach, Ofcom and Competition and Markets authority, BDUK and Superfast Cymru (for failing to tie up contracts to prevent the sweating/hot running of cabinets). The sheer complexity/clunkiness of the process involved, the fact that Openreach have no public face, dealing with the general public.

      It’s an utter embarrassment to all concerned, no other words for it. And yes, this has been passed to senior management at Openreach, and the relevant select committee(s) and I certainly don’t see it as a waste of taxpayer’s money bringing this matter up.

      You have the utter cheek to say that I’m potentially wasting taxpayers money, aka. just another pathetic excuse of saying ‘keep your mouth shut’.

      The real waste of taxpayers money is the lack of competence and sheer complexity, in dealing with such issues, it’s certainly not from bringing this matter to the public’s attention.

  4. DaveyO says:

    If a cab comes up on dsl checker as under review does this mean it’s full or a cabinet is to be built ?

    1. Fastman says:

      means its not built

      woudl be very surprise if any more FTTC is provided which is probably why this underreview

  5. Jat says:

    I went on the sky website and it says “Sky broadband superfast is not available”. Then i went on the bt wholesale checker website and it says “waiting list”. In February this year, it said available and now its not available as i changed to virgin?. I have fttc available in my area and the bt fttc cabinet is outside the house. I had fibre broadband 6 months ago working perfect and now its not available?…….

    What can I do, can bt fix this?

    1. Squidgy says:

      There are no available ports in your cabinet . There is nothing you can do except to check availability regularly if you wish to return to FTTC, a port may become free or Openreach may add capacity

  6. Paul M says:

    I’ve got relatives in Witham, Essex, and there was no vdsl/fttc capacity and we waited four months, neither BT not Zen could offer service. When it did become available we ordered that day, just in case the new capacity was used up quickly.

  7. Jat says:

    On my street there are two bt cabinets, one of them is a telephone cabinet with the cabinet number on it and 10m away is a BT ECI DSLAM FTTC Cabinet,

    what i dont undertsand is, is why there are two cabinets? Is the bt ftcc cabinet where my broadabnd comes from? Surely my broadband would come from the bt telephone cabinet?

    Also, there is a copper cable over my house connected to a bt pole?

  8. Daniel Henry says:

    I have tried to Join EE from BT and was told there is no Capacity for EE to take over, I was told this can take weeks to months,not sure what to do as My contract ends this week and have been trying my best to get updates EE Have a good broadband deal, so I’m going to be penalised for being out of contract but can’t change supplier

    any one got any suggestions ?

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