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WIK Study Finds Consumers Still Confused by Fibre Advertising

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2020 (1:15 pm) - Score 2,088
copper vs fibre coppersaurus

A new study by WIK, which was commissioned by the FTTH Council Europe, has found that consumers are still being confused by the use (or abuse) of the term “fibre” in broadband ISP advertising, which can just as easily refer to slower hybrid connections (e.g. FTTC using copper and fibre lines) as it can a “full fibre” (FTTP) service.

Most “full fibre” (FTTP / FTTH) broadband ISPs can generally deliver significantly faster speeds (1Gbps to multi-Gigabit etc.) than metallic cables and are generally much more reliable, particularly over long distances. Experiences do vary, depending upon the network setup and length of the line, but generally there’s a huge difference in performance (Will the real fibre optic service please stand up?).

Despite this there has long been a debate about whether or not it’s right or fair for significant slower and less reliable services, such as VDSL2 based Fibre-to-the-Cabinet (FTTC) packages, to be able to also promote themselves as being “fibre broadband” products. Meanwhile the rising availability of FTTP networks across Europe has created more interest in solving this issue.

However, so far, the United Kingdom’s own Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has successfully resisted attempts to change their stance (here). The ASA previously found that “fibre” was not a priority identified by consumers when choosing a package; that those consumers did not notice “fibre” claims in ads and, finally that they merely saw it as a shorthand buzzword to describe faster broadband.

The report, prepared by WIK, attempts to reignite this debate by finding that European consumers are confused about the terms used to market broadband access technologies, and find it difficult to identify which networks provide the best performance. “Consumers often think they have fibre access when in fact they do not,” said the council.

The study found that the strongest and most effective interventions in the market to correct this have been driven by the National Regulatory Authority (NRAs) or Digital/Telecom Ministry of the country in question rather than the Advertising Authority. Those interventions have ranged from a labelling regime in Italy introduced by AGCOM to a prohibition on the use of the term “fibre” in France, except where fibre genuinely reaches into the home or premises. But many countries, like the UK, have yet to adopt any such changes.

Fibre Advertising Measures by Country (EU)

fibre_advertising_rules_by_eu_country

The council’s view is that advertising watchdogs have competence over advertising, but may have less expertise to “grasp the wider implications of different technological solutions for broadband, and have no mandate to promote the objective of fostering investment in, and take-up of fibre networks.”

Vincent Garnier, Director General of the FTTH Council Europe, said:

“We call on European policy-makers to address the issue of misleading advertising and we believe that when assessing cases, the experience of NRAs would make a huge difference. The revision of the Broadband Cost Reduction Directive is also an opportunity to address this critical issue and the FTTH Council Europe proposes the introduction of a ‘fibre-ready’ label for new buildings and major renovations.”

WIK’s report also includes some new policy recommendations, such as new EU level guidelines, which even if they were adopted would have no impact in the UK due to our imminent departure from the block (Brexit). As it stands the UK’s own ASA seems very unlikely to change its course, unless the government demands that they do so and they’ve shown no sign of doing that.

Admittedly it would be very difficult to unpick something that has long since become established in the consumer subconscious, where the meaning of “fibre” has been diluted over a decade of use (or misuse) by slower hybrid (part) fibre services. On the bright side we do think that people in the UK are becoming much more familiar with the meaning and advantages of FTTP and “full fibre” terminology, which bodes well for the future.

WIK Policy recommendations

Actions have been taken in a number of countries – including France, Italy, Ireland and the Netherlands – to address “misleading advertising” in relation to fibre. These actions have been justified on the grounds that misleading advertising prevents consumers from making an informed choice and affects competition in the market.

From a telecom perspective, the case for action has, if anything, been strengthened by the inclusion of an objective for the European Commission, BEREC and NRAs to foster the availability of and access to very high capacity broadband networks, as fostering uptake requires consumers to be properly informed about which products meet the desired criteria and what benefits these products confer. However, in practice this change would not have any impact on the conclusions that may be reached by Advertising Standards Authorities across Europe, as they have no mandate to promote this policy objective.

A review of the schemes that have been introduced around Europe, clearly demonstrate that the strongest and most effective forward-looking interventions in the market have been driven by the National Regulatory Authority or Digital/Telecom Ministry of the country in question rather than the ASA. In contrast, while their impact can be significant, few competition authorities have intervened in this area, and their decisions concern specific cases.

Our review suggests that the clearest and most user-friendly approach could be the introduction of a labelling scheme, similar to the traffic lights introduced in Italy, whereby technologies with differing characteristics would be colour coded. This would enable customers to clearly compare broadband services in terms of their performance and, potentially, environmental characteristics. A coding system which distinguishes between FTTH, FTTB and cable-based services, FTTC/NGA FWA and ADSL would best meet the need to distinguish the different technologies that have been deployed across the EU.

Such a scheme could be applied in a similar manner to current labelling applied for energy efficiency.

The approach taken in France where only ISPs delivering fibre into the home or premises are permitted to use the term ‘fibre’ in advertising materials is another model that has merit in its simplicity.
Guidelines could be considered at EU level to foster the involvement of NRAs and/or Ministries across Europe and better align policy approaches to advertising broadband with the objectives established under the Code. Legislative action to introduce a mandatory labelling scheme for broadband covering performance and potentially environment characteristics, could also be considered.

In order to avoid problems seen in Italy concerning advertising of products which are not widely available, in addition to specifying the design of the label and associated criteria, guidelines should also be provided which ensure that customers are informed when certain products are not widely available, and what the alternative options are.

We recommend further analysis based on consumer research to confirm the design and validate the effectiveness of the chosen scheme that could be promoted through guidelines and/or legislation.

Leave a Comment
36 Responses
  1. Billy Nomates says:

    Maybe they shouldn’t be allowed to call copper twister pair, or coax “Fibre”. The ASA’s decision on this makes no sense at all and in fact confirms the average customer doesn’t know/understand the difference. Therefore the ASA ALLOWED ISPs to deliberately confuse customers.

    Now we’re starting to get actual fibre, this is only going to get worse. I applied for gigabit voucher, Openreach came back with “sign your neighbours up too and we’ll think about it” .. except all the neighbours already thought they had fibre.

    It’s wrong for ISPs to call it fibre when it isn’t fibre, and it’s wrong of the ASA to enable them to do so.

    1. A_Builder says:

      It is a very good point on FTTP uptake that until the incumbents stop calling FTTC, DOCSIS & GFast fibre it will limit the uptake of real fibre!

      So, I suspect we might see OR launching an advertising campaign to point out the difference. Once that is FTTC and GFast are transparently named,…

      VM won’t be happy: tough.

  2. Paul says:

    The terminology is wrong, I was explaining to a friend at the weekend. FTTC should not be allowed to be called Fibre.

    1. New_Londoner says:

      @Paul
      Why shouldn’t “Fibre to the Cabinet” be shortened to “fibre broadband”? Ditto “Fibre to the Basement” etc? Just because some people intend “fibre broadband” to refer exclusively to FTTP doesn’t make them right.

    2. Paul says:

      @New_Londoner

      It should be called Hybrid Fibre imo, it’s wrong that FTTC and FTTP are both referenced as fibre.

    3. Matthew Skipsey says:

      @New_Londoner

      By your same tact, why shouldn’t ADSL2+ be called “fibre broadband”?
      After all, there’s fibre to the exchange?
      Of course I’m being provocative, but really the logic holds true if you’re talking about the difference of 1-2mi of copper (ADSL2+) vs 0.3mi (VDSL) of copper across a 100mi total route distance of that broadband line (customer’s home to core data centre/remote end).

      Really, the ASA should get their head out of the sand and admit they were wrong and change their advice.
      Our industry is full of jargon and with this ambiguity, no wonder there’s so much mistrust out there.
      Clarity, honesty and education is what we need to help drive take up of FTTP and take people on that journey of slow, unreliable copper services to future-proofed full fibre.

      What we are finding is that customers are often quick to complain their broadband is unreliable, slow and generally low performing, and when you tell them that they can get full fibre (and would largely solve their problems), they say they already have this. When in fact they have DOCSIS or VDSL.
      This is in an age when most of us are forced to WFH – and connectivity is critical for our livelihoods.

      Do consumers know the difference between “fibre broadband” vs “full fibre broadband” when we’re (industry wide) marketing?
      Probably not. They probably believe they are the same thing. They both have fibre in the description.

      My definition:
      Fibre broadband should be where it’s fibre to the home, and really I mean fibre to someone’s actual home. Meaning that by changing the ONT, fibre optic module or other NTE equipment in the home, customers should be able to have a future-proofed connection for decades to come with very little to no infrastructure changes in the network (you’re not having to replace the cables to the home in this scenario).
      Therefore I don’t believe those alt-nets who are running fibre to the basement and then using CAT5e/6 to each flat should be called fibre broadband. There comes a point where that CAT5e/6 cable is the bottleneck and has to be replaced in much the same way we’re talking about this with twisted copper/coax.

      I fail to see why we’re still having this debate in the UK especially as FTTP availability is approaching a fifth of the country but take up is lagging way behind.
      We need the country, for the benefit of our productivity and prosperity, to switch onto the best infrastructure available, (if it’s available at an affordable price to those who can get it, which hopefully it should be).
      If things like terminology, confusing, mixed-messages exist, then someone can do something quickly to solve this.

      It’s not too late.

      Matt Skipsey
      Head of Giganet & CTO

  3. Michael V says:

    The problems I see is that companies do not make the effort to educate consumers.
    My mother has Fibre, but until I explained she didn’t know the difference or that it is Fibre To The Cabinet.
    That’s certainly not full fibre.
    I had this conversation with Vodafone a few years ago when I signed up to the new contract.
    They push the SPEED benefits but forget other benefits.
    The ASA & Ofcom need to step up & do some actual work with the ISPs.
    ADSL vs Fibre & Full vs Fibre.

    Virgin Media have been the worst with this part copper part fibre that even I got lost on.. and I consider myself to be up to speed on tech stuff.

    1. Meadmodj says:

      Some FTTP providers also use a copper element.

    2. Rahul says:

      They don’t because it is against their pecuniary interest!
      Why would Openreach and its ISP’s inform consumers that they aren’t receiving a pure Fibre service?

      This will result in consumers looking for alternative choices and turn to alternative providers who will provide them with full fibre and Openreach will lose customers.

      Also because the country hardly has any full fibre coverage, albeit 18% coverage, but that’s still too low. There’s little point in marketing FTTC as a Hybrid Fibre service. Consumers have little choice. Until now it is either Superfast FTTC or Standard ADSL.

      Most customers will remain gullible, so keeping silent is the best strategy from providers so that way customers won’t complain and demand Full Fibre.

      Eventually, I believe when the UK does get a larger UK FTTP footprint, like 70% only then FTTC will be marketed as a Hybrid, to get customers off the FTTC service in order to migrate to FTTP.

    3. Fastman says:

      rahul

      i assume you have then rejected your FTTC service and returned to ADSL as a point of principle no – i thought not

    4. Rahul says:

      @Fastman: No, of-course not. I have FTTC, I won’t go back to ADSL as a protest that FTTC is not the real FTTP that I want. It is against my interest and against most people’s interest. They are not going to boycott FTTC and punish themselves by sticking to ADSL just so they get FTTP. If this protest really was viable, we would’ve long had FTTP by now.

      Since this technically isn’t realistic we have no choice but to stick to the best service that we are provided, which is FTTC for now.

      Let’s just say even if we had an altnet FTTP coming out of the blue. We would still be kinda helpless that we have no other choice to choose from. We are stuck with that one provider unless we can all move to another house.

  4. Granola says:

    What else could get away with this ?
    Could any motor vehicle be classed as a hybrid because it has a starter motor for example, I think not.
    So how do they continue to get away with this ?

  5. Ropeman16 says:

    If it’s only part of the way, then it’s only partly fibre.
    That makes it just a FIB!

  6. Mel says:

    Things are going to get real confusing as real fibre is increasingly marketed, although presumably once an ISP starts pushing their own FTTP packages they will be quietly dropping the “Fibre” term in the advertising and description of their VDSL packages.

    I was talking to someone last year who had ordered a “fibre” package, who thought that someone would come round to hook up a fibre optic cable until I explained to him that the service he’d actually ordered was fibre to the cabinet. They decided to cancel and stay with their virgin cable service, due to their past experience with a lousy telephone line.

    If the ASA think it ok to call FTTC fibre, then why not ADSL, it is Fibre To The Exchange presumably, even a good old dial-up service if you can still find one would go via fibre at some point :o)

    1. The Facts says:

      ? Why pay for an expensive ISP when you can connect for FREE to the Internet.

      What does it cost?
      0844 calls cost 3.95p/minute peak, 1p/minute off-peak (6pm-6am) and 1p/minute at weekends from BT lines

      Not my definition of free,

    2. Buggerlugz says:

      Good god, do those things still exist in 2020????!!!

      I remember freeweb and freeUK back in the day when the internet was a far better nicer place.

    3. Amy Matthews says:

      Didn’t;’t say people should use it – it’s at AOL weekend rates too.

      I just found it on the back of that comment 🙂

    4. NE555 says:

      > although presumably once an ISP starts pushing their own FTTP packages they will be quietly dropping the “Fibre” term in the advertising

      Not BT, who are happily selling products which may be delivered as either FTTC or FTTP, *at their choice*. These are “Fibre Essential”, “Fibre 1” and “Fibre 2”.

      If your property has only copper or only fibre then they’ll use that. However if your property has both, it’s not made clear. As far as anyone can make out, Fibre 1 and 2 are delivered as FTTP, but Fibre Essential is normally delivered as FTTC – unless the speed would be below some (unspecified) threshold in which case they use FTTP instead.

      Confusing? Nah.

      On the plus side though, not having different products means you pay the same price for fibre as you do for copper.

    5. NE555 says:

      Nippynet is a remarkable service: http://www.nippyinternet.co.uk/dial_up/index.html

      “Whereas other ISPs share your internet bandwidth other customers (contention), our dial-up internet service provides you with the fastest possible connection by giving you a dedicated path directly to the internet. Not many internet service providers do this – most make you share your connection with 50 to 100 other people, sometimes more!”

      That’s amazing. For every dial-up port, they have a dedicated leased line to the Internet!

      Perhaps the simpler explanation is that they only have one dial-up port. In that case, if you get a busy tone, it will be me enjoying my dedicated 56K connection.

    6. The Facts says:

      @AM – company dissolved 2018.

  7. Winston Smith says:

    I’m not sure why the general public should care about the technology used to deliver broadband.
    If phonons transmitted over taut string delivers the advertised performance, who cares if it’s not FTTP.

    1. Rahul says:

      Well, that would be fine as long as they were honestly being informed what they were getting.

      Because it is advertised as ‘Superfast Fibre’ this is deceiving for most people as they are only getting Fibre to the local street cabinet and the rest travels via copper. It does not deliver the advertised performance, when distance to cabinet is a clear determinant factor in whether you’ll receive the full 80Mbps download and 20Mbps upload. That’s what’s wrong with FTTC. It is also affected by crosstalk, weather interference, SNR noise margins. If you are not lucky, you will suffer performance issues.

      80/20 Mbps package on FTTP is guaranteed to deliver. Whereas 80/20 FTTC can be more like 55/15 Mbps for some people with cabinets that are 500+ meters away.

      I still see many Gaming Laptops in PC World with specifications at £700 equivalent to a basic desktop custom built computer at £350! Because I build my own PC, I cannot be cheated. But if everyone was informed like me to build their own rig, PC World will go bust.

      Fortunately for Openreach, Virgin Media and most altnets, consumers are stuck with what they have. They can’t build Fibre for themselves and install it in their house with the exception of a few villagers. So we as consumers have no choice but to choose from one of the main providers.

    2. Buggerlugz says:

      Which is why Virgin should be made to unbundle their coax to the homes on the same streets.

  8. FibreFred says:

    “which was commissioned by the FTTH Council Europe”

    I didn’t bother reading after that…

    1. Fastman says:

      wonw what a surprise – FTTH group dont like anything else other than FTTP – wow – what a surprise

  9. The Facts says:

    The term ‘full fibre’ seems to indicate FTTP. It’s a bit like ‘full HD’ means 1080p.

    1. GNewton says:

      The term ‘fibre broadband’ means FTTP, as simple as that, even if you or your ASA friends don’t understand that.

    2. FibreFred says:

      “The term ‘fibre broadband’ means FTTP”

      To you it does

      Not to me,so no not as so simple as that

  10. Aimdev says:

    Bottom of USwitch page on Broadband
    Fibre broadband is available to over 95% of the United Kingdom.
    When did this happens, overnight, I am amazed.

    The ASA are useless, taking over a year to ban BT’s ‘most powerful router in the universe or whatever’
    Big surprise, I am now surrounded by BT wifi.

    So whats the new name for real FTTP, is it FFFTTP? (work it out!!)

    1. rmu8547 says:

      Proper Full No Really Honestly This Time Fibre To The Property (PFnRHTTFTTP). It’s catchy, I’ll give it that.

      Joking aside, this did catch me out some years ago. When posters started appearing locally for “fibre” and Sky contacted me to let me know I could upgrade “fibre”, I jumped at the opportunity only to find it was of course FTTC which increased my speed marginally and pricing significantly! Being from Hull originally I’d taken fibre to mean the same as KCOM’s FTTP roll out, how wrong was I.

      Similar to others, when I started trying to get neighbours to signup to as interested in FTTP they thought they already had fibre…

  11. jay says:

    I don’t personally see an issue with just using the terminology that is already in use
    Fibre = FTTC
    Full Fibre = FTTP

    1. Aimdev says:

      Well in a perfect world FTTC should be called Hybrid Fibre, for that is what it is, but then more people would question what that meant,
      and probably more people would have not bothered, if they appreciated the truth and realised radio signals do not work too well
      down twisty wires.
      Over 610,000 subscribers are not getting Superfast (24Mbs) service in the UK, but still pay the same as other subscribers getting
      over 24Mbs to 38Mbs.
      Also in the perfect world BT should have gone from ADSL to FFFTTP (aka Full Fibre) and skipped the rip off FTTC system.
      Perhaps the solution is for our government to tell BT/OR all dslams made by the Chinese, out by 2025, that may focus them.
      Also, BT wasted time and money trying to compete with Sky on TV services, why?

  12. Andrew Clayton says:

    It should just be called as what it is. VDSL/FTTC, FTTP etc. Established technical terms and you know exactly what it is you’re getting and what ballpark speeds you could expect.

    While we’re at, this *fast nonsense needs to stop also…

  13. Neil Farnham-Smith says:

    Even as someone immersed in such products I often use the predicted speeds as a final identification of the actual connectivity in use when viewing competitors products.

    The marketing of typical speeds makes things even more confusing as each provider shows a slightly different average speed for each networking type.

    The use of the word fibre was always misleading if used for any connection which isn’t fibre from end to end.

    But consumers really think of broadband, fibre, full fibre as “their WiFi”. The WiFi doesn’t work or I have problems with my WiFi. Often blaming the ISP for issues because they have conflated WiFi with their DSL. Most of my day job is helping them understand the two are different things and for the purposes of solving issues must be treated separately.

    I feel the changes forced upon the industry, such as marketing typical speeds has only increased complexity and confusion. When more misleading terms such as fibre have been left in place.

  14. G Cot says:

    Whilst there is a difference, and the line where it is drawn is contentious. You could start questioning if there is any microwave, fibre, cat6 patch lead, etc. in any part of the route to the final destination (the exchange, the regional distribution point etc.)
    Selling based on speed bands would seem to make sense. The only problem with the energy efficiency style with A as the best you end up with A+ and A++ a few years down the line.
    Take a leaf from the twisted pair book, quote min guaranteed download and upload speed
    BB1 = 2/0.5 BB2 = 10/2 BB3 = 30/10 and so on colouring BB blue and heading through green to a shade of yellow (similar to energy ratings) mandate all to show their speed. As speeds increase, drop BB1,2 etc and shift and add higher numbers as needed.

    That way the transport really becomes less meaningful and the delivered speed the actual measured and saleable product.

    I don’t really mind if my electricity comes via aluminium high voltage with a transformer and copper final connection, a high voltage DC link and an inverter or a personal wire to the power station. All that matters is the voltage/frequency is within spec, and I get the capacity I pay for 80A connection etc.

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