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An Unusual Capacity Problem on Openreach’s UK FTTP Poles

Saturday, February 20th, 2021 (12:01 am) - Score 35,064
telegraph pole cbt fttp engineer

Network capacity problems come in all sorts of different shapes and sizes, but the case of one street in London shows that those looking to order Openreach’s swanky new gigabit-capable Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) broadband service may sometimes also run into an issue with there being no space for new lines on local poles.

At this stage the issue that we cover in this article is still somewhat of a rarity, but engineers inform us that it’s becoming more common as Openreach’s network expands. The operator’s full fibre network is currently available to around 4 million premises, but it could reach as many as 20 million homes and business by around 2025-30 (at a cost of c.£12bn).

In this case the problem occurred when we were informed that somebody living on a street in London, which had been covered by the new FTTP network a while ago, had found themselves being unable to get the service installed and activated – even though their neighbours had already been connected.

A relative of the individual concerned informed us that they had subsequently faced an 18-month battle with their ISP (BT) to get the problem resolved. Similarly, a quick check of local addresses revealed that FTTP was not listed as being available to the street (i.e. you couldn’t order it from an ISP), even though it had definitely been deployed before and was already live at several properties.

The cause of this long running drama? “Too many wires” on the local poles, said the ISP (note: telegraph poles do have to obey some limits for safety and weight etc.).

A Spokesperson for Openreach said:

“It transpires that FTTP is available to this customer. However it appears there is currently a waiting list which could point towards there being a possible capacity issue at the CBT [Connectorised Block Terminal]. Our Fibre Availability team have a case for this customer. It seems we’re just waiting for some build to increase capacity.”

The CBT is one of those odd looking rectangular black boxes (with various nodules sticking out), which you’ll often see affixed to the top of poles in Openreach’s overhead FTTP deployments (see here). So if there’s a capacity problem then it means that the CBT can’t handle additional customer connections to the network (i.e. ports all consumed or some other issue with the local poles). You can see what a similar underground CBT looks like below (this is a 12 port model but they do come in smaller sizes):

fttp node openreach 2019

Openreach will normally plan and build FTTP in a way that ensures there will be enough lines to cater for demand, but there are always cases where demand (or some other factor) can upset that model. We don’t know for certain why this particular street ran into problems, but it does have a lot of houses that have been divided into flats (i.e. possibly more than the usual demand per property for new lines).

Tackling Pole Load

Whether due to an issue with load on the poles or merely port capacity at the CBT, resolving pole loading issues can still be a complex problem (depending on the type of pole and arc of dropwires etc.). Engineers have informed us that you can sometimes get around this by removing one copper wire as a new fibre is added, but that isn’t always possible (e.g. one copper cable may feed two subscribers). Hybrid copper and fibre drop cables can also be used.

In short, rationalising copper dropwires to reduce the number of wires in the canopy, or a pole swap in order to increase the total number of dropwires permitted, is generally preferable to adding completely new poles into an area and thus having to reroute all drops accordingly (lots of extra cost and complexity). Plus, there’s always the possibility of an underground extension, but that too has time and cost considerations.

Openreach are currently understood to be reviewing how they manage pole loading issues and we’re expected to hear more about that in the near future. As such we’ll come back to this issue in the Spring, once we know what approach is to be adopted (ISPs will be informed about this shortly).

We should add that this sort of issue may crop up on other overhead fibre networks too, including those ISPs that may be harnessing existing poles via Openreach’s Physical Infrastructure Access (PIA) product to run their own fibre. Suffice to say that this sort of problem isn’t unique to one operator and as FTTP expands then it may become a bigger issue.

As for the customer in this specific case. The length of time involved suggests that there wasn’t a simple fix (normally a fix might take many weeks, but 18-months seems excessive). The good news is that Openreach plan to solve the problem by installing additional drop cables from the pole to connect the customer, which has already begun and will take about two weeks to complete.

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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.
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51 Responses
  1. Chris Sayers says:

    Wowza, who knew, we are in the process of having FTTP installed, the fiber line has been installed alongside the old copper, I’d have thought that the copper would have been removed.

    Would this type of deployment cause capacity issues.

    1. Tom says:

      Unlikely to cause any issues. Most of the time the new Fibre distribution blocks have more than enough connections to feed each property and the old copper blocks will be in situ for a long time yet. The hybrid cables are approx the same weight as the old copper only cable.

      Unfortunately not all ISPs have moved to VOIP so you will find that the copper cable to your house is quite often replaced with a ‘hybrid’ single cable that contains fibre and copper. Your broadband runs on the fibre but the phone service still runs on the the copper part.

      Eventually once landline services are converted to VoIP everything will come through a single fibre and you will see fewer copper or hybrid cables. Hope that answers your question

    2. Sam says:

      A case of a lazy FTTP engineer, who should have connected the copper pair on the hybrid fibre cable to the DP and connected the other end into a above ground closure that connects onto a existing download/lead in, then removing the existing copper dropwire from the pole.

    3. Alex Atkin says:

      @Sam Not that simple as mentioned in the article. Each drop wire contains two pairs, if both pairs are in use you can’t swap it out as the hybrid fibre only have a single pair.

  2. Mark Hankey says:

    Issues will arise due to pole loading guidelines for example medium sized poles in certain areas may only have 40 dropwires attached. Many houses turned into flats for example now require 4 separate hybrid cables from that pole where as before 1 overhead (cad) has 4 copper pairs. Placing a Cbt on the wall of these properties is a option but isn’t being used in some places, probably been missed or awaiting some kind of wayleave to attach a Cbt to the wall. The upper envelope of some poles are very busy causing safety issues for engineers who work on these and are required to turn on them. The new layout will eliviate some issues.

  3. Duncan McClymont says:

    Some clever person needs to come to come up with a fibre version of DACs to line share a drop between multiple occupancy buildings

    1. Sam says:

      There is. Its called RFoG and its how VMs newer deployments work.

    2. Fttxstone says:

      From a single drop ‘cable’ you could have 48 customers Point to Point.
      You can fit 48 Fibres in a 7mm drop. If 48 not enough, you can split it at the building ( 1536 customers). Its not the Pole capacity that is the problem just the way that capacity is consumed.

    3. GT says:

      Few residential deployments are truly point to point. Both GPON and RFoG deployments use the same light on the end of the fibre for many properties (e.g GPON deployments can do 128 lines per DAC at the sacrifice of the line speed for the end user).

      The restriction is that splicing fibre is tricky and therefore expensive, so it is still done on individual lines from the DP.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I work for an ISP and unfortunately can confirm this type of issue is quite widespread at the moment, I myself alone am handling personally close to 100 such LLUMS incidents, and I’m just one agent in one ISP

  5. Margaret says:

    Are these wires dangerous for our health? I now have two cables outside my bedroom window less than 2 meters away. Is this permissible?

    1. Drew says:

      It only becomes dangerous if you try to swing from it. Other than that..no

    2. Blackfriar says:

      Do you realise there are electrical wires buried in your walls? and a big thick one that feeds your house underground (or maybe even overhead if you are in the country).

      The fibre cable only carries light, how on earth would that be dangerous? (Unless you cut it and stare into the light. Statement of the bleeding obvious added because common sense seems to have left the planet)

  6. Jamie mcghee says:

    Nevermind fttp in my street we still cant order fttc because the street cabinet has no ports available its an absolute nightmare.

    1. Fastman says:

      Jamie have you recently moved in of been there since the cab was enabled ?

  7. Doreen Humphrey says:

    Openreach accidentally cut off our land line.. It took 18 days to get them to come and repair it.. And that was only after our daughter put it out on twitter.. Hope these new things are quicker than our experience of Openreach.

  8. Bob says:

    The sooner al ISP’s go over to VOIP the better and the overloading of wires will be much less of an issue.

  9. Wishing fto says:

    Go through chilcompton. The poles are loaded with fibre connectors from openreach and now truespeed… talk about overkill of fttp for a tiny village…

  10. Martin Pitt - Aquiss says:

    Mark, I wished this was rare, but actually it’s quite common at present and increasingly so. Circa 2% of our FTTP orders are in delay due to network capacity problems, with the bulk being related to pole issues.

  11. JP says:

    lmao FTTP failed the London test,

    I did a count of CBT ports to addresses in reach in my area recently, there was 8 spare with one house being converted into two flats.

  12. Steven says:

    Anybody know how long it takes ISPs to roll out Fttp once the the pole is enabled? My pole just got Fttp but no ISP is offering the service yet.

    1. Chris Sayers says:

      Two weeks for me.

    2. Roger_N says:

      Mine was on BT and Zen’s site within a few day but other ISP were still showing it unavailable 5 weeks later.

  13. Meadmodj says:

    Providers including OR are only likely to provision forecast demand. Things may change as the cost differential between splitters becomes less but they need to cover as many premises as possible with the minimum investment.

    This happens on todays networks (e.g VM) and will be the case going forward.

    OR may provide 100% on New Build, BDUK and Fibre First but elsewhere may only provide an interim to return later to re-engineer. Whether its Cityfibre or F&W Networks the same will apply, especially on OH. Another factor is some poles have more than one generation of BT Terminal Blocks, old ceramic insulators and as highlighted OR are obliged to provide service via copper still.

    Just because a postcode is published as FTTP “covered” doesn’t mean anything. They may have only provisioned initially for 30-40%.

    1. JP says:

      It seems like the model of connecting MDU’s is flawed in situations like this.

      If a house is converted into 4 flats it could of been served by one ONT with 4 ports but it would seem that they’ve instead put 4 ONT’s instead.

      Silly mistake in my opinion.

    2. Jonny says:

      You’d have arguments over who paid for the small electricity consumption of the ONT in that case, and who was responsible for the internal network cabling for each unit. If you’re having to cable anyway then you may as well run fibre.

    3. Meadmodj says:

      Not just MDUs. Provision capacity is both OLT links to aggregation points and splitter combinations.

      4 port ONT’s have “who’s power” issues but I have seen OR use smaller splitter units serving flats above shops. Wall mounted splitters and hence fewer fibre spans would help on some poles.

    4. JP says:

      Both good points, seems like something that needs to be addressed by OR.

    5. Jonathan says:

      A PoE four port ONT that will load balance power from the connected Ethernet connections and not provide a service without power would solve the who pays for the electricity.

    6. JP says:

      Pas the responsibility of connecting MDU’s to the landlord of property

    7. A_Builder says:

      I have a very different view of this: it is actually a very positive story.

      Let me explain why I say that……

      The fact that the initial 30-40% has already been taken up will mean that OR’s investment case for those areas will be better as better uptake = better ££££. Both BT and shareholders will like £££ as it shows the business case was right, albeit accelerated artificially by COVID.

      Higher % uptake also means that it is economic to go to more marginal places.

      So higher uptake will mean more coverage is investable.

    8. JP says:

      This is very true, it should certainly show the demand and drive the coverage up, but is certainly annoying for those in built up areas that may miss the chance to get the service because of house conversions

    9. Lexx says:

      I seen some flats (a house converted into 4 or 6 rooms) and the rats nest because each room has random virgin media coxal cables and open reach cables as well (tends to be places that have independent power and gas to each room so broadband is the tenants problem)

      Should just be one 500mb virgin connection or FTTC and everyone should just run off that (or at least have a duct that goes to each room)

  14. Geoff Edwin says:

    Yes well, it’s never updated. Hanging new off old. It’s deeper than just infrastructure issues. The general management and organisation of OR is old fashioned. I’m sure they think they’re still publicly owned.

  15. Nick Roberts says:

    I find this whole whinging thing by ISPs along the lines of “My board and I get a distinct pain in our collective fannies just thinking of authorising the expenditure for the extension of FTTP the last mile etc, etc”, absolutely pathetic. Just get on and do it, before this country’s economic prospects nose-dive faster than a sinking Titanic in the Marianas Trench.

    Strangely, our Victorian forbares managed to build 20,000 miles of railways, with an economy a fraction of the size and capitalisation of the current set-up, in the same time that the current spankers have delivered a half-arsed, half-completed oatchwork cock-up. Stop whingeing and start doing

    1. 125us says:

      The work is funded by investors. Those investors need convincing before they hand over their money. If one of those investors is your pension company you’ll understand why they are quite keen to understand how they’ll make a return.

      The biggest of the issues is that people want faster broadband but they expect their bills to remain the same or even fall at the same time. It’s hard to make the argument to an investor that you want them to hand over hundreds of millions to reduce revenue. The only way to make they fly is if you win lots of new customers, hence all the overbuild.

  16. Nick Roberts says:

    The Victorian railway companies were all orivately financed, and they overbuilt too – witness what Beeching was able to cut later. Nothing to see there, move along.

    That said, HS2 is being financed publicly, by Grant-in-Aid from the taxpayer. You’d have thought that any half-sensible HMG would have granted the same concession to the telecomms industry for the construction of high speed broadband, especially as its likely that HS broadband will give a bigger boost to the economy than HS2

  17. Peter Mills says:

    I’m really glad that I live in a really rural area where its quite obvious that I have zero chance of getting or seeing fttp to my property in what will be the remaining years of my life, I’m 70, as the economic case for supplying fttp is about as sensible as building another Titanic and retracing its maiden voyage, so I’ll sleep easy knowing that it’s something that I personally don’t have to worry or think about. That being said if the many previous occupants of No 10 and the current government were to have been or be truly serious about revitalising our flagging economy we’d see HS2 in the south scrapped and the money ploughed into a first class telecommunications infrastructure, if Covid-19 has taught us anything it’s that the need for superior broadband is essential.

    1. JP says:

      You don’t sound glad.

    2. André says:

      Starlink to the rescue!
      Try signing up to the beta and see how it goes?

    3. Blackfriar says:

      So you think there is a better economic case for replacing copper with new copper. Copper which has a shorter life than fibre, which corrodes, bends, breaks in joints and has lots of faults requiring engineers visits with expensive equipment like cherry-pickers (for poles)? Fibre should be rolled out to replace copper. Peter Cochrane, when he was at BT, made the financial case, supported by the CFO, but was turned down by the Board in favour of “sweating the asset” and wasting money on footballists.

    4. Fastman says:

      peter mills you clearly have no understanding of what HS2 is about with your comments

    5. GNewton says:

      @Fastman: Care to explain why you think the HS2 is more beneficial than a nationwide fibre network to this country? Do you really believe the HS2 project is not overpriced? Improved railway capacity, yes, but isn’t the HS2 going way beyond that goal?

    6. Captain amazing says:

      HS2 is a joke and only good for bringing in more people to an overcrowded London living and working space.
      @Peter Mills is 100% right. A high speed broadband link for everyone. Even remote rural places.
      A minimum of 50mb down and 20mb up across the whole country.
      Bring on Starink. Good luck Elon and his forward looking plans. At least one person in this world is looking forward instead of looking backwards, or taking a back hander.
      I live in the south west and the government, local and national, BT and OR all say we have high speed internet. We do not. Unless you live in a major city (Bristol, Bath, Exeter, Plymouth)and have the luck of a new expanded cabinet then you are out of luck.
      It’s all propaganda and lies. Real speeds and access is well below the published figures.

  18. Fastman says:

    blackfriarts , think said gentelmen had long gone before Football, actually football drove Sky in to the FTTC market in order to compete, with consumer who were offering sport as part of its content (quad play) and sky who were not offering FTTC were losing connections and Sport subscriptions) actually you could link Sportnd its drive for Content to where we are with Full Fibre – (but thats not what wanted to hear probably

  19. Graham Moore says:

    You fellas are full of wisdom. I wonder how many have ever been up a poll? I virtually lived up them, summer and winter tor over 22yrs. That’s when men were men and women were glad of it!!!

    1. Chris Sayers says:

      Dad was, not telephone but power poles, and yes all respects to all of you who do, I could not, cleaning the gutter’s is about as high as I go.

    2. CarlT says:

      ‘That’s when men were men and women were glad of it!!!’

      Calm down, Boomer.

  20. Bob says:

    Usually just nick someone else’s feed

  21. Disappointed Joe says:

    This is the same problem my brother has at his flat in Bromley (A large London borough).
    BT / OR both told him that he couldn’t get above 8mb download as there was no space at the local cabinet at the end of his road. They refused to expanded the network and have left, after enquiring, half the street without a broadband download speed of above 8mb.
    Streets all round can and do get 300mb+. So much for FTTP.
    He’s with virgin 200mb speed.

  22. Bill says:

    We are in rural east Hertfordshire and our pole took the openreach guys five visit attempts to find a spare pair. One guy was up the pole for 4 hours. I complained to openreach to say why dont you upgrade it to fibre, they said its not in the area, that was bulls… as houses up the road with it. Still every time a problem on my pole, the guys spend hours up it. So bloody stupid. The people over the road had cable damage, guess what I couldn’t believe they were putting in copper again. Honestly lets just waste tons of time and money. I could easy upgrade the poles to fibre for little cost. Come on openreach pull yur finger out.

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