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Swish Fibre Campaign Targets “Fake Fibre” UK Broadband ISPs

Friday, July 16th, 2021 (9:45 am) - Score 4,872
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UK ISP Swish Fibre, which is deploying a 10Gbps Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) broadband network to cover 250,000 premises in England (Home Counties), has launched an entertaining new advertising campaign that aims to highlight the differences between “speed-sapping” copper-mix “Fake Fibre” services and Full Fibre ones.

Generally speaking, full fibre providers, which transmit data directly to your home by using laser light, deliver significantly faster speeds (1Gbps to multi-Gigabit etc.) than copper cables and are much more reliable, particularly over long distances. Experiences do vary, depending upon the network setup and length of the line, but there’s usually a huge difference in performance between FTTP and FTTC (Will the real fibre optic service please stand up?).

As a result of this there has long been a debate about whether it’s right or fair for significantly 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” or “fibre broadband” products. Sadly, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has long resisted attempts to change the situation (here).

However, Swish Fibre “believe the practice is hugely damaging to consumer awareness and purchasing decisions” (not unlike most dedicated FTTP ISPs) and so they’ve started putting up new posters, which “playfully” try to set themselves apart by using the “Fake Fibre” phrase.

The campaign comprises several sets of ‘yin and yang’ adverts designed to help consumers differentiate between Full Fibre and copper-mix broadband. Each set taps into “consumer pain-points based on common scenarios including online gaming, hybrid working and long-winded download and upload waiting times.”

Alistair Goulden, CMO of Swish Fibre, said:

“Just as I instinctively pluck a carton of semi-skimmed milk from the supermarket shelf, consumers deserve clear labelling of broadband products so they can make an equally informed choice to suit their needs. We’re hearing from people every day that are struggling with their existing copper-mix broadband but perceive Full Fibre to be a directly comparable product.

When they do move to our Full Fibre service they comment that it is ‘transformative’ and ‘incomparable’. We strongly urge the ASA to re-assess the 2017 review, particularly given how the pandemic has heightened the public’s need for highly reliable and speedy broadband.”

We haven’t seen all of their adverts, so it’s difficult to judge this, but we agree with the principle of what they’re doing. However, the examples given (one is pictured above) don’t do a great job of defining “Fake Fibre,” which could make it difficult for regular consumers to understand the difference. As a result, some people may incorrectly end up viewing the term as extending to rival FTTP ISPs too, which won’t hurt Swish but risks confusion.

On top of that, it’s worth remembering how even some hybrid fibre networks can potentially deliver multi-gigabit speeds, such as with Virgin Media’s HFC DOCSIS 3.1 network upgrade or the part of Hyperoptic’s deployments that involve Fibre-to-the-Building (FTTP) rather than FTTP. At this point the debate over speeds and fibre advertising can start to become more difficult.

Equally, some of Swish’s examples are open to interpretation. For example, while FTTP lines can improve multiplayer gaming vs FTTC (our example, as they haven’t given a base of comparison for “Fake Fibre” in the posters themselves), most of the time the actual benefit to gameplay itself will be unnoticeable to an ordinary consumer. This is because most FTTC ISPs already deliver very fast latency times, which are fine for multiplayer games. But one area where FTTP can help is if your current FTTC speed is quite congested due to a busy home environment (latency can suffer), plus game downloads and updates will obviously be quicker.

The good news is that the Gigabit Take-Up Advisory Group (GigaTAG) recently recommend (here) that Ofcom consider the adoption of a “gigabit-ready” style kite mark (labelling system) for UK broadband packages which, if done correctly, could help to resolve some of the consumer confusion that does tend to exist around this debate.

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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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22 Responses
  1. wirelesspacman says:

    Presumably, Swish will also be providing “full fibre” wifi too? 🙂

  2. Pete says:

    Ahh, so how are they going to explain to the end user they need to fibre floodwire their home, change all their NICS to fibre (love to see you do that on an Xbox) and stick a full 10gig capable NAT router and switch on the edge of the network.
    Or perhaps the 1Gb/s router Swish supply can do 10Gb if on a marketing billboard?
    Alongside the included 650Mb/s (full duplex) wifi built into said router?

    1. Gary says:

      By your logic my gas central heating wouldnt have water in the pipes, bravo misguided pedant of the day award.

      They’re a supplier. You’re not buying all the tosh you mention

  3. Ben says:

    Perhaps ‘Swish Fibre’ should put money where their mouth is and start building FTTP to ~ 95% of UK, ie the same 95% which has ‘fake fibre’ (aka FTTC)? No? Thought not….

    1. André says:

      They’re not criticising the rollout of a limited-life technology. That was financial and strategic decision that you are happy to agree with or not (personally, I disagree but I am very much aware that I am not privy to the financial constraints at the time).
      The criticism is against the mislabelling of a copper-based product as fibre. I am still not quite sure that I understand the ASA’s rationale to let this stand.

  4. biscuitbrew says:

    Tongue-in-cheek, but I like it. The FTTC era with ISPs happily tooting the “fiber broadband” horn and advertising it as the next best thing (ultimately a stopgap, and not a very good one unless you’re humping the street equipment) was a massive let down for the majority of people, while any speed increase is a bonus it isn’t a huge boost for some and so not worth the extra money.

    Speaking as an ex-Sky FTTC customer we got an extra few mb out of a switch to FTTC (previous sync at 26, new sync at 32), and the line was a heck of a lot more stable to be fair. What annoyed me was that it was sold as being a fiber connection, and yet it didn’t deliver fiber speeds and latency because, and funnily enough it was this debacle that got me onto this very site, it isn’t a full fiber connection.

    Unrelated, but Sky also loved doing “maintenance” for hours at a time any time after midnight, so working odd hours and wanting to use the internet after midnight was a gamble. There was also the times they ignored two multiple hour long outages across the entirety of NI (it’s only Derry and Belfast that’s offline, everywhere else is fine). Since switching to BT FTTP last year, almost a full year to the day, it’s been a world of difference. No outages, no instability and insanely quick speeds.

    Anyway, that little detour is to say that if I was “duped” into thinking FTTC would be awesome only to find it wasn’t that great, there will likely be others too, they’re probably the market this ad is aimed at.

    There will of course be folks who are just happy that “it works” because speed isn’t everything to them; which could be a more difficult base to win over to FTTP.

    1. cheesemp says:

      Yes it still annoys me FTTC was ever allowed to be described as fibre. Every conversation I ever have with the non-tech people ends up with the statement ‘but I already have fibre’ and I give up explaining. I think BT are going to have to spend big on advertising to clear that lie and actually strip out the old copper network.

    2. The Facts says:

      For the majority of people the move to FTTC was significant.

    3. 125us says:

      @cheese

      It was Virgin who described their HFC network as fibre, in an advert with Dawn French. That was complained about and the ASA’s ruling was that as there was fibre in the last mile network to deliver that service, it could be called fibre.

      That logic was then used by the FTTC providers and they also called their broadband ‘fibre’.

    4. Randy says:

      at the end of my road there’s a green cabinet that literally has a picture of an optical fibre on it and says “Fibre is here” and an openreach logo. It’s an FTTC cabinet.

    5. John says:

      It’s a fibre cabinet, with fibre connected to it.
      Why wouldn’t it say “fibre is here”. It literally is there.

  5. Gary says:

    Fibre for fttc advertising has had its day.

    What may have seemed OK in the past to describe the benefits to a huge majority of customers now has no place in advertising FTTC.

    The gulf between the two products is so vast I can’t see how the ASA could rule otherwise.

    And let’s not argue that its established practice or what we always did because as with many things, That’s simply not an acceptable excuse.

  6. NE555 says:

    CityFibre tried the same with “Coppersaurus” a year or so back.

    I thought Swish deliver broadband through your curtain rails? That’s the real FTTC…

  7. Tighthead3 says:

    It’s in essence a misrepresentation to suggest that someone has fibre when the last “mile” is old exchange line 200 year old copper technology that BT are looking to replace between 2025 and 2030? That will take some explanation to everyone “you know that fibre we said you had – well now we have to replace it with actual fibre”. There are a whole range of people complicit in this. A good example in the public domain underpin the planning assumptions of Project Gigabits BDUK master plan for everyone to get broadband essentially flawed from the get go as they think FTTC can go universally up to 300mbps. As long as you have GFast and are very close to the cabinet – I am 46m according to the engineers scanner, from a cabinet and I get 100Mbps at the router – and they are withdrawing gfast? We are at a clear point where copper to the cabinet needs to replaced for future proofing and to enable people to function.

  8. Stewart says:

    Genuinely what a stupid campaign. It’s a stupid approach as this ISP has a significantly small footprint in the UK. Swish might be providing full fibre but so are all of the other ISP’s out their today! Yes there is FTTC in the country but what are we all going to do sit back on 1-15mpbs and say no thank you I’d rather wait for full fibre!! Of course not
    If swish has a advertising issue dont waste your money bitching about it on billboards take it up Ofcom and spend there money investing in there own network improving FTTP for all

    1. Matthew Skipsey says:

      Gosh Stewart!

      Hats off Swish for their PSA, and hats off to CityFibre a few years who took this to court (but sadly failed due to the bizarre judgement).
      Swish’s campaign is grabbing the attention here at least! 🙂

      The ASA, (Ofcom), and others will take note if more talk about this very real problem that may now be stifling take-up of FTTP??
      The roll out of FTTP is accelerating, and there’s record investment, but the take up/switch from copper is lagging behind as consumers may be confused, disillusioned, and perhaps already believe they have what’s being sold. So that’s the issue being highlighted here.
      Giganet plans to offer a ‘free try before you buy’ to deal with this very issue once our own FTTP goes live later this year.

      Take up of any supplier’s FTTP network will drive further investment and acceleration in the rollout. Virtuous circle.
      Not to mention consumers will end up with a faster, more reliable, future proof, connection. Win-Win.

      Yes some raise valid points about the next bottleneck being the Wi-Fi and in-home set up, but that’s secondary to the really challenging & much more expensive job of re-wiring the UK – installing the ‘fat’ (& very future proofed) pipe into the home in the first place. Definitely part of the next conversation on ensuring folks are able to take advantage of the performance in the home – educating & helping provide the solution to help.

      So good work Swish! Hopefully enough people see your campaign at the station and in the media. It helps them, but also the wider industry, and this time, hopefully the ASA will take heed!

      Matt Skipsey
      CTO, Giganet (part of the same parent org (Fern Fibre) as Swish)

  9. FibreBubble says:

    Surely ‘Fake Fibre’ is firms like Swish that blow their own trumpet rather than blow their own fibre.

    https://www.ispreview.co.uk/index.php/2020/06/swish-fibre-reveals-next-uk-towns-for-10gbps-fttp-broadband.html

  10. Steve Goossens says:

    “What are you waiting for?”

    Anyone to provide symmetric FTTP to my house. Guess what? No one does (aside from ludicrously expensive business grade service).

    So I got “superfast” FTTC 80/20 as soon as it was available, and now have “ultrafast” FTTP 550/75.

    It’s not like we’re all just moping along on slow FTTC because we decided that was the best. It still IS the best for the majority of the country unless you live in a block of flats or a red brick new build housing estate.

    1. Lexx says:

      It’s still fake fiber

      I can only get 35mb vdsl, so I have to be stuck with virgin until real fiber comes in next 5 years (only 35+ years late thanks to Margaret Thatcher blocking bt from deploying full fttp to rip out the copper in 1992)

  11. Steve Buggs says:

    The FTTC is even more fake when the “cabinet” is actually just a box bolted on the outside of the exchange building. When we had ADSL, I got 10-12mbps down, after they “upgraded” it to FTTC by bolting a cabinet on the outside of the exchange, I got 20mbps down, which drops to 2mbps at peak time due to contention and crosstalk, so is actually worse when you need it. I estimate that my upgrade to FTTC gained about 10m of fibre over the 2km line to my house. My FTTC line is now my backup when my 4G (70/35) goes down. By the time they deploy fibre to my house, i’ll be on 6G at 1TBps 🙂

  12. Dave says:

    @The Facts?

    For the majority of people the move to FTTC was significant.

    And for a lot of us the move to FTTC was not significant.
    Why, incorrect decisions made by those who really do not understand the technology.

  13. Alan says:

    In my rural village, BT installed a fibre cabinet about 4-500 metres from the exchange alongside the roadway
    Big press release “Fibre has now arrived in Bures”
    In my case the route is 5-10% Fibre the rest is the old copper route
    Naturally, the further you live away from the cabinet the percentage of fibre route falls
    ie, 3miles out and it could be 1% + 99% copper

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