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ISP Swish Fibre and BT Lock Horns Over Fake Fibre Advertising

Tuesday, September 14th, 2021 (9:33 am) - Score 6,048

Alternative UK ISP Swish Fibre, which is deploying its own Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) broadband network, has accused BT of trying to censor (via a complaint to the advertising watchdog) its own tongue-in-cheek campaign that attempted to highlight the “misleading practice of promoting speed-sapping copper-mix services as ‘Fibre broadband’.”

Swish launched its advertising campaign back in July (here), which saw them place a number of large billboard sized posters around the country (pictured – top). The posters “playfully” tried to set their own full fibre broadband service apart by using the “Fake Fibre” phrase to call out significantly slower and less reliable part-fibre services (e.g. FTTC / VDSL2) – these still use old copper lines on the final run from cabinets to homes.

However, Swish has now changed the approach of their public awareness campaign in order to circumvent an attempt by rival BT to halt its message, which occurred after the telecoms giant lodged a complaint with the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) over the altnet’s “Fake Fibre” phrasing.

NOTE: The ASA has long resisted attempts to change the situation around the use of”fibre broadband” terminology in adverts for slower hybrid fibre products (here).

At the time of writing, the ASA has yet to rule on or publish exact details of BT’s complaint, although Swish has opted to see this more as an opportunity rather than an obstacle. As such, the alternative network provider has launched a new take on their poster campaign, which introduces the word “Censored” (see below) as a way of alluding to BT’s resistance to its earlier “Fake Fibre” messaging.


Alistair Goulden, CMO of Swish Fibre, said:

“We’ve all grown to understand the various types of fruit juices available on the market due to the introduction of national legislation and clear labelling. But where it’s easy to differentiate from a 100% pure pressed fruit juice and a concentrated alternative, these helpful rules sadly don’t apply to broadband products.

Today, broadband providers are free to promote their products as ‘Fibre Broadband’, even when the product is infused with a significant amount of copper cable across the last leg of the journey into the home.

Unlike Full Fibre broadband that only uses 100% fibre-optic cable at all times, these ‘Part Fibre’ products contain a different mix of ingredients that produce significantly inferior performance results for households. We believe that the ability to conveniently gloss over this with the word ‘Fibre’ is hugely damaging to consumer awareness and purchasing decisions.”

In fairness, Swish’s original campaign did suffer from the one particular problem, it didn’t do a great job of defining “Fake Fibre” in its posters, which we previously remarked could make it difficult for regular consumers to understand the differences. 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 wider confusion.

On top of that, it’s worth remembering how even some hybrid fibre networks can still 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 (FTTB) rather than FTTP. Once you consider these, then the debate over fibre advertising can become more complex.

We should add 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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28 Responses
  1. JitteryPinger says:

    I like swish, sort of advertising campaign’s I’ve thought of in the past.

    The whole advertsing issue though is becoming one where a billboard will soon read like a chapter from book.

  2. Mark says:

    I’ve always said that unless the fibre cable actually comes into the premises it should not be allowed to be sold as fibre.

    Just because some of it is fibre doesn’t mean it’s fibre internet, by that reasoning ADSL and even dial-up could be sold as fibre since part if them networks were also fibre.

    Both VDSL and Cable should be banned from using the term until they offer full-fibre.

    I once had a argument with someone over this very thing where they insisted that they had fibre internet even though it was delivered over the phone line it’s highly misleading.

    1. Phil says:

      Same here, I’ve given up many conversations trying to explain to friends and family they don’t have fibre broadband as they believe they do. Recently I noticed a friend who had complained about their fibre broadband speeds (long run of copper and VDSL) had been upgraded to Openreach FTTP so told them they could now get real fibre optic delivered broadband, they said they couldn’t see what difference it would make to change broadband provider (their existing provider doesn’t offer FTTP) as they are already on fibre anyway! So the industry wide mis-advertising is now coming back to haunt them, they only have themselves to blame.

    2. JitteryPinger says:

      Phil – Very true, I’ve also had same conversations with others, to now they still haven’t changed providers or even upgraded.

    3. The Facts says:

      VM fibre does not go into the premises, terminates on the wall outside.

    4. JitteryPinger says:

      That’s why I don’t consider Virgin Media full fibre. (though unfortunately it is still FTTP)

      The marketing guff for all Internet services is a load of rubbish.

      Should of stuck with Fast, Supeefast, Ultrafast and Gigabit….

      As with Virgin Media RFoG you can run fibre whereever you like but what can be put down it is what matters, Virgin are just running HFC network over fibre cabling,

      It’s like someone running an ISP thats Full Fibre but only selling ADSL service over it (granted this would take adding conversation kit at each end)

      Sky/BT/TT all run full fibre products but none of them are gigabit and some have limits to just how fast there Ultrafast product is, but I do see Sky advertising as ultrafast rather than talking the ‘Full Fibre’ trash.

      Personally I don’t think we can ever say Gigabit availability in the UK until operators and ISP’s rollout multi-gigabit CPE/Routers, currently all is limited to 940Mb/s, and the crap spouted by Virgin Media about 1100Mb/s is yet to be acheivable by a user and their PC (not counting the odd ‘nerd’ who has managed to port bond and has all the extra equipment to make it happen.

      Until such a marketing stunt like that is curbed, the market will continue to ,missell to those who aren’t in the know.

    5. NE555 says:

      > Sky/BT/TT all run full fibre products but none of them are gigabit … currently all is limited to 940Mb/s,

      It’s not true to say “none of them are gigabit”.

      The connection from the ONT to the router is via a gigabit ethernet connection, running at 1,000,000,000 bits per second; and the gigabit FTTP services are capable of completely filling this link (in the downlink directly anyway).

      The network carries user data inside TCP segments inside IP datagrams inside ethernet frames. When filling the network with maximum-sized frames, ~940Mbps is the user data, and the rest is IP and ethernet headers. This is just how networks work – the headers are essential for network function.

      However, your “speedtest” client measures only the user data, because it cannot see the headers.

      It’s the same if you use a LAN to connect two PCs directly using a gigabit ethernet cable.

    6. A_Builder says:

      I’ve sat in the Cabinet Office having the same argument.

      Honestly in 2012 people there were totally taken in by BT’s, then, approach of sticking ‘Fibre is Here’ on cabinets.

      It took some convincing people there that copper is not fibre……

      This was the nexus of the problem. Until anything in this country gets kick from upstairs nothing happens.

      ASA didn’t get a kick when they made their first ruling and then we/they are stuck with it.

      At some point BT will have to recant otherwise they will find it harder to market FTTP is people think they already have fibre.

    7. John says:

      Just because throughput is 940Mb doesn’t mean it isn’t gigabit.
      That’s a ridiculous arguement.

      Next you’ll be trying to tell people gigabit Ethernet isn’t gigabit because you can’t get the full 1000Mb from it.

    8. FibreFred says:

      “by that reasoning ADSL and even dial-up could be sold as fibre since part if them networks were also fibre”

      I’ve seen this argument a few times and it’s pretty ridiculous.

      There’s is zero fibre between the exchange and the premise with these networks.

      Whereas for fttc over 90% of it is fibre.

      So no comparison

    9. John says:

      Why are you using the exchange to base that on?

      VDSL2 can just as easily be deployed from an exchange. Even on the same hardware as ADSL if they wanted (though they don’t for regulatory reasons).

      The internet doesn’t begin and end at the exchange.

      My ISP is in London. It’s fibre all the way from London to my exchange, then copper to my home.
      So less than a mile of copper.
      500 miles of fibre, 1 mile of copper.

      “Whereas for fttc over 90% of it is fibre”

      Perhaps in your situation, not for everyone.

      It’s ridiculous the ASA ever allowed anything but FTTP to be called fibre.
      There’s little difference between FTTC and ADSL being called fibre though.

      Hundreds of cabinets are placed outside the front of exchanges.
      Switching from ADSL to FTTC suddenly sees the line being called ‘fibre’ despite it being the exact same length of copper.

      Due to the topology of OpenReach’s copper network it was never going to be possible to fairly call FTTC as fibre.

  3. Sorin says:

    Since they’re advertising FTTP as Full Fibre, they should be held accountable for not using terms like Part Fibre or Some Fibre Broadband for the FTTC. Clearly Fiber Broadband implies Full Fiber. Especially when you advertise Fiber to the people and you show up with some rusty copper wires…
    Aren’t there some good lawyers who would like to make some good money???

    1. A says:

      “Aren’t there some good lawyers who would like to make some good money???”

      I doubt many lawyers would be willing to take it, advertising FTTC as fibre is fine in the Ofcom rules. Petitioning MPs to change the Ofcom rules (ideally around the time the fibre name rule was made) would be a lot better.

  4. Bill says:

    Just try to count the number of posts on this forum where sensible people valiantly tried to explain that copper is not fibre. And then the army of posts from BT fan-boys that ridiculed such a suggestion.

    Refreshing to see Swish not give up despite others surrendering after seeing the ASA’s intransigence/stupidity/vested-interest-protection-racket.

    Keep Swishing!

    1. A says:

      The fibre terminology is mad, somehow a 1m fibre cable somewhere is enough in Ofcoms eyes to call it fibre.

  5. SonicRules says:

    Amen to that. Will consider switching to Swish when my contract runs out.

  6. chris conder says:

    yay. Go Swish. Gotta love the altnets, going where the incumbent fears to tread and exposing the idiocy of the ASA and to some extent ofcom. Whilst the incumbent has a massive legal dept and a virtual monopoly they rule the roost, but the day is coming… power to the people.

    1. Fastman says:


      yay. Go Swish. Gotta love the altnets, going where the incumbent fears to tread

      the above statement was no true in 2013/14 when you made it its even less true now -in fact its now frankly ridiculous

    2. ISPfan says:

      This is the Chris who blocks anyone on social media who tries to have a sensible discussion.

    3. Oggy says:

      I actually feel sorry for Barry having to have been involved with Chris who has embarrassed herself for years on this site.

      B4RN have done fantastic things but then Chris posts the ridiculous things she does.

  7. PunsforDinner says:

    How childish of Swish.

    Their marketing team must be led by edgelord teenagers.

    1. A says:

      Is it? The UK has been affected by calling everything fibre and if this helps avoid confusion then I don’t mind. It was always going to get a complaint from BT but its given Swish attention.

    2. Lexx says:

      Fake fibre has been pushed for a long time and shouldn’t have been allowed as real fibre was going to be a thing eventually

      There advertising is quite true about bt openreach and virgin pushing a service that isn’t fibre (I have 1gbe virgin HFC but pings are all over the place)

  8. mike says:

    The ASA made this bed. Now they lie in it.

    1. Gary H says:

      I assume their bedding is made from artificial fibers

  9. FibreBubble says:

    Can’t find any complaint listed over at the ASA.

    1. FibreBubble says:

      Is it just me or do the ‘billboards’ look fake? The first one has no ownership plate and the second one has mysteriously missing shadows from the downlights.

  10. Alan Brown says:

    Fake fibre, fake unlimited, fake uncapped, fake Internet (Walled web Gardens and more recently IPv4-only suppliers)

    We’ve seen all these before and we continue to see them, with editors of most websites and publications simply afraid to call out the consumer fraud for what it is, lest they lose their precious advertising income

    Don’t forget the ASA is a TRADE ASSOCIATION, not a regulator – created by ADVERTISERS to stave off government intervention into rampant misleading print advertising in the 1970s

    It’s a shell game that only exists to divert and deflect attention whilst providing deniability and the ultimate con is of convincing people that it’s a regulator

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