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Zen Internet Set to Extend CityFibre FTTP Availability Nationwide

Monday, November 22nd, 2021 (12:59 pm) - Score 5,568
Zen-Internet-Nov-2021-LINX-Presentation

The Founder and Chairman of UK broadband ISP Zen Internet, Richard Tang, appears to have confirmed that they will be able to connect into 100% of the locally connected on-net footprint for CityFibre by the end of this financial year (September 2022) – expanding the availability of their Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) products.

Just to recap. CityFibre’s wider £4bn investment programme has already covered 1 million UK premises with their gigabit FTTP broadband lines and they aim to have 8 million “substantially completed” – across 285 cities, towns and villages (c.30% of the UK) – by the end of 2025 (here).

Zen Internet, which until recently had traditionally preferred to only work with Openreach, officially joined CityFibre’s network as one of the first partner ISPs – alongside Vodafone and a few others – back in January 2021. Initially they were only available across part of CF’s network, including Newcastle, Leicester, Ipswich and Worthing, but they’ve now started to launch in additional cities (i.e. Edinburgh, Bolton, Cambridge, Stirling, Bradford, Inverness, Derby, and Milton Keynes).

By the end of this month, we also expect them to be offering a full fibre package across CityFibre’s growing network footprint in Huddersfield, Leeds, Doncaster, and Maidenhead too. However, industry sources have long informed us that some ISPs would eventually be available across all of CF’s UK deployments, with TalkTalk, Vodafone and Zen Internet most often being mentioned as being among the first expected to achieve this goal.

The situation was largely confirmed this month, after Vodafone revealed that they would become available across CityFibre’s entire nationwide footprint by April 2022 (here) and TalkTalk will soon follow. During a speech to the LINX 114 event in London this month, Richard Tang similarly appeared to confirm that they also expected to be 100% on-net with CityFibre by September 2022.

Customers on these packages tend to pay from £29.99 per month for an unlimited 100Mbps service on an 18-month term, including free setup (installation and router), which rises to £47.99 for their top 900Mbps package. CF’s packages are thus between £9 – £17 per month cheaper than their equivalent Openreach products.

We also got a brief update on Zen’s progress toward unbundling more exchanges from Openreach (BT), which tends to give them more control and flexibility (cheaper FTTC and FTTP packages often result from this). At present, they’ve already put 451 live (65% UK coverage) and their goal is still to reach 700 (80% coverage), albeit by September 2022 (in 2019 this was first spoken of as an end of 2020 goal)

Richard said some 249 exchanges are already in process (ordered) with “81 racks delivered” to date. The provider has previously talked about potentially reaching 987 exchanges by 2025, but that goal has not yet been set in stone.

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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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31 Responses
  1. Sarah says:

    I don’t like Zen Internet

    1. Ryan says:

      It’s only good if your connected to a Zen internet exchange. When they say for gaming it’s just a marketing plea.

    2. Teqie says:

      Care to elaborate at all?

  2. Larry says:

    Does that mean they are providing 100% coverage of all CF’s 1m passed, or 100% of the CF cities Zen choose to connect into i.e the locally reference.

  3. Rich says:

    Interesting, but their insistence on using PPPoE puts me off using them on Cityfibre, when others just use DHCP assignment.

    PPPoE has way too much CPU overhead and a lot of routers (and even PFsense boxes) struggle with it at gigabit speed.

    1. Anon says:

      @Rich +1

      It’d far nicer if they handed back on-net locations where they have OR FTTP/FTTC and Cityfibre as L2 CVLANs, then the wholesale partner can decide if they want to do PPPoE to the customer or IPoE / DHCP. Offer a competitive EoFTTP / EoFTTC alternative.

      Same with customers they are servicing themselves, just offer it as DHCP instead of PPPoE. Operating BNGs is significant overhead.

    2. Anthony Goodman says:

      Is this an issue with FTTC or FTTP too?

    3. Chris C says:

      Rich you know which ones use DHCP?

    4. Mark says:

      Plenty of routers out there which can give 1 Gig (wired) using PPPoE such as Netgear R7800, R8000, Asus RT-AC68U, RT-AC86U just to name a few – these are relatively old Wi-Fi 5 class routers so won’t cost an arm and a leg. It really isn’t a big deal having to use PPPoE.

    5. Kim says:

      Maybe e-mail Zen? This sounds like an engineering malpractice. Ask them about using DHCP and persist in this until they give you a date.

    6. Anon says:

      Engineering malpractice? sounds like the now regular outages Zen have been having lately due to their auth platform being based in their “datacenter” at Sandbrook House.

      Apology video from their CEO on the 3rd of Nov…

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dfoJeQawGwI

    7. Rich says:

      @mark I am currently using a Ubiquti UDM-Pro, a 10G router, that can do 3.5GBit with IPS, but can’t hit 1G with PPPoE.

      Many PFSense boxes also can’t.

      I’m aware routers exist that can, but I don’t want to use those routers, they certainly can’t do IPS at those speeds for a start. PPPoE doesn’t add anything, it doesn’t benefit me or the ISP in any useful manner, hence other ISPs on CityFibre’s network don’t use it (Talktalk, Air Broadband, etc). So why wouldn’t I just use one of the others?

    8. David says:

      @Rich – It does benefit some ISPs like Zen to run PPPoE otherwise they wouldn’t be using it. All their systems, support tools and some network equipment etc are built around this setup. Don’t forget that they still take a lot of traffic from BTW over L2TP. It’s a significant undertaking (and cost) to building a scalable ethernet only platform. I’m sure they move this way over time.

      The reality is that most customers don’t have a clue what PPPoE is and don’t actually care. They just use the CPE provided by the ISP.

    9. anonymous says:

      A fair amount of kit has PPPoE acceleration hardware and is fine.

      If Ubiquiti were so busy trying to pile features into a sub-£400 box running on 4 x 1.7 GHz ARM cores that they forgot to leave enough overhead for basic connectivity features that’s a shortcoming of theirs. PPPoE is very common throughout the world.

      Maybe stick a real router in front of it that’s dedicated to the job rather than an appliance with minimal routing capabilities as an afterthought? The UDM Pro can produce its stats and graphs, handle cameras and report from access points without having to worry about PPPoE and will hopefully be okay.

    10. Rich says:

      @Anon Why would I put another router in front of it when I can just… Use an ISP without the overhead?

      PPPoE should have been dumped for FTTP/gigabit services.

      PPPoE is cpu intensive, opensource implementation especially has issues with it, single threaded etc.
      Then there is the MTU problems, its out right inferior.

      The head of BT Wholesale in a presentation years back said he hated and it would be gone on ultrafast, but its still here so I guess he got overruled.

      Even a PFsense box would need a full fat cpu rather than an atom based one to cope with Gigabit PPPoE, there is just no need for it and alternatives exist.

    11. Mark says:

      @Rich
      Your beef should really be with Ubiquiti hardware rather than providers using PPPoE. Even most bog standard ISP issued routers can cope with Gigabit speeds over PPPoE.

    12. Anon says:

      Its not beef about Ubiquiti.

      Its about simplifying the stack and remove more layers encapsulation. DHCP / IPoE reduces the requirements for both the client and the headend.

      Just look at how Sky followed this path a few years ago and now all their CPE devices are doing IPoE instead of PPPoE.

      Copying an existing deployment pattern and applying it to FTTP is wrong and we’ll come to regret it in years to come.

    13. Mark says:

      “Its not beef about Ubiquiti”

      Then why can tonnes of routers from other manufacturers easily cope with 1 Gig using PPPoE?

    14. Rich says:

      @mark – Tons of “consumer” routers can’t even do NAT at 1GbE without turning every feature off and rendering them pretty pointless, and many of them can’t do 1Gb PPPoE.

      There is no good open source implementation of PPPoE. Even FreeBSD’s sucks. This is why PFsense even needs meaty hardware to hit 1Gb PPPoE.

      It is an outdated protocol intended for much slower speeds that while it is common in the UK, it’s much less common worldwide, and barely used at all in say, the US.

      Given that I have a UDMP, am not interested in the standard lineup of consumer routers with built in AP and 10,000 antennas that can’t do IPS at multigig speeds, so would end up rolling my own PFsense or similar box, and don’t fancy a full fat system to do it, it seems far easier to sign up to one of the many alternative ISPs who will use DHCP or IPoE etc, rather than wed themselves to an outdated protocol with wasteful overhead.

    15. Mark says:

      @Rich
      You’re in a very very tiny minority with your requirements. Pretty much every consumer router in the top 10 charts on smallnetbuilder.com can do 1 Gbps on both NAT and PPPoE without breaking a sweat and they cost a tiny fraction of Ubiquiti kit. Like I said it’s a bit of a non issue using PPPoE.

    16. Rich says:

      @mark You’re comparing apples and oranges. SNB’s routing test turns off QoS and SPI Firewall, and doesn’t use PPPoE. They don’t test PPPoE performance at all in fact. What’s the point of a firewall without QoS and SPI?

      In any case, it’s a non-issue if you use other ISPs that don’t use dumb protocols.

    17. anonymous says:

      The router I have here, Rich, has the same CPU as your UDM Pro and doesn’t break a sweat with 2.4 Gbit/s of PPPoE even with multiple QoS queues and a number of policy based marking and routing rules.

      However, it’s a router so isn’t sitting there using resources doing DPI on traffic that’ll be 90+% encrypted anyway making DPI pointless alongside managing WiFi networks and receiving feeds from security cameras.

      PPPoE acceleration is available on other Ubiquiti equipment – https://help.ui.com/hc/en-us/articles/115006567467-EdgeRouter-Hardware-Offloading

      Devices that can apparently do everything not being as good as dedicated kit at some of it is hardly a surprise. The UDM Pro was built to a cost and it shows.

    18. anonymous says:

      On the subject of MTU all my services have MTU 1500.

      I do not, however, see any point in running intrusion prevention which helps. The signal to noise ratio is a nightmare, the per-client stats are initially a novelty but not especially useful, and a combination of NAT, simple access lists and basic stateful firewalling while not as cool as ‘Stateful Packet Inspection’ seems to have warded off everything so far.

      You paid your money and made your choice. As did I, and regretted it immediately once I realised I’d purchased Tomy’s My First Router. Lack of options and inability to do some really basic routing functions made me pack it away. I should eBay it really.

      Software was bad and some interesting choices to save money. The 8 port switch on the front only having a 2.5G connection to the rest of the device being then cut to a 1G connection comes to mind. 8 GigE switch ports sharing a 1 Gb link to the rest of the device.

      You evidently like it which is great. Personally I’m not a fan of my hardware restricting my connectivity options and don’t expect service providers to change their network layout for my £50 a month. Your mileage may vary.

      My router is a https://mikrotik.com/product/ccr2004_1g_12s_2xs in case you’d like to purchase one at some point. Good kit. Powerful interface. Hardware acceleration on various kit and enough CPU to breeze through PPPoE.

    19. Rich says:

      @anon Very aware of that Mikrotik router, and am vaguely interested with it, mostly because it could replace my 10G switch and provide me with 2x25G ports, and my main desktop and server have Mellanox ConnectX-4 25GbE cards. There are a few limitations to the UDMP although fewer now I can run persistent dockers etc on it, and it certainly does more than most of the consumer routers/alien spaceships others seem to think I should use.

      I don’t host CCTV cameras on it, I have a UNVR-Pro for that. I don’t use it as a switch, 10G goes in via WAN2 and comes out via the 10G LAN port. I’m actually currently using a Mikrotik router as a switch to bridge the 10G WAN2 two a 4-way balance-rr bond and get >1gbit out of the crappy Vermin Media Superhub 4.

      I’m not expecting Zen to change, but regardless, waste is silly. PPPoE is silly, and has more overheads than are required to run a service. In the meantime, I’ll happily use Air Broadband or Talktalk on Cityfibre when they finish my section of Ipswich. I’m with Zen for FTTC (for backup) but because of PPPoE would not use them for CF FTTP when I have other options. Don’t see what’s wrong with me highlighting the reason for my switch.

    20. anonymous says:

      Won’t be there forever. Straight IP eventually, probably sent across a VXLAN. Would make a lot of sense to use VXLAN.

      VPLS would be okay for longer distances. Just need to extend the VLANs across the network to where the are to be handed over.

      When Zen have finished some more network build we will see. On their own network they can delivee clean IP, CF the same, BT Wholesale the only issues. They get more punters direct to their network or CF it makes the investment more attractive.

    21. anonymous says:

      I would have been worried relying on a single ISP for primary and backup. Still going to be many common network elements to go wrong.

      Good call not using Zen twice.

    22. Rich says:

      @anon Sorry, I wasn’t clear, currently my Zen FTTC is backup to my Virgin Media Gig1, the idea was when CF came I’d switch the FTTC to CF and the VM would become the backup, and/or the thing bulk downloads like torrents and newsgroups go via. It would of course be silly to have a backup via the same ISP! 😀

    23. anonymous says:

      Other anonymous Zen are probably still reeling a bit from having to rebuild everything after an attempt to build a VPLS-based network hit the skids.

      VXLAN is definitely the way to go, and respect for knowing what it is! Few people know what it is and even fewer what it actually does.

  4. Nigel says:

    Hi Mark,

    Can you please confirm the statement from Zen in your article as regards Maidenhead viz:-
    ‘By the end of this month, we also expect them to be offering a full fibre package across CityFibre’s growing network footprint in Huddersfield, Leeds, Doncaster, and Maidenhead too.’

    It is just that, at the time of writing, I could find no useful info on the Zen site, CityFibre site, nor the Thinkbroadband coverage maps for Maidenhead. I know that the Fibre Exchange (FEX) container was installed inside an industrial unit (within zone 1) and that the fibre optic ‘ring’ cabling for Zone1 has been installed and was handed over to CityFibre a month or so ago. Since confirmed by another source. Therefore there is no obvious reason why customer rollout cannot start and I have been expecting it. Note that the original TORCH/COLT crude figure of eight fibre spine/Backhaul (now owned by CityFibre) runs through Maidenhead (Slough, Reading, Manchester etc), and is connected to the FEX.

    I am crudely estimating that this zone covers at least a thousand premises. Expansion of the other zones has preceded slowly as VolckerSmart Technologies had to part ways with their initial ‘civil’ contractors in August past, but the pace is now picking up again.

    So could you please just confirm the Zen statement i.e. no mis-types or crossed wires.

    I greatly enjoy reading your entries and admire your high standards of journalism.

    Regards
    Nigel

    1. Mark Jackson says:

      Maidenhead was indeed named for the end of this month, although I’d assume that actual availability will depend upon whether CityFibre has released the build (so far) for activation by their ISPs. I can only say that Zen’s side will be ready on CityFibre in that location, but I’d assume CF’s build will be released around then too. Obviously, this hasn’t been officially announced in a PR (it was direct to me), so you won’t find other info. online yet.

      FYI, the original CityFibre build announcement:

      https://www.ispreview.co.uk/index.php/2021/03/cityfibre-preps-1gbps-fttp-rollout-in-bracknell-and-maidenhead.html

    2. Anon says:

      There are about 300 addresses accepting orders in Maidenhead with more being added all the time.

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