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Openreach Trials New FTTP Broadband Speed Test for UK ISPs UPDATE

Monday, Feb 14th, 2022 (12:01 am) - Score 18,056
fttp_small_ont_2019

Network access provider Openreach (BT) has launched a new “speed test trial” for UK ISPs on their gigabit-capable Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) broadband network, which aims to make it easier for providers to identify the cause of speed issues by ruling out as many other potential variables as possible.

Some people probably think that new “full fibre” networks are impervious to speed issues, but that has never been true. Consumer broadband connections still share their capacity between many users (not uncontended) and network faults, at different points in the connection chain, do sometimes occur. But identifying the cause still requires some detective work, even if this is nowhere near as tedious as the many complex caveats seen on older copper lines.

NOTE: Comparatively speaking, FTTP lines are significantly more reliable than copper lines and suffer far fewer faults. Openreach also found 50% lower early life failures on FTTP than FTTC (VDSL2) / copper.

In response, Openreach recently informed their FTTP ISPs about a forthcoming “speed test trial” (here), although both the public and private briefings for this are quite incredibly vague. Suffice to say, it’s taken me a few days of asking around to figure out precisely what the test was trying to achieve, but thanks to all the feedback we now have a pretty good idea.

The test itself appears to be a throughput speed test, which examines the link between the Optical Network Terminal (ONT) inside your home (example pictured) and a special tester in the Openreach network (i.e. L2S in the handover exchange). When conducted, the test essentially reroutes your line from the ISP’s switch in the handover exchange and sends the data packets to the Openreach tester instead (i.e. your connection will briefly go down for the duration of the test).

The test is thus able to rule out various potential causes, such as conflicting speed issues that may occur in the customer premises (e.g. problems with your broadband router, WiFi or Ethernet cables). Furthermore, it can also rule out some issues in the provider’s own network, such as those caused by capacity links (e.g. Cablelinks and backhaul), shaping problems on the Broadband Network Gateway (BNG) and so forth.

The downside is that it does require the end-user to agree to a brief disconnection of their service with the ISP, but this at least ensures that the connection isn’t being impacted by devices on the customer’s own network that might otherwise be utilising the bandwidth. Suffice to say, the new speed test trial could take a significant chunk out of the investigative workload and save everybody a lot of hassle.

At present this is only a trial, so we don’t know how long it will take to become a standard tool or even if that will occur (pending results from the trial). But it sounds like a useful option for both ISPs and Openreach to have in their toolbox.

UPDATE 10:40am

We’ve had a few extra details through from Openreach, which may help to answer some of the questions people have. Firstly, the test itself will take a few short minutes to complete and will push the connection speed up to 1Gbps.

The operator also noted that no change to the PON or ONT is required for this to work. As stated above, the objective is to identify if a customer’s speed issue is within the Openreach domain or the ISP/end customer’s domain. Openreach actually tested this approach before in December 2021, but they only did this with some of their employees.

Apparently, this is all being done as part of a new collaboration with VIAVI Solutions to automate testing the quality and speed of their FTTP network using Fusion, a virtual performance monitoring system. Fusion will effectively deliver an on-demand network “speedometer“, showing near real-time views of the speeds that end users can achieve.

Openreach claims this will be the first time that proactive network testing of end user speeds has been deployed in fibre access networks across the UK independent of the customer’s internet connection, although we haven’t yet had enough time to verify if that is indeed the case. Here’s the official blurb..

Openreach Statement

VIAVI Fusion incorporates both hardware and software, which will be used to rapidly isolate and troubleshoot faults on the network. Diagnostics will be automated for any issues as they’re raised by Openreach’s Communications Provider (CPs) customers.

In addition, customer service will be enhanced as contact center procedures will be automated, equipping operators with near real-time test results for rapid pass/fail interpretation. This allows further troubleshooting to be focused on the root cause, whether inside the Openreach network, or back with the CPs.

A key element of Fusion is its smart small form-factor pluggable (SFP) capability, enabling micro-probes plugged into thousands of nodes across the country. These probes enable automated throughput testing from all CPs ingress points to end-user premises, for millions of consumers. Now in its fourth generation of technology, VIAVI smart SFP technology supports 1G & 10G line rates across a variety of physical standards.

VIAVI has a long-standing relationship with Openreach and, in March 2021, they also began using the VIAVI Optical Network Monitoring System (ONMSi) for remote testing of the network.

Trevor Linney, OR’s Network Technology Director, said:

“As the country’s largest digital infrastructure provider, we recognise that service and broadband reliability has become more integral to everyday life especially when millions of people switched to working and schooling from home. Last year, we saw our broadband usage more than double with 50,000 Petabytes (PB) of data being consumed across the country.

We’re also seeing record of numbers of people signing up to our ultrafast, ultra-reliable Full Fibre broadband with over 1.5 million customers taking up the service to-date. It’s therefore crucial that we continue to meet our already strong service performance by identifying and preventing faults before customers report them. The deployment of VIAVI’s automate testing solution is one part of the overarching technical innovative solutions we’ve adapted to help determine potential issues we detect on our network in near real-time or when a request comes through from our CP customers.”

So there you have it.

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Mark-Jackson
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 X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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Comments
17 Responses
  1. Avatar photo anonymous says:

    This require a particular ONT? Going to need new firmware, not sure if that’ll be a thing for folks on the Huawei 4 port and likely not the 1 port either.

    1. Avatar photo NE555 says:

      I don’t believe this would need a new ONT and/or firmware.

      They can apply a temporary config change at the OLT side to reroute the traffic to the speed tester.

    2. Avatar photo anonymous says:

      They could. Where would the traffic come from for an upstream test? Downstream what would receive it? Need something running on the ONT. iPerf would probably work.

    3. Avatar photo David says:

      Nothing needs to run on the ONT. They likely just trigger a OAM loopback on the ONT and inject traffic from upstream.

  2. Avatar photo Jordan says:

    Getting my ONT installed on the 17th from OP, hopefully i will get the nee ONT!

    1. Avatar photo Jordan says:

      New*

  3. Avatar photo Karl says:

    What a joke Openreach need to finish of FTTP CABLES fitting back in 2018…
    But face it they still have not removed a fallen tree from October last year, that have the cables stretched like a bowstring down to the floor.
    Reported so many times and nothing.

    1. Avatar photo Tree Pruner says:

      I didn’t realise Openreach engineers were arborists. Why don’t you contact the local council? If it’s their tree, they should be sorting it out.

    2. Avatar photo anonymous says:

      Openreach isn’t one person both handling network maintenance and projects like this, with them being too busy implementing this testing system to fix the plant.

      Write to their CEO.

    3. Avatar photo TNK says:

      We went through this, OR will not do anything if the tree hasn’t broken the cable. It is the owner of the tree (individual or council) who is responsible. If you have reported it to OR, in our case they identified the tree owner and contacted them (but ownership is not always clear). What were told is OR would pursue the owner for costs once the tree breaks the cable. In our case this was enough to get the owner to action, that and they would also loose connectivity, however it needed our intervention as the owner assumed incorrectly that OR or the Council would do this for them.

  4. Avatar photo AT says:

    I fear “speed” complaints /faults will only rise with FTTP as customers don’t understand their wifi is the issue (not to mention other hardware not up to the job).

    Good to see a direct speed test though. All routers should have the ability to do direct throughout test via the isp whilst blocking other traffic as well as clearly showing sync speeds (appreciate sync speed can be found by techy users)

    1. Avatar photo anonymous says:

      FTTP doesn’t have a sync speed as such? You are either connected at 2.4 or 10G or you’re offline?

      Shared capacity same as cable, everyone gets full speed transmission and are given a share of it depending on their tier.

  5. Avatar photo Phil says:

    Openreach should have their own speedtest on their website for anyone to try this for FTTP.

    1. Mark-Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      The method being used here would not allow for that. The ISP, which holds the contract for service provision, would need to get a specific customer agreement first, since a disconnection event would be involved.

  6. Avatar photo Raymond John Stone says:

    Can only hope it works better than their fault tests which in November for me detected no faults in fibre cable cut in half by a fallen tree.

  7. Avatar photo John says:

    Just wondered if there was any update on this, is it going to be implemented officially do we know ?

Comments are closed

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