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Don’t Bank Your ISP Choice on Future FTTP Broadband Build Plans

Monday, March 7th, 2022 (8:52 am) - Score 7,560
reams of fibre optic cables on surface uk gigapixel

The rapid rollout of gigabit-capable Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) based broadband ISP networks across the UK – occurring via a mass of different networks (Summary) – is wonderful to see, but we would caution consumers not to bank their future choice of provider until AFTER such networks have been deployed and gone live.

At present over 65% of UK premises can access a gigabit-capable network (mix of FTTP and Virgin Media’s HFC), which falls to over 30% when just looking at “full fibre” (FTTP) providers (here), but this is rapidly increasing. Suffice to say, in some areas there can be a temptation to see an announcement about a future build and to thus plan your next ISP choice around that.

However, it’s crucial to recognise that such build plans and related dates are tentative, which means they’re subject to change and such change – if it happens – often occurs near to when the deployment itself was originally supposed to take place (i.e. at the 11th hour). In addition, once a new network has been built, then it can still take between several weeks and up to 12-18 months before the first retail ISPs actually go live (varies between operators and areas due to lots of different factors).

Over the past few months’ we’ve seen an up-tick in complaints from readers about this, many of whom have planned to switch ISP by looking at the build date for a new network, while at the same time assuming that this will be both accurate and reflective of actual service availability. As highlight above, this is frequently NOT the case. In some cases, a network operator may even pull out of a build entirely due to unforeseen problems.

For consumers, all of this makes it difficult to organise your current contract terms and ISP choice. On the one hand, you want the flexibility to switch as soon as the new FTTP network goes live. On the other hand, you might not want to be stuck paying expensive out-of-contract rates with your current provider for too long, or to tie yourself into a slower service at the wrong time.

All of this is a headache, but it’s also why we advocate for the cautious approach. Wait until the new network has been built and is live before you make your decision, lest you find yourself being caught out. We’d also advise avoiding trusting the promises of sales people, who in many cases may assure you of availability, often right up until the moment the operator scraps or significantly delays their build. Trust what exists, not what is promised.

In areas where there is greater uncertainty around final service availability (pretty common), then we’d advise temporarily moving to an ISP with affordable shorter-term contracts (e.g. on Openreach there are various options, such as Pulse8 and Cuckoo Broadband with 1-month terms), or just try to tough it out with the post-contract prices of your current ISP for a bit longer.

The calculation above is of course more of a challenge if you’re involved in a demand-led community build project, where committing to take a future service (i.e. an expression of interest) is part of what may make that build commercially viable in the first place. In those cases, you might need to sacrifice a little more to ensure you meet that commitment and can adopt the service as soon as it goes live.

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14 Responses
  1. Broad Band says:

    I agree with this, City Fibre are a prime example of this. All work was completed near my property around 8 9 months ago and they are still not live in my area. Fortunately I have other FTTP suppliers but I am hoping they are live and have some different ISPs by the time my contract is up for renewal later this year.

    1. Bonny says:

      It’s maddening isn’t it. Fibre works was complete for Toob in my area back in July last year and we’re still not live. But other areas that had construction work since then are now live. I’ve been following one.network religiously and there’s been no work since last year.

      I understand some areas are probably easier to get hooked up to head end than others but I’ve purposely been out of contract since the beginning of last year and paying a premium for it so this article hits home.

  2. occasionally factual says:

    Also if you sign up to an alt-net then do check what happens if you need to end the contract early if you move home. You could end up with a big cancellation fee if the next property isn’t served by said alt-net.
    (Same advice for any ISP contract TBH but alt-net’s have a smaller foot print so it is more likely to be an issue there)

    1. nabs says:

      In these cases, it may be worth checking with the new property owner/occupier to see if they would be willing to take on the remainder of the supply contract. If they are then rather than a full cancellation, there may be a small admin fee for changing the name instead.
      Realistically they’re probably going to need an internet connection and the chances are in these locations they’ll end up choosing the same provider you’re currently using so saves a lot of hassle with cancellations and new orders.

  3. Msh says:

    Fantastic post and I agree 100%.

    “For consumers, all of this makes it difficult to organise your current contract terms and ISP choice”

    This is the most important problem from my perspective. I have spent a lot of energy in helping people choose what’s best for them but this issue is always a risk. You mention 1-month providers but that’s not the case with say Virgin Media and it may also not be the best option for you financially (think 12-month contracts with huge cashback, and an altnet rocks up after 11 months). Maybe even staying with your post-contract price is the best option (this only applies if you’re already in a contract of course!).

    The simple fact is, it’s a gamble.

    All we can do is assess the current situation and make judgement calls on a case by case basis with as much data as we can get our hands on.

    On the more positive side of this, interim 5G connections are becoming more and more of a viable possibility!

    1. Msh says:

      I never knew that, thanks for the link!

  4. Iain says:

    If you can get a 4.5G signal, a 4G modem with an MVNO unlimited data SIM card can be a decent stop gap, until FTTP arrives.

  5. Mark says:

    I had a similar problem. Our (now dead) BT line is some aluminium/copper mangled mess, even on FTTC, low speed, 20 up, 5 down, although down speed wasn’t much an issue mostly, it was the constant dropping of connection due to noise, unknown bridge-taps and water ingress.

    OR engineers told me over the phone to “stop reporting it to PlusNet”. I only reported it once, it was PlusNet’s systems flagging it up automatically!

    Thankfully Virgin Media were starting to get ever closer to us and luckily our contract with PlusNet was ending so needed a stop-gap provider while VM were digging up the path in our street. We were with VM before so know all the pitfalls of being with them, but anything had to be better than the OR line. Yes I looked at 3/4G but speeds/service here is/are worse than OR.

    The stop-gap was Pulse8, who I have to say were fantastic and I highly recommend them, very patient and hermit (as in don’t like speaking on the phone) friendly. Even though we were still having drop-outs (mainly when it rained) on Pulse8/Talktalk Business things were a lot more stable. The business connection side of TT is very good I have to say too, extremely low pings.

    We’re now on VM FTTP (went live Aug 21, we joined in Sept/Nov 21), and everything is as expected, ping is somewhat higher but stability is more important for us.

    Oh and a warning: If you plan on transferring your landline to VOIP, do NOT be a moron like me and give your number to VM for any reason. They’ll battle hard to take over the number, causing port failures, even after you request they STOP.

    Sipgate and Pulse8 were both great in stopping VM & eventually allowing porting of our number over (to sipgate).

  6. Mark Needles says:

    I agree with this gigaclear have been in my area for over a year now our house has already been connected but yards up the road the nieghbours are still waiting, yet virgin keeps pestering all of us.
    Rewind a year ago, virgin didn t want to know about us, they said road is too small.? Bt on the other hand they are actively trying to put fibre in. But very few takers. Its all causing confusion,
    Virgin say our phone will stop working, bt say it wont, gigaclear say will need a new phone or possibly new line, bt say we wont need new lines only fibre, virgin say phone lines are needed alongside fibre bur only with them etc et etc.

    1. CarlT says:

      Speaking with a fairly high ranking member of VM technical staff I imagine VM will take an interest once the FTTP overbuild has been done and they can PIA down the road or narrow trench.

      No reason for CityFibre to be a trigger, VM don’t have plant in the street anyway so aren’t losing anything by not building there.

  7. Pete says:

    I give it 5-10 years and a large part of these vendors will have sold off the fibre networks to the larger ones like it happened ages ago to form Virgin Media lol

  8. Matt says:

    Completely agree with this.

    My direct-in-ground aluminium BT connection is 18/2.

    Trooli took 6 months from ordering, there was a considerable cost for ducting and installation, but now I have 940/330.

    BT want to recontract me for 24 months to save £10/month, promising that 900/110 is coming soon and installation would be included. However… only the streets with ducts and poles have got fibre so far. Ours hasn’t seen any Openreach activity.

    I know it’s more of a ‘not now’ than ‘ never’ because one street with buried cable at the other end of town has been (partially) upgraded, but it’s only happened after the easy installs were done there.

  9. Feejus says:

    Many here has said this and I am exactly in the same boat as this article describes and so i took a hit, but it is in some ways worth it.

    My story starts last year, in June I renewed a contract with Zen network for 18month on the 14th day i called and said i changed my mind and would like to have a 12 month contract which they agreed for £30 / month.

    I heard about Heybroadband was in town and seen them all over the town so reached out signed an interest for their services. Initially it was meant to go live in September, October and November. Eventually after a lot of chasing and also signing up for 24 month 1Gig contract I had some good news. Let Feb 2022 i went live and this has been in some ways life changing. I do speed check and its 950 Mbit /Upload and 950Mbit download.

    Its incredible to have such a nice speed in the house where not even many enterprises have that sort of speed. I tried to download from FTP and get a speed of 200Mbit download speed. There is nothing out there which can match my connection right now.

    However like I said, i have pulled the plug on Zen and will be terminating the contract in June. Its a shame, they are a very good company, but they can’t provide me with FTTP.

  10. Canonio says:

    That is pretty strange to read as an Austrian. We are a sub contractor and right now build the 3rd network for the state funded SBIDI. The PoP is the first thing done, then Backbone, then Feeder. And as soon as the first cable goes through a cabinet that is there for the drops they are done and the customer is patched in the evening and is already online months before the last customers. To have the line done and not putting it online seems stupid.

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