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UK Internet/comms general questions

ethump

Casual Member
Hi all,

I'm a Brit but left the UK in the dial-up/Kilostream/ISDN years. I was overseas for 20+ years and now I'm back and trying to understand the lay of the land with respect to ISPs/broadband/comms etc. How it all connects, the role OR play, what happens in between the fibre cabinet on my street and my ISP. How do all the comms providers play together.

Is there anyone in the Manchester area who knows about this stuff that wouldn't mind meeting for a beer and doing a brain dump? I'm a tech/IT infra/comms guy so don't necessarily need treating with kid gloves, just want to sit down with a pad and pen and understand it all.

Failing that, I'll try articulate my questions here if thats OK.

Of course, if there's a www site, youtube vid or document or something that explains it all, then i'm all ears!

cheers,
e
 

Meatball

ULTIMATE Member
It would probably take a few sessions with the complexity we have now.

I'd start with some of the Helpful ISP Guides and Tips on this site. Just be mindful of the dates as things change. Also look for articles/news here regarding proposed Full Fibre (FTTP) rollouts using the search.

But as a starter for ten:
  • Broadband technology will be Post Code or even premise specific for some years.
  • The majority of UK broadband remains over the BT copper network with some still stuck on slow ADSL lines while majority on FTTC.
  • BT network (copper and fibre) is managed by Openreach which is now separated for regulatory reasons and used by hundreds of ISPs.
  • OR now going well rolling out FTTP with a target of 25m by 2026.
  • VM have now upgraded most of their network and Giga speeds on both their coaxial and RFoG networks and will migrate progressively to FTTP by 2028.
  • Alternative networks big and small are rolling out Full Fibre.
  • Going forward Urban may have up to 4 competing networks each carrying their own list of ISPs (one to many) whilst Rural areas may only have one.
  • OR and VM are initially implementing Asymmetric speeds whilst Alnets are in the main going straight for Symmetrical speeds.
  • Once the fibre is laid then upgrades can provide much faster speeds in both directions in future with only incremental investments for those that need it (particularly relevant to OR).
  • As mobile data is competitive (and in some cases much faster currently) many have moved to 4G LTE Routers for their broadband, increased capacity or a backup. 5G and higher LTE routers remain expensive currently so some (including me) are experimenting with tethered 5G phones.
  • Broadband costs are set to continue rising (including inflation issue) to pay for investment by both fixed and mobile providers.
It will be a lottery depending on your use case.
 

Lucian

ULTIMATE Member
For completion:

OR = OpenReach
VM = VirginMedia
FTTC = Fibre To The Cabinet (aka Not really fiber)
FTTP = Fibre To The Premise (actual fibre)
 

Msh

Pro Member
Great effort @Meatball šŸ‘
  • Alternative networks big and small are rolling out Full Fibre.
To add an extra level of complexity to this, some altnets wholesale their infrastructure, and some don't.
 

Matt.Rowley.1990

Regular Member
To add some further info:

  • Virgin Media (the UK's major cable provider) have switched from deploying RF cable to fibre. RFoG refers to Radio Frequency Over Glass. Essentially, Virgin are using a PON style fibre architecture to transmit the equivalent RF over the glass fibre. It is still making use of DOCSIS to maintain compatibility throughout their network and employ standardisation of end user devices. At the customer demarcation point, the optical fibre gets converted back to coax and enters the property. Virgin, by 2028 are aiming to convert this PON style fibre deployment into a something like GPON or XGS-PON.
  • Openreach have accelerated the growth of many alt-nets by offering something called PIA - Private Infrastructure Access. This essentially enables 3rd parties to utilise OR duct space or poles, sharing OR fixed infrastructure. You'll start seeing more styles of fibre termination points mounted to the top of poles. For example, Openreach are deploying Corning CBTs and Alt nets such as Community Fibre are using HellermanTyton AFNs.
 

ethump

Casual Member
Thanks guys.

I'll look out for those guides. In the meantime:

  1. Who provides the backhaul networking? Taking FTTC as an example, how are the cabinets connected to the ISPs?

  2. There's been a bunch of trenching going up my street with a small VM branded thing in the pavement outside each property (though not mine!). There's a new cabinet now sat next to the local OR cab. What's going on there? The obvious is that VM are lighting up the entire street but surely that's a bit of a punt if only one or two people on the street take VM service? Are they sharing last mile infrastructure with anyone? Who provides backhaul service to the VM infra?

  3. Looking at corporate stuff: if I have offices in, say, Newcastle, Leeds, Norwich and Bristol and want them connecting up with a virtual private ethernet service, who do I call? Who's network provides that?

cheers!
 

Matt.Rowley.1990

Regular Member
There's been a bunch of trenching going up my street with a small VM branded thing in the pavement outside each property (though not mine!). There's a new cabinet now sat next to the local OR cab. What's going on there? The obvious is that VM are lighting up the entire street but surely that's a bit of a punt if only one or two people on the street take VM service? Are they sharing last mile infrastructure with anyone? Who provides backhaul service to the VM infra?
I'll give it a go on this bit, as it is probably the easiest to answer.

As far as I am aware, Virgin Media (owned by Liberty Global) own their end to end service. They don't buy in trunk links from elsewhere and use that for their service. They manage their own street furniture, passive optical equipment/cables and have their own head ends to ultimately terminate the service.

Virgin tend to deploy in large areas, although it isn't uncommon for them to miss certain places, much to the frustration of those who would like the service. As with any deployment, it is a gamble and they deploy before they have customers signed up. There is a target build cost per property (which I forget but is in the region of Ā£100-150). They will spam/leaflet these postcodes like crazy with offers when the service goes live, hoping to get as much return on investment as possible. Of course, the other side is trying to beat OR or alt-nets to these areas, so their chance of gaining a subscriber is higher. It is naturally getting harder to do this, as FTTP coverage is getting better by the day.

EDIT: On the Virgin install, they will be putting micro ducts into the pavement, terminating at each property into a Toby box. This is a hollow tube back to the roadside cabinet. When you come to buy a service from Virgin, they will blow a fibre down the micro duct and connect you at the cabinet. They have a fibre coupler in the Toby box that then links up to a fibre that will connect to the RF converter on the outside of your house. This is where fibre turns back into coax.
 

Meatball

ULTIMATE Member
eThump. My summary above was primarily Consumer/SME. If your interest is business then there is a completely different level of complexity added.

As consumer broadband increases in speed then it will meet the needs of more businesses and therefore Business orientated ISPs will utilise it.

Most Fibre based networks are connected to centralised nodes. In many cases this will have been the old Exchanges. But OR are centralising to fewer central nodes and Altnets are implementing similar.

How say a 10Gbs link between locations is met depends on the distance. It could be utilising existing or a discrete fibre run or many hops using multiple suppliers. Networks will use the most cost effective route and they all use each other even if they predominately have their own infrastructure.

Key issue for business is the underlying resilience which may be two totally independent feeds, two providers or fixed with mobile backup.

Most of the leading ISPs have business divisions and there are many business specific ISPs who can supply service over multiple networks supplemented with local Fibre links. You just have to specify the service required and pay the premium prices which will vary depending on where we are on the fibre journey at the locations.
 

candlerb

Top Member
Thanks guys.

I'll look out for those guides. In the meantime:

  1. Who provides the backhaul networking? Taking FTTC as an example, how are the cabinets connected to the ISPs?
With FTTC, Openreach themselves provide the initial fibre link to "head end exchanges", which are larger main telephone exchanges - I forget the exact number of these, something like 1500 I think.

Other providers then have to bring their own networks to these locations, where they interconnect with Openreach by buying "cablelinks" of 1G or 10G capacity, basically switch-to-switch interconnects.

Any provider who wants to build their own backhaul network can do so. BT Wholesale and Talktalk have the largest ones with national coverage, and many ISPs just purchase backhaul capacity from them. Some ISPs connect more selectively to a subset of head end exchanges.

  1. Looking at corporate stuff: if I have offices in, say, Newcastle, Leeds, Norwich and Bristol and want them connecting up with a virtual private ethernet service, who do I call? Who's network provides that?
Loads of companies offer that, and will fall over themselves to sell you a managed service. They in turn will buy "tail circuits" from a range of operators. Usually those are dedicated circuits (leased lines), not the home FTTP type of network, although providers can also build you a VPN out of FTTC (EoFTTC) or FTTP.

However to be honest, these sort of services are becoming rather last-century. These days, everybody just puts their services in the public cloud, and accesses them over the Internet.
 

ethump

Casual Member
With FTTC, Openreach themselves provide the initial fibre link to "head end exchanges", which are larger main telephone exchanges - I forget the exact number of these, something like 1500 I think.

Other providers then have to bring their own networks to these locations, where they interconnect with Openreach by buying "cablelinks" of 1G or 10G capacity, basically switch-to-switch interconnects.

Any provider who wants to build their own backhaul network can do so. BT Wholesale and Talktalk have the largest ones with national coverage, and many ISPs just purchase backhaul capacity from them. Some ISPs connect more selectively to a subset of head end exchanges.

Right. So let's say I'm setting up a new ISP. I'm going to start small and serve my local town then steadily build out to the rest of the country.

I stick a big router in my data center and buy a bunch of bandwidth from another ISP (maybe BT Wholesale Connect) and perhaps someone else also for redundancy.

Then I need to get bandwidth from my data center to my area's head-end exchange that I wish to serve. I might use BT Ethernet for that. Then I purchase a cablelink that connects my network handoff to the OR equipment that serves the cabinets in the area.

I can then enter a commercial arrangement with OR to bundle their last-mile services with my spanky new ISP. My user's home DSL routers build PPPoE connections back to my big router in my data center with OR DLSAMs (in the cabinets?) direct the traffic to my router based on the @ThumpISP component of my usernames. My big router authenticates, strips off the PPP and routes the traffic accordingly.

So far so good?

When it comes time to expand, I simply repeat that middle step by lighting up more OR head-end exchanges until I've covered all ~1500 of them.

It might then make sense to then regionalize my data centers across the country perhaps 3 or 4 serving North, South, East, West areas of the country. Each DC has it's own provision of tier 1 internet. Perhaps the DCs share a common authentication database.

Thanks for the input everyone. I think this is crystallizing (unless I'm talking rollocks above!!).
 
Last edited:

Pheasant

ULTIMATE Member
Hehe kind of ;-)

Fundamentally it depends if you wish to ride on the coat-tails of an existing wholesale network (like CityFibre or Openreach) to reach your customers..

or

as is fashionable if you're going to be the 120th (or something like that...) Alternative Network builder and put your own glass in the ground (or on poles!) in the UK.

:cool:
 

Meatball

ULTIMATE Member
You need to include resilience or very good SLA's with any providers otherwise you could be overwhelmed and lose customers very quickly. Included in this is the speed profiles, use/abuse and peak time congestion.

I'd look at some of the leading ISPs and what they are doing. One well focused provider around here is FW who sell the service via Hey Broadband. They have links to the OR handoff point (or possible there own unit) for a particular exchange area and appear to be targeting poles (using OR PIA). In this way its a single fibre route out to a pole then a passive splitter. In this way they can install and cover 3 to 20 premises in one hit. They can then probably recover costs on a relatively low take-up of a few premises, profit as the utilisation increases and augment as required.

There is a lot of money piling in on FTTP now and not all of it will be successful. Particularly as inflation is going high and consumer spend will be constrained. Only a small percentage of consumers need the higher speed products meaning FTTC/4G/5G will remain competitive until OR and VM have most of the country covered with Gig and they will have their XGPON overlays complete (over the same fibres) ready for the next stage.

To survive I'd say a smaller ISP has to have a really focused offering with functionality that the bigger ISPs can only offer businesses.
 
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