FTTP Questions and Answers (FAQs) For an Openreach Community Partnership

Openreach engineer

I’ve produced the following FAQ question and answers guide for my local community, which should get FTTP in 2021 as part of an Openreach Community Partnership. Hopefully, many other people across the UK will be find it useful.

What is ultrafast Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP), and why is it better than the Fibre-to-the-Cabinet (FTTC) we have now?

Ultrafast Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) is the ultimate broadband technology in terms of reliability and performance (e.g. speeds and latency), but is the most expensive broadband technology for broadband providers to install. FTTP is often termed ‘full fibre’ or ‘Gigabit broadband’. With FTTP, fibre-optic cables are used all the way from the exchange to your home or businesses, improving reliability and speeds.

Across the UK, a cheaper technology called Fibre-to-the-Cabinet (FTTC) has been installed on a widespread basis. At the time, budgets were insufficient to deploy FTTP on the same scale and widespread FTTC deployment maximised the number of households with ‘superfast’ speeds (more than 30 Mbps) for the available budget. FTTC has delivered significantly greater speeds than standard ADSL broadband.

Unfortunately, Fibre-to-the-Cabinet (FTTC) is not perfect. With FTTC, a fibre-optic cable is used to connect the green BT street cabinet to the BT exchange. However, FTTC still relies on existing copper cables to connect the street cabinet to homes and businesses. As a result, FTTC has two main weaknesses:

  • only households close to the street cabinet achieve the highest speeds
  • copper cables between the street cabinet and premises are susceptible to interference and cable problems.

As shown in the chart below, speeds for FTTC fibre broadband diminish the further away you are located from the green BT street cabinet. In some areas, the street cabinet is located at one side of a village or town. While homes on one side of a village may get the fastest speeds, households can struggle with slower speeds at the opposite side. FTTP will allow everyone to get the same speeds, independent of where they live. As you pay exactly the same price for fibre broadband whatever speeds you get, FTTC effectively produces a ‘postcode lottery’. Moving to full-fibre with FTTP would mean that you get the full service you pay for.
FTTC speed versus distance chart
 

Figure: Download Connection Speeds For Fibre-to-the-Cabinet (FTTC)

 
For more information about the speeds of FTTC, visit:

Fibre Broadband (FTTC) Speed Versus Distance from the Cabinet

Why now for Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP)?

Government vouchers

While Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) can substantially improve the reliability and performance of broadband, the costs of doing so are very high. Only recently have things fallen into place, with the introduction of an improved government voucher scheme and top-ups from local authorities to potentially make it viable to bring FTTP to areas without incurring any installation costs for residents. Two developments have been key to making the business case viable:

  • extension of the Rural Gigabit Voucher Scheme (giving £1500 to households and £3500 to businesses for FTTP installation) to households with speeds below 100 Mbps (rather than 30 Mbps previously)
  • local authorities offering top-ups for Government vouchers. This means that voucher values can be boosted substantially.

Out business case modelling suggests that the improved vouchers and top-ups can enable the deployment of FTTP in some areas with a voucher sign-up rate of between 10% and 30% of premises.

For more information on the Government’s Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme, visit:

Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme: Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport

Wouldn’t we get FTTP anyway if we didn’t do anything?

Possibly, but it may take many years to FTTP arrive across the UK without proactive community action. There is a huge amount of uncertainty around broadband in the UK currently. The UK Government had an initial target of extending full-fibre broadband to all homes in the UK by 2033. Then, in the 2019 Conservative Manifesto, there was a £5 billion pledge to bring full fibre and gigabit-capable broadband to every home and business across the UK by 2025.  Sadly, this commitment has now been substantially watered down (as described in the article below).

Given the current uncertain situation, it could take up to ten years (or possibly more) for FTTP to come to some rural areas. The coronavirus pandemic has strongly emphasised the need to have reliable and fast broadband connectivity to be able to work effectively from home. As discussed above, the existing Fibre-to-the-Cabinet (FTTC) broadband infrastructure is simply not good enough.

For more information, visit:

Government Cuts Gigabit Broadband Investment and Targets So Why Not Do It Yourself?

Why a Community Fibre Partnership with Openreach?

Openreach community partnerships

While there is no perfect provider, we believe that the Openreach Community Partnership is currently the best route for most rural communities. The main reason is that the Openreach deployment model allows broadband users to subscribe to a broad range of providers (including BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Zen). Some other FTTP providers currently only provide serviced from a very limited number of broadband providers. This means that broadband users would have to accept whatever pricing and conditions were set now and in the future.

FTTP services on offer

While the introduction of competition to Openreach is seen by some as a welcome move (increasing the competition between FTTP network operators), it is essential that these new operators are able to offer services from a broad range of providers (increasing the competition between FTTP service providers).

To find out more about Openreach Community Fibre Partnerships, visit:

Community Fibre Partnerships: Openreach website

Why opt for FTTP? What are the benefits?

BBC Ultgra HD screenshot

If you currently benefit from Fibre-to-the-Cabinet (FTTC) services, which offer higher faster speeds than standard ADSL broadband, why go for FTTP? There are a number of reasons why broadband users should pledge their vouchers:

  • Ultrafast FTTP is needed to support a rapidly-increasing number of devices in the home (including smart TVs, mobile phones, media players and tablets).
  • Without ultrafast broadband, households can miss out on bandwidth-intensive services such as streamed TV and video services offering the best picture and sound quality. A single live stream from BBC iPlayer (in Ultra HD 4k format) requires a download speed of 40 Mbps. Ultra HD programmes from the BBC will only be available via iPlayer online and will not be available via Freeview through a conventional TV aerial.
  • Ultrafast broadband provides substantially improved performance for delay-sensitive services, such as online gaming and voice and video telephony (e.g. Zoom and Skype).
  • Ultrafast FTTP broadband delivers a more responsive experience for many applications (due to its ultra-low latency).
  • With much bigger upload speeds, online back-up and file sharing is much quicker, as this could take weeks (or months) with fibre broadband.
  • Ultrafast FTTP broadband better enables home working and can improve work-life balance.
  • Ultrafast FTTP broadband is more reliable than standard ADSL broadband and fibre broadband, suffering from fewer faults due to the use of fibre-optic cables all the way from the exchange to households and businesses.
  • Ultrafast FTTP broadband could increase your house price, or decrease it if you don’t have it. Many of those looking to move regard the availability of high-speed broadband to be as important as the availability of good schools and transport links.
  • Ultrafast broadband is affordable, and cheaper than you may think. Particularly if you are out-of-contract (which many people are), you may well save money by moving from fibre broadband to ultrafast FTTP broadband.

The following page details each of these benefits in depth:

Ten Reasons to Opt for Ultrafast FTTP Broadband

Is FTTP expensive? What are the costs?

BT FTTP prices

FTTP is not expensive. For the same speeds, FTTP matches superfast fibre broadband prices but bear in mind that you actually get the speeds you pay for with FTTP. For example, a 150 Mbps FTTP service will deliver an average speed of 150 Mbps wherever you are  located. In contrast, a fibre broadband service delivering up to 74 Mbps close to the street cabinet may deliver a speed of 20 Mbps or less if you are situated a significant distance from the street cabinet.

FTTP services are available from a broad range of providers, including BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Zen. This means that most households will have the simple option of staying with their existing ISP. However, you may wish to use the opportunity to find a better deal. With many households outside a contract, it’s very likely that you’ll pay less with FTTP than you do now, for a service that is faster and more reliable. We recommend that you check what you are currently paying for your phone and broadband so you can compare this with the table below.

If you wish to take advantage of the best choice of FTTP services and tariffs, we advise against tying yourself into a particular provider for superfast fibre broadband for long periods (e.g. one to two years) going forwards.

The beauty of FTTP is that you can choose a tariff with the speeds you require, and can change/upgrade when and if you need more speed (for example, if you want to enjoy Ultra HD programmes such as the Olympics after upgrading to a new Ultra HD TV). Alternatively, you have the option of reducing speeds if you do not need them. So, while FTTP is capable of impressive speeds (currently up to 910 Mbps), you do not need to subscribe to the fastest packages. You may just want FTTP for a more reliable broadband service.

For those wanting to go for the full speed, we think the 910 Mbps services are good value for what you get. For those running a business with two phone lines, FTTP could allow you to go to a single connection and save money. As you can see, FTTP services are available in the £30-35 per month range (and lower) for those with more modest speed requirements.

FTTP pricing

Table: Examples of FTTP pricing for phone and broadband

 

What commitment am I making pledging a voucher?

By pledging your voucher, you will not have to pay any cost towards the installation of FTTP to your home or business premises.

The voucher forms are very confusing, with some people with businesses falsely believing they would have to pay the VAT associated with FTTP installation. This is not the case.

Your only commitment is to subscribe to an FTTP service that delivers at least a doubling of speeds compared with the service currently being consumed by you. This is for a 12-month period and you are free to take any service with any speed after this. The great news is that FTTP services from a wide range of suppliers are available, including popular broadband providers like BT, Zen, TalkTalk, Sky and EE.

Your new connection must be installed within 12 months of the issue of a voucher.

For the avoidance of doubt, here are some examples:

Those who are located very close to the street cabinet, and achieve the maximum real FTTC download speeds (e.g. throughputs measured by online speed tests) of about 70-74 Mbps, can subscribe to a 150 Mbps FTTP service (or any service with speeds higher than this). As shown in the pricing table above, there are several affordable 150 Mbps FTTP services available.

Those with standard ADSL broadband can subscribe to any FTTP service offering a download speed in excess of 30 Mbps.

Those achieving the highest possible speeds on packages that have been often referred to as ‘up to 40 Mbps’ (which actually achieve real throughputs of about 35-37 Mbps) can subscribe to FTTP packages with a speed of 74 Mbps or above.

We have been informed by the Department of Digital, Culture, Media & Sport that voucher holders can measure their current download speeds using an online speed test, and choose an FTTP service that delivers at least a doubling in speeds. To understand your current speeds, we recommend using an accurate online speed. For the most accurate online speed test, visit:

Online Speed Tests: The Best and Worst and How to Use Them | Increase Broadband Speed Website

 

Obviously, you are free to choose faster services than the minimum speed requirements. After the initial 12-month period, you are free to choose any package with any speed.

You can read about the voucher scheme and terms and conditions in the following PDF here:

Terms and conditions of Gigabit vouchers (in PDF format) (updated Sep 2020)

What type of businesses can pledge business vouchers? What if I am self employed and/or a sole trader?

Different types of businesses can pledge business vouchers, including the self-employed and/or sole traders. It is really important to the success of a community FTTP project that those who run businesses from their homes declare this as business vouchers are generally so much more valuable than ‘standard’ residential vouchers.

In order to qualify for a business voucher, you will be asked to self-certify that you meet the European Commission definition of a Small or Medium-sized Enterprise (SME) and that:

  • you have fewer than 250 employees
  • your turnover is no greater than EUR50 million per annum
  • you have a balance sheet of no more than EUR43 million
  • you have received less than EUR200k in public grants in the last three years.

You may be asked to provide evidence of your status as an SME or sole trader,  but the requirements are not onerous. Documentation that would be acceptable includes:

  • VAT registration
  • charity registration
  • HMRC notification
  • sole trader UTR number (used for self assessment)
  • certification of incorporation (limited companies)
  • business bank account statement issues within the last three months.

For more detailed information, please visit:

Terms and conditions of Gigabit vouchers (in PDF format) (updated Sep 2020)

Will I need to change my supplier?

The vast majority of broadband users will not need to change broadband provider as FTTP services are already offered by many of the most popular broadband providers (including BT, TalkTalk, Sky, Zen and EE) and more providers will be joining them over the coming months.

However, you may wish to change supplier to get a particularly attractive deal. That’s why we recommend that you do not tie yourself into a long contract for FTTC fibre broadband to give you the full range of services to choose from when FTTP is switched on.

If you currently subscribe to BT, TalkTalk, Sky and EE, you will be able to upgrade to FTTP services even if you are in contract. Unless you have a burning desire to stay with your existing broadband providers, we feel that it makes sense to keep your options open though.

My current broadband provider currently does not offer FTTP services so what do I do?

Full-fibre FTTP is the future of broadband, and there are a lot of developments occurring with broadband providers ‘behind the scenes’. While most of the major broadband providers have already launched FTTP services, others have been carrying out trials before launching FTTP services nationally. Affordable FTTP services are already available from many providers including BT, TalkTalk, Sky, Zen and EE.

In the event that your broadband provider does not offer FTTP services, then you would need to move to another broadband provider if you want to take advantage of the benefits of FTTP in terms of reliability, speeds and latency.

If your current broadband provider does not currently offer FTTP services, we would advise caution in signing up to a new fibre broadband contract. Any ‘good deal’ now may not seem so good when FTTP services arrive. Particularly for those not getting the best speeds possible with fibre broadband due to their distance from the street cabinet, FTTP will seem much better value as you will get the speeds that you pay for.

Will the roads or my drive be dug up?

Because Openreach will be doing the installation, all existing ducts and poles will be used wherever possible. At the start of the project, these will be tested and rodded to ensure they are clear and there is enough capacity for the fibre-optic cables. Openreach has absolutely no authority to dig up, or interfere with, driveways. Additional chambers, junction points and aggregation boxes for the fibre-optic cables may need to be installed on pavements at intervals within an area, but disruption will be minimised.

I’m retired and don’t need extra speed or cost, so should I bother?

That’s entirely up to you. As discussed above, you may actually save money by going for FTTP (as discussed above). Some people pledge their vouchers to improve broadband for others in the area rather than themselves. Even if you don’t need higher speeds, you may benefit from improved reliability and increased house values. For many people buying homes, the availability of high-speed broadband is as important as good local schools and transport links, and its importance will only get greater.

Even if you don’t think you need higher speeds, you may find that the current services you access (particularly if you use services such as Netflix and iPlayer) are degraded to ‘fit’ your current speeds. The BBC and other TV providers (such as Netflix) adjust bit rates to fit with your broadband speeds and reliability. Those with the best connections (i.e. with FTTP) will benefit from the best picture and sound quality. Also, in the future, when the BBC intends to make iPlayer the main way to access BBC services, FTTP will future-proof your home for TV access. Future TV services from the BBC and other terrestrial TV providers (in Ultra HD format) will be carried via broadband and not carried by terrestrial TV networks (through your TV aerial).

How is FTTP delivered – overhead cables or underground – and will this change?

Openreach engineer

Fibre-optic cables will be fed alongside existing copper telephone cables using existing underground ducts. Fibre-optic cables will also be attached to existing overhead poles if this is how you currently get your telephone service. So, nothing will really change in how broadband services are delivered to you. This will keep cost and disruption down. Openreach has no intention of performing unnecessary engineering work but will ensure that FTTP services are reliably delivered and future-proof. We do not foresee any major disruption.

Do I have to take traditional telephone services with line rental?

That is a good question! Traditionally, standard broadband and fibre broadband services have been sold along with telephony services and line rental. With FTTP, you have the option with some FTTP services to remove your traditional telephone service and the line rental charge, and use your mobile phone(s) or voice-over-IP services delivered using the FTTP fibre-optic cable rather than the copper cables that have been used to date. Eventually, copper cables will no longer be used for phone services.

In many households the traditional ‘home phone’ has already been replaced by mobile phones. Many people have got used to calling or messaging individuals on their mobiles rather than calling a location, and relish the opportunity to get rid of line rental charges. If you do not wish to continue with line rental and your traditional ‘home phone’, you may be able to save money opting for an FTTP package without this.

The situation is a bit confusing at present since voice-over-IP services are not available with all Openreach FTTP connections. In compatible areas, BT offers its ‘Digital Voice’ voice-over-IP service with a ‘free’ digital handset. As well as offering improved voice quality (with its ‘HD calling’), BT also offers voicemail, call waiting and call divert at no extra charge.

BT’s Digital Voice Service |  BT Website

Do I have to take an FTTP service as I don’t want/need ultrafast speeds? Are existing fibre broadband services being phased out?

Unless you have pledged a voucher, you do not have to subscribe to an FTTP service, and FTTC fibre broadband services will continue for several/many years (although they will be phased out at some point). BT has not yet announced a timescale for the withdrawal of copper-based services in our area.

For more information, here’s a recent article about the switch-off of the copper network:

Openreach to Stop Selling Copper Phone in 118 Areas – Go FTTO  |  Think Broadband

 

There is little point staying with FTTC services. Putting speeds to one side, FTTP is simply much more reliable.

Just because FTTP can deliver much faster speeds, you do not have to opt for the highest speeds available. Broadband providers offer FTTP services with a range of speeds. On a like-for-like basis, prices FTTP and FTTC offering the same speeds are similarly priced. So why not opt to future-proof your connection and improve reliability?

If you think that staying on FTTC while others migrate to FTTP will improve your service by freeing up capacity, this will not be the case. There is no contention at the street cabinet. Furthermore, many street cabinets employ a technology called ‘vectoring’, which cancels out interference on the copper telephone cables from other broadband users. This means that there will be no performance improvement with FTTC as the number of users dwindles.

FTTP will always give better, more reliable performance than FTTC. With FTTP, there is a fibre-optic cable connection all the way from your home to the BT exchange. By eliminating all the processing that takes place in the fibre cabinet and the signal degradation caused by the copper cable connection between the cabinet and your premises, reliability and latency (delay) are significantly improved. So, services that do not need high speeds are also improved.

Even if you don’t think you will need the speeds, you may be surprised just how much your usage and speed requirements increase in the coming months and years. As TV  – which is highly usage-intensive – increasingly moves over to broadband delivery, this will place substantial demands on your broadband connection.

Even if you don’t think you need faster speeds, your current service may be being degraded by ‘bufferbloat’, which is a little known but major problem with broadband connections. So, we strongly advise choosing sufficient speeds to ensure there is significant headroom between your maximum speeds and the peak speed demands from the services you use. Anyone who has closely monitored their broadband connection will see that services, such as Netflix and YouTube, do not generally stream at a steady rate. Downloads appear more like a square-wave, with speeds much greater than average to fill up equipment buffers, with gaps while buffers are emptied.  Having insufficient headroom can significant degrade other services being used at the same time, particularly Skype, Zoom, browsing and gaming. Furthermore, quality of service mechanisms that can be implemented in routers to improve latency (delays) for latency-sensitive applications reduce the maximum speeds that can be downloaded. By selecting a faster service than you may think you need, you can substantially improve the responsiveness of services that don’t actually need much speed.

While many focus on peak speeds when they talk about FTTP, FTTP is equally about the quality of services delivered, whatever speeds individual services require.

To measure bufferbloat on your current connection, run a speed test here:

DSL Reports Speed Test

 

The test will grade your connection. Properly configured, an FTTP connection will be able to achieve scores of A+ for ‘Overall’,  ‘Bufferbloat’ and ‘Quality’.

For more information on how to eliminate bufferbloat, visit:

Bufferbloat: Why it is Harming Your Broadband and How to Easily Fix It  |  Increase Broadband Speed

Advertised FTTP speeds sound impressive but will I get them?

That’s a great question. There are two aspects to consider.

Firstly, when FTTC services were first introduced, services were commonly referred to as ‘up to 40 Mbps’ or ‘up to 80 Mbps’. Unfortunately, the reality is that the 40 and 80 Mbps speeds referred to are connection or ‘sync’ speeds (and not actual throughput speeds, which are lower) and they are the maximum speeds possible since actual speeds decline with distance from the street cabinet (as discussed previously).  The good news is that, with FTTP services, the speeds advertised by many broadband providers are average speeds that can be achieved by broadband users. So, the FTTP service going into your router should provide such speeds in practice.

Secondly, be aware that the speeds going into your router are not necessarily the speeds you get if you are using a Wi-Fi connection. Particularly if you are opting for the fastest FTTP services (up to 910 Mbps), we strongly advise that you connect all devices that do not move (e.g. smart TVs, set-top boxes, games consoles and desktop PCs) to your router using Ethernet cables. Gigabit Ethernet will ensure that you actually achieve the maximum FTTP speeds possible, with the least amount of latency (delay). Properly configured, a Wi-Fi connection can typically deliver speeds of 650-720 Mbps at most using modern devices (e.g. mobile phones and tablets). In advance of FTTP arriving, we recommend that you consider optimising or upgrading your home network if you are seeking the best speeds and performance. For example, a single Wi-Fi router or Access Point will not provide adequate coverage and speeds throughout a typical home and the use of multiple Access Points would extract the best performance possible.

To help understand how Wi-Fi works and to demonstrate what can be achieved through proper Wi-Fi set-up and optimisation in a typical home, visit:

Wi-Fi Setup Guide  |  Increase Broadband Speed

My local community is interested in getting FTTP. How do we go about it?

Please visit our national guide for rural communities here on the Increase Broadband Speed website:

Guide for Rural Communities: How to Get Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) Now!

 

There’s never been a better time to bring FTTP to your community with improved Government vouchers and the introduction of top-ups by local authorities. As shown in the article above, FTTP may be viable for communities in some areas with a sign-up rate of only 10%.