Broadband has been around in the UK since 2000, I remember when it was being offered by BT and NTL with speeds of up to 512Kbps (0.5Mbps), it was revolutionary and a leap forward from the dial-up modem scenario, on which the maximum speed was 56Kbps. Whilst there have been many iterations over the last 20 years, ADSL to VDSL and everything in between, speeds hit a limit of around 145Mbps. Fibre broadband or technically known as FTTC (Fibre to the cabinet) has a fibre connection to the cabinet, but your property is connected via copper, usually from an overhead telegraph pole. The copper cable is the limitation here.
Since early 2020, Full fibre has been made available to residential properties, this is known as FTTP (Fibre to the premises), or even FTTH (Fibre to the home), with download speeds up to 900Mbps . Virgin offer a service called Gig1, offering speeds up to 1.1Gbps, although real world details are lacking at the moment. As you’ve probably guessed, the key difference FTTC and FTTP is, you are connected with a fibre optic cable. You can now get connection speeds (bandwidth) that was previously unattainable over a copper connection. This is not a new offering, in the past many businesses and some homes have had to pay several thousands for Openreach to come out and dig trenches and get the fibre laid to the property. This is now being rolled out nationally and there is no better time with more and more people having to work from home due to the pandemic, along with more video streaming from the likes of Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon Prime Video.
So what are the key differences and is it worth upgrading?
Well we had our 76Mbps broadband connection upgraded to full fibre back in October to a 300Mbps connection, the first thing we noticed was the drop in latency. Latency, to put it simply, is the time is takes for data to travel across the network, bandwidth (speed) is good but the true measure of a good network is latency. Typically on the old connection we used to experience anywhere between 30-60ms of latency on a good day, since moving to full fibre, we get between 1-3ms which is almost instant. Fibre optic cable doesn’t have the problems associated with traditional copper cables, there is no signal loss or cross talk and the cable runs can be further. The second thing is the upload speeds are much greater, we get 50Mbps upload compared with around 8Mbps. The other main thing is that you now get a digital voice, pretty much VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol). There are some cool features associated with this but also some cons as if you’re broadband goes down, so does your phone line, but with everyone having a mobile these days, that’s not a major concern. However some old alarms and healthcare systems still require a dedicated phone line and will not work over a digital line.
Who is offering full fibre?
There is a list on the Openreach website, however when we asked around, many providers simply couldn’t offer us the service. An example being Sky, they are on the list, but when we spoke with them, they didn’t seem to know about the product and kept trying to sell us Fibre broadband (FTTC), after persisting, we spoke with a team lead and they could not give us a date of when they could offer it. We decided to go with BT in the end, they gave us an installation date about 10 working days away.
How do they install the fibre?
When the engineers arrived he asked where we would like the fibre installed, there had to be a power socket available to power the ONT (Optical Network Terminal). At first they wanted to tack the cable along the skirting board, we insisted that our engineers help him and get the cable installed correctly, ie: hidden and concealed, because that’s how we do things. The ONT is a small device that connects to the fibre cable coming from the front of the property. Fortunately for us, we have an underground duct connecting us to the telecoms pit so no cables show anywhere externally either. Normally they would replace the cable running from the telegraph pole with a fibre cable and follow the same route to an external splice housing.
Internally the ONT has an ethernet port which the BT Smart Hub 2 connects to, in our case we have our own router which was a breeze to setup using a PPoE configuration. We use our own router as it also has a 4G backup / failover connection to ensure we never loose connection.
All in all, the fibre service is much more robust and works extremely well.