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What is Full Fibre FTTP?

Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have not always done their best to de-mystify their products and it is easy to get confused. Hopefully, this quick guide will help you understand what we are talking about. Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) is the future of fixed broadband internet. However, to fully understand what this means, it is useful to first present the other broadband technologies in use today including ADSL and Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC).

ADSL/ADSL2+

The Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL) has been around now for almost 20 years and represents the first generation of always on broadband internet. The original ADSL offered download speeds of up to 8Mbits/s, and upload speeds of up to 1 Mbits/s, by using unused frequencies in a traditional "two wire" copper telephone line. The kind of telephone line that would have been familiar to Alexander Graham Bell.

In many ways an incredible piece of technology, an ADSL modem is able to tune itself to the characteristics (and limitations) of an individual telephone line. However, the "up to" is very significant as the further you are away from the exchange, the greater the modem's signal is attenuated and the lower speed you will get.

About 10 years ago, ADSL2+ appeared. This was an improved version that supported download speeds of up to 24 Mbits/s (3.3 Mbits/s upload) - but again, the further you are away from the exchange, the worse your download speed is.

Those still having to rely on ADSL are increasingly locked out of what others now take for granted. It can even struggle to support a single High Definition TV stream from the BBC iPlayer.

For more information on ADSL see wikipedia.

Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC)

FTTC is often marketed as Fibre Broadband (or Superfast Broadband) - but that is only partly true. It is better than ADSL, but is really no more than an interim solution to a proper full fibre service.

The traditional telephone network is organised as an inverse tree fanning out from each telephone exchange. The next level in the tree down from the exchange is the roadside cabinet. Usually painted green, these are the fanout points from which individual subscriber lines are run to each house. Alresford has 17 BT Cabinets in all, distributed around the town.

Alresford was upgraded to "Superfast Broadband" a few years ago. That is, upgraded to FTTC. Fibre to the Cabinet means precisely that. Fibre optic cables are run from the exchange to each cabinet and from then on you are back to the old copper cables between the cabinet and your house. If you are lucky enough to be near a cabinet then this gives you a big boost in speed. However, if you are still a long way away, then the benefit is much lower.

Between the cabinet and your home, and over the old copper lines, FTTC uses an improved version of ADSL, known as Very high-speed Digital Subscriber Line (VDSL). VDSL download speeds are typically up to 80 MBits/s with FTTC. Again, distance from the cabinet has a big impact on the actual speed that you get. For example, even with VDSL, south east Alresford speeds are some way below 30 Mbits/s. Some are below 10 Mbits/s.

FTTC is a hybrid fibre/copper service and is really no more than a stop-gap. For more information, see wikipedia.

GFast

GFast is an improvement on FTTC, but is still an interim solution and is deployed as a hybrid fibre/copper solution where the copper line is less that 500 metres long. It has the potential to deliver up to 900 Mbits/s when the copper line is around 100 metres in length. Again, distance from the GFast hub is critical when determining the actual download speed. GFast deployments are now stalled in favour of FTTP.

For more information see wikipedia.

Wireless Broadband Services

Wireless Broadband Services are also available using 4G technology and, at some point in the future, 5G technology. These can offer higher speeds than you can get with (e.g.) FTTC and a long line. However, these always come with a caveat. Wireless bandwidth is shared between all users of a given 4G/5G mast. Once the limit is exceeded then service quality starts to drop off, the speed decreases and the likelihood of losing your connection grows. Wireless Broadband can be a good stop gap but should not be seen as an alternative to FTTP. If you are using wireless broadband then it may be an idea to keep quiet - you don't want your neighbours all piling in.

Fibre to the Premises (FTTP)

Also sometimes known as Fibre to the Home (FTTH) this is true "Full Fibre" internet. Having arguably oversold the term "Superfast broadband", a new superlative was required and hence the marketing term "Ultrafast Broadband" is used for FTTP. The term FTTP applies whenever a fibre optic cable runs all the way from the exchange to the subscriber and without any copper line component - hence the "Full Fibre" description.

For domestic installations, FTTP is typically deployed as a Passive Optical Network where a single fibre is run from the exchange or cabinet and is used to service up to 32 separate premises. Passive optical splitters are used to share access to the main fibre.

Fibre Optic cable's advantages over copper include:

  • Much faster data rates allowing up to 1 GBit/s download speed per subscriber and hence giving the capacity needed for multi user households, gamers, Netflix and iPlayer in UHD/4k, Zoom meetings, etc.
  • Low attenuation of the optical signal. Even when the network spans several kilometres there is little difference in the download speed available
  • Low maintenance compared with copper, i.e. much more reliable.

For such reasons, FTTP is the future of fixed internet access technology and increasingly those not on FTTP will find more and more internet services are beyond their reach. It is often the deal breaker for house purchases with buyers increasingly reluctant to buy a property with poor internet.

For more information see wikipedia.

Single Order Generic Ethernet Access (SOGEA)

SOGEA is really a variation on FTTC and as far as most users are concerned, it can be defined as Superfast Broadband (FTTC) without a Phone line. Like FTTC, it uses fibre to the cabinet and then copper wires to your home. The line speeds should expected to be the same as FTTC.

The benefit of SOGEA is typically on cost as all you have to pay for is the broadband service and the additional cost of a telephone service is avoided. SOGEA should thus be cheaper than standard Superfast Broadband. However, the actual price difference depends upon which ISP you go to.There may also be an installation charge as Openreach want to change the master socket from a telephone socket to an RJ11 socket and that requires an engineer's visit.

Currently, the industry is assuming that the fixed line telephone service will end in 2025 and hence SOGEA can be seen as a way of supporting those users who do not have access to FTTP in 2025 and have to continue using a copper connection.

Once you have switched to SOGEA then you have to use either a mobile phone or, if you still want fixed line telephony, then you have to switch to Voice over IP (VoIP)).

For more information, see this article on ISPreview.

Why should I want FTTP?