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Does fibre mean fibre?

Fibre broadband

Fibre is the new premium standard in broadband. But with speeds seemingly dependent on whether your fibre goes to the cabinet, your home or somewhere in between, does fibre really mean fibre?

Broadband advertising is confusing. That’s something we’ve been banging on about for a while. So it’s good to see the CAP (Committee of Advertising Practice) consulting on how providers advertise ‘up to’ speeds to customers, and it’s something Which? will be responding to.

But here is another thing that might add to the confusion, especially if you are not a telecoms nerd like myself. It’s the meaning of fibre and how Internet Service Providers (ISPs) use it in their advertisements.

Faster with more fibre

When a prospective customer sees a broadband advert boasting about ‘ultra, hyper, super-douper fast [insert superlative and superlative] fibre’, do they realise that, in most cases, at least some of their connection will be made up of traditional telephone line copper wiring?

There are a number of ways in which you can get your property connected. In many instances a provider will bring the optical cable as far as the cabinet box and then, depending on how far from the cabinet you live, some other form of cabling will connect the cabinet to your property. It could be copper cabling or some other technology. This is called Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC).

Depending on where you live, some providers may provide a full fibre connection to the home, meaning the cable runs directly into your home. This is called Fibre to the Home (FTTH), or Fibre to the Premises (FTTP). At the moment, around 2% of UK homes have access to full Fibre to the Home and a very small number of altnets (alternative ISPs like Hyperoptic and Gigaclear) offer it.

At present, Virgin Media is the only provider running a slightly different operation. It’s coax-fibre hybrid network (bear with us) uses Fibre-to-the-Cabinet before a coaxial cable takes the connection to your home. Coaxial blocks interference better than standard phone lines allowing Virgin to run faster internet services.

What type of fibre connection do you have?

Fibre to the Cabinet (61%, 637 Votes)

Don't know (21%, 221 Votes)

Fibre to the Home (18%, 190 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,048

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Speed begins where fibre ends

Now what difference does an FTTH connection make? Well, speed is important and the more fibre you have in your broadband connection the higher the likelihood you’ll be enjoying faster broadband.

A fibre to the home connection should mean the speed you pay for and the speed you actually get are closer than if you have a ‘to the Cabinet’ connection. So if you’re paying for 1Gb, you’ll more than likely get 1Gb if you have an FTTH connection, or at least it should be in the same ballpark.

So is fibre really fibre if it doesn’t run all the way to your home? Do you think its fair to call an internet connection fibre when it might not be full fibre? We’d love to hear your views below.


Tom – It is not necessary to advertise an ‘up to’ speed.

Internet Service Providers can describe the type of connection as broadband (i.e. all copper), FTTC or FTTP and give a reasonable estimate of the broadband speed that a subscriber or potential subscriber would achieve.


Hi @wavechange, increasingly providers are advertising the type of connection and the ASA is currently consulting on the use of the word fibre in advertising. I’m trying to get at how many people actually understand that when they see a fibre product, they may not necessarily be getting FTTP.


Hi Tom – I’m glad you explained that FTTP and FTTH are the same thing. It would be good if the industry had standardised on one or the other. I don’t know why I am lucky and have FTTP broadband, because I’m not exactly in a built-up area. It’s the reliability of the service rather than the speed that appeals most to me.

I shall respond to the current consultation and push for service providers to be banned from using ‘up to’ in their marketing.


I suggest what matters to the user is not the method of connection but the speed they will actually (generally) get. It is this information we need , and how we get hold of it. Given our phone number, for example, can a prospective provider give an estimate of the speed likely to be, on average, achieved at the inlet to our premises? I was given this by john Lewis Broadband when I was considering changing to fibre (to cabinet in my case) and it has proved a good guide.

Speeds will vary as has been explained many times elsewhere – traffic, your equipment and so on.

The ASA are consulting on the way speed should be advertised. It is likely to include an “up to” speed because that, in reality, is realistic. The question is what % of subscribers should that apply to. However, as well as a generalised speed to indicate the sort of maximum performance available I would also like to see adverts tell people how to get a personal prediction – if that is possible.


Thanks Malcolm. I think you are right, most customers are concerned about the speed they will get but as mentioned in the convo, fibre is pretty the premium product but in most cases but I’m keen to understand how many people actually understand that when they see a fibre product, it more than likely doesn’t mean FTTP.

Like I mentioned to wavechange, I’m interested in this because the ASA are consulting on the use of the word fibre.

Sarah says:
24 June 2017

Hi, I would hope, being told I could receive up to ‘N’ of something, that this would be pretty close.. I find that more insulting. I understand that advertisers expect us to be stupid and believe everything that they tell us..

This is my frustration.. we’re ‘supposed’ to receive ‘up to’ 17Mbps the standard… and I understand that if I was one of those lucky people that live in the correct areas with the most up to date exchanges, cabinets etc I’d probably get around 10Mbps…

I’ve just done one of your speed tests.. (done a few in fact..) the most recent was this:-

Response: 1260ms
Download Speed: 0.9Mbps
Upload Speed: 1Mbps

What upsets me most is, that I pay the same price as those customers in the ‘right area with the right technology’… and they get super speed and I go to my friends house if I want to upload or download anything….

0.9Mbps is not close to 17Mbps, but technically, it is ‘up to’….. Stinks! I want decent internet please!!!


I think the word “fibre” should only be used in advertising if the entire connexion from the local exchange to the master socket is in optical fibre. Virgin Media have made great play of the fact that their coaxial cable from their cabinet to the master socket allows for enhanced performance; I am not sure whether it is always superior to uninterrupted optical fibre all the way. Promoting the rival services can be done without confusing people with incomprehensible descriptions of different technologies.

How many people really know what speed they realistically require for their actual functions? For many, Ofcom’s project to get 95% of properties within reach of ‘decent broadband’ – 10 Mbps – will be adequate. But there will be many others for whom a much faster service will be necessary and I believe that is governed more by the capacity of the trunk cables between the exchange and the local cabinet, as well as the capacity of the cabinet itself [that is, the number of properties it has to serve], than by the technical composition of the final section [unless the distance is exceptional].


Thanks @johnward. Really interesting to hear your perspective on it, I guess we’ll need to see what the ASA comes out with post consultation.

You are really right about people knowing what speeds they need. I think most providers are pretty good at recommending what you need but I do think it still happens. On the 10 Mbps, that number has been cited for the USO (Universal Service Obligation) to reach the last 5% of people. The idea of the 10 Mbps is that it will be a safety net and will allow people to stream TV and do other day to day things.


I am now confused, Tom. I thought the USO was to provide 95% of the connexions to the network with 10 Mbps broadband or higher speed where possible. The remaining 5% would either not get broadband or something less than 10 Mbps. It really would help if Ofcom could be persuaded to come back to us and clarify all this. A different Conversation revealed that a substantial number of people were still getting minimal broadband speeds and frequent drop outs. It also showed that there were inconsistencies between what Openreach said was available and what people could actually get. It would be really useful to have official confirmation of where the unserved 5% will be, how the coverage will be determined, when the fast broadband roll-out will be completed [scheduled for end of 2017], and whether anything will be done later for those who are outside the 95%.

I also think we need some answers from Ofcom on how they are approaching the problem of local capacity being consumed to the detriment of other subscribers by content that requires high speed and high capacity and therefore aggravates the contention ratio; it is suggested, and with some credibility, that the companies generating this traffic are not making a proper contribution to the costs of the national fast broadband project although the telecom service providers supplying these services are charging their customers a high price for them.

I am not entirely sure that the providers do give correct advice to customers as to their broadband speed requirements; they have a strong financial interest in getting people to pay for higher speeds than they will actually use. Since in many cases it seems they cannot reliably deliver the speeds they charge for there is, therefore, a double whammy. Many consumer services are now sold in packages and bundles so there are plenty of opportunities for the companies to bamboozle people and take advantage of them.


Last 5 % to get 10Mbps -COMPULSORY !!! instead of ignoring all my posts that I have posted on Which for a very long time saying -HOW ???? do you provide 10 Mbps for the last 5 % ???? please elucidate for me with practical-down to earth answers- no “fast talk ” no – advertising “word bites ” as is common now just the truth . FTTP/H will cost a fortune for them as I have said countless times , please read all my previous posts on the subject who is going to pay up to £10,000 /line NOT the con advertising speech of “£500 ” . It is total insanity to suggest that is the cost of customers with 10 span of overhead COPPER wire , long underground COPPER cable 2 MILES + through valley,s, over rivers , through forests . The ONLY (except for satellite ) practical answer is microwave which Norway and many other countries have . Please don’t ignore me answer me or I will think Which has now gone into the realms of full blown advertising to the government+big businesses political+ monetary advantage .


The BDUK superfast coverage and also other commercial roll outs will make the 95% however for the remaining 5% (1.4 million odd people), a USO of 10 Mbps will be introduced. Ofcom have consulted on the USO and have reported back to DCMS on it. So for the most part, everything is still being discussed.


@tcorcoran, if I may say so it is good to see a Convo author not only reading comments but, where appropriate, responding to them, and fairly quickly. It makes Convos so much more useful! 🙂


Hi Duncan, I hope you don’t think I was ignoring you, it wasn’t my intention. I’m jumping on and off Convo as much as I can but it’s rather busy at the moment.

Ofcom recently consulted on all of the options for the USO, including how it will be funded (by industry or by government) and have sent their report to the Government. You can see their report from here; https://www.ofcom.org.uk/consultations-and-statements/category-1/broadband-uso


Thank you very much for your responses, Tom, but no wonder we’re confused. Ofcom’s CEO said in her Which? Conversation piece on 12 April 2017 that “around 5% of homes and offices can’t get decent broadband of 10Mbps”. Some of the unserved 5% presumably cannot get broadband at all. We have had many comments in various Conversations since then that give extremely low speeds in numerous different parts of the country. Personally, I find it hard to believe that 10 Mbps+ [which Ofcom calls “decent broadband”] is actually available to much more than 80% of UK premises. With six months to go before the 95% target is supposed to be fully achieved it would be useful to have an update. I should also be interested to know what is Ofcom’s definition of ‘superfast’ which is what the 95% are expecting – this has never been explained.

Looking back to the Ofcom Conversation many pertinent questions have been raised by various contributors but there have been no answers. Duncan’s point about reaching the final five percent has been expressed in different ways by different contributors but has always been ignored. Mixing this issue up with the 4G mobile signal roll-out did nothing for comprehension of the various statistics and timescales. I think it’s time that the people who will be left out of the superfast broadband programme are informed so they can consider their plans.


In your last two sentences you express my fears that some type of agenda is being pursued John , I dont mind if its admitted but I dont accept it being intentionally obtuse so as to confuse as we then get into the “PsyOps ” of advertising to a “higher authority ” . Other countries are honest , even the USA, “sorry folks ” we cant supply you with FTTP/H- period but we can and will supply Microwave radio and in NORWAY – we will pay for the installation of satellite also , as I have posted recently in reply to a poster , the EU is NOW subsidizing top of the range satellite broadband reception equipment FREE . This went down like a “wet balloon ” on Which – it all went quiet ! I even provided the EU directive link -why?-Brexit , like the cut price roaming calls it wont apply here –in the future.


I am not sure there is a specific or sinister agenda, Duncan, just the usual British muddle-headed Civil Service way of going on and keeping the population in the dark under the guise of transparency. Sharon White’s [Ofcom’s CEO] Conversation was launched on 12 April. The general election was announced on 18 April at which point all government offices went into ‘purdah’ on policy matters, so that is why it has all gone quiet. But if you take another look at that Conversation [“Ofcom: calling for a cultural change in the telecoms industry”] all the relevant questions have been posed in the comments from contributors and answers have been called for. It is high time to end the confusion and be open and honest with people throughout the UK.

See: https://conversation.which.co.uk/technology/ofcom-sharon-white-broadband-mobile-services/


Thanks @malcolm-r! I think in order for us to properly understand what’s going on, we need to be able to engage in the discussion.


@johnward @duncan-lucas You’ve both raised some interesting points, the one thing I will say on the USO is that the whole thing is still very much being decided and consulted on (like who even pays for it?) and whilst I would share some of your concerns, I do think both Ofcom and industry are doing a lot of serious thinking before they embark on the process to make sure we get it right.

Gray says:
17 June 2017

A lot depends on what you mean by ‘need’. My wife and I could probably manage most of the time with 10Mbs but add a daughter visiting with family and an extra three or even four devices are likely to be at work, one of them researching homework, others on social media as they chat. What is ‘needed’ then? I do have friends not so far away who struggle to get 2Mbs but in fact I usually get 30Mbs or so.


What is needed, Gray, is the return of the art of conversation instead of digital telegrams.


I have already posted most of this already –many times but I see the debate is about the word “Fibre ” , I notice this is an issue now that the 95 % mark is approaching and for those taken up with the modern advertising methods , not so much in relation to the ISP,s but as Wavechange has pointed out previously Big Media is not happy with the profits they are getting and are pushing for higher speeds .Much advertising is done night+ day on get this app -get this game- get this social media programme , but only achievable if high levels of broadband speed is available . Just have a look at Sky advertising , also Vodaphone /Google/MIcrosoft and the rest and then insidiously saying but it depends on your connection speed . Of coarse it does !! we are not fools !! then why dont you pressurize those big media conglomerates to pay for infrastructure installation of FTTP /H ? That wont happen as the US doesn’t like criticism , have you looked at who own VOD shares ( Vodaphone ) – US -US-US I have all the billion $$$$ US companies who own them all big names Media- hedge funds etc . To me this issue is a bit of a distraction from reality — WHO PAYS for FTTH/P and for the 5 % WHO PAYS for that , not even the Home of Capitalism is willing to pay for its own citizens to get ” 100 % fast fibre and the US has the petro dollar which rules the (Western ) world. Short of money-print some more , and yes I can even supply the US Treasury/Senators/Congressmen who say that and guess who subsidize that ? , thats right the rest of the world and its admitted by economists .


That is the whole problem. Outside the city centres the fibre infrastructure is like a country lane that people now want to drive large goods vehicles along, in both directions, all day every day and at increasing speed. Ofcom can specify minimum speeds to be provided under the Universal Service Obligation but they don’t seem to have an answer to the eating-up of that capacity [and thus worsening the internet experience for other users] by the providers of high-speed and large-capacity content.

By the way, now that the General Election is out of the way [for now, at least] is it not time we had a response from Ofcom to all the questions and points raised about the fast broadband roll-out in their CEO’s Conversation and other Conversations along the same lines? It’s been many weeks now and we are still waiting . . . .

Digga B says:
14 June 2017

I don’t think broadband users really care about the naming of the product or how it reaches them, they only care about the speed they can achieve. Why can consumers not just be charged for the speed that they use and if they are lucky enough to live in a high speed area, this can then be capped at a maximum speed they are happy to pay for.


Probably Digga because they are providing a service that has to be maintained (and paid for ) in bad weather , due to council roadworks digging up cables , due to crooks cutting cables , repairing exchange equipment , etc .Even if that service only supplies 0.5Mbps and they are usually the dearest to maintain as they are long runs of underground cable or overhead wiring whereas city dwellers with underground feeds straight into their homes are easier to maintain . Add to that the government has a policy of a “light -hand” on business removing many regulations that were in the public interest so that businesses had freedom to “flourish ” but this “flourish” turns out to be British money flying off to all parts of the world ( if you know what I mean ) instead of being invested in Britain . As pointed out it is not in the interest of major global businesses to restrict internet speed only to encourage it more and more so that they can make more money from selling . This means capping on high speed lines isn’t going to happen as it directly goes against capitalist philosophy and this world runs on capitalism , even Russia is a capitalist country . They would need to deny themselves for you to achieve what you would like. Or the country to become Marxist ( which will never happen ) .

Jyotish says:
15 June 2017

All service providers are / should be brought to court for not keeping their contractual promise, speed, high industry standard quality delivery , facilities and excellent pro-active customer services.
End of . The “watch dog” committees etc must be poison fanged !

Mr. S. Catalani says:
15 June 2017

I am with TalkTalk and have been so for about 10 years, Last year i was cold called and conned into their “Fibre” broadband service. The salesperson was very pushy and aggressive and insisted that the service that I was signing up to was Fibre optic line and not copper line, guess what? same copper line, same connection and no noticeable improvement in service- for double the monthly cost.
The use of the word “Fibre” IS deceptive, as it implies that fibre optic line is used NOT copper.
There is nothing I can do about my situation as to get out of this contract will cost a lot of money and grief most phone providers seem to be incompetent at doing what they charge for, ie. providing a phone line that works.
TalkTalk was a good company to deal with, now just another scam.


Mr.S.Catalani you arent legally stuck with this new contract if nothing has changed,as you imply . I presume as they mean “fibre ” they say they have provided -FTTC ? because that is the normal advertising JINGO that implies that network condition. Fibre-to-the-Cabinet . This must come with an increase of speed, even if its small , depending on your distance from the cabinet , if your CONSTANT speed has not changed you have the legal right to be returned to the cheaper bundle you had previously without loss .

schnauzer says:
15 June 2017

There is also FTTK fibre to the kerb, where it is too costly or obstrucions, ie you have a long drive, like on many farmhouses etc.
I think the pakages should be advertised as
Full Fibre, when entire run is in full fibre.
coaxial fibre, when it is mixed like virgin
copper fibre when type of fibre with copper is used just like FTTC and FTTK

Simplicity itself.


Schnauzer , of course there is FTTK and I have mentioned it on Which not long ago –BUT it applies really to- Broadband for the Rural North- B4RN- DIY . As I said to the poster I cant praise this small company enough and you know ? , who have I praised in the telecom business apart from BT . This small company is NOT competition to BT as it applies to ALL those business people who complain loudly– I work/live miles from a cabinet on a farm/ cottage and only get – 0.5-5Mbps – Hallelujah !!! this company is the answer to your prayers .All you need is to provide and install your OWN fibre to the home from the roadside , for the second time I post the URL : https://b4rn.org.uk/ a genuine /kosher/honest/ above board company and I tell you this if I had the money I would invest heavily in this company , its a winner ! Yes I know Virgin supplies a connection post at your roadside but this is different , forget VM who will never supply that remote cottage/farm go B4RN a genuine company. Do you want a FULL Gigabit of of speed – £30/month . A BRITISH small business which I support 100 % go Britain !!!. By the way do you know American Telecom business websites know about it and praise it also –its that good .


Thanks @schnauzer!


I’ve spoke with B4RN and it is such interesting model, especially when you consider they are rolling out full fibre networks!