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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.

Comments
Member

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.

Member

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.

Member

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.

Member

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.

Member

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.

Member
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!!!
(Thanks!)

Member

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].

Member

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.