Following Openreach’s announcement in 2018 about the withdrawal of the PSTN and ISDN, the fibre rollout across the UK has accelerated, with Ofcom reporting that fibre broadband is now available to 28.6 million homes and businesses. But what does this really mean?
What is fibre broadband?
Fibre broadband is a technology that uses fibre optic cable, as opposed to copper telephone wires, to provide an internet connection. Fibre optic cable is made of glass or plastic and can carry more data, making it faster than copper-based services such as ADSL which has lower bandwidths and limited capacity.
Full fibre broadband, or Fibre to the Premises, uses a fibre connection from the exchange to the premises, as shown below. This makes it a truly future-proof solution and guarantees a fast, reliable connection.
Switch on the TV or radio and you’ll hear any number of adverts offering “fibre broadband” but this usually isn’t full fibre; it’s Fibre to the Cabinet, or FTTC. This means that fibre optic cable is used from the local exchange to the green roadside cabinet, then a shorter copper cable is used from the cabinet to the premises, as below.
In these cases, the term “fibre broadband” is slightly misleading as customers often expect they are getting the latest, future-proof technology that will meet all their needs, but they’re actually getting an intermediary solution that will need updating again at some point in the near future.
FTTC offers speeds of up to 80Mbps, which is usually sufficient for a home user or small office, but it comes with its downsides. The majority of FTTC broadband still relies on the PSTN, which is due to be switched off in 2025. This means that the technology does not offer much longevity and users will need to migrate to an alternative, Single Order technology that does not require line rental, within the next few years.
Furthermore, the use of copper lines means that the service is distance-dependent, so the further the property from the street level cabinet, the poorer the connection. This is enhanced by the nature of copper which causes it to degrade quicker, again, having a negative impact of the broadband service provided and resulting in slower speeds than expected.
Single Order Broadband
While FTTP is the best solution for future-ready broadband connectivity, Openreach coverage is predicted to be at 5.8 million premises as of September 2021, meaning many premises are still not full fibre ready. While FTTC has its drawbacks, we encourage our partners to offer the next best solution, Single Order Generic Ethernet Access (SOGEA).
SOGEA is an FTTC solution that has been created to allow users to have a broadband connection without a landline. With SOGEA, the copper line has been maintained to ensure a more reliable connection, however it won’t last forever, so full fibre is always best where available.
What does true full fibre mean?
True fibre broadband is known by many names, including Full Fibre, Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) or Fibre to the Home (FTTH). This means that fibre optic cabling is used from the local exchange, all the way to the end-user premises, relying on no copper-based telephone lines.
Full fibre is the future of broadband, a technology that is guaranteed to see users through the 2025 Switch Off and beyond. FTTP is a Single Order broadband product, meaning no WLR is required as it does not utilise the traditional copper telephony network at all.
A purely fibre connection is capable of achieving gigabit speeds, making it the fastest broadband technology available today. However, full fibre is not yet available to everyone. In September 2021, Ofcom reported that 24% of homes and businesses across the UK were able to access FTTP from one provider or another, up from 21% in May. Although it’s not as widely available as FTTC yet which is said to reach 96%, the network is continually growing with large players such as Openreach accelerating their rollout to reach a total of 7.1 million premises by the end of 2021/22, with other providers following suit.
For both business and residential customers, broadband is one of the most important services they rely on, whether it’s for entertainment such as streaming and gaming, or for essential systems that keep a company running. As our digital lives evolve, we are all becoming more aware than ever of the effects of poor connectivity, which is why FTTP is the number one solution that everyone should be looking to move to once it becomes available to them; not only will the higher speeds and lower contention transform the way they use the internet, but it will also future-proof their home or business long past the Great Switch Off.
Find out more about the withdrawal of the PSTN and the effects it will have on broadband solutions on our Great Switch Off Hub.