Insight

When full fibre isn’t full fibre

Insight

While attending the recent Connected Britain conference in London, I heard James Fredrickson, GigaHead’s head of policy and regulation, say that the misuse of the term ‘fibre’ is coming back to bite the broadband industry.

This got me thinking about how this next-generation technology got its bad name and how it could negatively affect the industry.

Britain is 37th in the world when it comes to rolling out fibre to the home (FTTH). The reason for this is when our good friend Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, the need for copper cable running throughout the country suddenly became a massive priority and was rolled out profusely. This same network of copper cables was then, over time, repurposed for data and internet needs and served us well during the days of the 56K dial-up modem.

Ftth European Country Ranking 2021 Uk ClearFibre Graphic For Insight

However, as our data needs increased – it currently doubles every two years with no signs of slowing – this old copper network was no longer sufficient.

Along came the latest fibre technology which was, and still is, being installed under the streets throughout the country. Fibre cable was installed into the green cabinets you see on the street. Unfortunately, in most cases this is where the fibre stopped. From the cabinet into each home, providers were – and in some cases still are – installing copper cables. This ‘last mile’ is where the misuse of the term ‘fibre’ is now catching up with the industry.

Copper cable is capable of delivering speeds of up to 1GB per second over 100 metres. After 100m the signal needs to be boosted to make it another 100m. Each of these boosters needs to be powered which doesn’t help with a building’s sustainability score as well as being an ongoing cost to the landlord. If these aren’t installed then the person the furthest from the cabinet will get the worst internet speeds as the signal degrades over distance.

By comparison, fibre cable can transport data at the speed of light up to 12 kilometres before any degradation occurs.

The issue is that providers have been telling the unsuspecting public that they have access to fibre. Which is true as that is what is installed in the street. However, their speeds will never be symmetrical (where upload and download speed is equal) and will never match a full fibre to the home installation. Full fibre to the home is where there is no copper cable in the network at all and fibre runs the entire way from the data centre all the way to the router inside a resident’s home.

Copper cable will always be the bottleneck in the network. At the moment 1Gbps is more than adequate. The issue comes in when that speed is no longer sufficient. Remember that data usage is doubling every two years. I am sure you will remember when 10Mbps internet was the best in the neighbourhood and you were incredibly happy with it. Now 10Mbps is considered horrendous and almost an infringement on your basic human rights. The same will be said about 1Gbps in the not too distant future.

Picking a broadband provider to install into your property is an important decision with a lot to consider. At the very least you should be insisting that there is no copper cable installed. Even if it is being called fibre, it is best to double-check to make certain. Copper cable will have to be replaced and upgraded to fibre in the future – it is just a matter of time.

Feel free to contact me, at rob.meyer@clearfibre.uk, if you do have copper cable installed. If you are unsure, ClearFibre would be more than happy to survey your building at no charge to ensure that you have the latest technology to keep your residents happy for decades and decades to come. 

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