£2.5 billion is being spent by BT, the UK’s biggest telco on upgrading its creaky old copper infrastructure. Large chunks of the BT Openreach network will be replaced with next-gen fibre optic broadband lines.
These two types of fibre broadband are radically different. FTTC runs a fibre optic line from the telephone exchange to street cabinets, from where traditional copper POTS (BT speak for ‘Plain Old Telephone Service’) lines run to the home, making up the so-called 'last mile'.
BT Fibre Broadband. What are FTTC and FTTP?
FTTP, also known as FTTH (Fibre to the Home) differs as fibre broadband cables run from the exchange to the cabinet to the home, or in some cases straight from the exchange to the home.
FTTP can guarantee much faster speeds than FTTC. The current top download speed achievable over an FTTC line on BT’s network is 80Mbps. BT FTTP lines provide 330Mbps speeds.
FTTC suffers from the age-old distance issue which has affected copper ADSL broadband. The closer you are to an exchange, the higher the speed you will get. If the copper last mile from the cabinet to your home is under 600 metres then you should get close to 80Mbps.
If the distance of the copper line to your home is over a kilometre, then top speeds will be around the 10Mbps mark. FTTP fibre broadband will not suffer from this distance issue at all.
For more details on FTTC, read our 'Fibre Broadband: What is FTTC aka Fibre to the Cabinet and what does it mean?' feature.
Why is BT not just rolling out FTTP if it’s better?
For a number of reasons, BT has decided to go down this route of effectively creating two networks.
In a nutshell, FTTC fibre broadband is much easier to roll out over larger areas, meaning that BT can meet its self-imposed deadline of two-thirds covered by 2015 more quickly. In May this year, BT announced it had connected 10 million homes and businesses to fibre broadband, months ahead of schedule.
FTTP is more expensive to deploy and is for the most part being rolled out to new build locations where there is no existing infrastructure to use.
However BT isn’t looking at just providing FTTC in certain areas. BT is currently running a trial of a service that’s being called ‘FTTP On Demand’. This is a process where customers on an FTTC connection can have the copper last mile replaced with fibre by BT engineers. This will upgrade the FTTC line to FTTP, allowing for faster speeds.
How much is FTTP On Demand?
We don’t yet know exactly how much FTTP On Demand from BT will be. Part of a series of ongoing trials is to establish the cost of FTTP On Demand as well as assessing how easily engineers can carry out customer orders.
Currently it’s understood that customers will need to pay £1,000 if they want to upgrade the last mile from copper to fibre broadband.
This potentially could be paid off as a lump sum or in instalments over a long-term contract, or ISPs looking to sign up more customers to FTTP services might absorb a portion of this cost.
£1,000 over 24 months works out at £41.66 per month, which is quite a mark-up on top of your standard broadband and line rental costs for domestic customers. It's not so much if you're a business paying for an Ethernet or leased-line service costing hundreds of pounds per month already.
That's... quite expensive for me
BT admits that it expects initial interest in FTTP On Demand to come from small to medium businesses in the short term, with FTTP becoming more of a household name in the long term.
Mike Galvin, managing director of network investment for BT Openreach said: "We believe FTTC will be our mass market consumer product for some time yet, FTTP may be of interest to small and medium sized businesses and so we want to make it accessible throughout our fibre footprint."
Where are the BT FTTP on demand trials happening?
A handful of trials are taking place now in High Wycombe, Bristol South, and St. Agnes, where 330Mbps fibre broadband is live.
Later this year, selected premises connected to the Waverley exchange in Edinburgh will start trials of 330Mbps on demand in September.
From March to May 2013, selected homes and businesses in Basingstoke, Cardiff, Manchester Central and Watford will run trials of 330Mbps fibre broadband.
If you live in any of these areas, chances are you might have been contacted by BT to take part.
Where and when is BT rolling out FTTC and FTTP?
BT is currently upgrading a number of exchanges, replacing old copper lines with fibre all across the country.
The bigger, more commercially viable areas in the big cities are being prioritised but smaller towns and cities aren’t being written off.
We track the progress of BT’s exchange upgrades in our weekly Broadband Rollout Roundup feature. We make a note of where fibre broadband is available and whether or not its FTTC or FTTP.
As for when, there's a couple of online tools available to help you gauge when FTTC and FTTP are available in your area.
Where can I get FTTC and FTTP BT fibre broadband?
BT fibre broadband is currently available to over 11 million homes and businesses in the UK.
Of the several thousand exchanges upgraded, currently only 15 of these locations provide FTTP broadband.
My local exchange has been upgraded but I can’t get BT fibre broadband. What gives?
Even if your exchange has been upgraded, you might not be able to get fibre broadband. You might live too far away from a street cabinet for BT to effectively deliver faster broadband to you.
Also, if your area is not densely populated, BT may consider your area not economically viable. Read our Why doesn’t my BT cabinet have FTTC when my exchange is ready? feature for more information.
Outside of BT’s own £2.5 billion plan, BT has also been awarded contracts to provide fibre broadband to 90 per cent of North Yorkshire and Wales. This is in addition to homes in these areas where BT has already committed to rolling out fibre.
Our features on BDUK (Broadband Delivery for the UK) and Rural Broadband sketch out the finer points of the state of broadband in the UK.