What’s happening?

BT Openreach is busily upgrading local telephone exchanges and the cabinets near customers’ homes to provide fibre-to-the cabinet (FTTC) broadband, and fibre-to-the-home (FTTP) in some cases.

FTTC can deliver up to 80Mbps, and FTTP goes up to 330Mbps, but not every cabinet is upgraded when the exchange is fibre-enabled.

SamKnows says no to Recombu FTTC

How can I find out if my streetside cabinet AND exchange support fibre broadband?

BT doesn’t publish data on cabinet upgrades, although Openreach does announce exchange upgrades (http://www.openreach.co.uk/exchange_plan) and Recombu Digital reports on these every week in Broadband Rollout Roundup. However, these are the dates by which at least 10 cabinets for this exchange will be enabled, but in urban areas that could be a fraction of the total number.

The only way to find out whether your cabinet has been upgraded for FTTC is to use the UK broadband availability checker on SamKnows.com or to contact individual broadband providers.

For instance, the BT Infinity checker gives this result: 

BT Infinity checker result

Why doesn’t my streetside cabinet have FTTC but others nearby do?

BT Openreach says there can be lots of reasons why your streetside cabinet has not been upgraded to FTTC.

The most common is that it doesn’t serve enough houses or businesses, so it was not economic to install a new fibre cabinet - for instance, serving 10 addresses instead of 100.

It may be too far from the exchange: cabinets more than 3.4 miles from the BT exchange cannot be upgraded to FTTC. Or it may be too close: some homes are connected directly to the exchange, and these are not being upgraded under BT’s current plans.

Your home may be too far from the cabinet: FTTC uses VDSL technology to achieve very high speeds over old-fashioned copper phone wires, but this breaks down very quickly from up-to-95Mbps at about 300m to 70Mbps at 500m, 35Mbps at 1km. At 2km from the cabinet, FTTC delivers the same as standard DSL - about 10Mbps.

Your local authority may have refused planning permission for a fibre cabinet. Yes, it seems unlikely, but local authorities including Kensington & Chelsea and Bath have decided that it’s more important to have tidy streets than for their residents to have high speed broadband.

How can I get FTTC for my BT streetside cabinet?

It’s unlikely that you will be able to convince BT to upgrade an uneconomic cabinet, but it has been possible for some rural communities to install their own cabinets connected to BT’s network. This is known as sub-loop undbundling.

Rutland Telecom, for example, placed an FTTC cabinet in Lyddington, Rutland, delivering about 32Mbps to residents and business, and later installed FTTP in Hambleton, Rutland.

FTTC cabinets cost £25,000 to £50,000 (Lyddington residents raised £37,000), while Hambleton’s residents loaned Rutland Telecom £150,000 to cover some of the costs of FTTP.

Call Flow is another company investing in local cabinets which extend broadband connections beyond BT’s network.