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Ofcom chilly on prospect of Fibre to the Home
Saturday 10 February 2007 17:14:50 by Andrew Ferguson

The Communications Management Association conference in London this last week has produced a lot of discussion, and the latest is from Ofcom talking about the issue of Fibre to the Home (FTTH).

"For customers who live too far from an exchange, technically this is a problem that could be solved by fibre. But the services are not yet defined, the technology is not yet stable, and so it is too early for a regulatory approach. The case for digging up the road is a rather weak one."

Lord Currie, Ofcom Chairman at CMA conference

It is easy to get the impression from an article on ZDNet that Ofcom is saying no to companies rolling out FTTH, but what it is really saying is that Ofcom sees no need for regulations to force or actively encourage such services.

The UK is blessed (depending on your viewpoint) with the Virgin Media cable network covering some 40 to 45% of households offering potential download speeds of 10 Mbps. This fibre/coax hybrid network offers potential for faster speeds, with some people having trialled 20 Mbps services already, and talk of a 50 Mbps one in the next year or so. While the DSL providers do suffer from the problem of speeds falling off the further you get from an exchange, the roll-out of ADSL2+ will give many households speeds that can cope with IPTV in standard definition, and even a reasonable number that could manage high definition. Standard definition video with modern encoding methods runs with a picture as good as Freeview at around 1.5Mbps and high definition should be possible with around 4 to 5Mbps bitrates.

So where does this leave us with the holy grail of Fibre to the Home? BT's approach seems to be to consider this for new developments only. Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC) which would reduce the length of copper to less than 1km for the vast majority of homes, offers a cheaper solution and would reduce the amount of disruption that otherwise would be involved in getting fibre to 29 million homes. This makes this the most likely upgrade to the last few miles from exchange to premises in the next 5 to 10 years.

One concerning figure to arise from surveys at the CMA conference is that 41% of businesses cannot get broadband where they need it. This represents a large gulf between the statistics for availability of the various forms of broadband in the UK. Among consumers the amount of people complaining about lack of broadband has plummeted in the last two years. When talking to businesses about SDSL things get worse with 75% saying they cannot get it where they are - to some extent this is expected as SDSL has a much more limited reach than ADSL and is not available from all exchanges. One technical option is for the broadband provider to bond two or more ADSL lines to improve speeds to some areas, and while this is not something offered by services like BT Total Business broadband plenty of the smaller business-focused providers can meet this need. It can be presumed businesses have decided the cost of leased lines, which can provide almost any speed in the majority of the country, are not cost effective in most cases.

Perhaps the figures from the CMA conference illustrate the size of the gap that broadband providers need to bridge to show what is technically possible without burying a business in lots of techno babble. We suspect that with some help plenty of businesses that think they cannot get broadband could be found a solution that actually meets their needs.


Posted by Dave2150 over 10 years ago
"But the services are not yet defined; the technology is not yet stable"

Not stable? Sounds like Lord Currie needs to have a look at the millions of FTTH connections in many countries, such as USA, Norway, Japan etc...

FTTH is infinitely more stable than ADSL - no Interference to worry about - I can’t believe Lord Currie actually believes FTTH to be unstable...
Posted by SlimJ over 10 years ago
How would they go about installing FTTC? Is it a case of relaying the correct cables from all exchanges to cabinets, surely that would take a huge amount of time??
Posted by cyberdoyle over 10 years ago
Considering that all industry has left this country and all that is left is tourism and communications, the least we can expect is FTTH, as the current method of delivering broadband through obsolete copper technology is throttling UKplc, and other countries such as the ones Dave mentioned earlier will then take over our banking and comms. We will be left with nowt. We need Fibre, and i am not talking bran flakes.
Posted by grahammm over 10 years ago
What is the problem with FTTH. At the place where I work, and I suspect also at a very large number of other businesses, BT have provided a 2Mbps G.703/G.704 link for Primary Rate ISDN over fibre. We also have an ADSL Max line which syncs at 8M, so are close to the exchange. If BT use fibre for the relatively low speed 2Mbps lines...
Posted by herdwick over 10 years ago
It is rather odd to suggest that FTTH is not stable. There are competing technologies (PON or otherwise) and issues to address like how to unbundle or wholesale the service but BT Openreach appear to have some proposal on the table for the Kent greenfield project. Another issue is the provision of lifeline telephony if FTTH is the sole connection but none of this hasn't been addressed elsewhere.
Posted by cyberdoyle over 10 years ago
The problem with FTTH is that it costs money to provide. Why spend money when you can convince the government and joe public that 2mbps is broadband. 8MB isn't broadband either, it is just a lot better than 2MB which in turn is a lot better than dial up.
Fibre can provide real broadband.
Posted by cyberdoyle over 10 years ago
Fibre starts at 100Mbps and then rises quickly. 10Gbps is currently being tested. An obsolete copper network such as we have now provides revenue. They are milking it and holding back the people of this country. What we have now can't even cope with inferior quality short videos such as those on YouTube. At peak times everybody is on go slow or even drops off t'internet altogether.
Posted by johntw over 10 years ago
We are now suffering for the years that BT updated its systems ftom copper wire to fibre. Everywhere you look there are telegraph poles for a 1920s system when they should have been replaced by fibre years ago but BT are only interested in the revenue line rental brings in.
Posted by zenops over 10 years ago
You'll not see mass rollout of FTTH in this country for a long time yet. Sporadic sites here and there but that's it.
Posted by sptrevers over 10 years ago
I am not aware that anyone has succesfully bonded ADSL connections together to give faster ADSL services.
Posted by herdwick over 10 years ago
plenty of bonded MLPPP ADSL in use, some other techniques at the IP level also used.
Posted by Mr_Fluffy over 10 years ago
The BT copper "last mile" isn't stable!
Posted by chrysalis over 10 years ago
This only is evidence that ofcom are corrupt or at the very least incompetant. I email ofcom about concerns regurly and they usually shrug them off saying they not a problem. To say fibre is not yet stable and undefined is arrogant and shows their complete lack of research on the subject, do they ever get out of their box and take a look at the world?

The only explanation I can think for their response is they want an easy life and saying this puts BT under no pressure to fix things whatsoever, and good to see they dont give a **** about everyone on poor lines that are yes unstable.
Posted by zenops over 10 years ago
It's not about BT fixing things it's about investment into an archaic telecomms infrastructure. BT have spent millions putting 21cn into practice and yes that will be of benefit to them, but the cost of replacing the cabling from cab to peoples premises is astounding and it wont happen overnight.

I'm all for FTTH personally but I do have an advantage that my in built reality check senses are working and it isn't going to happen quickly.

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