Diet fibre or full fat fibre which do you prefer?
Some research commissioned by a number of full fibre operators has perhaps unsurprisingly found that when the public has the differences between partial fibre and full fibre explained they recognise the step change that full fibre represents. Now if only providers could have done similar over the past 17 years in explaining how to get the best from broadband in its many forms, e.g. home wiring, distance issues, contention, peak versus off-peak, contract terms and many other things.
The ASA is undertaking a review of how the word 'fibre' is used in advertising and this started in April, so this latest research is as much a public lobbying exercise as it is a representation to the ASA. Unfortunately the ball was dropped on the word fibre some 8 or 9 years ago and while clarity such as the French stance on how the word can be used would be welcomed, along with the raft of other rule changes on there may well be a need for a public education programme.
So what are the differences between a 30 Mbps connection that is partial fibre and full fibre? Well if the partial fibre is a DOCSIS coax cable connection then in terms of reliability they should be similar and the speeds should be the same since 30 million bits per second is still 30 million bits per second, but you do enter in an over provisioning game where cable connections are often over provisioned by perhaps 10%, so it might go faster. For VDSL2 (Fibre to the Cabinet) the difference is more marked due to the performance drop off over distance but if someone is comparing an actual 30 Mbps VDSL2 service to a full fibre service then speeds should be similar, but things like bursts of radio noise e.g. lightning can cause problems and a resync can take a minute or two sometimes. There are also other questions over IPv4 and IPv6, e.g. is a CGNAT IPv4 connection a full Internet connection?
At this time point someone will want to mention that full fibre is symmetric and offers Gigabit speeds, and while this is true for some services the symmetry tends to only apply for point to point fibre solutions rather than PON (i.e. dedicated fibre per property, or PON which takes a core fibre and splits the light frequencies for individuals until the final individual drop fibre). Things like peak time congestion still occur and we have seen some customers on PON services where high split ratios are used complaining of congestion issues just like other shared mediums like cable.
So even if if fibre becomes the domain of real full fibre connections, there will still be qualifiers needed to avoid confusion and misleading people, and get this in France Hyperoptic would also not be allowed to call their service fibre, because the Hyperoptic service generally runs the fibre to within 100m of each flat and by use of media converters the final few metres are over Cat5e Ethernet cable i.e. Fibre to the Building.
So while in the words of one survey participant "There’s no competition between fibre and part-fibre […] It’s like choosing between an awesome car and a bus." there are numerous caveats and clauses so while the inequity of VDSL2 being called fibre may be a worth thing to fix, it is not a full solution to confusing broadband advertising.
Broadband advertising is by its nature talking to a wide audience at the time, and the emphasis should be on making it absolutely clear to the public that they need to pay close attention to the information given at the point of sale, e.g. personalised estimates, whether there are any minimum guarantees, along with all the usual financial stuff.
The broadband world is also not just about the TV adverts but the selling side is intrinsincally liked to the numerous comparison sites and we wonder how many provide information such as we do about the underlying technology, so example here is what we say for BT Infinity 2 in terms of the wholesale products it can use.
The other area that will need addressing is what the many BDUK projects put out in press releases, where words like fibre, superfast, high-speed, fast all have acquired their own meanings over the years but are sometimes confusingly used, occasionally in an attempt to make things look better than they are, or more often its probably because people are trying to squeeze in the right key words and full lengthy meaning is often not realised.
A future that talks of full fibre and partial fibre may be a little clearer but the next battle is going to be between the full fibre providers and how they measure and compare performance and there is the real possibility that some partial fibre products may actually offer better performance in terms of what is delivered download speed wise. Or put another way, copper be it twisted pair or coax is a very outdated comms medium but it keeps on giving more and in terms of reliability for things like streaming the core network capabilities of operators and local backhaul link capacity are critical, so just as happened over a decade ago some ADSL providers had congestion issues in the core fibre network there may well be a time when one of the full fibre operators hits a capacity crunch point.
Make no mistake Fibre to the Premises is better but there are times we worry that it may be being promoted as the emperors new clothes and this is slightly understandable as the UK broadband market is so fiercely fought that breaking the 1 million customer barrier as a new entrant is a lot harder than claiming you can address a few million homes.