Broadband News

How big a pain is not being able to migrate when broadband cabinets are at capacity

We last looked at the impact of Openreach cabinets reaching their capacity limits back in 2017 and thus a re-visit is overdue with this latest analysis revealing that currently around 4.1% of UK premises are impacted by a capacity limit on the VDSL2 cabinets.

Capacity limits on the Openreach VDSL2 cabinets are down to the operator installing capacity for a limited level of take-up initially and this is important in the gap funded areas since if capacity was installed from day 1 for 100% of lines then the bill to the local authority would be much higher but with roll-out as it stands once the initial cabinet hits a limit any expansion is solely down to Openreach paying.

Hitting the capacity limit is one of the reasons people doubt the broadband coverage statistics since some providers checkers do not make it clear that the reason an order cannot be placed is due to a capacity limit, they simply say you cannot order service xyz with the same messaging that you'd get if the cabinet did not exist. The wholesale systems use better wording to convey that you may need to wait, alas the communication of how long the wait will be is where things fall apart currently, for some upgrades adding an extra line card it may be a couple of weeks but if a whole new cabinet is needed it may be months or if wayleaves or power delay things it could be a year (or more in very rare cases).

The figures for the impact for cabinets at capacity is a dynamic affair and varies as the upgrades happen but other areas hit a limit, but the latest figures represent the impact of the over 2,200 cabinets we saw in the waiting stage at the end of March 2018. In really popular areas e.g. no cable coverage or cable broadband is congested badly some upgrades last only for a week or two before more work is needed.

Coverage of Superfast Broadband and the impact of cabinets which are at a capacity limit
 Standard Coverage FiguresChange Due to Capacity Limits
Region% superfast
30 Mbps and faster
(All tech)
% Openreach
Any speed
% Openreach Superfast
30 Mbps and faster

30 Mbps and faster (All tech)

Openreach Any SpeedOpenreach
30 Mbps and faster
United Kingdom 94.8 92.6 89.6 -2.6 -4.1 -4.1
East of England 93.9 93.1 89.7 -2.6 -4.2 -4.1
East Midlands 96.7 95.1 92.8 -2.1 -3.8 -3.8
London 96.8 91.2 90.1 -1.7 -4.1 -4
North East 96.9 87.1 85.8 -2.4 -3.4 -3.4
Northern Ireland 86.3 96.8 84 -2.3 -2 -2.5
North West 95.8 95.2 92.6 -3.1 -5.1 -5
Scotland 93.3 91.8 88 -4.2 -5.2 -4.9
South East 96.6 95 92.6 -3.2 -4.9 -4.8
South West 92.5 91.7 86.9 -2.4 -3.6 -3.4
Wales 94.1 96 92.7 -2.8 -3.8 -3.6
West Midlands 96.2 91.6 89.4 -1.7 -2.9 -2.9
Yorkshire and Humber 94 89.2 86.9 -3 -4.4 -4.4
Percentages reflect the number of premises that are present in the various regions, thus a cabinet serving 450 premises being at capacity will have a greater impact overall than one serving just 180 premises. Coverage figures are taken from our analysis of coverage on 8th April 2018 and data on the cabinets with at capacity messaging from the end of March 2018. The number of active VDSL2 lines on each cabinet is not accounted for, so the numbers will be lower in reality, but those people will also encounter issues in migrating so we have not attempted to compensate.

It is only a couple of days since our monthly round up, but the Scotland and Northern Ireland superfast coverage figures have risen by 0.1%, so that difference to the monthly round-up is not a typo. This summary also adds the levels of Openreach VDSL2/FTTP coverage which is not normally included in our news article tables to avoid too many columns but is a bit of detail on the full broadband statistics site, the gap between the Openreach any speed and Openreach superfast figures highlights that the model we have constructed does take into account line length and the performance drop off of VDSL2.

One of the most annoying elements with the capacity issue is that it also blocks migrations for those who are already connected to a VDSL2 line card port, and the second most annoying is people moving house where the existing residents had VDSL2 running but the port is placed back into the pool when move out and invariably snapped up by someone closely watching for the cabinet to show capacity and thus when people actually have moved in they can only order ADSL2+. A new quirk since 2017 is that it is possible for a VDSL2 cabinet to be at its capacity but a live pod to actually have spare ports, but given the faster services are more expensive we suspect most people will opt to wait.

Some campaigners have long called for Openreach to install 100% capacity when rolling out VDSL2 (FTTC) but with a few million FTTP lines expected from Vodafone and TalkTalk in the next year or two there is actually the prospect that the number of VDSL2 ports in use will decrease rapidly maybe making some extra capacity cabinets redundant. The demand for Vodafone and TalkTalk full fibre services is in the first few years likely to be driven by price, e.g. TalkTalk UFO with 940 Mbps maximum speeds is selling at just £21.70 per month and similar agressive pricing is expected from Vodafone.

Update 6:30pm A statement from Openreach arrived around 3pm, and this has been added. Our figures if you work to the basic number of cabinets works out at 3.03%, which lines up with the 97% of the Openreach statement.

Around 97% of our cabinets are currently open to new orders and we have a dedicated team proactively monitoring take-up across all of our fibre cabinets.

On a small number of occasions, cabinets reach capacity before we can upgrade them. Solutions can range from the installation of a line card through to the build of a brand new cabinet.

We’re obviously keen to avoid any frustration for people trying to upgrade their broadband and working hard to forecast capacity demand and resolve any issues as quickly as possible.

Statement by Openreach spokesperson


Whilst I appreciate that no one wants to invest in infrastructure too far ahead of demand, this does show that the 95% superfast coverage claim is pretty meaningless. If take up demand was 100% and not the 40% it is now it would take a number of years to actually allow 95% of the population to have a superfast connection.

  • gerarda
  • 11 months ago

NOTE: The figures are referring to premises which is different to 95% of the population, and no population based targets were ever set.

I the capacity drop off was running at a regular 10 to 15% then I would be inclined to agree the coverage claims are pretty meaningless.

The question that would have to be asked is how much would building 100% capacity in from day 1 have cost?

  • andrew
  • thinkbroadband staff
  • 11 months ago


That's an extreme scenario. Take-up doesn't suddenly go to 100% on pretty well anything. What would be a more balanced view is that at a particular point in time, about 3% of those in FTTC enabled areas can't order superfast broadband using the OR infrastructure as they are awaiting major upgrades (not just new line cards). However, as close to half of those will be in areas covered by other operators (mostly VM), that percentage is about 1.5%. So, about 93.5% of unserviced householders can order SF broadband.

In any event, that's 93.5% of unserviced users and ignore those with it.

  • TheEulerID
  • 11 months ago

Hi Broadband Watchers.
It is cost effective to have waiters on a Cab so not to have plant spare thus giving good work and plant cash flow and keeps the market buoyant. I would expect each Cab has a ordering target on port spares thus upgrading either to order extra or off load to fibre or an extra Cab as there is so much money involved.

  • Blackmamba
  • 11 months ago

@EulerID Another way of looking at it is to assume that it takes an average of 6 months to upgrade a cabinet. Assume for ease of calculation every cabinet takes or has demand for 1 FTTC order a month. So with 3% of cabinets not taking orders at any one point of time there would be 18 premises unable to order for every 97 than can. So ability to order is more like 77% than 93.5%.

  • gerarda
  • 11 months ago

@Gerarda I think you got your maths wrong...

3 * 1 * 6 = 18
97 * 1 * 6 = 582 (the six month multiplier is what you missed)

Total orders 600

18/600 = 3%

  • andrew
  • thinkbroadband staff
  • 11 months ago

Hi Broadband Watchers.
In The Hindhead Area Cab 6 was upgraded with extra ports after an extra pod was required duct work plus a survey this was done in sequence with other cabs in the area. The final work was cabled by a contractors and the unit was powered down after 2400 hours with him changing to new cards. I checked the other day and extra 12 ports are in use all this work showed on Elgin.
The contractor was certified to install GFast also.

  • Blackmamba
  • 11 months ago

@andrew I used the at any one point in time - so you don't multiply the number of order taken by 6. So today 97 orders could be taken but there is a waiting list 18 that cant.

  • gerarda
  • 11 months ago

It would interesting to see what rules OR are setting to overlay FTTP on top of 2-3 cabinets. A new development is obvious enough, but to meet 3m by 2020 or 10m FTTP by 2025, FTTP to MDU's need to be planned as part of the capacity planning process. The Cabs planning processing ought to be rule driven.

  • ValueforMoney
  • 11 months ago

Those 'rules' will be commercial, so not likely to be known outside of core Openreach planning team.

FTTP capacity is very distinct from capacity issues in this news item for VDSL2 cabinets.

A lot of the current FTTP wave in commercial areas is around cabinets that DO NOT have VDSL2 and Exchange Only areas.

  • andrew
  • thinkbroadband staff
  • 11 months ago

When a cabinet is at capacity, does the balance of the cabinet covered area come off the fibre access available stats?

  • themanstan
  • 11 months ago

No - went through this when we've shared this stat in previous years.

We don't know what the balance is so make the worst case assumption. To make it clearer a few guess figures.

Cabinet covers 150 premises (ignoring distance here for simplicity)
50 are live
Cabinet reaches capacity
So 100 could be counted as not having option, but there may only be 2 people who are trying to order.

Since we don't know the 50 figure, we will work with the number we know i.e. 150.

The stats on do not take into account the capacity info.

  • andrew
  • thinkbroadband staff
  • 11 months ago

All the comments are about all cards in the cabinet being in use so new applicants cannot get connected.

That is a nuisance but understandable. But the article heading is about it preventing migration between ISPs by someone already on that cabinet. That is not understandable. It is simply a rubbish Openreach ordering system. In effect, a bug. A system design error in that the designer just didn't cater for migrations.

When a migration order is received, that should immediately re-reserve the port that line is currently connected to. Not release it, even for a few seconds, into the pool.

  • uniquename
  • 11 months ago

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