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Broadband Fibre Broadband

Glass fibreIt is common to see Internet services advertised as fibre broadband.

There is, understandably, some degree of confusion over what this means and why fibre is a good idea. In this case, fibre relates to glass fibre, which is a very fine glass tube down which light can be sent. The main feature being that the light can be steered down the fibre, even around corners (not too tight). The actual glass tube is normally two different densities of glass, one within the other, creating an internal surface to reflect light and keep it within the inner tube. The light is a laser, which is a single frequency of coherent light. Fibres can carry a signal, by light, over great distances.

The alternative commonly used is copper - using a pair of copper wires to carry an electrical signal. Broadband is actually a term for how signals are carried, using a broad frequency band to carry the signals. Broadband splits the band in to a number of distinct carrier frequencies which are each modulated to carry a number of bits at a time. This technique allows a lot of data to be carried. Broadband works over much shorter distances than fibre and the amount of data that can be carried varies with the length of the copper pair - longer lines carrying less data.

In fact, fibres are usually the very opposite of broadband, not just narrowband (a narrow frequency range) but actually a single frequency of light, but even more so by being a coherent laser in a single frequency. The term fibre broadband is therefore a complete oxymoron.

What has happened, of course, is that the word broadband has become a term for Internet Access. So fibre broadband is simply Internet Access over a fibre.

Why is fibre better?

There are several reasons why fibre is better than copper. The fibre allows much higher speeds, and the technology is far from reaching limits. Ultimately fibre can allow terabits of data. This also means you can get high speeds on very long fibres. Copper, however, is being pushed to the limits of what may be possible. The speed depends on the length of the copper, and even a few miles of wire can greatly reduce the speeds possible.

The other key thing about fibre is that it is not subject to radio/electrical interference. Copper can suffer from all manner of interference that effects the performance and speed of the service. Fibre is immune to such interference. Copper can also suffer from issues with the way it is jointed - water ingress, corrosion, etc. Fibre is more expensive with longer cable runs, and fewer joints, which makes fibre much more reliable than copper.

Fibre Ethernet services

We can offer fibre Ethernet service, which include Internet Access. These are generally quite expensive and take several months to install. The fibre is run from your premises to the telephone exchange. This is specially run for your service, and can mean digging up the road. The result is a very reliable and fast service. The service is available almost anywhere, but at a cost (e.g. if you are miles from the exchange, digging up the road is very expensive).

Fibre to the Premises

Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) is a service that allows fibre all the way to your premises, but as part of a general deployment of fibre services in a road. It usually involves multi-drop fibre (where one fibre can serve lots of premises). The idea is that running fibre for a whole street is a lot cheaper than running a separate dedicated fibre to each person when they order it. FTTP allows us to provide Internet access as high speed regardless of line length, and which is very reliable and immune to radio interference.

Availability is the only real issue with FTTP. It is only available in a few places, but BT are offering FTTP in new locations as part of an on-demand scheme where the install costs are much higher to help fund the initial FTTP deployment.

Fibre to the Cabinet

Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC) is a compromise. The main issue with copper is the length of the copper line. With FTTC there is fibre all the way to a street cabinet, and then copper from there to the premises. This is much shorter than copper all the way to the exchange, so allows higher speeds and better reliability. FTTC is much more commonly available in the UK, and BT are upgrading cabinets at quite a rate. There is more cost than normal ADSL services on copper, but it is nothing like the cost of your own fibre.

Fibre to the DP

There are designs in place for services to get fibre closer to the premises. This means a small DSLAM at the distribution point level, when may only serve a dozen premises. This obviously reduces the cost of running fibre to each premises, but means much shorter copper links so higher speeds and more reliability. This is very new and not yet deployed. It has complicated issues, such as the power for the DP which comes from the premises that are served. We will no doubt offer this service when we are able to.

Fibre then coax

We don't offer this, but this is often what is sold as fibre broadband. Somehow the ASA allow this. Fibre runs to a cabinet and from there coax cable (copper) is used to carry signals to premises. Some companies advertise the fibre as better than copper, and say you are getting a fibre service. This is not really different to FTTC services, though it does work differently.

Fibre to the Exchange

Of course, if you cannot get FTTC or afford fibre to your premises, the normal ADSL broadband services can provide a service. This means fibre links from us to the local exchange and then copper from there. This is just as much a fibre broadband service as those advertised as such, but we really think it would be dishonest for us (or anyone) to advertise a fibre Internet Access service which is not fibre all the way to your premises.