The network build and technologies

BT Stage 1 and 2 contracts

The County Council's Stage 1 & 2 plans with BT are largely based on Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC) technology, with Fibre to the Premise (FTTP) also being deployed in some localities. 

FTTC brings fibre out from the telephone exchange and closer to the premise via the installation of a new fibre cabinet supporting download speeds of up to 80Mbps for those located closest to it. Fibre is 'pulled' or 'blown' through underground ducts.  The fibre cabinet (known as a DSLAM) is then connected to the existing copper cabinet. The last leg of the service is delivered over the existing copper network. In general the closer a premise is located to its serving cabinet, the higher speed uplift it will get. Speeds experienced will drop off more quickly the further away a premise is located. Because there are other dependencies on speed, there is no absolute 'distance to speed' rule. However as a general guide, superfast broadband should be available within distances of about 1.2km from the cabinet to the premise served; for greater distances of c.1.8km or more, there may be little or no speed uplift benefit at all from a particular upgrade. The quality of the copper line may also be a factor affecting speed performance. Many premises served by FTTC will be able to access superfast broadband services. For those that don't benefit from a cabinet upgrade, it is expected that solutions will continue to be sought through the Superfast Northamptonshire project.

Fibre to the Premise (FTTP) is much more costly to deliver because, for Openreach network, it involves laying new fibre all the way from the telephone exchange to a premise, which means more civil engineering works, but it can support much higher speeds, currently up to around 330Mbps. Other telecoms providers as well as BT use and specialise in these and other types of technology. More basic services can be provided by wireless and satellite broadband.

For more information on how the BT network is built please visit the Building the Network page.

Gigaclear Stage 3 Contract

Gigaclear provide a pure Fibre to the Premise (FTTP) network solution as standard. This provides supports the provision of ultrasfast services from 50Mbps up to 1Gbps. It involves laying new fibre all the way from a backhaul point (providing significant bandwidth and capacity) then into grass verges, footways and carriageways and then finally to each individual premise. Exchange areas are not relevant to Gigaclear's roll out as Gigaclear do not utilise Openreach's network.  Customers can purchase a range of services from 50Mbps to 1Gbps dependant on each individual requirements. For more information on how the Gigaclear network is built please visit the Building the Network page.

In summary, some of the main technologies deployed by the wider telecoms market for superfast and basic broadband include:

​Technology​Approximate speeds available
​Benefits​Variables
​Fibre to the Premise (FTTP)
​Up to 1Gb
​Dedicated speeds
Future proofed
​High cost to deploy
Significant amount of civil works
​Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC)
​Up to 80 mbps
​High premise coverage
Significant uplifts
​Distance from Cabinet
Copper quality
​Wireless​Varied​Serve remote areas
Improving technology
​Contention (peak hours)
Signal obstruction e.g. trees, hills
​Satelite​Up to 22mbps
​Available anywhere
Quick installation
​Weather, tree cover
Latency ('ping' time)
Cost for data consumption

 

The process below is based on the deployment of Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC).
It can take up to 9 months on average to progress through all of these key stages of the roll out; longer if issues which are unknown at the outset are encountered at the survey or build stages:

 key stages involved in the network build with BT 

Deploying Fibre to the Premise (FTTP) follows a similiar process but it does not involve the siting of new green roadside cabinets (manifolds or splitters are used instead), nor does it require power on site as power would be sourced at the exchange. It does involve more civil engineering works.


 


 

The exact speeds you'll be able to get will depend on how your own premise is connected. There are two main ways in which fibre optic can be used to bring you fibre broadband:

Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC) uses fibre-optic cables from the telephone exchange to the green fibre street cabinet. It then uses existing copper wires to connect the cabinet to homes and businesses. This method can provide download speeds of up to 80Mbps and upload speeds of up to 20Mbps. Premises located closest to their serving cabinet will benefit from the higher speeds.

Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) uses fibre-optic cables all the way to a premise – there is no reliance on the existing copper network. It can provide wholesale download speeds up to 1Gbps .

The exact speed you get also depends on a number of additional factors like the length of your line from the green roadside cabinet (for FTTC), the line quality, the cabinet equipment and internal wiring within your premises.

In the UK, Superfast broadband is defined as access line speeds above 24Mbps (OFCOM 2010). This is the definition used by the County Council for the Superfast Northamptonshire project and by BDUK when it launched it's Superfast Britain Programme. Next Generation Access (NGA) must be capable of supporting speeds of over 30Mbps. However, to be able to buy a fibre broadband service from an internet service provider, minimum access line speeds of around 15Mbps are normally required.

The When and Where map presents data at a postcode level only; it is not accurate at premise level. 

Premises located in the same postcode area are not always connected by the same broadband network infrastructure or network suppliers e.g. there could be more than one cabinet structure in a postcode or fibre networks operated by different providers. If cabinets or parts of the network are upgraded at different times then not all premises in the same postcode area will benefit at the same time. It is also possible that in the same postcode area, some premises may be served by different broadband technologies or require different technology solutions.

Postcodes themselves can also vary considerably in size, with those in the rural areas often geographically much larger than those in the urban areas. If part of the network is still reliant on copper e.g. through a Fibre to the Cabinet solution (see the
Network Build and Technologies FAQ) then the premises closest to their serving cabinet will benefit from the highest speeds. Such speed variances within a postcode may not be evident on postcode based mapping.

There are other factors that can influence what speeds may be available including the quality and age of your own internal wiring connections and computer equipment / software.

The 'standing' of a new fibre cabinet can often be very early in the whole cycle of works which needs to happen to plan and build a new fibre network and get it ready for service. The whole build cycle can take on average around 9 months for a Fibre to the Cabinet solution (can be less or more), and is usually longer for Fibre to the Premise.

Once a BT cabinet has been 'stood' then a process of pulling the network from the exchange to the cabinet has to begin. This can entail laying several kilometres of cabling and managing works on the highway and the possibility of hitting delays. A power supply for the new cabinet must also be found and connected, electronic equipment needs to be installed and tests on the network undertaken to ensure its all working correctly, including a light test – all of this takes time. Available resources and activities also have to be coordinated as part of a wider programme of network build involving many cabinets at any point in time. Once all of the components are completed then it takes around 3-4 weeks for a cabinet to go live; this is to complete the commissioning of the cabinet but also to inform Internet Service Providers (ISPs) that the new upgraded cabinet is ready for service and for them to get mobilised to offer upgraded services to people who live in the premises served by the new cabinet – a faster service is not delivered automatically; as a customer you have to request an upgrade from your ISP. So, it's not unusual for you to see a new street cabinet stood for some time before it goes live.  A cabinet which has gone live and is now supporting services will normally have a sticker advertising that fibre broadband is here to help raise awareness in the community.

Fibre is deployed for many different reasons, such as private network lines, as well as broadband access. These types of connections purchased by individuals or businesses are not available to be shared with others for broadband access. In other cases it may be a core fibre spine. Similar to a motorway scenario where you can only get on and off a motorway at certain junctions, it is equally not possible to link into the fibre network just anywhere. Fibre networks may also be owned and run by different telecoms providers.

When you place your order to upgrade to fibre broadband, your internet service provider should supply you with all of the equipment you need to get online.  If necessary, the supplier will make arrangements with you for an engineer to come to your home to install some of this equipment and get you connected.

FTTP is more complex to build and more costly than the alternative Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC) technology – the latter is the most widespread solution deployed by BT for the project to provide access to superfast broadband.  A lot more civil engineering works are involved with FTTP to roll out the fibre all the way from the telephone exchange direct to a home or business than is the case with FTTC – this also means it generally takes longer to deliver. The County Council would need to find many tens of millions more in public funding in order to achieve its full coverage target if the project only used FTTP and because of the scale of coverage due to be delivered (over 73,850 premises with BT)  it could take years longer to achieve.  It would not be possible to raise this level of public funding nor would the solution represent best value for money in order to achieve our target to see full superfast broadband coverage across the county.  FTTP is only used where an FTTC solution is not viable and would not deliver the required superfast broadband outcomes in a locality.

Independently of the Superfast Northamptonshire project, there are telecoms providers such as Independent Fibre Networks Limited and Gigaclear which offer Fibre to the Premises solutions commercially in some parts of the county. 

Engineering works are likely to be required on the roads where an FTTP solution is being delivered.  In areas where BT is delivering FTTP for the Superfast Northamptonshire project they will use existing ducts or overhead poles to lay new fibre cables.  

Gigaclear's FTTP solution does require the digging of new ducting and trenches to run the fibre and bury it underground. This is because they are building completely new fibre networks which offer the fastest speeds available.  Verges, footways or carriageways will be disrupted during the roll out but all works will be re-instated once completed and you are enjoying the benefits of ultrafast broadband. Gigaclear will communicate with residents in advance of any works being carried out.  Where works involve digging soft verges like grass for example, a full re-instatement may not be possible in winter months.  This means in some cases Gigaclear may return to an area to re-seed grass in the spring when it will have more success to grow - soft verge works undertaken from spring to autumn will be reseeded at the time. 

 Any supplier providing FTTP solutions are required to restore surfaces within the standards required by the Highways Authority. – Any fibre laid inside properties will be under the arrangement with the property owner to minimise disruption where possible.

Fibre on Demand (FoD) is a new ultrafast broadband technology which was being introduced in some parts of the UK by BT.  BT is not currently promoting or taking orders for FoD installations and it is not available in Northamptonshire.  The technology could enable a customer to order a Fibre to the Premise (FTTP) connection only if they are in an area already served by Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC) technology.   It would involve extending the fibre over the last leg direct into a home or business (instead of the last leg relying on the existing copper telephony network).  It could provide  ultrafast broadband services of up to 1Gbps but installation and monthly subscription can be costly.  

There is no news yet from BT on when the introduction of FoD in parts of the UK may be resumed.

The targets for the Superfast Northamptonshire project were set in 2011 and are based on the OFCOM 2010 definition of superfast broadband adopted by BDUK for its Superfast Britain Programme.  This is an access line speed (download speed) of over 24Mbps. OFCOM have since adopted a slightly higher minimum speed threshold of 30Mbps for superfast broadband which is consistent with Next Generation Access technology requirements.

Superfast Broadband is provided through Next Generation Access (NGA) Networks.  The European Commission's decision on the National Broadband Scheme for the UK, agreed in Summer 2016 also requires NGA to support speeds above 30Mbps. This is the threshold adopted by the County Council for Stage 3 of the project.

Next Generation Access (NGA) means networks which are wholly or in part comprised of optical fibre networks and which are capable of higher performance (enhanced characteristics) than traditional existing copper networks.  This means they can support higher throughput (download and upload speeds).  NGA should be capable of enabling data transfer at speeds of at least 30Mbps download over the internet.  Technologies include wired networks such as Fibre to the Cabinet or Fibre to the Premise or fixed wireless access where this meets NGA technology standards.

​Ultrafast networks are wholly optical fibre networks and which are capable of higher performance (enhanced characteristics) than traditional existing copper networks.  This means they can support higher throughput (download and upload speeds). Ultrafast broadband involves speeds of at least 100Mbps download over the internet. 

© 2015 Superfast Northamptonshire