Fibre To The Home (FTTH)
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OpenReach and other providers are in the process of connecting homes with Fibre Optic Cable enabling Internet speeds of up to 1,000 Mb/s (1 Gigabit per second) over a wired Ethernet connection; probably less if you are sharing WiFi.
Where a property is served from a telephone pole an overhead cable is installed running down the wall of the property to an External Junction Box (EJB) containing a cable tray on the exterior wall (see below). In our case this was 60 cm above ground level.
From the EJB a cable is clipped to the wall eventually passing through a 6mm hole to an electronics module known as the Optical Network Terminal (ONT) unit which converts the light signal to electrical impulses.
The ONT then connects via a wired Ethernet lead to the new Router which can be located next to the ONT or placed further away. Two power sockets are needed one for the ONT and one for the Router.
Ideally the Router should be located near the centre of the house for best WiFi coverage and if you have chosen digital voice (VOIP) conveniently located for plugging in your telephone. A cordless phone will require a third power socket.
See this link about the installation process.
The Router may have a socket on the back into which a telephone can be plugged if you have opted for digital voice (VOIP); and four RJ45 sockets for connecting to the network ports on your computers and printer; alternatively you can connect devices using WiFi.
Note: phone calls currently made via copper landlines can be connected via the Internet. This uses the Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) and simply requires plugging your landline phone into the back of the router and buying a call package from your Internet Service Provider (ISP).
BT is phasing out the use of copper lines and could eventually remove copper connections to homes and business premises. In some areas this changeover could happen as early as 2024 - 2026. The future is definitely fibre, the technology of which has been evolving for around 40 years.
When Boris Johnson spoke of Gigabit Internet speeds we thought he was exaggerating, but with fibre it's a reality.
Previously BT had been mostly selling Fibre To The Cabinet (FTTC) technology in Malvern. Here fibre travels from the Exchange to a street cabinet where the broadband signal is piggy backed onto existing copper twisted pair connections to reach homes. That typically provides a download speed of about 50 Mb/s for those living close to the street cabinet but, due to signal attenuation, only ~10 Mb/s to those 800 metres or so away.
Note: Fibre To The Premises (FTTP) for businesses is another name for Fibre To The Home.
With copper landlines the threat was often the tops of trees rubbing the cable causing an intermittent connection or a break, water building up in underground ducts causing short circuits in poorly sealed junction boxes and damp or corroded terminals in junction boxes at the top of telephone poles.
Notionally the optical fibre network should be more reliable. However, grey squirrels have already been seen attacking the OpenReach optical connecting blocks in Hall Green possibly mistaking them for peanut dispensers. If you lose the Internet and the red light illuminates on your ONT you might want to use binoculars to check the top of the telephone pole serving your home for signs of damage. Of course, the cause might just be a brief service interruption!
The BT and OpenReach websites will tell you whether full fibre Internet is presently available to your home and this will be indicated by a prospective download speed of between 100Mb/s and 900 Mb/s. Upload speeds provided by BT are typically only 25% of the download speed; possibly something to consider if you want to backup large quantities of data to the 'Cloud'.
These websites, bless them, don't often give any indication of when fibre is planned to be activated in your street, but in our neck of the woods on the Barnards Green side of town contractors have been spotted during the last 12 months running fibre through underground cable ducts and between telephone poles.
In Chance Lane, OpenReach has installed fibre optic connectors to the top of telephone poles running back to a splitter at the junction with the Guarlford Road and then back to the Malvern Exchange.
An engineer told us that it could be another 6 months or more before this branch of the network is completed and becomes fully operational, that is circa February 2024. However check as it could be sooner.
Once the service is switched on expect a letter from BT inviting you to sign up.
OpenReach has also been spotted installing fibre connections to telephone poles in Hall Green and along the Guarlford Road towards the Green Dragon, and putting ducting under the pavement at Bamford Close in Guarlford.
Some customers near Townsend Way already have Fibre.
If you are already with BT it should be possible to upgrade to FTTH within contract.
Do tell us if there is activity in your street and we can add to this embryonic list.
Plusnet is now owned by BT but offers slightly cheaper prices. If you find BT offers Full Fibre you might be able to get it more cheaply from Plusnet.
BT has bought the mobile phone operator EE and some BT packages offer a wireless router as a back up to fibre.
The media reports BT plans to market Fibre To The Home under the EE banner.
In some areas Airband offers either fibre, or a wireless connection to the Internet the latter providing a potential download speed of 40 Mb/s.
Airband installed fibre in Guarlford some years ago when BT said that would be too expensive.
OpenReach is not the only company installing Fibre To The Home in Malvern.
FullFibre plans to provide 16,000 connections to homes in Malvern under the brand FibreHeroes, and 500,000 connections nationally by 2025. They have previously been active in Shrewsbury and are working in Worcester.
'Switching websites' are not that helpful. Many limit their offerings to what's presently available in the street, AND they don't always include new Internet Service Providers (ISP) such as Squirrel Internet.
You can check the availability of FullFibre in Malvern using this link:
To make this work you need to type your postcode into the search box and then select your home from the drop down list.
Note: for some reason pasting in the postcode does not work.
The FullFibre brand for connecting homes is known as FibreHeroes; they install the connection to your home as far as the ONT, but you will need to purchase your Broadband by signing up with an Internet Service Provider who will also provide the Router.
At the bottom of the (above) search results page you should see a list of the ISPs who utilise the FullFibre network, if fibre is currently available to your home.
You need to check the reviews.
The reviews of these small ISPs are mixed, but Squirrel Internet sounded good to us.
Here is a link to the Squirrel website:-
Note: Squirrel Internet offers the same upload and download speed which is currently 150 Mb/s for the cheapest package; so for uploads it could be faster than BT.
Squirrel Internet Ltd logo
If you move from BT there is a possibility you could lose your btinternet.com email address. BT say when you are moving you can now ask to keep your email address in which case your email would be converted to a free Basic account 60 days after leaving BT. This could mean the option to download emails to a client on your device is lost, in which case you might have to log on to the bt.com website using a web browser to view your emails.
However 3 months after ending our BT contract our email accounts are still working as normal.
Note: on the settings menu of your BT email account there is an option to auto-forward emails to another email address; this could prove useful if you were to set up a new email address such as Outlook or Gmail for use with a different fibre provider.
Our BT Broadband package came with on-line storage in the cloud and free anti-virus. We did not use these, but something to think about if you are leaving BT.
Erecting the overhead line
So rather than wait for BT to activate it's fibre network in our street, we signed up with Squirrel and were able to choose an installation day and either the morning or the afternoon.
A couple of days before the installation day a Fibre Heroes engineer called to check where the overhead line was to go; he hung a reel of cable from one of the steps near the top of the pole and checked there was an optical signal.
On the day of the installation a subcontractor from CASS arrived at 8:30am to hang the overhead cable, install the external EJB and fit the Optical Network Termination (ONT) unit on an internal wall.
In our case, putting up the overhead cable was not without difficulty due to the cable getting snagged in trees. However the problem was solved with the help of oversize yellow 'drain' rods carried in the van.
The Optical Network Termination unit
We had decided that the ONT (see right) be fitted in the loft next to a power socket where a TV aerial amplifier had been; so a hole was drilled through the wall and a thinner fibre cable dropped to join with the overhead cable outside.
The internal fibre came as a 20 metre kit which limits how far the ONT can be from the External Junction Box.
The External Junction Box
The join between the overhead line and the internal cable was made at an External Junction Box (EJB) otherwise known as the Consumer Supply Point (CSP).
We would have preferred this to be above head height to avoid being hit by a wheel-barrow or wheelie-bin, but apparently it had to be near ground-level in order for the engineer to join the fibres together.
The External Junction Box
Spare fibre is wound round a reel inside the EJB to facilitate future maintenance.
The ONT manufactured by Nokia was about 12 cm square. The fibre cable was plugged in, power turned on, and the PON light lit indicating successful connection to the Optical Network. The engineer checked the light level which was -20 dB (about the average to be expected). Stage one of the installation was complete.
By default the router has to be next to the ONT (requiring two power sockets) as Squirrel do not currently supply internal cabling.
The Ethernet extension lead
We had decided to place the router in the centre of the house to give WiFi a better chance of reaching all rooms; a distance of 20 metres from the ONT, and this necessitated making up an Ethernet extension lead.
We bought a 50m reel of Cat5e cable from Screwfix, two RJ45 wall sockets, and a 0.5 metre patch lead to connect the ONT to the first wall-box; also some white nylon P clips from Ebay.
There are some excellent videos on YouTube about making up Ethernet cables - for example those by My Mate Vince, otherwise known as Mr Telephone!
For example see Vince's video about making up an Ethernet extension using sockets.
WiFi USB Adaptor
Our oldest computer had been talking to BT WiFi through a vintage USB Edimax 7711 UTn adaptor. This would not connect to the Internet through the ZYXEL Router so we bought an inexpensive tp-link adaptor from Amazon which worked fine.
Photo right: tp-link AC600 USB adaptor box. Otherwise known as Archer T2U.
Interface: USB 2
Mesh WiFi extenders
If you are a hobby electrician with good eyesight, steady hands and all the tools, making up an Ethernet lead is quite satisfying, but one could otherwise buy a ready made lead or, perhaps simpler, use either one or two suitably placed (Mesh) Extenders to relay the WiFi signal throughout the house; these add to the monthly rental.
In our case, we found an adequate speed could be obtained without Extenders.
So how fast is Squirrel Internet
We went for the cheapest (Grey) package offering a maximum speed of 150 Mb/s and a guaranteed speed of 75 Mb/s, which is a lot faster than the download speed of 10 Mb/s that we were getting on the extremity of BT Fibre To The Cabinet (FTTC). Our Squirrel deal was cheaper than that currently on offer from BT which in the past has not offered loyal customers its best deals.
Measuring speeds turns out to be a variable feast. Web-based speed checkers give slightly differing results which in turn depend on the location of the test server. Speed over WiFi depends on distance the from router, others sharing the connection, the specification of the wireless card in your device, and the number of walls and their construction in-between.
Further we have found that if a computer had been on all day the WiFi Internet speed could sometimes grind almost to a halt. In that case Restarting the computer restored the original speed suggesting that the PC was the culprit.
Programs like Dell Support assist and Microsoft Search Indexer can occasionally suck up resources. These can be switched off using Windows Task Manager, though they tend to restart quite quickly.
Squirrel only guarantees the quoted speeds to a server of their choice and for a computer directly connected to the Router by an Ethernet cable. Under these conditions we were indeed able to achieve 150 Mb/s both up and down, and even 300 Mb/s occasionally.
Squirrel suggest using the www.fast.com website for measuring broadband speed which is a service provided by Netflix.
When we connected to the old computer next to the Router using WiFi we only got 50 Mb/s. That may be because the wireless card is to old standard 802.11n.
A newer Dell desktop PC located further away also managed 50 Mb/s using WiFi. Then to our surprise the speed leapt to 150 Mb/s. This PC had a faster wireless card to 802.11ax standard and what had happened was it had automatically switched from the 2.4GHz band to 5GHz.
So we went into Windows Control Panel, Network and Sharing Centre, and changed the WiFi adaptor settings to make the 5GHz band preferred. Now we mostly get 150 Mb/s except when the computer occasionally ties itself in knots.
Furthest away in the kitchen our ten year old Ipad Air typically achieved about 30 Mb/s up and down which was better than the 2 Mb/s up and 10 Mb/s down from BT. Occasionally the speed rose to 60 Mb/s - we don't know why.
The old Ipad Air software could not be upgraded above IOS 12 and the Safari browser no longer worked with some websites such as Ancestry. Added to this the power socket was becoming unreliable so a very kind member of the family gave us a new Ipad 10 for Christmas. That connects to the Router at 150 Mb/s in the kitchen showing that WiFi speed partly depends on the age of the device.
The Google Fiber Internet Speed Test gives similar results to www.fast.com when SWS Shrewsbury is selected as the far end.
Summarising, in order to get the best speed, you may need to:
Have we noticed much difference?
The bottom line is: what difference does such a speed increase makes to one's enjoyment of the Internet?
You don't want to be waiting for information to appear on the screen; have films interrupted due to buffering; and dispatch of emails with photographs attached, and Windows Updates taking ages.
Don't expect Windows updates to be greatly faster as after downloading the software Windows spends a lot of time installing the updates and often requires a Restart which can take a while.
In many cases a download speed >10 Mb/s should be adequate for light users such as Senior Citizens who will chiefly benefit from the highest speeds when adult children and grand children come to stay wanting to work on their laptops and play videos on tablets.
Note: the overall speed of response depends on a combination of things. The time taken for your computer to process web page data, the time it takes for the distant computer to respond and send the requested information, and the speed of the communication links.
If your data has to traverse a number of hops the speed will likely be no faster than the slowest link in the chain.
What this means is that there can be diminishing returns where the increased speed eventually buys very little in terms of overall system performance.
Those in rural communities with poor Broadband speeds and Businesses are likely to benefit most from changing to Fibre.
We are glad we made the change to Fibre despite only observing a modest increase in the speed of Human Interaction with the Internet.
Squirrel and FullFibre have provided us with a fast keenly priced service with responsive customer support.
That said, there may be those who are not tech savvy and have difficulty setting up email who may prefer to play safe and wait for the arrival of BT fibre to their home.
Then there are those who are mid-contract who might find it costly to change provider.
Many people will now be using a Smart-Phone as their only means of communication, while others might still prefer the reliability of a landline, especially if mobile reception within their home is poor or non-existent.
Squirrel and BT offer a digital voice service (VOIP) whereby calls are made in the usual manner, except for the phone being plugged into the back of the Router rather than the BT Master Socket.
When the phone service is activated the right hand light of the Squirrel Router illuminates.
Digital voice requires the area dialing code prefix to be stored in phone-books in addition to the local number you are calling so if you go digital remember to check you have updated your landline/cordless phone's memory.
Digital landlines don't work if the power goes off, but hopefully calls can still be made from one's mobile phone.
Our landline number has been 'ported' from BT to Squirrel, and glad to say the phone still works and the quality of the sound is better!
Porting a phone number
Squirrel offered us either a new phone number or to transfer our existing BT number, and we chose the latter which we have had for 30 years.
Immediately Squirrel notified BT of the transfer date, the BT Retentions department was on the phone, and we got the impression that a request to transfer a phone number automatically leads to closure of the BT account.
Knowing BT requires 30 days notice of closing an account we also phoned them to confirm that we were ending both our phone and broadband contract.
On the appointed day we waited for the BT dial tone to stop and the phone lamp on the router to light. By midday the Router lamp lit, but as we still had dial tone on the BT phone line we assumed the number had not been transferred - that assumption proved to be FALSE as we had an email from a neighbour saying our phone was not working. So we plugged a Cordless phone base station into the router and hey presto our landline was working again.
Many days later we still had dial tone on the now defunct BT phone line.
Position of your phone socket and alarm systems
The position of the landline 'master socket' could change when customers are moved from copper to fibre and digital voice.
Where customers use cordless phones that might not be a problem provided the master/answerphone remains in a convenient position.
Elderly or disabled people with alarm systems could however encounter problems. There are two issues:
One solution to the first issue might be either having a battery backup power supply (inverter) to run for example the ONT and Router, or to carry a mobile phone in your pocket.
The second point is if the landline plugs into the Router, the master socket and connected extensions could become dead. In this case your internal extension wiring might, especially in older properties, need to be reconfigured.
The nightmare scenario is if the telephone engineer inconveniently fits the digital voice equipment on the edge of your property (rather than the centre) leaving your internal extensions disconnected.
In outline, a solution might be to disconnect the extensions from the dead master socket and use a plug to plug adaptor lead to connect a chain of extension sockets to the router. Possibly an easy task for the handyman but the elderly might need assistance; every house will be different.
Return of equipment
BT asked for return of their Smart Hub (router) and helpfully sent a plastic sack and prepaid label. We also used that to return an older BT Home Hub that had been sitting in a cupboard.
BT charged us in advance for a full month even though we had given 30 days notice and ended the contract near the start of the month.
The Final Bill advising of a refund by Direct Debit arrived about 20 days after the contract end date; then we cancelled the BT Direct Debit.
Last updated 8th January 2024