Fibre To The Home (FTTH)
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.
The fibre first runs to an External Junction Box (EJB) containing a cable tray on the exterior wall of the property and passes through a small hole to an electronics module known as the Optical Network Termination (OTN) unit which converts the light signal to electrical impulses. The OTN then connects via a wired Ethernet lead to your new Router which can be next to the OTN or remoted. Two power sockets are needed.
Ideally the Router should be located near the centre of the house for best WiFi coverage, and conveniently located for plugging in a telephone, which itself may require a third power socket.
See this link about the installation process.
The Router has a socket on the back into which a telephone can be plugged if you have opted for digital voice (VOIP); and RJ45 sockets for connecting to the network ports on your computer 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 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 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.
The BT and Open Reach 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 usually 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 recently been spotted running fibre through underground cable ducts.
In Chance Lane, OpenReach has just 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.
However 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.
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.
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.
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.
OpenReach is not the only company installing fibre in Malvern.
FullFibre plans to provide 16,000 connections to homes in Malvern under the brand Fibre Heroes, and 500,000 connections nationally by 2025. They have previously been active in Shrewsbury.
'Switching websites' are not that helpful. Many don't limit their offerings to what's presently available in the street, AND they don't always include new Internet Service Providers (ISP).
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 OTN, but you will need to purchase your Broadband by signing up with an Internet Service Provider who will 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.
The reviews of these small ISPs are mixed, but Squirrel Internet sounds as though it might be OK.
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.
If you move from BT there is a danger 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. 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.
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.
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 CASE (or CASS) arrived at 8:30am to hang the overhead cable and install the Optical Network Termination (OTN) unit on an internal wall.
Putting up the overhead cable was not without difficulty due to the cable getting snagged in trees. However the problem was solved with the use of oversize yellow 'drain' rods carried in the van.
The Optical Network Termination unit
We had decided that the OTN (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 OTN 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
Fibre is wound round a reel inside the EJB to facilitate future maintenance.
The OTN 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 OTN (requiring two power sockets) as Squirrel do not supply internal cabling.
The Ethernet extension lead
We had decided to place the router in the centre of the house to give WiFi a chance of reaching all rooms; a distance of 20 metres from the OTN, 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 OTN 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!
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.
In our case, we found we an adequate speed could be obtained without Extenders.
So how fast is Squirrel Internet
We went for the cheapest 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 does not appear to offer loyal customers its best deals.
Squirrel only guarantee these 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.
However more realistically, through WiFi, we are achieving speeds in the region of 50 Mb/s to SWS at Shrewsbury, as measured by the Google Fiber Internet Speed Test.
That is a download speed roughly five times the speed we were getting from BT and an upload speed X25.
Have we noticed much difference?
The bottom line is what difference does such a speed increase makes to one's enjoyment of the Internet?
Users 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.
That said, in many cases any 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 network 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 despite only observing a modest increase in speed of interaction with the Internet.
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 should come on.
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 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 not yet been ported from BT to Squirrel, but we'll let you know how that goes.
Watch this space!
Last updated 30th August 2023