Are you on an 'Exchange Only' line?

neil hawkins
By Neil Hawkins

bt openreach

BROADBAND doesn't often do irony, but when it does, it does it well.

Historically, customers with the fastest broadband were those who, through an accident of geography, happened to live closest to the telephone exchange.

Living further away from the exchange meant having to put up with slower broadband speeds.

With BT rolling out fibre optic cables to green street cabinets up and down the land, customers living miles from the nearest exchanges have seen performance boosts the kind of which raise eyebrows amongst Tour de France fans.

However, many users living just a stone's throw of their local exchange have been left grumbling about unavailable fibre upgrades.

The reason for the role reversal? 'Exchange Only' lines. Read on for all you need to know.

What is an 'Exchange Only' household?

An Exchange Only household has a phone line that connects directly to the local telephone exchange rather than via one of BT's green street cabinets.

How many households have 'Exchange Only' broadband?

The vast majority of phone lines connect to the nearest exchange via a street cabinet, but thinkbroadband estimates that roughly 5% of all phone lines are classed as Exchange Only connections.

Why are some households 'Exchange Only'?

There are a variety of reasons why Exchange Only lines are created. The most common are:

What impact does having an 'Exchange Only' line have on my broadband connection?

The main impact is on speed and upgradability.

Faster FTTC broadband (up to 80Mb) is served by fibre optic cables that run from the exchange to street cabinets. Your home is then connected to the cabinet.

FTTC will be available to 85% of households once rollout is complete, but it requires that your property is connected to the exchange via a street cabinet.

Exchange Only properties will not be able to upgrade to FTTC services as they are not connected to a cabinet.

People with Exchange Only lines close to the exchange will have fast ADSL2+ connections, around 15-20Mb which may soften the blow.

What is being done to improve services for 'Exchange Only' broadband household?

Under a plan that Openreach (BT's infrastructure division) calls "network rearrangement" customers with Exchange Only lines may eventually have a fibre-enabled cabinet installed between the exchange and their property.

So far, a few of these have been installed - Openreach provides no definitive figures - mostly in areas where Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) is helping to fund the rollout of superfast services.

This unfortunately isn't a solution that's likely to be put in place for Exchange Only lines that are isolated or a long distance from the exchange, or both.

What about a direct fibre to the premises (FTTP) connection?

This is a direct fibre link from the exchange to your property. FTTP is blazingly fast.

FTTP connections are being installed in only a few places at present, with around 200 exchanges across the country with or planned to have this capability.

In Cornwall the rollout of superfast broadband is due to be completed by the end of 2014 and FTTP connections are being tackled during the final phase of the project. Superfast Cornwall, the organisation delivering the scheme says it expects "teething issues" with FTTP connections.

The best way to find out what services are available at your local exchange is by entering your phone number into the BT broadband availability checker. This will say if you are FTTC or FTTP enabled.

This map shows which exchanges are at least part-enabled for FTTP services. (Bonus point for guessing which area has more than its fair share...)

Fibre to the what?

BT is currently in the middle of rolling out an upgrade to the UK's broadband network that aims to make superfast connections available to 66% of UK households by 2014 and 90% of the population by 2017.

There are a number of names for the new products that use fibre optic cabling to greatly improve speeds. These products all come with acronyms that combine to create a form of telephonic alphabet soup.

In short, the closer a fibre cable is to your property, the faster the connection.

Fibre broadband is delivered via two main methods.

Fibre to the cabinet - FTTC

Fibre to the cabinet is the main method of delivering high-speed broadband to homes and businesses. Fibre optic cables connect the local exchange to green street cabinets and traditional copper phone lines complete the connection from the cabinet to individual properties.

FTTC delivers broadband sold in variants of up to 40Mb and up to 80Mb. The ultimate speed of each household's connection depends on the length of copper wire between the property and the street cabinet.

Popular products using this service are BT Infinity, Sky Fibre, Plusnet Fibre and a host of others.

Virgin Media uses a similar method to distribute its cable broadband products. The connection coming into a Virgin Media customer's property uses a copper-based coaxial cable, connected to a fibre node serving multiple properties in the neighbourhood.

Fibre to the home/premises - FTTH/FTTP

Fibre to the premises connections, use a fibre optic cable to connect the customer's home or business directly to the exchange. As an entire FTTP connection is formed of fibre optic cable, it can achieve far higher speeds than FTTC connections.

FTTP connections currently pass an estimated 200,000 premises in the UK and can, depending on the provider reach speeds of up to 1Gbps.


23 February 2016
Keith Moat

I took up BT infinity, up to 38Mbps, about 18 months ago and was getting 24Mbps which was acceptable. A couple of months ago the speed dropped to around 14Mbps for no apparent reason and I complained in writing explaining that nothing in my set up had changed so why had my speed almost halved. I got the usual rubbish from BT the standard, "try rebooting the router" etc. which I had already done anyway and I ended up ignoring their calls/emails as I was getting nowhere. Then about a month ago the speed went back up to 24Mbps of it's own accord. Why do BT always infer that there's something wrong with the home owners set up when a problem occurs ? It was obviously something at their end as it righted itself without me changing a thing. Can't wait for the Virgin Media 200Mbps lines that they are putting in around our area to come active.

9 December 2015

BT - Bloody Terrible. For a company whose tool of the trade is information exchange - they are bloody terrible at it themselves. 2014, Superfast coming, late 2014 "We've checked and when it comes your house and number will be fine" 2015 delayed in the Spring, delayed in early Summer, delayed in late Summer. August box goes live. Wait 4 months to sign up - told I have a direct to exchange line in complete contradiction to what I was told first and that I can never have Superfast anyway. Actually moving house as internet is my business and current service is bloody terrible.

10 August 2015
David G

We are supposed to have fibre broadband available for our postcode, but this exact property doesn't have it available. Does that mean we're connected direct to the exchange using copper? The exchange is just down to the end of our road and across the street - less than 200 metres away.

4 August 2015
Nicholas Taylor

I'm connected to EAERD (East Rudham) I'm next to the exchange and the best I can get is BT Wholesale ADSL Max. It would be nice if they put a green box inside of every exchange to accommodate all end users that are connected directly to the exchange...

20 March 2015

Exchange only lines close to the exchange = ADSL2+ and 15 to 20Mb broadband... This is just not true. I live less than 50m from the exchange and, on a very good day, can reach the dizzying heights of 5.5Mb download and don't get me started on the upload. Bring on 4G so I can get rid!

14 January 2015
John b

I am on an exchange only line and fibre optic is not available to me, the houses at each side and in front of me are supplied from a cabinet and have fibre available. Is it possible that my line could be connected to the cabinet? The cabinet is 200m away and the exchange is 3km away?

30 December 2014

My exchange is 4-5Km away and all the houses in the area are EO so we are stuck. Even when the exchange is upgraded they still need to get a cabinet installed somewhere. However the transformer is already at the limits of it's capability so I am really not hopeful anymore.

"Hope being the 1st step on the road to dissapointment"

18 March 2014
Chris McFaul

"People with Exchange Only lines close to the exchange will have fast ADSL2+ connections, around 15-20Mb which may soften the blow."

And those of us who are more than 1km from the exchange on EO lines are stuck with single digit mbps?

9 December 2015

Hardly softens the blow. I live 250 metres from the exchange - there are two boxes physically between my house and the exchange. Told I am Exchange Only and not connected to either box - can't have fibre - Told we already have ADSL2+ but the speed is terrible. As soon as a second person starts streaming everyone else in the house might as well turn their internet off. Terrible customer service, terrible information propagation, terrible product roll out.

20 March 2015

I live less than 50m from my exchange with an exchange only line and don't get ADSL2+ or double digit speeds. I think we should assume that the figures quoted are right up there with SNP oil price estimates.

2 April 2014

Great info, I am on a cabinet 8 ON THE STENALEES EXCHANGE PL268SR. But only get speeds of 27Mb... and yet a friend on a cabinet further away from the main exchange is on 80Mb.... I am using my net for heavy use (computer engineer) and no sign or news if FTTP will ever reach me. I get 26Mb and think they placed a cabinet 8 in the exchange to bring a small bonus - but why would it not give me 80Mb like the others around the exchange???

10 February 2015

That sounds like there could be a fault with your line. If you're on FTTC and there are 80/20 circuits on the cards then you should get roughly that. If you are on 80/20 there's a fault... If you're on a 40/10 or 40/20 then you are either a distance from the PCP or there is a slight fault causing that loss from PCP to NTE.

18 October 2014

You are moaning about speeds of 27Mb! I am on an exchange only line and get 1Mb if I'm lucky, with seemingly no prospect of any improvement in the near future.

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