Are you on an 'Exchange Only' line?
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:
- Properties that are situated very close (< 500m) to the exchange
- New build properties, which can mean dozens of households if part of a large development.
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.