Broadband News

My Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) Installation – Part 2

On 20 September 2013 I blogged about the first stage of my Fibre To The Premises (FTTP) broadband installation. Yesterday, 15 October, the second stage of the installation took place, and I’m posting this using my new fibre connection.

The BT Openreach engineer was due to visit sometime between 8am and 1pm. Since I am up early most days, I made sure that the room where the equipment was to be installed (two boxes attached to the wall) was clear, and furniture moved out of the way. The engineer called at about 8.15am to say that he was 15 minutes away – really great to get advance notice.

To cut a long story short, he had to drill a hole through an extremely thick (90cm) solid granite wall, which he managed very well considering how difficult a task that is. He fitted the equipment to the wall where I wanted it and ran the fibre cable through the hole and outside to the Consumer Splice Point (CSP).

Here’s the CSP opened showing the run of fibre carefully coiled ready to be spliced with the short run that will go into the house:


Next, some of this spare fibre was carefully cut using a splice tool to ensure a clean, flat cut. It was then cleaned with alcohol. The other end of the cable going into the house was prepared in the same way. The engineer opened a flight case revealing the impressively named “Fusion Splicer” which uses a short burst of electricity to fuse the glass fibres together.

Here’s the fusion splicer. It uses a digital microscope to help align the fibres perfectly. You can just about make out the faint blue fibres (which are incredibly thin) on the mid and lower left of the photo:

The BT Openreach fusion splicer
The BT Openreach fusion splicer

And here’s my fibre, fused and ready to go:

One fusion-spliced fibre optic ready to go
One fusion-spliced fibre optic ready to go!

And here’s the Openreach VDSL modem and battery backup attached to the wall the other side of the CSP:

BT Openreach modem and battery backup
BT Openreach modem and battery backup

As soon as the fibre was spliced, the connection light on the VDSL modem lit up, and technically, it was online. The engineer carefully wound the excess cable back into the CSP, and the job was done. We connected up the BT HomeHub 3 and checked the connection via ethernet, which worked perfectly.

A quick speed test via the BT Wholesale Speed Test came in at 96Mbs down, and about 8Mbs up. The engineer assured me that this would increase as the connection stabilised.

He finished late morning and for the rest of the day the connection speed resolutely dropped to about 50Mbs/9Mbs wired straight in.

However, this morning the speed was a different picture:

BT Speed Test results

Success! And a lot faster than the advertised 160Mbs service that I’m paying for.

But a word of warning – as soon as you start to use wifi, watch the speeds drop away. There are so many factors that can affect your connection. I decided to remove the HomeHub from the equation and use my 2nd generation Apple Time Capsule to handle the wifi and connection via PPPoE. However, it seems that the WAN port, despite it being a gigabit port, can’t negotiate above 100Mbs (and yes, I’ve checked the cable using PPPoE directly on my laptop which revealed the speeds above). I may have to go back to the HomeHub and use the Time Capsule in bridge mode again.

Wifi and internal cabling aside, the FTTP connection was a complete success. The time I had to wait between the first and second appointments was rather long, but I suppose we’re only in the early days of the fibre rollout, and more engineers will need to be trained up.

All-in-all, my installation took about 10 hours to complete over the two days. I’d advise you to be in for the first visit, no matter what BT say! The connection is now phenomenally fast, and it’s one of those rare moments when you find yourself saying that the wait was worth it. I just uploaded an 11MB photo to Flickr in just a few seconds – this would have taken 3-4 minutes just two days ago. My network attached storage (NAS) is suddenly a lot more capable, allowing me to log in remotely to retrieve files without an agonising wait. Not to mention HD streaming. All at the same time if we want to.

If you’re thinking about ordering fibre broadband, don’t hesitate. Not long until I can remove the copper wires altogether!


Broadband News

My Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) Installation – Part 1

When I first moved to Penzance in January 2012, BT Openreach’s fibre rollout was already well underway in Cornwall. The Penzance exchange was due to be enabled that May, and in my mind I thought that a few months would be well worth the wait. Well, it turned out to be more than a few months!

In February 2012 I registered my number with Superfast Cornwall to be informed when fibre of one kind or another (Fibre to the Cabinet – FTTC, or Fibre to the Premises – FTTP) would be enabled on my line. By the end of August this year (2013) I decided to check my number again as I hadn’t heard anything and there seemed to be a fair number of BT Openreach vans and roadworks in the area. The line checker came back with a friendly message saying that my property was eligible for FTTP – one of the few that would receive ultra-fast broadband.

After carefully reinstating my jaw from its newly found location on the desk in front of me, I looked up BT’s packages to find out how much it would cost. We currently pay £25/month (plus line rental) for a standard unmetered ADSL connection which on a good day peaks at 11.25Mbs down / 0.7Mbs up. BT offered a 160Mbs/20Mbs FTTP connection for £35 with free installation. That’s a lot of extra speed for not a huge sum of money – and when you work from home and are reliant on broadband any increase in speed, especially upload speed, can make a huge difference.

Naturally, I signed up. (Order date: 30 August 2013)

Installation of FTTP

I was given two dates for the installation. The first visit would be for the fibre to be run to our house on 20th September, then an engineer install the remainder of the fibre into the house and to connect up the new fibre modem on 1st October. I’d waited this long, so thought that those dates were reasonable.

Then a few days later I received a call from BT Openreach saying that they have had to delay the installation, and I was given new dates for the visits. The external work would be completed on 4th October, and the engineer visit would be on the 15th. A bit of calendar re-shuffling, but still OK. A tiny part of me wondered if it would even be possible, and the dates would march off into the distant future.

I was wrong.

This morning (20th September) at about 9am, there was a knock on the door. “Hello, I’m here to install your fibre broadband”.

The “external” appointment, I was told, meant that it was optional for me to be at home. But be warned – that’s not always true. In the case of our house, we have a locked rear courtyard which we needed to let the Openreach engineer into. It can also be helpful if you are in to help the installer know where you would like the fibre to enter your property. They also tend to respond favourably to offers of tea.

What happens during the “external” fibre installation appointment?

An armoured cable needs to be run from either the pole (in my case) or underground to your property, terminating in a small box called a Consumer Splice Point (CSP) over or near the point where the fibre enters a hole in your wall/window casement.

Here’s mine, taken during installation:

BT Openreach Customer Splice Point (CSP)
BT Openreach Customer Splice Point (CSP) during installation

Bear in mind that the steel-reinforced outer cable cannot be bent along a right angle – there must be smooth curves for it to turn a corner, and so this may affect where the cable is installed.

Once the armoured cable and CSP are in place, then the fibre itself is “fusion spliced” at the fibre terminator on the pole/duct/cabinet (delete as appropriate) and “blown” with compressed air down the cable. As I typed this, that’s just what they did:

CSP with fibre blown through the cable
CSP with fibre blown through the cable

And then a quick photo of the end of the fibre optic:

End of the fibre optic
End of the fibre optic

And finally, the completed CSP, ready for the second BT Openreach visit:

FTTP Consumer Splice Point
FTTP Consumer Splice Point

The BT Openreach engineers who undertook the installation were great – professional and courteous. Details of the next stage in a few weeks time.  [Update] Find out about stage two of my FTTP installation.