The latest high speed broadband roll out is generally referred to as “fibre optic”. However this is misleading as the fibre optic cable is only brought as far as the green BT cabinet. The final connection to the house is still made using the copper or aluminium wires that were originally installed for the telephone. This service is correctly called “Fibre to the Cabinet” or “FTTC”.
Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC)
In an FTTC scheme, a new green cabinet is installed for the electronics that converts the signals transmitted using light in the fibre optic cable into electricity on the copper cable. There are a lot of factors which affect these electric signals – the distance from between the cabinet and the house, the quality of any joints in the cable, and even the number of cables that are installed in the BT cabinet. This is why BT quote speeds of “up to” 38Mbps if you are close the green cabinet, and much lower speeds as you move further away (further information can be found on the increasebroadbandspeed.co.uk website).
Fibre to the Home (FTTH)
The alternative to FTTC is to run the fibre optic connection all the way to the home – this is referred to a “Fibre to the Home” (FTTH).
In this scheme there is nothing to affect the quality of the signal and consequently much higher speeds are possible – currently up to 1Gbps (1,000 Mbps) although most commercial fibre optic broadband providers limit their connections to 100Mbps. The FTTH scheme is what is being built by the Broadband for the Rural North Communities (B4RN) in Lancashire, although there are plenty of other FTHH schemes and commercial providers operating in the UK and in other countries.
FTTH schemes are often claimed to be “future proof”. This is a big claim to make as it is impossible to predict what will happen to IT equipment performance in the future and particularly how wireless networks such as 5G will develop. However once an FTTH scheme installed the passive components (the fibre optic cable) can theoretically deal with much high speeds / capacities and any upgrade would be limited to the central electronics and the router (or CPE) installed in the home.
FTTH schemes are also reported to be more reliable and cheaper to operate that FTTC schemes – this is because the fibre optic cable is less likely to fail than a copper connection (and if correctly installed there is little that will damage the fibre or cause it to fail).
Why isn’t BT providing FTTH connections to everyone?
This is simply down to the cost. To build an FTTH scheme you need to dig a trench to every property for the new fibre optic cable. Using commercial firms to do this is prohibitively expensive. Community Schemes have the benefit that the labour is free – so the installation costs are drastically reduced. To give an idea of the difference – a budget quote to provide a FTTH scheme for Fiskerton-cum-Morton was in the order of £400,000. If we build the scheme ourselves then the total costs are expected to be less than £150,000.
So what’s involved in installing an FTTH scheme?
A lot of digging…
The system that we have chosen is called a “blown fibre”. It consists of:
A plastic tube or conduit that is buried in the ground
- A number of access chambers where the conduits are terminated
- A very thin fibre optic cable, protected by a plastic sheath. Once all the plastic conduit is installed the fibre is the blown through the conduit using compressed air
- Connections between the fibres (“splices”) are then made using a special pieces of equipment that lines the fibres up and the fuses them together
- Some active electronics that is mounted in a central cabinet
- And the router (or CPE) that is installed in the house.
The major piece of work is the installation of the plastic conduit as this needs to be buried in the ground. In gardens the conduit only needs to be buried to a spade depth as it quite robust and not easily damaged. However, where the conduit runs across a farmer’s field it needs to be deeper to avoid being damaged by ploughs or other farm equipment.
What about Wayleaves?
It is important that we obtain wayleaves wherever the fibre optic cable runs. To keep the cost to a minimum we would plan to run the fibre on the field side of any fences or hedges and across private land where possible. As this is a “not for profit” Community Scheme we would expect these to be provided free of charge. However if the landowner is not willing to provide a free wayleave will we route the fibre around their property. If they later wish to subscribe to the service then we would be forced to charge the full commercial rate for the connection.
Road crossings can be expensive as we would need to employ a contractor and obtain the appropriate consents. One option is to run the cable through a culvert where one is available. We are also very fortunate that Western Power have installed additional ducts for us during the electricity works in Morton so we have already completed three road crossings at no cost.
Can anyone install and splice the fibres?
Yes – with suitable training. We have been in contact with the
manufacturers of the fibre optic system, the equipment for managing the fibres and the equipment for splicing the fibres together. All have offered us free training and assistance and we have also been offered free use of the splicing equipment for three months!
We are also in contact with B4RN and plan to spend a couple of days with them to learn from their experience.
Will we get 1 Gbps?
Our ambition is to provide a 1 Gbps connection to the village. This is a symmetrical connection to the upload speed will also be 1Gbps – something that will become more important as more applications and data storage take place in “the Cloud”. This capacity will be shared between all the properties that are connected so at times of heavy usage the speed will go down, but in most circumstances you will see little change in the speed as no application uses the full capacity continuously.
The actual connection speed we buy depends on the number of people that subscribe to the service and the cost of the backhaul. If we start with 100 customers and a 100Mbps symmetrical connection then this will be more than sufficient for most purposes and in general we expect that you will see close to 100Mbps speeds most of the time. As the number of customers increases we will be able to increase the connection speed to the target of 1Gbps and potentially further if the FTTH scheme is really successful.
What will it all cost?
There are two costs to consider – the cost of building the network and the ongoing monthly cost to receive the FTTH broadband service.
Our initial calculations are that the total cost of the equipment, sub-contracts for road crossings, connecting the backhaul to the internet and a contingency will come to just under £150,000.
This money will be raised by issuing Community Shares to anyone who wishes to invest in the scheme. Tax relief is available on these investments (potentially 50% for anyone paying tax) and if the scheme is successful, investors will be able to start withdrawing their shares after three years.
The exact details of the business plan and the share offer are now available and have been uploaded onto the F4RN web site – this information is provided for guidance only and of course professional financial advice should be obtained before making any type of investment.
For the scheme to proceed will need sufficient commitment to be certain that we can raise £150,000 – so 150 people all willing to invest £1,000 each would be enough to raise the capital required.
The standard connection charge will be £210 (including VAT).
Monthly Broadband Costs
The Business Plan has been developed on the basis of a £36 monthly subscription (including VAT). With 150 subscribers this will ensure that we have a secure business that is able to pay interest to the shareholders from year 4 onwards. If we have more than 150 subscribers then the enterprise will generate additional income that the F4RN members can decide to spend on the community, to reduce the monthly subscription or to cover the future withdrawal of shares.
£36 compares very well with commercial broadband service – even the standard BT ADSL broadband costs £29.49 once the introductory offers have passed.
With the FTTH scheme there is no need to keep the BT land line. If you still want to keep a conventional telephone then phone calls can be made over the fibre optic broadband connection (Voice Over IP or “VOIP”) – so there is an immediate saving of £18.99 a month on line rental (or £205.08 a year if you are on BT’s line rental saver, advance payment scheme). Depending on the VOIP service that you buy and the number of calls made these VOIP connections can cost very little. See our FAQ on Telephones for more details.
How long will it take?
Good question. That depends on how many people are willing to give up their time and help build the network. We would aim to have the first customers connected within 3 to 4 months of the share offer closig.
Will I get paid for building the network?
In most cases – unfortunately not. The only way to keep the construction costs to a minimum is for lots of people to give up their time for the benefit of the community. The only exception is where we need to install longer runs of fibre optic across farm fields. In this case we hope that the farmers will help with the digging of the trenches using their farm machinery.
How will the scheme be maintained?
The network will be owned and operated by the Community Benefit Society – which belongs to the shareholders who have invested in the scheme.
Initially the network will be designed, built and operated by volunteers. There are plenty of people in the community who have IT skills and who can train others to the level where basic maintenance and fault finding can be carried out. However we know that we will need outside support and have spoken to several IT companies around options for long term maintenance and support.
In the longer term it may be sensible to employ someone on a retainer to look after the network. When appropriate, this is a decision that will be made at a General Meeting of the Society.
Can other villages join the F4RN fibre optic network?
Although the focus is initially on Fiskerton and Morton there is no reason why the network could not be extended to included other villages and farms. In this case we would help with the design of the network, support the construction and look after operation. However we would expect each new village to raise the funding to pay for the infrastructure and to provide the labour to build the network. Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in talking about joining the F4RN network.
Where do I sign up?
If you are interested in any aspect of the FTTH fibre optic broadband scheme, want to register interest in shares, sign up for the service or volunteer to help plan or build the network then please send an email to email@example.com or complete the form ->here<-.