Broadband Types Explained: August 2023

August 8, 2023

BT’s copper line phase-out:

A while ago BT announced they were going to phase out copper lines by the end of 2025. Nobody knows if they will make that date and copper lines will still physically exist but without the voice element. Some broadband will still be delivered on copper cables but they will try and replace this with as much optical fibre as they can over time.

This means that nearly everyone will have to migrate to cloud telephony or some other broadband-based method. It’s better, easier, usually costs less and overall it’s more reliable. There will be few voice over copper cable services left by the end of 2025 if things go as planned.

Broadband Types – I still don’t get it:

What broadband is available?  A lot of people have got it and use it but don’t quite know what is available and what the different types are all about.  Let’s start back at the beginning when we were using dial-up.  When we had this you would have to manually connect to the internet which would take a minute or 2 and you would have to listen to a cacophony whilst a connection was being made.  You would then have time to go and make a cup of tea and feed the cat whilst you waited for each web page to load. You could call this narrow band broadband and like a thin pipe, you could only get a relatively small amount of, data in this case, down it at a time.  After you were finished you would disconnect.  The payment was usually per minute for the time you were connected and paid through your phone bill.

Then came ADSL broadband which had some great things about it.  It was a fatter pipe so you could get a lot more data down it much faster, you could leave it connected 24/7, you paid a set monthly amount and, you no longer had to wait an age for a page to download, hurrah (now who’s going to feed the cat)!

The speed of broadband has increased by leaps and bounds in the last 20-odd years.  The speed is measured in bits per second which means it is measured by the smallest unit of data that can be transmitted, a 0 or a 1.  Speeds and connection technology have increased in stages, approximately as follows:

“kbs” means kilobits per second, “mbs” means megabits per second and “gbs” means gigabits per second (as was pointed out by David commenting on the first post, this analogy is not scientifically accurate and is merely illustrative).

  • 56kbs – dial-up – like a thin 1mm diameter pipe.
  • Up to 512kbs – the first broadband – like a 10mm diameter pipe.
  • Up to 2mbs – now it’s starting to get really useful – a 40mm pipe.
  • Up to 8mbs down/512kbs up – ADSL Max – now we can more easily stream video and make voice calls – 160mm pipe.
  • Up to 24mbs down/ 1mbs up – ADSL2 – Great for cloud computing (accessing software and data remotely) – 480mm pipe. At the time of writing this is the least form of broadband normally being used in the UK.
  • FTTC/SOGEA/G.Fast – This is an earlier form of Openreach fibre for general use. It comes in the form of optical fibre to the green box on the street and then the last leg comes into the premises on copper cables. Initially, this was a line with broadband and voice on it called FTTC (Fibre To The Cabinet) and gave speeds up to 80mbs down and 20mbs up. Later on, Openreach came up with SOGEA (Single Order Generic Ethernet Access) which is FTTC without the voice element. SOGEA should cost less than FTTC too. Along the way, they came up with G.Fast which is a boosted version of FTTC/SOGEA which can give you up to 330mbs down and 50mbs. G.Fast needs a router that can work with it and older routers probably won’t so a new router may be needed for this. As with all copper-based services, they can suffer from dropouts but are still more reliable than ADSL2+ and its predecessors which used copper all the way back to the exchange. At this point, I’ll quit the pipe analogy as I’m sure you get the idea.
  • FTTP – This stands for Fibre To The Premises and uses similar technology to a leased line. This is the best and most reliable form of domestic and SME broadband at the moment. Unlike copper-based services this generally requires a lot of new infrastructure and some installations can take a while. Openreach is rolling this out in preference and it is a massive investment. Speeds currently start at up to 40mbs down and 10mbs up and go all the way up to 1gbs down and 330mbs up.
  • Leased lines – The best connectivity. It starts usually at 100mbs both ways and goes up to 1gbs both ways regularly but 10gbs lines can be installed and beyond. The cost of installation is significant as is the monthly cost. It’s used by businesses mostly, where they need lots of capacity or where other services such as FTTP/FTTC are not available.
  • Virgin – They either use their coaxial cable network which is one wire with an interference shield in a fairly robust cable or the existing services supplied by Openreach’s infrastructure. You can only use their routers on the cable services which can cause issues. Some of the ways they supply services on their broadband are a bit peculiar and unless your use of broadband is straightforward I would be careful using Virgin. Having said that, Virgin is fast and sometimes it’s the best / only credible choice in some locations.

Descriptions of broadband/connectivity:

There are a few different types of broadband which split broadly into the following types:

This stands for “Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line” (yuk) which really just means that you can receive data faster than you can send it in this case.

You can send and receive data at the same speed.

Shared or contended:
You are sharing a service, ADSL is normally a shared service which means you are sharing the ADSL with Fred down the road, the business next door and so on.  This can effectively slow the service down so for example, when all the kids come home from school and start downloading films and playing internet games with their mates your service may get considerably slower.  Business services may be less contended and sometimes you might end up getting the service all to yourself, for a while at least.

Not shared or uncontended:
The service is all yours, there is ADSL available that is uncontended but mostly this applies to leased lines which are connections mostly used by businesses.

This is what most of us were and may still be using either at home or in business.  There are a few variants both are usually installed by Openreach. A telephone line or fibre cable is installed at your premises and is either connected to Openreach’s equipment at the exchange or to another provider’s equipment that has been installed in an Openreach’s exchanges such as TalkTalk or Sky have done, for example.  This is known as LLU which stands for Local Loop Unbundled.

Openreach is improving its infrastructure as quickly as it can. Openreach is installing optical fibre cables as fast as they can but it’s a huge task as it’s new infrastructure and hard to roll out.  Optical fibre cables carry much, much more data than copper cables; they are cables with strands of glass in the centre that are very thin and when exposed, very delicate.

This is mostly provided by Virgin Media these days.  Much of their broadband is delivered on coaxial cable which is similar to the cable used for television aerials. It can be pretty fast and sometimes it’s the only decent service available to a premises. How Virgin do things is a bit peculiar and can cause quite a few issues if you go beyond web browsing and emailing depending on which Virgin services you are using on it. Customer service can be laborious.

Leased Line:
A more expensive service aimed at businesses.  This is provided on a dedicated optical fibre circuit for 100mbs and beyond.  It can come as a restricted supply, that is a line capable of providing 1gbs is installed but you might only get 100mbs depending on what you need and how much you want to pay, this can be easily upgraded later on.  This is not usually a shared service so the owner of it often has the total capacity of it.  It usually has a fast response service level, so it will be fixed relatively quickly if it goes wrong.  It can be used to access the internet or to provide fast service between offices.  If you have 50, 100 or more employees in one place you will probably want one of these.  1 gigabyte supplies are more the norm these days. An appropriate connection box will be provided with the line which can then be fed into a suitable router. If you are paying for a leased line you may want some ADSL2+/SOGEA/FTTP/4G/5G broadband for backup which can be plugged into a router so that if the leased line does go down it will fail over to the backup service or utilise both at the same time.

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