Fibre Optic Broadband Availability

Fibre Optic Broadband Availability

In March 2013, I upgraded from ADSL to high speed fibre optic broadband.

High speed fibre optic broadband is a “superfast” or “next-generation” broadband service that enables you to download a movie, watch a live or replay TV service (without any buffering), surf the internet and play games online – all at the same time.

This three part article:

  • Provides an overview of BT’s fibre broadband network – which is used by most UK Internet Service Providers (ISP)
  • Contains a “How To” guide to check fibre optic broadband availability in your area
  • Highlights the differences between broadband and fibre optic broadband
  • Describes the installation process at your home/premises
  • Provides a guide to choosing your fibre optic broadband ISP

If you are lucky enough to live in an area of the UK where fibre optic broadband is already available (or is about to become so), this article should hopefully be of interest.

Part One – Fibre Optic Broadband Availability

Prior to 2010, fibre broadband in the UK had only been available via a broadband cable supplier (such as Virgin Media). If you were lucky enough to live in an area serviced by their cable network, then you could enjoy broadband speeds way in excess of those delivered via your BT telephone line.

Then, in 2010, BT started to roll-out its nationwide fibre optic broadband network, hoping to supply two-thirds of UK premises by 2015. This required the upgrading of its 5000+ telephone exchanges, laying miles of new fibre optic cables and the deployment of new fibre-enabled street cabinets (large green boxes by the roadside).

Supplying these new high speed broadband services is achieved in a number of different ways – most of us will be connected to it via our existing telephone line. This way of accessing the fibre optic broadband network is known as FTTC (“Fibre To The Cabinet”) and is where your existing (copper) telephone cable is connected to the fibre network via the new street cabinets.

However, there are some premises where fibre can be supplied directly (e.g. some new housing developments or premises very close to the exchange etc.). These can be supplied with an even faster service known as FTTP (“Fibre To The Premises”).

Regrettably, there are also some locations where neither FTTC or FTTP can be supplied and other solutions (such as satellite broadband) may be the answer.

At the present time (March 2013), BT’s roll-out of fibre optic broadband is still far from complete and there are many local exchanges yet to be upgraded to fibre (March 2013: approximately 25% of exchanges are fibre-enabled).

Furthermore, even if your local exchange has fibre, the fibre optic broadband service may still only be available in some local areas and not others, as getting the service also depends on your access to a new fibre street cabinet.

I’ll cover the fibre street cabinet (and other local) issues in step 3, but first things first – we need to check if your local BT exchange is already or is soon to be fibre-enabled.

Step 1 – Which BT Exchange Do You Use?

The first thing to do is to confirm which is your local BT exchange.

The easiest way to do this is to use the simple “UK Exchange Search” tool on the Sam Knows Broadband website (see link below). This site has been providing superb UK broadband information for many years.

Step 2 – Is Your Exchange FTTC Enabled?

Having used the aforementioned Sam Knows tool, and clicked on the name of your BT exchange, you will be shown a complete overview of its location, size and capabilities.

The particular detail that we’re interested in for fibre optic broadband is located in the section entitled “BT Wholesale Information“.

Locate the line showing “FTTC Status” and use the table below to interpret the given status:

Step 3 – Are You Served By A Fibre-Enabled Street Cabinet?

Standard broadband (“ADSL”) is delivered via the long standing BT telephone network that uses copper cables. Your house/premises are connected via a copper cable to a nearby green BT cabinet, which in turn is connected via more copper cables to the local telephone exchange.

HFibre Optic Broadband Availability - A typical old-style BT green roadside cabinet.

The image above shows a typical old-style BT green roadside cabinet.

Once your local exchange has been fibre-enabled by BT, you then access it via fibre cables. BT lays these underground and connects them to NEW green street cabinets (FTTC). In some cases the fibre cables can come directly to your house/premises (FTTP).

An FTTC service can provide broadband speeds up to 80Mbps, whilst FTTP supports up to 300Mbps.

Prior to 2015, most of us will get our fibre optic broadband via the FTTC service. This uses a mixture of new and old technologies – the new fibre cables from the exchange come to your new fibre street cabinet and are then connected to the old cabinet (a few metres away) which houses the old copper cables that complete the short run (usually between 50m and 1Km) to homes/premises.

Fibre Optic Broadband Availability - A typical new larger green BT cabinet for fibre optic broadband.

The image above shows a typical new larger fibre-ready BT green roadside cabinet. You may just be able to spot the old-style one a few metres away in the top left hand corner. For FTTC, the old and new cabinets must be connected, so they are usually found less than 100m from one another.

After 2015 (and sooner for some lucky homes/premises) BT plan to run fibre cables to replace the old copper ones between the street cabinets and our homes/premises. Once completed we will have a full FTTP network.

[For more on the differences between FTTC and FTTP, please click on the image below (links to article on]

Fibre Optic Broadband Availability - FTTC compared to FTTP

So, if your local exchange is now, or is soon to be, fibre-enabled and you have a new large BT fibre-enabled green cabinet nearby, there’s a good chance that you may be able to upgrade to fibre broadband.

To be sure, you need to check using either your BT landline telephone number AND your postcode or just your postcode. Using the telephone number is recommended as it gives a much more reliable and accurate answer. If you don’t have a BT landline, you can still check using your postcode, but as postcodes can sometimes cover a relatively wide area, the result is not as reliable or accurate.

The easiest way to do this is to use the simple “UK Broadband Availability Checker” tool on the Sam Knows Broadband website (see link below).

No Fibre Availability? The Alternatives

If you need a new or faster broadband service, but you cannot yet connect to BT’s fibre network, there are a few other possible solutions available:

  • If you already have a broadband service through your BT landline that is slow, there MAY be a newer and faster service available. Most ISPs should have informed you of this and even upgraded you automatically – but it pays to check. Give your ISP a call to find out.
  • You MAY be in an area that Virgin Media has recently added to its cable network. You can check this via the Virgin Media website.

If you can’t get broadband at all, it’s very slow, or if you have no landline, then you could still get broadband using an “over the air” solution. These include: satellite, long-distance wireless and mobile broadband services.

Finally, if you are constantly on the move, then broadband using the mobile phone network offers another solution.

In Summary

Fibre optic broadband promises to bring us vastly increased Internet speeds, but as of 2013, it’s far from available too all those in the UK that want it.

There are two main fibre network providers – Virgin Media and BT. Most of us will get access via BT’s network, which is used by the majority of ISPs.

To bring us fibre optic broadband, BT has to lay new fibre cables, upgrade its telephone exchanges and deploy new roadside cabinets – and with over 5000+ exchanges and 80,000 roadside cabinets it’s not a small undertaking.

BT hopes to be providing access to its fibre network to two thirds of UK premises by 2015. During the roll-out, availability depends not only on whether your local telephone exchange has been upgraded, but also whether your telephone line is connect to a fibre-enabled roadside cabinet.

When high speed fibre optic broadband is available to you, there are a number of changes in the way it is deployed that you need to be aware of.

In part two of this article I’ll highlight the differences between “standard” and fibre optic broadband and explain why you need to be prepared for what happens on installation day:

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About the Author

About the Author


Greg Kendall began his computing career in 1979, working with IBM mainframe computers – this was two years before the first PCs were introduced.


In the mid 1990s, he switched his focus on to PCs and the then nascent World Wide Web.


In 2002 he left the corporate world to form his own web and PC services company – Kendall Internet.


Kendall Internet specialise in the provision of high quality yet very affordable website, e-commerce and e-mail marketing services to small business clients located throughout the Thames Valley and beyond.


Kendall Internet also offer local computer services for domestic customers. From simple virus removal through to advanced problem solving, installations and upgrades, we cover most if not all of your computer support requirements.



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