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Is FTTP the Future of Fibre Optic Broadband?

Published on 23 September 13
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The quest for increased bandwidth has become an ever more pressing concern for modern businesses, since the broadband age has brought with it a wealth of data-intensive services which require high speed connectivity to be effectively integrated into everyday operations.

Fixed line broadband was limited as a result of the use of the copper connections required by ADSL, but the growing use of fibre optic cabling has helped to overcome such issues and provide modern businesses with the potential to significantly boost their download and upload speeds. FTTP (fibre to the premises) is arguably the best form of fibre optic connection, with a number of benefits making it particularly desirable for commercial enterprises. But is FTTP really the future of fibre optic broadband and what shape will the market take over the next decade?
FTTP Benefits

FTTP describes a set-up in which a building is linked to the nearest telephone exchange via a dedicated fibre optic cabling. This is as opposed to the copper telephone lines which would have enabled internet access in the past. The problem with copper is that it resists the electronic signals which are passed along it, so the further a premises is from the exchange, the slower the broadband speeds which will be available there. Fibre optic cabling does not suffer from such problems to the same degree and so much faster download and upload speeds can be achieved even if the premises is relatively far from the exchange.

For businesses, the faster speeds open up a world of potential benefits. Transferring large files between different locations will be much quicker and easier, while accessing services like VoIP, video conferencing and cloud computing is feasible.

The upshot of all this is that productivity can improve and it should also be possible to encourage employees to participate in mobile and remote working so that they do not necessarily have to be at their desks so as to remain effective members of the team. There is definitely a need to be forward-thinking when it comes to adopting superfast broadband, because appreciating the benefits that it will endow is easiest to do once you have experienced it at first hand.

Businesses which do not choose to upgrade even if FTTP is available in their area may find that they are at a competitive disadvantage and thus risk losing out to better prepared rivals as superfast connectivity becomes increasingly essential in the future.
FTTP Today & Tomorrow

The roll-out of FTTP has not been as fast or comprehensive as initially expected, largely as a result of the cost and time which needs to be invested to bring this type of connection to premises across the UK. At the end of 2012 it was reported that BT had rolled out FTTP connectivity so that it was available for just 100,000 premises, far short of the 2.5 million it had originally projected back in 2009. Other providers like Virgin Media have better fibre coverage, but total saturation is still a long way off and it seems that some businesses will need to do a bit more waiting before they find that superfast services are available in their area.

With a full FTTP connection a business can expect to receive download speeds of up to 330Mbps, with peak performance expected to improve further to 1Gbps and beyond in the next 10 years. Of course the ultimate availability of FTTP will determine the extent to which these faster connections can actually have a tangible impact on the UK economy. Thankfully there are a number of options available to companies that want to supercharge their broadband experience but might not yet have FTTP on tap.
Interim Solutions

Although FTTP is an expensive proposition for providers, to the point that its roll-out has been somewhat stymied, there is a hybrid form of fibre optic connectivity known as FTTC (fibre to the cabinet) which is picking up the slack to an extent in many areas of the UK. FTTC does not deliver fibre optic cabling right up to individual buildings, but rather hooks up street-level cabinets using this form of connection. The final few metres of the service is therefore delivered via the existing copper telephone wiring. Maximum download speeds of around 80Mbps are available via FTTC in many areas, while trials to push this even higher have been successful and boosts are expected to come further down the line.

For a business that has been dealing with an ADSL service with speeds of between 2Mbps and 24Mbps, a FTTC connection will make a real difference and can support multiple users with greater ease and less bottlenecking to worry about. FTTC is also more likely to receive funding from local councils, the government and even the EU, so campaigning to get it in your area if it is not already on offer is a good idea.

An additional benefit of FTTC being rolled out is that it can be used by businesses to get access to FTTP on an individual basis. While network providers are unwilling to pay for the installation of FTTP for all premises in the hope that it will be commercially viable, any company that is within range of FTTC can request that full FTTP be implemented for it.

This will require that the company covers the costs of the installation process, but there are various grants and funding packages available in many areas which will help to minimise this or even account for it completely, so there is little reason to be hesitant about adopting FTTP from a financial point of view.

The question of whether FTTP is the ultimate future of broadband connectivity in the UK seems straightforward enough to answer. The UK is further down the international network speed league tables than is acceptable for one of the world's wealthiest countries and the best way to amend this is through investment in the fixed line broadband infrastructure. It will not, however, be the only superfast broadband solution which is available and widely used in the future, mostly because 4G mobile network connectivity will play a bigger role as more business users and consumers harness smartphones and tablets to access the internet rather than desktop computers.

The underpinnings of the UK's broadband backbone will remain resolutely fixed line for the time being, but wireless technology allows for freedom of movement, greater flexibility and the chance to increase productivity in a working environment. A combination of FTTP and 4G will surely come to define the market in the next decade, although the balance that will be struck between these two technologies remains a mystery.
This blog is listed under Networks & IT Infrastructure Community

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