11 Sep 2019

On 4th June 2019 the House of Commons published a briefing paper entitled: Full Fibre Networks in the UK. The fact that MPs have to be briefed on fibre networks probably tells you all you need to know about the confusion surrounding broadband cabling services in the UK.

It is  a situation that is unlikely to be improved by the Advertising Standards Authority’s (ASA’s) decision to allow the use of the term “fibre” to describe part-fibre broadband services which are a mix of fibre and copper. 2

Why is it important that broadband services are described accurately? Because without a clear distinction made between full fibre and part fibre networks, consumers are unable to make an informed decision between the two.

CityFibre’s 2018 market research revealed that 24% of respondents believed they had fibre to the home – at a point when full fibre was only available to 5% of UK homes.3

This really matters, and the accurate description of networks is a subject for discussion across Europe.  Erzsébet Fitori, Director General FTTH Council Europe points out that: “Selling copper-based connections as fibre undermines the value proposition of real fibre and undercuts the investment case for full fibre deployment. Consumers who believe they already have fibre won’t switch to a FTTH connection.” 4

Full fibre was described as “the gold standard” in 2017 by Matt Hancock, the then Minster of State for Digital, when launching the Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill, which suggests the government expects it to perform materially better than part fibre and copper cable.

Full fibre is what the Government wants every home in the UK to have by 2033, giving broadband speeds greater than 1 gigabit per second – a capacity that is essential for the roll-out of high capacity mobile broadband for 5G.

The UK has high levels of Fibre To The Cabinet (FTTC), where the final connection to individual properties is provided by copper cable.  However, only 7% of premises have access to full fibre, as of January 2019.

The Government’s strategy for increasing access to full fibre to deliver on its 2033 target is to encourage a competitive market to build the UK’s full fibre infrastructure. It says the market should be able to deliver to 90% of premises, with the remaining 10% requiring public funding.

Presumably, the Government is relying on consumers, both commercial and domestic, to be demanding full fibre broadband in order to help grow the full fibre market: at which point, the ASA decision that broadband providers do not to have to distinguish between full fibre and part fibre systems becomes significant.

Consumers are currently faced with a choice: to rely on traditional broadband services delivered to homes over copper wires and cables (which are also confusingly also termed ‘superfast’) or to connect to full fibre networks offering vastly improved speeds and reliability (up to 40 times faster than ‘superfast’).

However, consumers won’t be able to take advantage of this step-change in technology until broadband advertising enables them to make a clear distinction between full fibre and part fibre networks.

This is a topical issue across Europe and several countries are leading the way with specific legislation to limit the use of ‘FTTH’, ‘Full Fibre’ and other fibre-related terms in advertising. 

In Italy for example, the regulator requires that the term fibre is only used when marketing fibre to the home (FFTH) or fibre to the building (FTTB) services.

Most recently, Ireland’s Advertising Standards Authority has issued a statement clarifying that, from 1 September 2019, a differentiation must be made between full fibre and part fibre services.5

Not surprisingly, the FTTH Council Europe is advocating consistency across the continent.

For now, at least, the UK market will be an outrider on this issue.  It is perhaps a pity that homeowners do not have the benefit of a Briefing Note of their own to guide their way through the range of terminology used in broadband marketing.


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