Friday 3 May 2019

FTTP/ FTTH Installation With Zen Internet

FTTP/ FTTH Installation With Zen Internet

I live in the countryside and was quite jealous of hearing about people getting access to FTTC (Fibre To The Cabinet). A few years back my local exchange was upgraded to FTTC and I thought "excellent" - now I could at last get an internet connection greater than the ~3Mbps I was getting with ADSL Max.
This is here just to show up on the searches


I saw BT Openreach contractors digging up the main roads and installing fibre to my local exchange in Prestbury, UK. After it finally went live, I did an availability check and my heart sank. I researched the technology and saw that over long line distances FTTC is worse than ADSL Max - Prestbury exchange is over 2km down the road.


A year or so later, a new up and coming company arrived promising 50Mbs speeds for £38 per month via wireless broadband and they were called VISPA. Vispa is based near Manchester Airport (if you can see the airport's control tower, you're in luck) and works by installing wireless repeaters at various properties to allow residents nearby to connect to their internet. So suddenly, after a small 5GHz Ubiquiti dish was installed on the side of my house and pointed at a local repeater, I had 50mbps internet! Yey! 😃 I could also now save a bit of money and completely discontinue my analogue phone service and move completely over to VOIP. Unfortunately I had to say goodbye to Zen Internet because VISPA are their own ISP.

The only downside I had with the wireless VISPA service is that the internet is now dependant on the local mains power supply at each of the repeater points along the chain. Additionally, when the repeaters power back up, they do a spectrum search in the 5Ghz band before trying to reconnect again - this takes around 5 to 10 minutes to complete. Being in the countryside with overhead 11kv power lines, even a small power glitch can cause a large internet outage and some frustration, especially if you were in the middle of doing something.

What's This?

Miracuously, around summer 2017, the vans of BT Openreach were in my area installing a fibre-optic network. Hmmmm! I do feel sorry for these guys because even though my property is fed via overhead phone lines, there is a lot of underground cabling fed through very old collapsed ducting. And here is the crunch, if the underground team cannot pull the new fibre cabling through a section of ducting, they have to hand it over to another civil team who then have to go through all of the permissions to erect traffic lights and carry out groundworks to install new ducting. Once the new ducting is installed, this is then passed back to the cable pulling team who then get another chance to try again.

Hello FTTP

This process took approximately (an agonising) 18 months to complete 😳! But, returning home from work in February 2019 I saw a BT Openreach man walking outside of my house with a measuring wheel. He was there to do a quick survey (i.e. are the telegraph poles high enough, etc) and to sign off availability of the fibre network. That Friday I did a search on the BT Openreach website and my area was ready for fibre broadband! 😁

Interestingly, the only providers given (April 2019) were BT and Zen Internet. I have been using Zen Internet since the early days of the internet (approximately 1997) and have also used BT. Out of the two, Zen gets my vote every time because of local call centres and that you just knew that they knew what they were doing rather than just reading from a script.

Full fibre is referred to as FTTP (Fibre To The Premises) or more recently as FTTH (Fibre To The Home) to make it sound more residential. Zen offer two FTTP broadband packages 150Mbps for £50 per month and 300Mbps for £75 per month. Both services are unlimited but I chose to save a bit of money and go for the 150Mbps service. Interestingly, Zen also offer their POT (Plain Old Telephone Service) as an extra but since I already have a VOIP number I chose not to have that (also it's not like ADSL where you have to have a phone number because ADSL sits on top), although it is automatically enabled when you order.

From booking the service to having an appointment booked takes approximately 3 weeks. On the day of installation, two Openreach guys turned up mainly because one was being re-trained to install FTTP. The installation is interesting because they swap your POTS drop-wire to your property with a dual analogue/fibre figure of 8 cable. The cable comes on a reel with one end already made up with a Fibre-Optic connector; this is the end that gets connected up first at the pole end.

The other end (obviously) runs to your house and can go wherever you wish. Make sure there is a power socket available nearby because the Fibre-Optic termination unit (Optical Network Termination device) needs to be plugged into the mains. 

There is a rechargeable NiCad battery also supplied with this unit but I think most people will not have their computer equipment connected to an UPS so therefore their kit will power down during a powercut (unless you're like me and happen to have an UPS too).

The Openreach installer will drill through your outside wall, drill your inside wall to mount the termination equipment called the Optical Network Termination device (ONT) and then make-off the Fibre-Optic end to attach. They then plug in a short standard ethernet cable, close the lid and then you're done. Finally, after a Fibre-Optic strength check, the will plug in your router and confirm the installation is up and running.
Optical Network Termination device (ONT)

The Huawei EchoLife HG8110H-20

Optic Signal Strength Test

Zen supply a Fritz!Box 7530 router to connect to the Huawei EchoLife. This is quite an impressive router because it's got gigabit ports, VOIP (Voice Over IP) capability (complete with an analogue telephone port) and can also act as a DECT Base Station for your wireless phones. The on board Wi-Fi can also be made part of a MESH network too.

However, being a bit of a geek, I have already got a LinkSys WRT1900ACS router with the latest build of OpenWRT installed. I like this alot because it's regularly updated, fast and can be enhanced with add-on software modules relatively easily.


For VOIP, I have an account with Sipgate which is quite nice because setup-up is free and they allow you to choose from a dropdown list of available numbers in an area of your choice. For emergency use, you have to prove where you live so that emergency numbers such as 999 or 112 can be used. They have a nice internet web interface and also allow you to pick extras such as Caller-ID and an answer phone service free of charge. For a small cost, you can either add credit or opt for one of their monthly call packages for those of you who still like to use landlines. Oh, credit doesn't expire too!

To incorporate VOIP into the house wiring, I opted for a GrandStream HT802 which is an impressive piece of kit. It has a web interface which allows you to enter your VOIP account details (along with a million other settings, should you so wish).

Note that eventually the whole of the country will have their POTS service converted to use VOIP. In fact, the Fibre Optic terminating unit that Openreach install already has an analogue port on it, ready for the inevitable switch-over in the future.

Is it any good?

My OpenWrt setup also runs a QOS addon (Quality of Service) which limits the upload speed to play nicely with the VOIP modem. Heading over to Broadband Speed Checker yielded these results:

Of real interest here but not shown on this screenshot is the ping time. Regardless of the internet bandwidth you have got, the line latency is really important and needs to be as low as possible. This is what Zen Internet excel at and mine is currently a very respectable 15ms.

Final Thoughts

The UK Government has committed to switching off the analogue phone service (POTS) and replacing it by FTTP/FTTH within the next several years. This is a massive job, just to get our house fit for fibre optic took over 18 months with a lot of civil works and road closures - all for overhead phone lines. Because of this, I think Openreach are concentrating on the areas that have really poor ADSL firstly as they train up an army of installation engineers.

If you already have FTTC and are above the USO (Universal Service Obligation) which is currently defined as "the whole of the UK will have access to speeds of at least 10 Mbps by 2020" then I strongly think that you will have to wait a lot longer because there is a lot of catching up to be done.