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My FTTC Broadband Setup Experience

posted 20 May 2012, 08:46 by Tristan Self
I've been with plus.net for my ADSL broadband for a few years, I was working at home more and was finding my current broadband speeds were giving me problems with some of the work I was trying to do. I was getting about 6.5Mbps download and a 0.3Mbps upload. Not too bad but I really noticed it when working from home because the upload speeds become a strangle hold on doing some interactive work such as connecting into servers etc.

How FTTC Works?

Its not much different from how normal ADSL broadband works, FTTC means "Fibre to the Cabinet." 

In layman's terms its this: Normally your telephone line (and broadband) run on copper wires from your house to a cabinet in the street nearby, the cables then travel from there all the way to your local telephone exchange. This total length is on copper, and as copper cables attenuate (weaken) the signal along its length the further you are from the exchange the worse the signal is in the end and the slower your broadband speed is. I was about 1.5miles from the exchange and got 6.5Mbps out of a maximum of 8Mbps. 

Novice Note: Its worth noting though that your line length and quality determines about 80% of the total speed you get, i.e your ISP typically won't affect much to do with the speed, they may throttle the bandwidth you get during the day (at peak times for example) but the line speed is determined by the line length and quality. Almost all ISPs will allow your broadband modem/router to sync to them at the highest speed your line will take (up to the ADSL or ADSL+ caps of course.) So remember that if you get some broadband ISP company 'phoning you up saying we can give you 24Mbps broadband if you switch to us, and if you're currently getting 2Mbps because you live 4 miles from the exchange on your current ISP. If you switch you'll probably only get the 2Mbps you had before, because your line is the same length and the same quality. Don't believe the hype!

Anyway with FTTC in essence the distance that your broadband runs on copper cables is reduced and is replaced with fibre optics instead. So now your copper cables leave your house down to the cabinet in the street, here is where the magic happens. Rather than connecting to the DSLAM in the telephone exchange, a mini-DSLAM is put into the cabinet, this turns your copper cable into fibre for the last run to the exchange. So in my case I was 1.5miles from the exchange run completely on copper. Once FTTC was setup on my line, it only went 250metres on copper, then the rest 1.25miles on fibre optic. So now its the equivalent of me being 250 metres away from the exchange.

This shorter distance means you can get a much higher speed broadband because your signal attenuates less. Also the technology used for encoding the signal is a lot better on FTTC broadband and thus you can get speed up to a theoretical 100Mbps download and 10Mbps upload. Currently no ISP offers that.

Buying the Service

At the time of writing plus.net were offering their "Extra Fibre Broadband" package, based on what I was paying it was only 15p a month more (as I was on an old legacy package) to upgrade to fibre broadband, and as I was an existing customer I got the activation for only £25 (rather than £50.)

So I applied on-line for an upgrade paid for the upgrade charge and P&P for the new router, I had to book in a time for BT OpenReach to send an engineer round to upgrade the master socket in my house to one that can take the FTTC broadband. Once completed I waited for a few days, but no email from plus.net confirming the order, and on their customer portal I could not find any trace of the order. So I gave them a call, they assured me that the order was being progressed and my router should turn up in the next few days and BT OpenReach were confirmed for my appointment slot on the day. The router turned up 2 days before the install date, with a plus.net pamphlet in the box explaining how to set it all up.

FTTC Broadband Router (Plus.net Supplied)

At the time of writing plus.net supplied a Netgear N150 Wireless Router, seems fairly good, b/g/n wireless with 4 port switch built in, all the normal things you'd expect, its VPN compatible, so you can use a PPTP or IPSec VPN through it with no problems, a must for me.

NETGEAR RangeMax 150 Wireless Router WNR1000 Wireless router - 4-port switch (integrated) - EN, Fast EN, IEEE 802.11b, IEEE 802.11g

FTTC Broadband Modem (BT OpenReach Supplied)

This is the magic white box, on the left, the BT engineer said most ISPs neglect to tell people they also need this installing, its what actually turns your broadband signal from the telephone line into Ethernet that can go into most Ethernet routers. You don't have to worry about any configuration on this, they seem to be self configuring and just need a 3 pin socket for power. Theres a LAN out and a telephone line in sockets, and a power socket on the bottom. 


The Day of the Install

The day of the install, I had an appointment window of 8AM to 1PM, at about 10:20AM I got a phone call from the BT engineer, he was calling to say he was on the way to my cabinet in the street about 250 metres away from my house. He said I should expect my phone to go dead for about 10 - 15 minutes.

At about 10:50AM the line went dead, then at about 11:10AM the BT engineer turned up at the door. The telephone line was working again.

This is what is in a cabinet in the street by the way if you ever wondered. I do...... :)


So the BT engineer wanted to be shown to the Master socket, note this is the first socket in your house, it should be the only socket connected directly to the little box on the front of your house.

In my case the BT master socket was in a cupboard in the bed room. I'd run some normal cheap telephone cable and some Belkin high copper broadband cable from the master socket to the back room where my computer is located.

The BT engineer said he needed to put in a new socket as near as possible to where the modem is going, now here's where it gets a bit fiddly. The master socket being in completely the wrong place needed to be moved, so the BT engineer checked the cable I had for the broadband cable and he said it was good enough to use. Otherwise he would have had to run a new cable through from the master socket through the attic to the back room not ideal really.

If you are wondering about the extension cable, you can just use normal CAT5E the cable BT uses is not magic, and for telephone they only actually use 2 wires out of the eight anyway. However most people will probably want to let the BT engineer do it.

NOTE: Its worth ensuring that the path is clear from where the master socket is to where you want it to run to if your computer is not next to the master socket, you don't want the engineer to be moving boxes of crap around to run the cable it makes them angry, it always made me angry when I used to run network cables in houses and offices.

Once done, he connected the two together and mounted one of the new BT master sockets (with a built in microfilter), basically the bottom is a normal telephone jack, at the top is a RJ45 socket for connection of the BT modem. 

NOTE: you don't need your microfilters any more, but you do need to ensure that all telephones are plugged only into the bottom socket.

On the right is the new BT socket.

The BT engineer installed the modem on the wall he recommends that people do this as they can get quite hot and burying them under crap could lead to trouble.

While mounting the box he was performing some line tests, they came back at 40Mbps download and 2Mbps upload. Now currently plus.net only offer 2Mbps upload currently but this is much of an improvement on the 0.3Mbps I was getting before! The 40Mbps download was quite a surprise I was most chuffed.

Once he had plugged in the BT modem, that's his job done really. The next bit is to get the Plus.net router connected.

Plus.net Router Install

Basically you plug in the router to the BT modem, and then plug the other side into your computer.

I was most impressed, the router came pre-configured with my DSL details, you should have a printout of these just in case, but basically the router was plugged in and powered on and within about 5 minutes I was up and running.

Overall and interesting and smooth process.

Hopefully now in future the broadband speed will be turned up as the capacity of plus.net and the BT network increases.......


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