FTTC vs FTTP broadband: What is the difference?
By Dan Howdle | Tuesday, July 6th 2021
If you've heard these two terms bandied about recently (FTTC and FTTP), it's because they are the rather technical-sounding abbreviations for the type of broadband we currently have, and the type of broadband the UK is slowly migrating to in future.
The technologies aren't all that different. Nevertheless, in this guide we'll discuss those differences, both in terms of the technologies themselves and in terms of what they can deliver. We'll also look at which providers offer FTTC and FTTP broadband, and whether or not now is a good time to upgrade from one to the other, if indeed you can.
To start with, though, we'll thrash out some basic definitions so we all understand exactly what it is we are talking about. We will be keeping this as jargon-free as possible, because although technical, it's not actually all that difficult to understand.
What is FTTC broadband?
FTTC stands for 'fibre to the cabinet'. The fibre part of the equation is fibre broadband, which is defined as a broadband connection which is delivered over fibre optic cables. Unlike copper cables, fibre has a glass core, which enables information to be transmitted through them using light rather than electrical signals. Fibre optic cables can deliver data at rates thousands of times faster than copper cables.
The 'cabinet' in that abbreviation refers to the green cabinets you will have seen on street corners and pavements. Fibre optic lines are routed into these cabinets, but then the remaining distance between the cabinet and your home is covered by slower, copper cables. Fibre to the cabinet (FTTC), then, really means 'fibre cables only as far as the cabinet', with the copper element covering the final distance, slowing down the potential top speed of your broadband significantly.
There are currently two major broadband networks that use FTTC. They are:
- Openreach – This network, run independently of but still owned by BT, is the one that delivers broadband to most homes in the country. Openreach isn't just for BT. Most other providers lease Openreach infrastructure to provide broadband to their customers. Other providers, besides BT, that you'll find on the Openreach network include TalkTalk, Sky, Plusnet, EE and others
- Virgin Media – If you've ever compared broadband speeds from various providers you may have noticed that Virgin Media is miles ahead of anyone else on speed. This is because it operates its own network, which uses a different type of cabling that allows for much faster speeds than Openreach's FTTC network. The Virgin Media network still technically fits the description of FTTC provision, but its substantially different cable technology allows it to offer speeds that are very much comparable to FTTP pure fibre
What is FTTP (or FTTH) broadband?
FTTP and FTTH are two different abbreviations for the same thing. FTTP stands for 'fibre to the premises' and FTTH stands for 'fibre to the home'. They are used interchangeably, along with ‘Ultrafast’ and ‘Full Fibre’. Unlike FTTC, FTTP broadband is delivered via fibre optic cables not only as far as the cabinet, but across the entire distance to your home or business. The net result is that, generally speaking, it's able to deliver broadband speeds far higher than a typical FTTC connection.
At the time of writing (spring 2021), FTTP broadband is growing, but still very limited in terms of availability across the UK. It's a postcode lottery basically, where you currently have about a one in 20 chance of being somewhere it's available. Networks that are either 100% FTTP or offer FTTP to some of its customers are as follows.
- Openreach – As outlined in the section on FTTC broadband, Openreach – which is the network used by most UK providers – is still predominantly an FTTC network. However, it is in the process of rolling out FTTP broadband to some parts of the country and has the ambition (a target set out by government) of reaching the majority of UK premises with FTTP full fibre by 2025
- Hyperoptic – Is a small provider with a limited footprint (area served), and if you're somewhere you can get it, it’s likely that you already know about it, as Hyperoptic puts a strong focus on getting word out through leafleting and other means. It is a unique, full fibre FTTP network and as such offers its customers speeds of up to 1,000Mbps (1Gbps) – more than 15 times faster than most of the fastest FTTC speeds currently offered by Openreach-based providers
- Gigaclear – Has a rather unique business model that focuses on very rural locations that are poorly served by other networks, while also requiring a high percentage of local residents to show their interest. Provided the desire is there, it will then bring its own FTTP network to your village, and like Hyperoptic, offers speeds of up to 1Gbps
- Business leased lines – Are available country-wide and are generally bought by large-scale businesses. Most of these use the Openreach network, but deliver often staggeringly fast FTTP broadband via a unique physical line leased in its entirety. For this reason leased line FTTP can reach speeds of up to 10Gbps (10,000Mbps) in some locations. It is of course very, very expensive
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FTTC versus FTTP speed comparison
Given the definitions in the two sections above, you may have concluded that the differences between FTTC and FTTP/FTTH broadband are obvious – one is adequate, while the other is quite insanely fast. But there's a little more to it than that. Muddying the waters is the very, very fast network operated by Virgin Media, whose version of FTTC technology employs superior multi-core cables that can in theory deliver speeds on a par with FTTP. There’s also the fact that some Openreach providers, including BT, EE, TalkTalk and Vodafone are now offering FTTP connections courtesy of Openreach’s small-but-growing Ultrafast network, which offers Full Fibre (FTTP) speeds of up to 900Mbps in select areas around the country.
Also complicating the situation is the fact that pure FTTP providers such as Hyperoptic and Gigaclear also offer broadband packages at normal speeds, equivalent to those offered on FTTC.
It doesn't necessarily stand to reason, then, that just because your broadband deal is FTTP means it's going to be faster, nor that if your connection is FTTC it's going to be slower. The line between the two is slowly being blurred.
Here are the most common speeds currently available via these two technologies.
- FTTC speeds – For Openreach providers (everyone except Virgin Media) most FTTC speeds start at around 35Mbps and go as high as 76Mbps. On Virgin Media's network FTTC speeds start at 54Mbps and go as high as 1,000Mbps
- FTTP/FTTH speeds – Packages range from around 50Mbps all the way up to 1,000Mbps (1Gbps)
Which providers offer FTTC broadband?
FTTC is the type of broadband you're going to be getting from most UK providers, including Virgin Media, even though Virgin Media speeds are a lot faster. Here are the providers with whom you're most likely to find an FTTC broadband deal.
- BT fibre – Offers FTTC fibre broadband at a number of different speeds, with its FTTP Ultrafast service also being slowly rolled out in some areas
- EE broadband – Offers FTTC fibre broadband at speeds typical of the Openreach network, along with Ultrafast speeds where available
- Shell Energy Broadband – Formerly First Utility broadband, it operates on the Openreach network and offers FTTC only
- John Lewis Broadband – Also operates on the Openreach network and offers only FTTC when it comes to its fibre deals
- Plusnet – Operates on the Openreach network and as such also offers only FTTC as far as its fibre deals go
- Sky fibre – Yet again operates on the Openreach network and offers FTTC fibre as well as Ultrafast FTTP
- SSE broadband – Is another FTTC-only provider operating on the Openreach network
- TalkTalk fibre – Is again on the Openreach network and offers FTTC for its fibre deals but also FTTP on a limited basis
- Virgin Media broadband – Is the odd one out in this line-up. Operating on its own network its packages are technically FTTC, but thanks to its rather special multi-core cables, it can offer speeds that are far beyond what FTTC can typically provide
- Vodafone fibre – Offers both FTTC and FTTP broadband, but since it also operates on the Openreach network, like BT, FTTP broadband is only available in a very limited number of locations
Which providers offer FTTP broadband?
There are a few notable providers on the Openreach network offering FTTP broadband, but availability is still limited at this moment to approximately 20% of UK homes. We should expect availability of FTTP full fibre to expand significantly across the next five to ten years.
- BT – Offers FTTP broadband up to 900Mbps to a very limited number of UK households. It is expanding its full fibre FTTP footprint on an ongoing basis
- Vodafone – Piggybacking on the Openreach network, Vodafone is bringing full FTTP fibre to some limited UK locations with a view on expansion going forward
- Sky – Another provider that, because it uses the Openreach network, is able to offer Ultrafast FTTP broadband in certain areas
- EE – Again, because it operates over Openreach, EE is able to offer FTTP connections to areas where is is available
- TalkTalk – Now offers FTTP ultrafast connections in limited area via the Openreach network
- Gigaclear – Offers full FTTP fibre with speeds of up to 1Gbps to certain rural locations where there is high 'buy-in' from local residents. You can't simply sign up to Gigaclear, it has to come to your village or rural location first
- Hyperoptic – Runs its own full fibre FTTP network, available to an ever-increasing number of UK locations. Its availability footprint is still very small, but it continues to expand year on year
- Zen – Uses the Openreach network to deliver full FTTP fibre to the same limited footprint as BT and Vodafone
Frequently asked questions
Do I have FTTP or FTTC broadband currently?
FTTP is only available in a very limited number of locations and you would definitely know if you had it. To find out what speed you are currently receiving, you can run a speed test. Anything over 80Mbps is likely to be powered by Virgin or FTTP.
Is FTTP better than FTTC broadband?
Absolutely, yes. FTTP is capable of far higher speeds and typically also offers symmetrical speeds where your upload speed is the same as your download speed. FTTC on the other hand has a much lower speed ceiling and upload speeds are typically a fraction of download speeds.
Is FTTP more expensive than FTTC broadband?
At the current time, sometimes. There is nothing about FTTP that costs your provider more to deliver, therefore prices are comparable, though you will likely find providers charging more for it since, as with any new technology, early adopters tend to be less price sensitive.