Will FTTP ever replace Ethernet?
Simon Clayton, Solution Architect at O2 (Telefónica UK), considers whether Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) could ever replace Ethernet entirely.
Last month I wrote about what needs to happen for SD-WAN to deliver on the many and varied promises made of it. This month, a number of conversations with clients and colleagues have prompted me to think about Fibre to the Premises (FTTP). To what extent is FTTP an alternative to Ethernet? And could it replace Ethernet altogether?
I understand why people are engaged in the debate. The cost saving alone that FTTP delivers over Ethernet is reason enough to argue for it. For me, however, FTTP and Ethernet are two entirely different things, and I don’t believe that one can replace the other.
Contended or uncontended?
First and foremost, FTTP connects homes as well as businesses, which makes it a broadband product. Regardless of the fibre optic access, the basis of the technology is that 16+ subscribers share the same common downlink from the exchange Optical Line Terminal (OLT). What that means is that you may not always get that fast 1Gbps speed you were told about by your Internet Service Provider (ISP).
By contrast, Fibre Ethernet, a dedicated access method using Fibre Leased Lines (LL), rely upon dedicated and leased pieces of network access. It is an uncontended service, whose available bandwidth is dedicated for you. If you buy 100Mbps, you get 100Mbps – day or night, rain or shine.
This is a big deal for businesses with mission critical processes relying on bandwidth to be available, come what may.
Symmetric or asymmetric?
Fibre LL is also a symmetric service. This means that the bandwidth provided is the same in both directions. If you buy 100Mbps, you get 100Mbps in both directions, upstream and downstream.
FTTP is asymmetric. As a broadband product, it is designed for situations where downloads are more important than uploads. That’s why FTTP is regarded as the current gold standard for home connectivity, where the focus is on downloading and streaming content. I have FTTP at home (150Mbps down, 30Mbps up) and I love it. But I still believe that Fibre LL is a far superior product for business.
Availability is another significant distinguisher. The reality is that FTTP just doesn’t have widespread availability, and won’t for many years to come. Openreach’s FTTP network currently covers only 3 million UK premises, with an aim to reach 4.5 million by March 2021, and then 20m by the ‘mid to late-2020s’.
By contrast, Ethernet Access Direct (EAD), the underlying technology that we use for Ethernet delivery via Openreach, is available pretty much anywhere.
Fixes and SLAs
Your business relies on connectivity, and any significant downtime can be hugely problematic. Service response is another significant area of difference between FTTP and Ethernet.
Your Ethernet business fibre circuit is supported by a strict Service Level Agreement (SLA). If it fails for any reason, Openreach will fix it, and get it back up and running, in four hours. As a broadband product, FTTP can have a fix time of 6-7 hours, depending on the care pack taken out on the product. However, it’s not untypical for FTTP to have a fix time of as much as 24-48 hours.
Cost is the one area where FTTP has a substantial advantage over Ethernet. Where available, FTTP can be installed at broadband prices, and for around £100 a month, your business can secure a fast, reliable, high-speed service. By contrast, a dedicated Fibre LL will cost at least £2,500 per year for a 10Mbps service, depending on your location.
Despite the cost saving, however, I still maintain that Ethernet provides a much more robust and predictable service.
Don’t misunderstand me. As my experience at home confirms, I’m a huge fan of FTTP. For the moment, FTTP is offering significant improvements in bandwidth beyond what ADSL or FTTC could deliver – currently 1Gbps down and 200Mbps up at the top of the profile speeds available. Could it replace these technologies? Quite possibly. But a replacement for Ethernet? Not just yet.
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