Fiber-To-The-Premises (FTTP) is a technology for providing Internet access by running fiber optic cable directly from an Internet Service Provider (ISP) to a user's home or business. It facilitates much faster speeds than dial-up and most coaxial cable Internet connections, and generally needs to be serviced less. It's also considered one of the most "future proof" types of Internet technology, since there are no foreseeable devices that could use more bandwidth than can be sent via fiber optic cables. Despite its benefits, it is difficult and expensive to install.
FTTP vs. Copper Cable Internet Connections
Most FTTP connections run at least 10 Megabits per second (Mbps), with many closer to 50, and some up to 300 Mbps. Even greater speeds are theoretically possible. Copper cable connections like DSL and cable Internet are often cheaper, but are sometimes harder to install than fiber optic connections. It's easier to damage copper, so it has to be pulled with a much lighter force, but it's also heavier than fiber, which makes it more difficult to pull. Additionally, fiber only loses about 3% of its signal strength over about 328 feet (100 m), while copper can lose up to 94% over the same distance.
Data Transfer Rates
|FTTP||Fiber optic cable||62 miles (100 km) and up||Between 10 and 300 Mbps|
|Dial-up Access||Copper twisted pair cable||Very limited — usually only a few miles||56 to 64 Kbps|
|DSL||Copper twisted pair cable||Up to 3.39 miles (5.46 km), usually far less||Up to 300 Mbps, usually 1.5 to 3 Mbps. The speed is heavily impacted by the distance of the connection and the traffic on the network.|
|Cable||Copper coaxial cable||Up to 100 miles (160 km)||Up to 30 Mbps, but usually between 1 and 6 Mbps|
|Fiber-To-The-Node or Neighborhood (FTTN)||Fiber optic cable connected to twisted pair or coaxial cable||About 1 mile (1.6 km), then connects to fiber optic cable||20 to 100-plus Mbps|
|Fiber-To-The-Curb or Cabinet (FTTC)||Fiber optic cable connected to twisted pair or coaxial cable||1,000 feet (304 m), then connects to fiber optic cable||80 to 100-plus Mbps|
* Distance refers to the distance between the user and the Internet source (or amplifier).
How Copper Cable Connections Work
Most types of Internet connections work by means of a copper cable that runs directly to a building. The other end of the cable is connected to a fiber optic cable that goes to the ISP, where the Internet signal originates. This copper wiring is often called the "last mile" connection, though it often runs for much longer than a mile (1.6 km). The potential problem with these types of connections is that electrical signals sent over copper encounter a lot of resistance and tend to get weaker and less clear over distance. This is particularly true in rural areas, where the last mile connection is typically longer than in urban areas.
How Fiber Optic Connections Work
Fiber optic cables are made of long strands of glass covered by protective plastic buffers, and signals are sent via pulses of light rather than electricity. This means that data can be sent extremely quickly with little resistance and deterioration. Though the signals still have to be converted into electricity for a router or computer to use, in FTTP systems, the fiber optic cable runs directly to the user's building. There, it connects to a short copper cable or goes into a Network Interface Device (NID), which converts the light pulses into usable signals.
FTTP can refer to either to Fiber-To-The-Home (FTTH) or Fiber-To-The-Building or Basement (FTTB). FTTH is a system in which the fiber goes directly into individual homes, while FTTB is a system where the fiber goes to the building and from there splits off to multiple subscribers within the building via non-optical connections — like copper cables or a wireless connection. A similar type of connection is FTTN, where a fiber optic cable terminates in a node that users connect to with copper cabling. There is also FTTC, which has an even shorter connection between the end users and the fiber optic cable. All of these technologies are sometimes referred to collectively as FTTx.
Speed and Reliability
The main advantages of FTTP are the speed and reliability in transmitting signals. This means that users can both upload and download things quickly, and also have high quality streaming media. This holds true even over long distances, where a signal sent over copper would deteriorate or die out.
FTTP is expected to be usable as-is for a very long time. As long as a fiber optic network is made with cable that can transmit the full optical spectrum of light, there's no foreseeable device that would need more bandwidth than it could accommodate. To work fully, the network would also have to be made with cables that can transmit signals while folded, called bend-insensitive fiber. The huge amount of data that can be sent on this type of network also gives technology designers more freedom, since they don't have to worry about bandwidth limits.
Fiber optic cable is generally more durable than copper, since the materials it's made out of are less susceptible to weather damage. This means that the network doesn't need to be serviced as often, which is more convenient for the ISP and the users. Additionally, most fiber optic cables can be expected to perform reliably for at least 40 years, whereas copper cabling may have to be updated as often as every five years to remain useful.
Remote Monitoring and Control
The nature of the cables also makes fiber optic networks easier to monitor than others. Problems with the network can be identified remotely at the ISP, with some devices able to detect where a problem within about 5 feet (1.5 meters). This makes it easier for technicians to repair any faults quickly.
Most fiber optic connections also come ready-to-use for telephone and TV, not just a computer Internet connection. If a person does decide to only start out with one service, the ISP can activate any additional services remotely whenever they're needed. This can be done on a permanent basis or on demand.
Difficult and Expensive to Install
FTTP is costly and disruptive to install, and is often more expensive than other types of Internet connections for consumers. Since fiber optic cable is generally buried, companies often have to dig up long trenches to put the cable in. This isn't a problem in undeveloped places, but it can cause problems in urban areas. This is especially true if the fiber optic cable needs to run under roads or bodies of water. There are some workarounds for this, like using existing tunnels or trenches, and in some cases rats or ferrets can pull cable through small areas that are unreachable by people.
The high cost of installation means that it's usually only installed in places that are being newly developed, or where there's a lot of demand for it. These are usually urban areas and areas where people are willing to pay a lot for a fast connection. This means that it's likely to come much later to rural places than others.
Equipment and Power Required
Another disadvantage of FTTP is that the end user has to have some new equipment installed: the NID and a power source for it. The power source has to continually take electricity from the user's building or home, though most do contain a backup battery to power the NID during power outages. If the battery runs out though, the user won't be able to get a connection until the power is restored. This equipment has to be installed in each building, which can be inconvenient, and it does have to be serviced occasionally.