Community Fibre Ltd is a London-based company which is rolling out its own fibre optic broadband, offering FTTP (fibre to the premises). This means that fibre optic cable is used all the way from the home to the local exchange, without any slower copper cabling being involved.
At the moment Community Fibre is only available in London, and only in 29 boroughs, and only in some streets within those boroughs. But they appear to be expanding quickly, within London at least.
I've opted to take the 500 Mbit/s broadband service which Community Fibre is currently (May 2022) offering for £27 per month with a 24 month minimum term. Equipment (modem and Wi-Fi router) is included (on loan), and there is no installation charge. There is no limit on the amount of data transfer, so long as your usage is not detrimental to quality of service for other customers. After the 24 month minimum contract term has expired, the price will increase to £42.50.
Alternatively they're also offering 24 month contracts for 75 Mbit/s at £22.50 per month (£27.50 after minimum term), and for 1 Gbit/s (1,000 Mbit/s) at £49 per month (£54 after minimum term), and for 3 Gbit/s at £50 per month (£109 after minimum term). They also offer 12 month contracts for slightly higher monthly prices. And hidden in their terms and conditions page is mention of a 10 Mbit/s "Essential Package" at £12.50 per month on a 12 month contract, so if you need something cheap for lighter usage then consider asking them about this.
Note that with FTTP you do not need to have a telephone line, so you no longer need to pay stupid amounts of money every month for a copper phone line you never use as a phone line. If you still want to have something resembling a landline then Community Fibre offer a VOIP telephone service. But with so many people carrying mobile phones, I'm not seeing a huge benefit to having a hardwired line any longer, and the days of landlines appear to be numbered.
Also note that with Community Fibre residential broadband you do not get a static IP address. But only a few people know what this means, and even fewer will ever need it. But it's something to be aware of if you're running an external-facing home server for some purpose.
Far too long (covers their website, etc, which is of no interest when deciding whether to take on the broadband service). And I was very annoyed to find that the contract allows for a “discretionary” price rise every April of CPI + 2.9% (though this is lower than most other broadband providers, such as BT at CPI+3.9%, Virgin Media at RPI+3.9%, TalkTalk at CPI+3.7% etc).
CPI + x% means that they cover the increase in their costs (due to inflation) with the CPI bit, and then on top of the CPI increase they whack on an arbitrary real-terms price rise of another x% which must surely just be a way to boost their profit every year despite the fact they won't be giving you any more than they were the year before. I see no good justification for such above-inflation price rises, and it just looks like greed to me. With so many mobile and broadband providers behaving like this, it will be very important to shop around for better prices once you reach the end of your minimum contract term.
Also in the terms is the ridiculous clause 22.2(o) which says “The Customer will not . . . use the Services or the Equipment in a manner which involves distributing, uploading or downloading content which contains nudity, violence, or offensive subject matter . . . ” which technically would mean that you’d violate the terms of service just by streaming a movie such as Titanic (nudity) or Predator 2 (violence and nudity) or South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut (all of the above). Or even spending more than a few minutes on social media (where you can't spend more than a few seconds before bumping into some offensive or hateful comment). It’s not clear why Community Fibre want to tell customers what they can or cannot view online, and I doubt they can or will stop you viewing what you want (so long as it’s permitted under UK law). Which makes this clause look like a very odd addition to their terms and conditions.
The installer rang me the evening before to say he had no other jobs booked before mine and asked whether he could turn up earlier than the time slot I’d booked, and we agreed he’d turn up at 10:00. But on the day he rang just before ten to say he’d been stuck on a job since 07:30 and that he’d not arrive with me until between 11:30 and noon. By nearly 13:30 no one had turned up so I made contact, and the engineer said they were on their way and would reach us within thirty minutes. About forty minutes later the team of two finally arrived. This was within the eleven to four time slot I’d originally booked, but all of the contradictory phone messages did make it feel like most of the day had been spent needlessly waiting.
(Plus, the installer’s colleague let slip that there had been no job at 07:30 and that the first job of their day had started at 13:00, which made me wonder why the installer had said otherwise on the phone.)
The installation itself was a bit chaotic. The team asked to borrow a pencil, and then sellotape, because they didn’t have what they needed in their two large vans. The whole drilled through the front wall appeared to be perfectly level when I believe it should actually tilt upwards into the house (to stop rain easily creeping in) though I don't have a way to confirm this. Another, shorter hole was drilled into the wall to take a metal anchor so that the installer could secure his ladder (and was filled with silicone once no longer needed). Then they realised that there was a tree between the telegraph pole and the front of our house, so they had to call their supervisor and wait twenty minutes for him to bring a long hooked pole to get the cable around and over the tree. Then there was trouble fixing the cable to the front of the house, and when the installer asked the supervisor for help the supervisor laughingly refused to get back out of his van and left the installer to call for help from his other colleague.
With the fibre optic cable finally inside the house, the colleague spliced/fused the line and did a signal quality check on the new fibre line and found that it was giving a signal of -44 dBm (and the lowest it is allowed to be is -30) which meant something was wrong with the fibre line. The installer reckoned that the cable had been bent while trying to get it down the wall and in through the hole they’d drilled through the front wall, and any pinching or sharp bending of a fibre cable renders it virtually useless. Two-and-a-half hours had already elapsed by this point, despite the fact the Community Fibre welcome email had claimed that the installers would be with us no more than two hours.
Fearing that a full cable re-run would be needed, the installer went back up the telegraph pole and then realised that he simply hadn’t plugged the new fibre line into the AFN properly. Once he’d corrected this oversight, the signal improved to -16 and the colleague was able to finish the setup of the Adtran fibre modem and Linksys Velop Tri-Band AC2200 router. On testing the speed of the new line, she found it to be about 450 Mbit/s in both directions, which she said is very good because normally the initial reading would be about 200 Mbit/s and this would increase gradually over the next couple of days as the line synchronises.
So after the best part of three hours the install was finished and the line speed was impressive. But we noticed once the installers had left that they’d run the new fibre cable down the drain pipe using cable ties, rather than tacking it firmly to the brickwork. All in all, it did feel like the installation could have been a lot smoother, quicker, and neater.
With the line installed, the Linksys Velop router's built-in speed test (powered by Speedtest.net) repeatedly shows a ping time of 1 or 2ms, and download and upload speeds in excess of 500 Mbit/s which is even better than the advertised “500 Mbit/s”.
Note that 500Mbit/s is about 60MiB/s, which is 3.5GiB per minute, and 210GiB per hour. So you'll have no problem with streaming 4K UHD shows or movies (even several at the same time), and the very biggest video games currently available should finish downloading in under an hour.
Visiting Speedtest.net from a Wi-Fi connected device, however, returns a ping time of 4 or 5ms and download/upload speeds which vary greatly depending on which Wi-Fi device is being used and the distance and obstacles between the device and the router. Running a test from a MacBook Air a few metres from the router in the same room, I got 511 down and 487 up. From an iPhone in the same position the down speed was 250. And from my desktop PC upstairs I tend to get 250 down and 70 up.
So be aware that Wi-Fi is not likely to make the most of such a fast “full fibre” broadband connection, and you’d be better off using a high quality Cat 6 Ethernet cable to connect a device directly to the router in order to make full use of the 500Mbit/s speed in both directions (and the 2ms ping which will be of interest to multiplayer gamers). On this topic, be aware that if you share your residence with someone who is house-proud, they probably won't be pleased if you drill a hole in the ceiling to run an Ethernet cable up to the room above. Reportedly it makes the room look "ugly".
It's too early to report on the reliability of the Community Fibre service, but I'll update here if problems arise.
For now I can say that I'm impressed with the fact that small, local company Community Fibre have beaten the large, national company Openreach in rolling out fibre broadband to my street. For some reason, Openreach have never bothered to put a telecoms cabinet on our street, and so it's never been possible to get fibre broadband from anyone other than Virgin Media until now.
And I'm very impressed with the performance of the fibre line Community Fibre have connected to my home, exceeding the nominal 500Mbit/s speeds in both directions. Most fibre broadband providers (such as BT, Virgin Media, Sky) only seem to offer asymmetric speeds, with the upload speed being about a tenth of the download speed. But on Community Fibre the upload speed is of the same order as the download speed, which I will really appreciate next time I'm uploading large images to Wikimedia, or uploading files to this here website. And if you use cloud storage services then you'll appreciate the symmetric service because you'll be able to send and receive files at the same speed, rather than having to wait ten times as long to send a file to the cloud.
One thing that seems odd is that once you've created an account with Community Fibre and placed an order, there does not seem to be any web-based account access. You don't receive a username or password, so I presume that if you need to make changes to your service or report problems then you'll have to simply send an email or make a phone call. I've no idea how you then prove you are who you say you are. Very unusual these days not to have an online account secured with a password (and ideally also two-factor authentication). I'm hoping that Community Fibre improve in this respect sooner rather than later.
And the installation process did not exactly impress, given that it took a long time and the quality of finish on the front of the house seems half-baked. Ideally the installation teams should be better equipped, and better trained.
But, installation aside, I'm currently pleased with the fibre broadband service from Community Fibre. It's currently cheaper than my ADSL broadband, despite being more than forty times faster for downloads and five-hundred-and-fifty times faster for uploads. And it appears to be cheaper than fibre services with equivalent nominal download speeds, despite the fact Community Fibre's service is symmetric while most others are not.
If the service or the company give me any trouble then I'll update here. For now, though, it's looking fine.