FTTN vs FTTH vs Cable Internet in Canada – Which is Best?


Sarah Adedun

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Tech

As of 2016, 76% of Canadians owned a smart device and many individuals and businesses depend on high-speed, reliable internet access in order to function on a daily basis, including: productivity, communication and purchasing. 

Recognizing that a fast, reliable internet is essential for Canadians to participate in the digital economy, the CRTC has set up a fund with the goal that 90% of Canadian homes and businesses will have access to broadband speeds of at least 50 Mbps for downloads and 10 Mbps for uploads by the end of 2021.

Part of this fund involves the installation of fibre optic (FTTN and FTTH) and cable internet networks. What is the difference between these network types and if given the choice, which is the best option for you? In this article, we explain the meaning of these acronyms and breakdown their features.

What is FTTN?

FTTN stands for “fibre to the Node” or “fibre to the Neighborhood”. With FTTN, the internet service provider runs a line of fibre optic cable to a node in your area. From there, the “last mile” of the connection to your home uses the existing, slower copper coaxial cables.

Pros

  • Compared to FTTH, FTTN is more cost-effective as the cost of installation is shared amongst other customers in your area that share the same node.
  • Sets the stage for future upgrade of “last mile” fibre optics to homes from the node
  • Users can access the internet if they are within 1 mile of the installation point.
  • Easy to diagnose and repair if any form of damage occurs.

Cons

  • The “last mile” of copper cable acts as the bottle neck and throttles speeds.
  • The speed to price ratio of FTTN is poor. 
  • Speeds are comparable to cable internet.
  • Data rate is determined by the customer’s proximity to the node.

What is FTTH?

Also known as FTTP (Fibre to the Premises) and FTTB (Fibre to the Building), FTTH stands for “Fibre to the Home”. With FTTH, the internet service provider runs the fibre optic cable to a node in your area as well as straight to your home. With the cable line being run directly to your property, there is no need to use copper cables or telephone wires. 

Pros

  • Fibre optic cable is able to provide “Gigabit” internet with speeds of 1 Gbps (1,000 Mbps).
  • Internet connection isn’t affected by weather conditions.
  • Presence of FTTH on your property increases its value.
  • It is considered “future-proof” as cable upgrades are not needed.

Cons

  • Initial installation cost is expensive.

What is cable internet?

Cable internet makes use of the same copper coaxial cable infrastructure as cable TV and is the most prevalent internet network type in Canada. Internet connection is transmitted to users through a designated channel and a subscriber cable modem. A coaxial cable is then connected to the cable modem to activate the internet service.

Pros

  • Easily accessible in most areas due to existing infrastructure.
  • Customers can connect to the internet without a phone line.
  • Affordable due to low-cost cables and strong market competition.
  • Fast enough for most streaming and online gaming needs.
  • Steady internet connection not affected by the customers distance to the node.

Cons

  • Data transfer speed slows during peak hours since bandwidth is shared with neighboring cable internet and TV users.
  • The number of users on the cable network and their usage affects its speed.

Comparison of FTTN, FTTH and cable internet

Structure

In Canada, cable internet makes use of coaxial (coax) cable to transmit data. The cable can be used for internet connection and to watch TV at the same time. As a result, most service providers offer both cable TV and cable network together. Accessing the internet requires a cable modem and cable modem termination system.

For FTTN and FTTH, the connection is transmitted using fibre optic cable. The fibre optic cables contain glass or plastic which transmit modulated light and carry digital information over long distances. FTTN and FTTH are both broadband fibres ideal for individuals or businesses looking for direct internet access.

The structure of broadband fibre makes it better than coax cable, but there is risk of downtime especially for FTTN where the internet is shared by a neighborhood. The download and upload speeds can vary. FTTH on the other hand offers considerably higher download and upload speeds

Unlike cable internet, FTTH and FTTN aren’t as common. In 2018, only 35% of Canadian households had access to FTTH with 11% subscribing. This might be due in part to the expensive and intrusive installation process of both FTTH and FTTN as cable internet is cheaper and has a simple installation process.

Availability

The simple nature of cable internet makes it easily accessible and available almost everywhere in Canada. As a matter of fact, 49% of internet service subscriptions in Canada can be attributed to the cable-based carriers and 84% of Canadian households have access to it. Installation is as simple as calling a television service provider.

Although the availability of FTTH and FTTN has been increasing over the years, there is still a long way to go. This is due in part to the infrastructure costs which most people shy from.

Reliability

Out of the 3 internet options, FTTH is more reliable as it is not affected by weather and distance like cable and FTTN. FTTH makes full use of fibre optic technology unlike FTTN which is seen as a short-term solution for the inadequacies of cable.

If you reside in rural areas in provinces such as Saskatchewan or Newfoundland where cable interruptions and electricity outages are common due to weather conditions, cable internet might not be the most reliable internet source for you.

Speed

Cable internet pales in comparison:

TypeDownloadUpload
Cable10 to 500 Mbps5 to 50 Mbps
FTTN50 to 100 Mbps50 to 100 Mbps
FTTH150 to 1,000+ Mbps150 to 1,000+ Mbps
  • Cable internet depends on usage of others on the network.
  • FTTN depends on proximity to the fibre optic node.

Cost

The cost of FTTH and FTTN are high starting from $100 per month, they aren’t as expensive as they were in the past. However, they are still not as cheap as cable which is as low as $60 per month. The price of cable internet depends on location, television and the phone services chosen. Purchasing a package that provides both internet and TV service is an easy way to save.

For FTTN and FTTH, the speed you want, your location and your usage determine the cost. You will also likely need to pay installation and activation costs. Unlike FTTH where 1 household bears the cost alone, FTTN is less expensive as the cost is shared amongst households in the neighborhood.

Conclusion

With network providers like Bell launching FTTH networks, it is only a matter of time before it becomes mainstream. However, until either FTTN or FTTH becomes more widespread, a significant percentage of Canadians may have to make do with cable.

What to read next

References

Communications Monitoring Report 2018 – CRTC

Over to you

So, based on the comparison of each internet option, which one do you think will best fit your budget and speed requirements? If you need more information before making a decision, feel free to leavea comment below!

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