The federal government set up the Universal Broadband Fund in 2020 and the CRTC set up the Broadband Fund in 2019 with the goal that 90% of Canadian homes and businesses would have access to broadband speeds of at least 50 Mbps downloads and 10 Mbps upload with unlimited data transfer.
A large portion of these funds were allocated to the expansion of fibre optic (FTTN and FTTH) networks across Canada.
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.
Fibre internet (FTTH) is capable of the fastest speeds (up to 1 Gbps) though actual speeds will of course be artificially throttled to a lower speed based on the plan from your internet provider. In general, the speeds you’ll get are much closer to the advertised speeds than the typical cable/FTTN experience of only getting a fraction of the advertised speeds you paid for and they are typically more consistent. FTTH is “this is the speed you will get” while FTTN is “speeds of up to”.
You get the same maximum speed for uploads as you do for downloads (symmetrical speeds), resulting in higher upload speeds than you’ll find on FTTN or cable plans. This is great for those who self-host anything (eg. Plex, home server, website) or backup large files to the cloud (eg. Google Drive, OneDrive, Dropbox).
It also typically offers better quality, including lower, more consistent latencies (less jitter) which is better for online gaming, game streaming and other real-time applications thanks to higher noise resistance, immune to electromagnetic interference and considerably lower signal loss over the same distance.
If FTTH is available in your area (be sure to confirm with your provider that it is actually FTTH and not the much less awesome FTTN) and the prices and speeds are comparable, you should definitely get fibre.
Which is right for you?
Which is best for you depends on how you use your internet connection.
For example, 4K YouTube and Netflix streams require a stable 15 Mbps and 20 Mbps, respectively, so if you sometimes have 4 streams running in your household you only need a stable 100 Mbps connection, and gigabit fibre service might be overkill.
Fibre is best if you are a:
- Smart home or home server user who frequently backs up their files to a cloud service
- Gamer playing at 60 fps a 60 hz monitor, 16.6ms of latency equals 1 frame, which could give you an edge
Cable might be a better deal if you are a:
- Light internet user, browsing Reddit and streaming the occasional show, 30 Mbps down / 10 Mbps up cable will be sufficient.
- Large family that frequently streams or torrents simultaneously, download speeds are most important and an 1 Gbps cable connection might be the best deal.
How many Canadian households are subscribed to FTTH?
|Year||% of Canadian households|
What is FTTH (FTTP)?
Fibre to the Home (FTTH) also known as Fibre to the Premises (FTTP), describes an internet connection where fibre optic cable runs from the internet service provider’s centres to a nearby node in your area, and all the way through to your home. No part of the connection uses copper cables or telephone wires.
It is the real fibre internet and is capable of the highest speeds and best quality. One way to tell that an internet plan is FTTH is if it offers symmetrical speeds (eg. 50 Mbps download, 50 Mbps upload).
- Able to provide “Gigabit” internet with speeds of more than 1 Gbps (1,000 Mbps)
- Upload speeds as fast as download
- Lowest latency and jitter
- Isn’t affected by weather conditions
- Isn’t susceptible to electromagnetic interference
- Presence of FTTH increases property value
- It is considered “future proof” as cable upgrades are not needed
- Only available in certain areas
- More expensive
What is FTTN?
FTTN stands for “Fibre To The Node” describes a hybrid connection that includes both fibre and copper cables. 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 that cable internet uses.
While the core of the network is fast and reliable, the length of copper wire between the node and your house acts as a bottleneck and slows speeds.
Fiber To The Curb (FTTC) and Fibre To the Building (FTTB) similarly describe the use of a combination of fibre optic and coaxial cable, but the point at which the connection switches from fibre to copper is closer to the home, meaning more of the connection is made of fibre and less of copper.
- Provides some of the benefits of fibre (faster speeds)
- Sets the stage for future upgrade of “last mile” fibre optics to homes from the node
- Speeds are comparable to cable internet as the “last mile” of copper cable acts as the bottleneck and throttles speeds
- Maximum upload speeds typically considerably lower than download
- Poor speed to price ratio
- Speed is determined by customers’ proximity to the node
What is cable internet?
Cable internet describes a connection the same copper coaxial cable network as cable TV and is the most prevalent internet network type in Canada. Data is transmitted via high-frequency electrical signals to users through a designated channel and a subscriber cable modem.
- Widely available
- More affordable due to older, low-cost cables and reasonable market competition
- Fast and stable enough for browsing and most video streaming and online gaming needs
- Maximum upload speeds are considerably lower than download
- Higher latency, jitter and packet loss
- Data transfer speed noticeably slows during peak hours since bandwidth is shared with neighboring cable users and providers oversubscribe their networks
Comparison of FTTN, FTTH and cable internet
While cable has long been available to 84% of Canadian households, the availability of FTTH is growing year over year:
|Year||% of Canadian households|
FTTH is capable of being is much faster than FTTN and cable internet, but is throttled to
|Cable||10 to 500 Mbps||5 to 50 Mbps|
|FTTN||50 to 100 Mbps||10 to 100 Mbps|
|FTTH||1 to 8 Gbps||1 to 8 Gbps|
Internet speeds can be affected by:
- Network congestion: Bandwidth is finite and shared between users in a particular area, so if your neighbors are consuming a lot of data by streaming movies, having Zoom meetings and running servers (peak internet hours are 7 to 11PM), this will affect your speeds. This can be true even for FTTH.
- Device interference: If there are too many devices connected to your WiFi (eg. phones, TVs, computers, smart devices, etc.) the electromagnetic signals can interfere with each other and cause congestion, reducing internet speed and quality.
- Hardware and software: The compatibility and bandwidth capability of your phone, computer’s WiFi receiver (network interface card), router, modem as well as the operating system, browser and other applications can all affect upload and download speeds.
- WiFi or Ethernet connection: Even with a great router, WiFi is considerably higher latency and slower than a wired connection.
FTTH typically provides better latencies. Canadian internet users report latencies of 30 to 50 ms on cable (I get 20 to 50 ms on a wired connection), while 10 to 30 ms on fibre.
|Connection type||Latency (ms)|
|Cable||17.2ms and 21.7ms|
|FTTH||11.5ms to 11.7ms|
A lower latency will make your internet “feel” faster as it takes less time for pages to respond. However, you may not notice the difference unless you play online games or stream video games.
Latency (also called ping) is the time delay between when you send a request through the internet (eg. click a link or start a download) and when you start to receive the information in response. It is measured as a round-trip time – the request data packet travels from point A to B and back to point A. It is affected by how far the request needs to travel, how much information is included in the request, and the quality of the networks it travels through.
A FTTH connection will typically have a lot less jitter than cable connection.
Jitter is a measure of how variable your latency (ping) is and is caused by network congestion, timing drift, or route changes. If your ping is jumping around from 30, up to 200, back down to 45, 500, 430, 50, 55, etc. then your jitter is very high. This can cause reliability issues on real-time connections: lag while gaming, delayed, dropped, choppy video calls and garbled, robotic-sounding audio calls.
FTTH and FTTN are more expensive, starting from $100 per month, but the cost per Mbps of speed is coming down. However, they are still not as cheap as cable which is as low as $50 per month.
Major internet providers including Bell and Rogers will typically install FTTH to your home for free (well, likely funded by taxpayer dollars through the Broadband Funds) and you won’t be required to sign up for their services.
Cable internet data is transmitted using coaxial (coax) cable. The cable contains an inner conductor that is typically made of copper and transmits high-frequency electrical signals. It looks like this:
For FTTN and FTTH, data is transmitted using fibre optic cable. The cables contain strands of glass or plastic which transmit data using light pulses as signals and have much higher bandwidth capabilities than coax. It looks like this:
Is my internet service true fibre (FTTH) or just FTTN?
Contact the service provider to confirm that their service is FTTH in your area and not FTTN.
Bell’s Fibe internet
Bell uses the name Fibe to describe both their FTTN and FTTH service (2 very different products). Which one you get depends on the availability in your area. They are continuing to roll out their FTTH network that offers download and upload speeds of up to 3 Gbps.
Bell settled a $2 million class action lawsuit on November 30, 2021 for customers who subscribed to FIBE TV and/or FIBE Internet offered by Bell Canada to resolve claims that it misled consumers through its use of the terms “Fibe” and “fibre optics” when offering services that actually were composed of both fibre optics and copper.
Just like Bell, Telus groups both its FTTH and FTTH products under the same name: PureFibre, which offers download and upload speeds of up to 2.5 Gbps. They prominently advertise “100% fibre direct to your home” while hiding in the fine print that it is not available in all areas. The name makes it sound like the product will always be true fibre, which is not the case and could deceive consumers.
So called “UltraFibre” clearly states in the fine print: Our network combines optical fibre and coaxial cable. Available where technology permits. While some portion of their network has FTTH (you have to call and ask if you area is), they do not mention FTTN anywhere, so it is not clear what portion of their network is fibre and what is coaxial. They prominently display plans’ download speeds, but upload speeds are nowhere to be found. This makes it appear as if the plans have the same speed for upload and download (ie. are true fibre), when in reality, they are at best up to 30 Mbps:
Rogers describes their internet as fibre-powered and says that they’re continuing to upgrade their existing network in growing areas across Ontario and Atlantic Canada to extend their fibre-optic cabling and equipment beyond the neighbourhood all the way to the home. Where available, it offers download and upload speeds of 2.5 to 8 Gbps.
Over to you
We’re interested to know – which type of internet do you currently have and what has been your experience? If you have any questions about any of these, let us know by leaving a comment below!