Have you been told that you have an ‘Exchange Only’ (EO) line? Read on to find out what ‘exchange only’ means and discover how Scotland is leading the way in tackling the engineering challenges these lines create. History and a large number of small communities spread over a large geographic area means that there are considerably more ‘exchange only’ lines in Scotland than in the rest of the UK. Digital Scotland has built a wealth of expertise in dealing with the challenges of EO lines and is now amongst the leaders worldwide when it comes to overcoming these issues. So if you have an EO line, we hope this information will dispel a few myths and put your mind at rest.

What exactly is an EO line?

Telephone and standard broadband connections are made over a copper cable that links your property to the network. To reach the network, this copper cable can either be connected to a green roadside cabinet near your premises, or sometimes the copper cable connects directly to your local telephone exchange. This latter type of connection is what we call an “exchange only” or EO line.

OK, so what’s the issue?

The most common technology being used to bring fast fibre broadband to homes and businesses across Scotland is ‘fibre to the cabinet’. With this technology, engineers build a second fibre cabinet next to a green roadside copper cabinet. The fibre cabinet is connected up to the fibre network and then to the copper cabinet, bringing faster fibre broadband to the homes and businesses served by the copper cabinet. The problem is that for homes and businesses with EO lines, there is no copper cabinet already in place as their lines connect directly to the telephone exchange! So to enable these premises for fibre broadband, the engineers have to build not just one but TWO new cabinets – both a copper cabinet and a fibre cabinet, as well as connect up the two and re-arrange the lines. As you can imagine, this takes longer to sort out.

Just why is it so much more complex than usual?

Connecting EO lines is considerably more complicated than connecting “normal” phone lines to the fibre network because it involves building twice as many cabinets. Amongst other things, this means:

  • Twice the number of planning permissions are needed
  • The copper cabinet and the fibre cabinet need to be as close as possible to each other – and it’s not always all that easy to find suitable locations for two new cabinets
  • EO lines in larger communities tend to be in the town centres near the exchange and it’s tricky to arrange planning and traffic management in town centres
  • The work of re-arranging the copper wires is highly skilled and time consuming
  • As with any other infrastructure project, there can be unforeseen engineering challenges – and because there are two cabinets, this doubles the potential for delays and difficulties

How is Digital Scotland rising to the challenge?

We have already connected over 200,000 Scottish properties with EO lines to the fibre network by Spring 2016. By the time the Digital Scotland programme is completed at the end of March 2018, we will have brought fibre broadband to over 320,000 properties which originally had EO lines.

What this means for you

If you have an EO line, we regret that it can be hard for us to tell you exactly when you will be able to connect to fibre broadband (or whether you will definitely be able to do so) as well as to let you know what speed you will get in advance. The location of the two cabinets and the condition of the existing copper wiring are influencing factors and this information is usually not available until fairly late on in the installation process. Our engineers are working hard to find the best solutions in each area for as many people with EO lines as possible and to carry out all the complex work required just as soon as possible. The good news is that the vast majority of people with EO lines in Scotland will be able to connect to fibre broadband by the end of the programme in March 2018 and they will be able to enjoy exactly the same fast broadband speeds, reliability and quality as everyone else.

Other FAQs about Exchange Only lines

OK, so are there any other complexities related to EO lines which mean I may not be able to get a fibre connection?

Most people with EO lines will end up with the same fibre broadband service as if they had not been on an EO line. However, there may still be some cases where a fast fibre connection may not be possible for an unrelated reason – such as the fact that they are on a long line ie the length of copper wire between the fibre cabinet and the property is too long for increased speeds to be possible. Also, since EO lines have often been in place for many years, sometimes the quality of this existing copper wiring can mean that some EO lines are not suitable for re-arranging onto a copper cabinet.

Should I be able to get the same speeds as someone who was not on an EO line?

Yes, once you are connected to fibre broadband, you should be able to enjoy exactly the same fast speeds as anyone else.

I am on an EO line and there is a new fibre cabinet close to my house. Can I ask for my line to be re-arranged to the new cabinet?

No. Planning, building and maintaining the telephony and broadband network is a complex operation and changes that can appear simple on the surface can have many knock on effects. So unfortunately, it is not possible for us to re-arrange the network by request, one line at a time.

How do you decide where to put a new cabinet?

When planning our rollout programme, we have to ensure that the fibre cabinet is located as close as possible to the copper cabinet. We also need to make sure there is sufficient access to power and existing infrastructure, as well as take account of other considerations such as whether the proposed locations will block pavements or compromise highway access. In addition, we need to survey for other utility companies’ underground structure and obstacles, consider the visual impact and make sure we are not putting the security of adjacent properties at risk. And last but not least, we also need to consider ease of access for installation and maintenance when deciding where to place new fibre and copper cabinets.

I have heard that in some cases, there are not two cabinets used, only one. What’s that about?

Yes, in some locations (for example in the Highlands and Islands) sometimes a different solution is used – an ‘all in one’ cabinet (sometimes called a Onesie). This is a combined copper and fibre cabinet. These are not suitable for everywhere as they cannot support as many connections as the more conventional solution of having two separate cabinets – a fibre cabinet and a copper cabinet.

I have heard the terms PCP and DSLAM in relation to EO Lines. What do these terms mean?

A PCP is the technical term for what we have called a ‘copper cabinet’ here. A DSLAM is the technical term for what we have called a ‘fibre cabinet’ here.