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Vectoring Trials Begin as BT Look to Boost UK FTTC Broadband ISP Speeds

Posted Monday, September 30th, 2013 (1:53 am) by Mark Jackson (Score 5,450)
fttc street cabinet under construction

BTOpenreach, which helps to maintain and upgrade BT’s national telecoms network, has confirmed that the first customer trials of VDSL2 Vectoring technology (ITU-T G.993.5) are live. The new technology could deliver a significant speed boost to users of the operators existing up to 80Mbps hybrid-fibre (FTTC) superfast broadband network.

At present FTTC works by taking a fibre optic cable from the telephone exchange and all the way to your local street cabinet. After that the VDSL2 technology, which is similar to current 20-24Mbps ADSL2+ services but faster over shorter distances, is used to deliver the remaining broadband connection over existing copper lines and into your home.

Unfortunately the remaining run of copper cable is still susceptible to interference (e.g. crosstalk [XT]), especially the signal degradation that occurs over longer distances and reduces your lines potential speed. In particular one of the biggest problems for VDSL2 is far-end crosstalk (self-FEXT), which occurs when several lines effectively create interference for one another.

The solution to this is to adopt Vectoring technology, which acts a bit like those noise cancelling headphones and employs the coordination of multiple line signals in order to create a reduction of crosstalk. Some speculate that the solution could push headline FTTC speeds up to 100Mbps+ and, with the help of a few other tweaks, possibly as high as up to 200Mbps.

However BT’s Head of Access Platform Innovation, Kevin Foster, said earlier this year that “Vectoring is seen as a speed enabler rather than a speed booster“. In other words the technology is intended, at least initially, to improve existing performance rather than to raise the current headline rate of 80Mbps. It might even help those still stuck on longer copper lines.

Now Openreach has just confirmed to ISPreview.co.uk that their trial “will be monitoring the maximum speed trial lines could theoretically achieve“, although at present there are no firm plans to boost the headline speed (though this could always change next year). Meanwhile ISPreview.co.uk has also been told that BT’s first trial cabinet is live and that the remaining 5 cabinets “will become vectored in the next 2-3 weeks“.

Openreach’s UK Vectoring Trial Locations & Cabinets

* Barnet (London, England)
Street Cabinets 26, 41 and 42

* Braintree (Essex, England)
Street Cabinets 12, 39 and 74

Openreach expects the current trial to finish “some time” during November 2013, at which point the cabinets will return to their normal mode of operation. The operator will then begin carefully assessing the results before deciding upon the technologies future and any further tests.

But there are a few drawbacks to Vectoring technology. Firstly, it will cost money to upgrade your street cabinet and, in order to be effective, it ideally needs to be applied across all of the cabinets FTTC lines. The last point means that a Vectoring upgrade could take slightly longer to deploy and it might also run into compatibility problems with Sub Loop Unbundled (SLU) ISPs that use different kit (possibly making the technology unusable in a small number of areas – Ofcom are currently reviewing this).

Otherwise the majority of end-users (broadband ISP customers) won’t need to make any changes at their end, although some might require a replacement VDSL modem or a special firmware update. All being well we could see the first commercial Vectoring deployment in 2014 but that decision has yet to be made.

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41 Responses
  1. Phil

    MJ: “All being well we could see the first commercial Vectoring deployment in 2014 but that decision has yet to be made.” – it likely to be roll out street cabinets phase list in uk with the winner and losers in most street cabinets in uk.

  2. FibreFred

    “But there are a few drawbacks to Vectoring technology. Firstly, it will cost money to upgrade your street cabinet and, in order to be effective, it ideally needs to be applied across all of the cabinets FTTC lines.”

    I wonder how this is going to work? Surely BT will be footing the cost for this?

    You can’t sell a service that is up to 76Mbps and then ask for further money to get some people closer to that 76Mbps? 🙂

    I wonder if they’ll release cost per cab figures.

    • Anoyed Tax Payer

      The amount of time and cost it takes to upgrade a cabinet is one of the main reasons why BT are doing this trial. The results may reveal that it’s cheaper to upgrade all FTTC lines to FTTPod than it would to implement vectoring on all lines in an area.

    • FoD isn’t really relevant here as, at the current cost and contract lengths, it’s not being targeted towards home users. Openreach also already intends to make FoD available to all FTTC lines but that might take awhile.

    • Anoyed Tax Payer

      What is relevant is the time and cost to upgrade “each” cabinet for use with Vectoring, which I might add is very expensive and time consuming

    • FibreFred

      I’m just struggling to understand “why” here. I can understand it being trialled for a speed booster later, but enabler? What is in for them them? Customer retention? (as you are closer to the advertised up to speed?)

    • FibreFred

      Anoyed Tax Payer – but if it cost too much they surely wouldn’t do it? I don’t see how they could just upgrade people to FTTPoD for free if their lines didn’t get close to 76Mnps?

    • Anoyed Tax Payer

      FibreFred – This is why BT do trials to see if it’s worth the benefits of doing it for it’s customers. The whole point of FTTPoD is that it does not matter if the customer line can get 76Mbps or not. The major drawback with Vectoring is that you have to implement it on an area wide basis or it does not work, therefore the cost and time is a lot higher that something like FTTPoD

    • FibreFred

      Anoyed Tax Payer – Yeah I’ve got that bit.

      This trial could be a very crucial one, depending on the outcome of costs/hassle etc it could mean that if its very expensive to do FTTC won’t progress much further as vectoring and bonding were touted to get extra life out of the copper plant.

      So.. if its too expensive compared to running fibre to the street and poles then sure, I hear that.

      But that approach is speed booster (future), not enabler. I don’t understand the drive to go back and improve what is already there. Don’t get me wrong its a great gesture!

    • Anoyed Tax Payer

      FibreFred – The speed booster is the approach that BT will first take if they implement vectoring, i.e those lines that have the potential to reach 80Mbps, but don’t currently due to interference. This is the big gamble with Vectoring, will BT do all this so that more lines can reach the 80Mpbs target, or will BT invest in full fibre??? This question I think will be answered by BT after the trial.

    • FibreFred

      Indeed it will be interesting to see the results

    • BT struggled to get shareholders to approve its £2.5bn project so I doubt they’ll invest in full fibre FTTP anytime soon (I don’t count FoD as that’s a very different kettle of fish and not a mass market solution). Longer term they might do FTTdp but that would need G.Fast to make the most of it and G.Fast ideally needs Vectoring but once you’ve done that you’ll still be spending a few billions less than rolling out native FTTP to all.

      But as you say, it is a trial, although IMO a decision not to adopt Vectoring would certainly present somewhat of a quandary for BT’s future strategy.

    • Anoyed Tax Payer

      G.Fast is designed for very short loop lengths, therefore fibre will still need to be deployed so that it’s very close to the end customer. So far with BT, they have used existing technology to provide high speed broadband, i.e copper -> FTTC. Once this has been in use for a while the next step would be from FTTC – > Full Fibre. I can’t see BT going a step backwards or go from one hybrid technology to another one.

    • BT have repeatedly said that they have no plans to deploy native FTTP nationally and not one of the senior figures that we’ve spoken with have been enthusiastic about that idea (both on and off-the-record), with all questioning where the £15bn+ that would be needed might come from.

      So if you take that and then look at what they do say, which is to point towards the prospects for Vectoring, G.Fast and FTTdp.. then right now native FTTP isn’t on their radar, it isn’t planned and I’d dare say they’re even aggressively opposed to it; short of a massive investment of public funds.

      Lest we not forget the huge problems they faced with installations during the defunct strategy to make FTTP available to 2.5 million premises. The issues/costs with Vectoring are small beans next to that and worth doing to keep pace with Virgin etc.

    • Anoyed Tax Payer

      This trial could be a massive wake up call for those senior figures, especially when they see the total cost of implementing Vectoring. I can just see their reaction to it “HOW MUCH!!!”

    • GNewton

      @FibreFred: “But that approach is speed booster (future), not enabler. I don’t understand the drive to go back and improve what is already there. Don’t get me wrong its a great gesture!”

      You don’t appear to have a proper understanding of VDSL. For example, at this current stage, VDSL is a dead end road: Around 50% won’t get faster than 40mbps speeds (for downloads, it’s asymmetric anyway) due to severe signal degradation on copper lines, and users on longer VDSL wires are even worse off, 10% are on VDSL lines longer than 1km.

      For many VDSL users, this current state is not a real nextgen broadband, hence BTs desparate attempt to save face via these Vectoring trials. No other options such as VDSL lines bonding, or a reasonable widespread fibre-on-demand, or even a simple naked VDSL are available. The BT telecoms industry got itself into that mess, and now is desperately trying to find a work around.

    • FibreFred

      Thanks for your concern GNewton but I do understand VDSL

      Could you please provide a source for your:-

      “Around 50% won’t get faster than 40mbps speeds (for downloads, it’s asymmetric anyway) due to severe signal degradation on copper lines, and users on longer VDSL wires are even worse off, 10% are on VDSL lines longer than 1km. ”

      That sounds very much like a JNeuhoff quote btw 😉

    • GNewton

      Not quite sure where JNeuhoff has quoted VDSL line length figures. But it is easy enough to run a Google search, or directly ask BT, or the local council (if involved the BDUK project), or look up some material from e.g. the thinkbroadband site. I think the physics of signal degradation on copper wires is pretty common knowledge and well documented. It makes the VDSL quality fairly unevenly distributed as regards speeds in different locations. There is a reason why BT is running the Vectoring trials, though I am not sure it will solve the issue well enough.

    • FibreFred

      Sorry you misunderstood

      I was after the source of your statement:-

      “Around 50% won’t get faster than 40mbps speeds ”

      Can you please show me the performance reports that show this?

    • GNewton

      @FibreFred: I gave you some links and places in above post where you can get more information about the VDSL2 Profile 17a speeds and the likely distribution of different line lengths. Thinkbroadband is a good place to start. Or BT themselves if you kindly ask them.

      There is also the Freedom of Information Act, so if your local council is involved in the BDUK, you can get all the details from them for your own location or neighbouring towns (https://www.gov.uk/make-a-freedom-of-information-request/the-freedom-of-information-act). We have detailed information and maps for our whole local district. Of course, in rural areas VDSL figures are worse than in densely populated urban areas because of longer than average VDSL lines.

    • FibreFred

      But your statement sounded like fact, so its not a fact? Its your own personal assumption, guesswork.

      I know what the profile curve looks like. So you are saying that 50% of the UK is 750-800m from the cabinet?

      Where are you getting those cabinet distances stats for the whole of the UK?

    • DTMark

      “Vectoring is seen as a speed enabler rather than a speed booster“.

      I’m wondering if the analysis here has this the wrong way around.

      That actually, vectoring has nothing at all to do with raising headline speeds, nor does it relate to getting more speed to those near the cabinets.

      It has to do with the 2Mbps for all goal.

      And the growing number of posts on the net along the lines of “cabinet enabled, but we’re too far from it to get service” which are only going to get steadily worse, in both urban and rural areas.

      By the time VDSL is down to 2Meg downstream I’d have thought you’d also be near to 0Mbps upstream, so it is useless. I don’t know where the cut-off is because I haven’t seen a chart: what downstream are you looking at if you regard 2Mbps up as the bare minimum for a connection to be useful? Should it be 2Mbps up? Can hardly be less than 1Mbps up since that’s what ADSL2+ already achieves in many though not all cases.

      With the natives getting restless and hopefully with close attention paid to deliverables by local bodies, the one-size “VDSL fits all” approach is coming under closer scrutiny and BT would like to be able to reduce the mix of FTTP required to hit the goals, which in some areas will need to be extensive.

    • JNeuhoff

      @FibreFred: Why don’t you do your own research if you are so keen to learn more about VDSL? For instance, the stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk has plenty of data. To give you one example from their website:

      “It should be noted that these figures are not directly comparable to those published in last year’s report as we have refined the measurement methodology. Last year (2011) we reported FTTC coverage by considering the number of premises within the footprint of an FTTC – enabled telephone exchange. At the same time, we noted that typically 10 – 20% of premises in these areas would be connected to cabinets which were not upgraded or were on lines that were too long to receive high speed services.”

      This was just one example from a quick 1 minute Google search.

      And, seriously, what prevents you from asking your own local council for more details, as I and other posters here have done. After all, it’s your taxpayer’s money, too! 🙂

    • FibreFred

      JNeuhoff, a statement was given I’m simply asking for the facts/source to back that up. I shouldn’t need to research anything. It should be very easy to reference what was said?

      Even if it it was simply done off of the chart where is it stated anywhere that 50% of the UK are 750-800m from their cabinet? It this info is so readily available show me 🙂

    • JNeuhoff

      @FibreFred: With due respect, I think you are a hopeless case. GNewton listed amongst others the thinkbroadband site, it takes you only seconds to navigate to the relevant details. And not everything is published on the internet, but you can easily get the information off BT or the local council, he even showed you the Freedom of Information Acts links which explains how to do that if you care to look at that page.

      But I think you are not really interested, because you already got a VDSL line, so you don’t have to worry if taxpayer’s money is wasted, or other posters express their concern about the lack of proper broadband.

      So, I think I won’t reply to your posts anymore.

    • FibreFred

      The only thing that is hopeless was that 50% will get 40Mbps comment, with no source or no explanation as to how that very specific figure was derived it will just be seen as fiction.

      Just link me to where that info was taken from, if its so simple it won’t take you long?

      You can’t which is why you have to resort to goalpost shifts and wooly replies. Its quite plain to see.

      You are asking me to look at general VDSL test patterns etc etc, yeah I know all
      of that, that doesn’t back up the specific comment.

      Why are you talking about local councils the quote given was covering the UK:-

      “Around 50% won’t get faster than 40mbps speeds (for downloads, it’s asymmetric anyway) due to severe signal degradation on copper lines”

      Please explain either:-

      1) Where that figure came from (i.e. Ofcom, BT website, independent study etc etc

      or

      2) How you personally (because that is what it is) came to that conclusion

      Simple precise reply if you would 🙂

    • FibreFred

      Apologies 🙂 You won’t be replying anymore I wonder why….. maybe GNewton will 😉

    • Roberto

      Probably STILL because you bored him to sleep with your inane rubbish.

  3. Jamie

    There’s no way whatsoever that BT rolling out FTTPoD is going to be cheaper than upgrading cabinets and modems. The amount of digging that is required to lay fibre into aggregation nodes is hugely significant. There is also paperwork with councils that can prove troublesome even after the planning rules have been relaxed recently. Then you have to dig people’s drives or gardens. For BT to push the FTTPoD product as available for all, they’d have to swallow up the installation costs and it would take years to recuperate.

    I accept in areas with housing right on the street, the access route is easy, but for anywhere with a front driveway/garden it’s a lot harder. Ducting is full, pretty much everywhere extra-urban and we’re using ducts which are 50 years old and stuffed full of copper. In a lot of cases, the ducting needs upgrading.

    That is why the FTTPoD product where available is so expensive to buy for the end user or business and why leased line costs (such as the £40k mentioned above) are so high.

    • Anoyed Tax Payer

      It’s not just cabinets that need to be upgraded for Vectoring, in some cases the cables need upgrading or in others need to be re-routed.

    • GNewton

      A simple 100mbps ethernet line would cost us £37,872.00 per year, so for many small business owners it would make more sense to move premises elsewhere.

      Widespread fibre from BT won’t be around in the UK for many years to come. And G.Fast FTTC is just a BT pipe dream, too, it is not a realistic option in the short term future. The trials will soon reveal the ugly face of VDSL. Will be interesting to see the outcome from this trial!

    • Gadget

      I assume that was the BT quote for £37k what about other operators? Was it for a leased line with the accompanying service guarantees and was that just the rental and no connection charge?

    • GNewton

      @Gadget: The quote was based upon a reseller’s equivalent of BTs Ethernet in the First Mile (monthly rental), which is a kind of a cheaper version of the Leased Line flavor. BT would naturally be more expensive. I don’t think anybody would seriously consider BT for leased lines or similar, unless they got cash to burn.

  4. Michael

    I could imagine that if BDUK related contracts require a minimum of 30Mbps download, then in some instances vectoring may be neccessary as part of the solution to hit this mimimum “European” target in the medium term by 2016 ?

    If the UK beyond 2016 intends to go to the 100Mbps “target” then the balance between FFTP and FTTC+ options will no doubt play out, with debates about who pays for hiiting such a target.

    • GNewton

      @Michael: At the moment the 30mbps target for all using mainly VDSL is not reachable for BT because of the signal degradation and line length issues. See for example http://www.thinkbroadband.com/guide/fibre-broadband.html#what-speed for the different line lengths and their cumulative percentages of the premises being served by these VDSL lines. The situation might improve somewhat with the planned Vectoring though it’s by no means certain at this stage.

  5. Sledgehammer

    If BT are going to consider ftth as the only solution to try to meet the 100meg European target, then some one or the Government had better start putting some serious money into the project. Time is the greatest enemy now.

    • Assuming any government’s around Europe still care about the DA/EU targets then it’s 30Mbps that would be more of a problem for BT, though there’s still plenty of time to tackle it.

      By comparison the 50% figure could perhaps already be almost done via Virgin Media’s network and a speed boost to FTTC in urban areas would probably fill the gaps.

  6. Ignitionnet

    If BT aren’t planning on using this to boost peak speeds, maybe in conjunction with pair bonding, I would be somewhat surprised. Zero revenue in using it as a speed enabler.

  7. Roberto

    Waste of time…
    http://www.ispreview.co.uk/index.php/2013/04/bt-confirm-first-uk-trial-areas-for-superfast-broadband-fttc-vectoring-tech.html
    “BT’s Head of Access Platform Innovation, Kevin Foster, the technology will be used more as a “speed enabler” than a speed booster. In other words headline speeds, which currently stand at 80Mbps for FTTC (though another rise to 100Mbps+ is anticipated), are likely to stay the same but those on longer copper lines could get faster speeds than they do today.”

    Who they classify as needing vectoring due to being on a “longer” line and how slow you have to be running to ultimately be considered for vectoring if it makes it beyond trials is anyones guess.

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