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A Look at the Routers in BT’s 500Mbps UK G.fast Broadband Trial

Posted Monday, January 18th, 2016 (1:48 am) by Mark Jackson (Score 5,097)
openreach_ultra_fast_fibre_gfast_broadband

A lot has already been said about BT’s forthcoming 300-500Mbps capable “ultra fast fibre” G.fast (NGA2) broadband technology, which is currently being trialled in parts of Swansea (Wales), Huntingdon (Cambridgeshire) and Gosforth (Newcastle), but not a lot has been seen of the consumer router hardware being tested by Openreach.. until now.

The current trials are due to run for 6-9 months, which suggests that they should start to conclude by around the end of Spring or Summer 2016. After that BT has pledged to make the new service available to 10 million premises by 2020 (roughly 40% of the UK) and then “most of the UK” by 2025, although they will initially only offer the 300Mbps (50Mbps upload) service before increasing to the full 500Mbps over the next decade.

The G.fast (ITU G.9700/9701) technology itself works in a roughly similar way to the current VDSL2 based ‘up to’ 80Mbps Fibre-to-the-Cabinet (FTTC) service (i.e. a fibre optic cable is run to your local street cabinet and then the remaining copper run to your home uses VDSL to deliver the service), which is so often called “fibre broadband” despite actually being a slower hybrid-fibre solution.

However the G.fast service, unlike VDSL, requires significantly more spectrum (G.fast 106MHz+ vs VDSL 17MHz) and so it can only deliver its best speeds over much shorter copper lines (ideally below 350 metres). As such G.fast nodes aren’t restricted to street cabinets and can also be distributed via small nodes (dp) that may be built either underground (manholes) or placed on top of nearby telegraph poles etc.

In the home environment the main approach will function in a not dissimilar way to the current VDSL based FTTC service, which means that you will need to plug your phone cable into a special G.fast equipped modem or a combined modem + router device (ignore the bottom end-user ONT in the diagram below as that’s more for the FOD2/FTTP part of BT’s trial).

gfast modem routers setup

At present Openreach informs ISPreview.co.uk that they’re testing four different router/modem devices as part of their trials, including the Huawei MT992 (Huntingdon trial), ZINWELL zGFS-1001C (Huntingdon trial), Technicolor MediaAccess TG799vac Xtream (Huntingdon trial) and Alcatel Lucent F-240W-A (Gosforth trial).

Sadly we don’t have a lot of details for these units, but we will try to offer a bit of extra information below. It should be stressed that this is trial kit and Openreach has not made a final decisions about what hardware it will actually support / deploy to customers and they may also test other devices in the future.

huawei-mt992

You won’t find much public information about the Huawei MT992 online, although from what we can tell this appears to be the G.fast modem-only equivalent of Openreach’s VDSL Modems. Like those devices it is technically a router with very reduced features, although the intention here is likely that the unit would act as a separate G.fast modem that could then be plugged into the customers own router (possibly as part of an engineer installation).

zinwell-zgfs1001c

Once again there’s not a lot of information on the ZINWELL zGFS-1001C, although it’s based off Sckipio Technologies’ G.fast modem chipset. It’s also immediately clear from the picture that this is not a modem-only device like the Huawei and features a number of LAN ports, as well as support for the 802.11ac WiFi standard, which turns it into a fully-fledged router.

The approach here is likely to support a self-installation (no engineer) service and it also optionally supports Reverse Power (here), which effectively means that electricity could in the future be sucked from your home or office and used to power BT’s broadband nodes (as opposed to the usual approach of BT providing the power); assuming end-users and Ofcom ever approve (initially BT will power G.fast the normal way). Reverse Power would save money and make it easy to deploy in remote areas, but it’s controversial to ask home owners to cover power costs and there are regulatory issues to overcome.

technicolor-mediaaccess-tg799vac-xtream-gfast

The TG799vac Xstream will already be known to some of our readers because it has previously been released as a VDSL2 (FTTC) product and this is the G.fast version of that same router. Assuming the G.fast version isn’t too different then it will support 802.11ac WiFi (hopefully at a faster speed than the originals claimed 450Mbps), as well as DECT and VoIP, Gigabit LAN and various other things.

Technicolor are quite popular among ISPs that like to bundle their own routers and so we can see this option becoming a common choice. Once again this is likely to be a self-install capable device, which could remove the need for an engineer to enter your property.

alcatel-lucent-f-240w-a

Finally we come to the Alcatel Lucent F-240W-A, which is interestingly only being used in the Gosforth (Newcastle) trial. Like most of the others it’s a fully-fledged router, boasting 802.11ac WiFi, 4 x Gigabit LAN ports, 1 x USB 3.0 port (spec says there should be two of these, but we can only see one) and even two phone (POTS) connectors.. not to mention the usual ports for WAN and G.fast/DSL.

The unit itself is however quite big (287mm x 208mm x 49mm) and heavy (around 1Kg). On top of that it’s another one that supports Reverse Power (see above) and there’s even a mention of support for Alcatel Lucent’s VPLUS technology that can boost the performance of existing VDSL2 (FTTC) lines, although this requires both VDSL Vectoring and a 35MHz profile (Openreach have faced some challenges with those).

Overall Openreach appears keen for G.fast to use hardware that could eventually be self-installed by consumers (like VDSL FTTC today), while also perhaps providing for those wanting an engineer installation or something along those lines. However the operator has yet to announce any final hardware, products or prices and so at this point we can merely speculate.

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24 Responses
  1. Patrick Cosgrove

    A bit like fitting a supercharger to a Model ‘T’ Ford. At heart it’s still a Model ‘T’ Ford.

    • MikeW

      More like replacing 95-99% of the underlying Model T Ford too.

    • Steve Jones

      Not it’s not. What a ridiculous analogy.

    • Steve Jones

      If you want a more accurate analogy, it’s more like moving from the speed of the Rocket to that of a TGV whilst still using the same basic gauge for rails. Inexact of course in that the train speeds have gone up by one order of magnitude whilst speeds over copper loops have gone up by five orders of magnitude in a couple of decades (albeit at the expense of distance).

      Or, maybe, Ethernet over twisted-pair which has increased by three orders of magnitude.

      Of course speed over optical fibre has gone up enormously too (WDM etc.). I see no problems in making the most cost effective use of existing capacity where appropriate.

    • rogTM

      I prefer.

      You can polish a turd.. but it’s still a turd..

  2. liveinhope

    Would I be wright in saying that VDSL lines (under 350m) will offered G fast before those on ADSL.

    • MikeW

      IMO, it is highly likely that G.fast will be available first to those who are relatively close to an existing PCP & FTTC cabinet, though of course only on cabinets where G.fast gets added.

      I don’t think it will matter whether the user is currently using ADSL or FTTC.

      If I’m right, and I might not be, the obvious consequence is that G.fast will be available to people who can already largely achieve 80/20 speeds.

    • Steve Jones

      A perfectly reasonable assumption that it will spread from existing cabinets outwards aside from a few trials.

      One exception might be fibre-to-the-building (FTTB). That makes a lot of sense in blocks of flats (or suites of offices) where there is a read source of power supply and the existing phone lines are concentrated through a basement. Then a very fast service can be implemented without the laborious, expensive and disruptive process of replacing the existing building phone lines.

      In many ways it looks like g.fast will primarily be an urban solution with more limited use in rural areas where housing densities are lower. A study in the Netherlands indicated that costs of g.fast in urban areas are abut 40% of a passive fibre solution and, probably more important, much faster and less resource intensive.

      In more rural locations, then the balance goes to fttp, but it will always take longer and cost more than in urban areas.

    • Ignition

      Steve, you may find the costs posited here for cable networks being upgraded to an FTTDP equivalent as interesting.

      https://youtu.be/bOAjzKY51-I?t=571

    • rogTM

      @liveinhope. I don’t know – are you 700 years old? Because you could be “right” which is 21st century speak lol

  3. MikeW

    I agree that some of the devices above look like they could be modem/routers, and are based on devices that are modem/routers.

    However, BT’s Ian Boothman – the Openreach guy running the trial – has said, on more than one occasion, that the trial devices are a two-box solution … even though he’d prefer to ultimately end up with a single box. That Openreach provide a modem NTE, while the ISP provide the router.

    If there was a chance that they’d try out some single-box solutions during the trial, I’m sure he’d have emphasised it.

    As it is, even the LED guides for the Hinwell and the Technicolour report the status between the “NTE” and the “service provider equipment” – ie between modem and router.

    • Ignition

      Mike, the modems are the NTE and the service provider equipment the DSLAM.

    • My mistake, misread the diagrams. Service provider equipment is indeed referring to router.

    • Rodger

      Mike, you can suggest IanBothman that there is a universal gateway which is one single box for all broadband access. A smart gateway(offering smart home service) which has “Empty SFP CAGE”, so ISP can offer SFP type of WAN such as VDSL2 SFP, G.fast SFP, Fiber transcevier..etc for all broadband access service.

  4. Captain_Cretin

    It will be interesting to see if any currant VDSL routers can be firmware updated.

    I was also interested to read the line stats on my new VR200, apparently I am synced to the cabinet at 100Mb/s; so does that mean the fibre connection is being throttled down, the same way BT used to throttle early ADSL connections??

    I can remember my 512Kb connection suddenly jumping to 2.2Mb for over a year before BT noticed and restricted it again.

    • Ignition

      ‘It will be interesting to see if any currant VDSL routers can be firmware updated.’

      Nope.

      The products are 40Mb and 80Mb. They are allowed to connect at up to those rates even if they can go higher. It’s not like ADSLMax where they go as high as they can.

  5. Ethel Prunehat

    > 1 x USB 3.0 port (spec says there should be two of these, but we can only see one)

    The other USB port is behind the little door on the front. Why behind a little door? Who knows!

  6. Skar

    What are the expected upstream speeds expected to be, for GFast ?

  7. cyclope

    “It will be interesting to see if any currant VDSL routers can be firmware updated.”
    A double no on that as all the BT modems only have a 100mbps switch so aren’t capable of faster sync /throughput rates, Same with some AIO devices that support VDSL,

  8. Malcolm Corbett

    A big issue for customers is likely to be the wireless base station in the router (if it has one). We recently bought Hyperoptic’s 1Gbps symmetric service at the Royal Arsenal, London. They supply at ZTE H298N wireless router which has a maximum throughput of 300Mbps. Since all of our devices operate wirelessly I bought an Apple Airport Extreme AC wireless base station to get the best performance from the service. Typically we now get 800mbps/520Mpbs with a wired ethernet connection (Macbook Pro) and 520mbps/110mbps over a 5Ghz wifi connection. I report the results on LinkedIn here https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/getting-most-out-hyperoptic-malcolm-corbett?trk=pulse_spock-articles

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