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BT Openreach Start Pilot of 330Mbps G.fast Broadband for 138000 UK Premises

Posted Saturday, January 7th, 2017 (12:01 am) by Mark Jackson (Score 7,301)
Openreach BT UltraFast G.fast Fibre Broadband

Openreach (BT) will on Monday officially start the deployment phase for their new pilot of ‘up to’ 330Mbps capable G.fast (ITU G.9700/9701) broadband technology, which by the end of March 2017 should have been rolled out to 138,000 homes and businesses in 17 places across the United Kingdom.

This huge pilot is the final step before Openreach start a full-scale commercial deployment towards the latter half of 2017, which will aim to reach 10 million premises by 2020 and then “most of the UK” by 2025 (our educated guess is that “most” will probably equate to around 60% UK coverage, inc. FTTP etc.). Mind you this could still be impacted by the outcome of Ofcom’s Strategic Review and Openreach’s “legal separation” from BT (here).

A Spokesperson for Openreach told ISPreview.co.uk:

“We’re very excited to be launching the extended pilot, having pioneered G.fast technology in our labs and conducted the world’s largest technical trials.

The pilot will allow us to test the performance of G.fast, as well as our related processes and systems, at a much larger scale and in a real network environment.

We expect the pilot to continue into summer 2017.”

Customers’ in the pilot locations can expect to be given the option of either a 160Mbps (30Mbps upload) or 330Mbps (50Mbps upload) package, which should initially cost a little bit more than an existing 80Mbps (i.e. up to 76Mbps) FTTC based “fibre broadband” service (pricing details). But this is based off the special offer / pilot pricing and G.fast will become more expensive in time for the commercial roll-out.

G.fast Pilot Locations

* Bolton, Greater Manchester
* Cherry Hinton, Cambridgeshire*
* Cheltenham, Gloucestershire
* Derby, Derbyshire
* Donaldson, South East Scotland
* Gillingham, Kent*
* Langside, Glasgow
* Donaldson, Edinburgh
* Gosforth, Tyne & Wear
* Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire
* Luton, Bedfordshire
* Rusholme, Manchester
* St. Austell, Cornwall
* Swansea, Wales
* Swindon, Wiltshire
* Sheffield
* London: Balham / Upton Park, London

NOTE: A handful of the areas listed above reflect a continuation / expansion of the earlier G.fast trials (e.g. Swansea, Gillingham, Huntingdon etc.).

Early subscribers can also expect to receive a dedicated G.fast modem (either supplied by Openreach or the ISP), which must then be connected to a router (similar to the early FTTC installs) and at present this is only offered via a Managed Engineer Install (i.e. an engineer will need to enter your property in order to complete the setup and also replace the Master Socket with a new NTE5C + appropriate faceplate).

Openreach tested a number of G.fast modems during their early trials, but unsurprisingly they’ve ended up picking the Huawei MT992 as their final device of choice (pictured below). Huawei’s hardware has a good history and BT already have an extensive relationship with the Chinese giant.

Openreach BT gfast modem huawei mt992

Eventually we’d expect Openreach to adopt a self-install method that doesn’t require an engineer to enter your home, but for now the engineer approach should help to ensure that users get the strongest quality of connection.

Self-installs are also better when you can buy routers with an integrated G.fast modem, but these have yet to emerge (give it a year). However a spokesperson for Openreach did inform us that they’re “also supporting a single integrated solution via CP modems/hubs that complete our conformance testing“, so they’re prepared for it. Elsewhere AVM has also told us that their G.fast supporting FRITZ!Box 7582 should surface around mid-2017 and Billion confirms that they’re working on one too (most likely Broadcom based in order to match BT’s approach).

Otherwise you can get a good idea of how the technology works by viewing this Broadband Technology page and our summary of Openreach’s G.fast technical details. In simple terms G.fast adopts an approach that is similar to VDSL2 based Fibre-to-the-Cabinet (FTTC), except nearly all of the initial deployment will be run from extension pods that are fixed to the side of existing PCP street cabinets (details). The more expensive FTTdp method (i.e. lots of smaller fibre-fed nodes positioned closer to homes) has, at least for now, been largely cast to one side; but it may still pop up in some areas.

gfast_cabinet_extension_pod
(Green PCP on Left / G.Fast Pod on Far Right)

G.fast also uses more spectrum than existing VDSL2 based “fibre broadband” services (106MHz vs just 17.66MHz for VDSL2) and it combines a lot of modern technologies in order to reduce the harm from interference, such as Vectoring, G.INP (Retransmission), Seamless Rate Adaptation (SRA), Fast Rate Adaptation (FRA) and various other improvements.

The main downside of G.fast is that the speed falls away much more sharply than existing technologies over distance (i.e. longer copper lines), which means that you’ll need to live within 200-300 metres of your local G.fast pod in order to get the best speeds and this will initially result in a lot of premises that won’t be able to receive the top speeds.

However Openreach are continuing to work on future improvements and it’s been stated that we could see the top achievable rate rise from 330Mbps to 500Mbps by 2025. In the meantime we’ll be keeping an eye out for Virgin Media to respond by launching a new 300Mbps and / or 350Mbps tier for their home broadband consumers (NOTE: Smaller Businesses and Home Workers can already get 300Mbps on Virgin Media).

Separately Openreach has also committed to deploy Gigabit-capable Fibre-to-the-Premise (FTTP) technology to 2 million UK premises by 2020. When combined with G.fast this means that BT’s roll-out of “ultrafast broadband” technology should have reached 500,000 premises by April 2017 and it will climb rapidly over the coming years.

The really big challenge will be whether or not the new service can attract consumers away from their existing FTTC / VDSL2 based packages, which is a particular problem if you can already get a good FTTC speed and aren’t attracted by the higher price of G.fast.

This is the investment challenge that a lot of operators’ often face and it’s especially true for G.fast, given that it will be deployed in areas where good FTTC performance should already exist. At the same time BT is under immense pressure to keep pace with some tough political and consumer expectations, as well as the growing challenge from Virgin Media and fibre optic altnets.

Standing still isn’t really an option for BT and G.fast is the most cost effective way for them to deliver an improvement, even if it won’t meet all of the expectations and might struggle to keep up with Virgin Media in the future. The differences may become even more pronounced if ISPs are forced to only promote “average speeds” (example), but it’s currently too early to know precisely where G.fast might sit on that front.

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65 Responses
  1. LYNDON

    The future looks good for those folks with a cabinet at their door step as for the rest, we can only hope for developments with long reach VDSL.

  2. Mark

    One of those g fast pods appeared next to the pcp cab at the entrance to my estate about 9 months ago and I did wonder what it was for but my area is not on the list for any trials ( Dalkeith, Midlothian area) so not sure why it’s been put there.

    • In the past Openreach have sometimes used an opportunity, such as a local repair or upgrade job, to add infrastructure for future services. It saves money but some work may still be required to complete the setup.

    • Declan

      Is that at the salters round about by any chance or at the primary school entrance am postive its just for extra lines and more fibre demand as they have recently put a another fibre cabinet across the road.

    • Mark

      It’s the entrance to st davids school

  3. jon

    there are also sidepods with no venting on the front to expand a pcp’s capacity, perhaps it was one of those?

  4. MikeW

    That “educated guess” at coverage reaching 60% (ie 17 million)…

    Is that guess purely for the G.Fast portion of the rollout, or the total of all their ultrafast kit?

  5. adslmax Real

    G.Fast Pod won’t be installing on every cabinets in UK. Only the trial pilot locations. So, don’t waste your time walking up and looking for PCP cabinet with G.Fast pod.

    I believed the G.Fast Pod will start roll out by 2020 for the rest of UL. Two years time.

    • Ignition

      You believe wrong and know better. BT have announced 10 million premises by 2020. You have read and commented on plenty of articles to this effect, going as far as blatantly lying about a member of BT staff telling you all your exchange would get G.fast in the next year or two. Deeper fibre G.fast may start in 2020.

      Also in case you missed it it’s 2017 – 2020 is 3 years away.

    • John

      Max, just move to York, everyone gets everything in York.

      People get 1Gbps/1Gbps for £20 a month less than I pay for 80/20 on the same company. As for time, 2020 will be here soon enough.

  6. Evie

    Seems obscene to be offering such speeds to those with credible service already. Here we struggle with 0.4mbs only.

    • eM

      Well g.fast relies on fibre being run to the cabinet – call it a better FTTC – so if your speed is 0,4 this means your cabinet’s not got fibre. Remember, it’s only a trial so BT want to get this technology right before they run a fibre to your cabinet only to find out it failed. So fair enough IMHO.

    • Chris P

      @eM
      FTTC = Fibre To The Cabinet with vdsl to the home.
      G.Fast is an upgrade to the vdsl to the home part with potential for moving the fibre closer to peoples homes like in ducts if phone poles, effectively moving the cabinet closer to peoples homes. Initially g.fast is cab based and will only help those who already have good FTTC speeds already.

  7. Bob H

    I’ve got decent connectivity, I’m happy with 100Mbit, even as a telecommunications professional I don’t really need more. I spoke to someone at Ofcom at a Christmas event who admitted a significant proportion of the population don’t care about ‘superfast’. BT and others should be focusing on the ‘have nots’ and not making things faster for the sake of keeping up.

    • Steve Jones

      BT are a commercial company responsible to shareholders. They have to respond to competition from other operators and do it in the most cost-effective manner. They have made a proposal for the 10mbps USO without any cost to public funds (the only operator to do so). However, there are limits – spending huge sums with a guaranteed loss (with the way the market is regulated) is not an option, whatever Ofcom might want. If Ofcom want a cross-subsidised service, then they will have to work out a way to do it, but if they insist on driving priced down in all areas by promoting competition in all areas at the lowest possible level, then it’s a recipe for have and have-nots.

    • GNewton

      @Steve Jones: As usual, your statement is a bit biased. You forgot to mention that BT is NOT a normal commercial company because it is (rightly so) limited by a number of regulations imposed upon it by Ofcom and the government. More importantly, it’s overall attitude and behaviour doesn’t much resemble that of a normal business either because of its long standing near-monopoly past. Commercially, its G.Fast plans will be a waste because it will be alongside existing VDSL, and sometimes other existing fibre or coax cable operators. The majority of users haven’t even chosen VDSL where available, why would it be different with G.Fast? May time for you to sell your BT shares?

    • Fastman

      its not in the pilot area

    • TheFacts

      @GN – your usual anti BT cut and paste. It’s getting boring, why not focus on the positive side of this?

    • GNewton

      @TheFacts: The truth can hurt, but better this than your your fanciful out of the world dreams of a government paid nationwide fibre! The current G.Fast based rollout plans don’t make much commercial sense in view of VDSL and other products with their given low take-up rates. It would have made more sense for fibre, or G.Fast, or VDSL to replace ADSL, not to become market niche addons. If not, do you really need G.Fast for your local high street travel agency?

  8. Robert Scriven

    The fast get faster and slow just stay where they are, great thinkining openreach.

    So much for pods on poles!

    • Steve Jones

      BT are a commercial company. For good or ill, the government and Ofcom have set the telecoms market up as a competitive one and in a competition-lead market, all operators will compete in the most promising areas. What do you suggest OR do? Just haemorrhage customers to VM and spend very large sums of money in remote areas with a guaranteed loss?

    • Robert Scriven

      I would say the people on say 3 to 25mb or 40mb are more likely to upgrade to upto 330 than people who can get 50-80mb.

      There are a lot of streets only 2-3 miles from towns with say 30-50 houses on that are stuck with slow speeds.

      How much does it cost to stick a pod half a mile from a cab to service a street?

    • Steve Jones

      What you are referring to is commonly called FTTrN (fibre to the remote node). As to how much does it cost, then the answer is a lot more than people might think. It has much of the costs of putting in a full cabinet (planning, clearing ducts, running fibre, putting in power) plus a few of its own – like some reorganisation of the copper, as there isn’t a convenient PCP that acts as a breakpoint. So it might have half or more of the costs of a full cabinet but with a fraction of the properties, so the costs per line go up and the returns down.

      A lot of the later phases of BDUK are picking up those 50-100 household settlements, but they are at the tail end of deployment as the targets have been set to maximise coverage as quickly as possible and as cheaply (per line) as possible. So they are very much at the tail end of the work, and anything that requires reorganisation of copper (which is often required when a new cabinet is put in when there’s no PCP) is slower and more labour intensive. That happens with EO lines, and it will happen in small hamlets slaved off PCPs in another location (as it is in the place where my brother lives).

      The deployment of g.fast into urban areas is a completely commercial issue. It doesn’t involve the BDUK process and it will be to avoid losing customers to VM especially. After all, we don’t exactly see VM rushing to spend large amounts of money on rural areas.

    • GNewton

      @Steve Jones: “What do you suggest OR do? Just haemorrhage customers to VM and spend very large sums of money in remote areas with a guaranteed loss?”

      BT already lost a significant number of customers to Virgin, and it won’t be able, by and large, to gain them back, because it simply has not an attractive alternative to offer, G.Fast won’t make much of a difference. It could invest more in non-Virgin areas, which would at least offer better takeup rates, but for the remote rural areas neither G.Fast nor VDSL is the right choice. BT has brought many of the problems upon themselves, it’s easy to criticise Ofcom or the government for this, but BT could have made more intelligent investment choices in the past. It’s all a bit too late now.

    • FibreFred

      Gnewton can you post up the customer migration between bt and Virgin over the past 5yrs? You said the bt losses were huge, I would be interested in seeing those figures. You do have them don’t you??

  9. DinoMC

    Shame that they’re not focusing on improving current line lengths for existing customers as part of this!

    I’ve got two bonded VDSL connections but the best I can get out of these is 42 and 43mb. No point in G.FAST here as my line is over 1km to the nearest cabinet. Would need a new cabinet to be commissioned or a pod on the nearest telegraph pole (50m away from my house) to get absolutely anything better 🙁

    • If G.Fast is commercially driven perhaps future BDUK funding will be aimed at increasing the UK’s fibre footprint? For example in the form of connection voucher schemes for FTTP etc.?

    • Steve Jones

      The state can, of course, decide on what it wants to do with public subsidies (within the limits of state aid rules). FTTP is, of course, a much better fit for rural areas than are cabinet solutions which is why there are higher proportions of FTTP in later phases (and some via altnets). However, it’s much more expensive to do and slower to rollout. Even if OR had the money to do it, a mass rollout of FTTP in fibre areas would take far too long to respond to competition whilst, crudely speaking, slapping a side cabinet onto an existing one is fast and relatively cheap.

    • Chris P

      @DinoMC

      You get at least 42mb from each 1km vdsl line and your complaining?

      If it’s for business and you need it pay for a leased line. Otherwise you have to put up with residential based services.

    • DinoMC

      @Chris P

      Yeah I do and I have to pay through the nose for it, £60 per line. But then most of that is towards the ISP (A&A) as at least they deal with the BS that BT tried to pull when installing it!

  10. Robert Scriven

    Thats it, the whole point of gfast was pods on poles, then they said it was from the cab, and everyone sighed!

    • MikeW

      Nope. The whole point of researching G.Fast was to push to the limits of “Omega DSL” (believed to be the last DSL ever possible).

      In pushing the limit, they discovered that
      a) They were achieving far better than they expected
      b) That it could go further … and this wasn’t going to be the last version

      Naturally, once they discovered just how much better it was, that changed all the other architectural assumptions that were being built around G.Fast.

      That, of course, is the point of research.

  11. Robert Scriven

    And we continue to pay £18.99 line rental a month! and £10-15 on top for slowband!

    • Steve Jones

      Only about £8.60 of that goes into the actual line. The rest is down to the retail operator and the government (over £3 of that cost is VAT).

      If its any consolation, even at £8.60, your line is probably a loss maker to OR. If you’ve a long rural line they represent more capital investment and cost a lot more to maintain.

    • gpmgroup

      Perhaps it’s a bit short sighted bundling “Free” (cough) evening & weekend calls if only only £8.60 is actually going towards infrastructure building and maintenance because £18.99 is likely to deter quite a few people from ordering new lines especially if they don’t want to make (m)any calls.

    • Steve Jones

      As it’s not OR selling the retail service (and they are debarred from having anything to do with it), then it’s not really their decision. Also, OR have precisely nothing to do with decisions of what call packages are included. Indeed, they don’t get any revenue from call traffic at all. The reason why retail CPs do these call bundles is, in a time of collapsing call revenues, to lock in some revenue.

      As far as the retail CPs go, their interest is in paying OR as little as possible. Witness that TalkTalk, Sky etc. are always lobbying to pay less. A couple of years ago TalkTalk also commissioned a report arguing that the wholesale cost of the OR’s GEA-FTTC product (which is used to deliver VDSL) should be halved.

      So don’t rely on retail CPs to incentivise OR to invest through any thought of increasing their own costs. It’s very much not what they want to do.

    • Peter

      Well you’d like to back to the days of the GPO as a public utility in the 1920’s…..errr not.

      Standard line rental then was for premises up to 1.5 miles from the exchange
      At that time line rental was £5pa.
      For those on longer lines you then paid an additional penal rate on top amounting to £8pa per every extra mile. (it was actually calculated as each additional furlong!)
      So if you were say 3 miles from the exchange you’d be paying just over 3 times the standard line rental amount.
      Happy days……

    • John

      I think pulse8 do it for about £6. so there are alternatives.

      Im thinking of changing because like everyone else I dont use a landline anymore!

  12. Lajos17

    I have Virginmedia 200Mbs connection, however I am not geeting 40Mbs after 3pm to 12pm.I see it as a very positive step that Virginmedia receives a competition on higher speed level as well, however I really like to see that BT helps people who leaves in the area where the speed not reaching the 10Mbs

  13. Phil

    That’s great if you can get it, I would be happy just to have a reliable broadband connect. We get 0.4 mbs – when it actually works.

  14. George Lloyd

    Pity they don’t help those who can’t get fibre at all like EO lines.

  15. Fastman

    George a number of community have also co funded their own cabs with Openreach and a number of those have been former EO lines where a new cab has been provided close to where they are

  16. John

    Please wake me up when there is NOT an article about the usual places – and where they actually want the 2nd class people of the UK to try it!

    I will sleep for a LONG time I am sure.

    • MikeW

      As it is a trial/pilot, you’d presume that BT have some questions they need answering … and have chosen locations that help that.

      It isn’t a trial for *you* (or me) to try things out.

  17. Steve

    Seems very odd but Opentrach have installed FTTC cabinets all across North Swindon to switch on FTTC by late February. No add on modules though. Would have been an ideal opportunity to equip the boxes for gfast

  18. Fastman

    the trial will be on existing VDSL areas where these is determined commercial demand for the higher speed service –it wont be where fibre is not already

  19. Plexis

    Do we have any rollout information yet? Like which cabinets in the trial area will be upgraded?

    • Openreach don’t tend to reveal cabinet level roll-out plans for commercial projects, they’ll usually just put out a general list of rough areas and dates. However I suspect that the current list of pilot areas will be the most you can expect until the commercial deployment begins.

      Mind you they may possibly update their coverage checker to reflect the area specific G.fast plans.

    • Plexis

      Hmm thats annoying, how are we supposed to know if we can order it.

    • Been told that Openreach will reveal more details about exactly where and when the service will be deployed shortly. We’ll see.

  20. TheFacts

    Some copper cabinets are being rewired to free up space for the G.Fast cabling. The additional ports will mean the FTTC cabinet is less likely to need expansion.

  21. aslam

    probably be a shambles like the vdsl which isn’t fast what we expect when old technology what they use .

  22. No Fibre for Me

    As far as taking part in the G.fast pilot, if you go here:
    https://www.homeandwork.openreach.co.uk/fibre-broadband/ultrafast-fibre/gfast.aspx
    and you are in one of the areas covered, click on the BT/TT logos to mail them and ask.
    Sure they will be looking for people interested to join in.

  23. Mark

    i’m in St Austell so i have contacted BT and Talk Talk, fingers crossed.

    Where i am located, there is FTTP availability in surrounding areas but not the exact building i live in. This has been an ongoing issue with Openreach for some time but nothing is moving forward and the management company of the building arent the best at sending out updates.

  24. Holger S.

    It is all great to increase speed however BT has a bigger issue on their hand. Most of their exchanges and backbone networks can’t even cope with VDSL2 lines right now. Come 6pm on weekends my 60/20 line goes to a fraction of that speed to a point that on demand services and Office VPNs start dropping out. I work in the industry and have raised this with Openreach engineers multiple times and their response was that their backbone capacity is way below to sustain decent throughput, especially on their larger DSLAM cabs. If BT increases Sync Speeds and throughput but not their overall backbone capacity this is all a pointless exercise for most of us. Lets be frank with all these on demand stuff happening, you need to have a decent sustained throughput to be able to use Sky Q, Netflix and the likes… especially when all goes towards 4k and even soon 8k streams.

    looking over the other side of the Pond, Deutsche Telekom for example have planned their network the other way around. massive backbone networks and even at peak times my parents still achieve a sustained 100/40 Mbit at all times at a very busy DSLAM.

    Just my 2 cents…

  25. Lee Robinson

    Reading some of these posts it appears the fast get faster and those lagging behind stay behind. Surely BT / BT Openreach can’t get away with this!!
    I’m part of the so called fast lane 27 Mb connection speed. Does this G.Fast system therefor mean no speed improvement if you are 800meters from the cabinet?

    Also is it true that if communities can club together to purchase and have installed a cabinet that is closer to their community BT will look to place one closer to that specific community at a cost?

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