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UK Broadband Moots Hybrid FTTC and Fixed Wireless to Solve Rural Divide

Thursday, September 13th, 2012 (9:15 am) - Score 1,140

The boss of UK Broadband, sibling of Hong Kong telecoms giant PCCW, has called upon the government and telecoms operators to adopt a more “joined-up” network design to achieve their superfast broadband goals and suggested that we should be aiming to deliver download speeds of “at least 30Mbps” (same as the EU target for 2020).

Earlier this year UK Broadband, which is the largest holder of national radio spectrum suitable for fixed 4G based wireless solutions (3.5GHz and 3.6GHz), became one of the first to switch on a commercial TD-LTE (4G) network and has most recently expanded into Swindon (here). We note that the 3.5GHz band tends to work best in low mobility environments (e.g. local fixed wireless services).

Nicholas James, CEO of UK Broadband, told this week’s Westminster eForum (Broadband Britain Seminar) event that one potential solution to the country’s broadband woes would be to stick their own fixed wireless kit at the limit of where BT’s new Fibre-to-the-Cabinet (FTTC) supporting street cabinets could reach. This, he claims, would make faster broadband connectivity available at up to an additional “15km from the base station“.

Nicholas James said (Computing):

Where we can afford fibre to the home, let’s deploy FTTC – temporarily, until the economics say it’s worth building permanent fibre – and use fixed wireless where the cabinet runs out; in effect, by dropping base stations as rural cabinets. Wireless can be deployed quickly – you don’t need to dig up roads and fields, and it allows rapid market coverage.

We need to look at specific areas and decide where fibre in the home makes sense today, where FTTC makes sense, in terms of subsidising things further, and then how [we can] deploy wireless to fill in the rest.”

It’s an interesting idea but achieving “guaranteed speeds” of at least 30Mbps at the end of an FTTC cabinets reach would be quite challenging, not to mention BT’s general reluctance to share any “commercial sensitive” details about their cabinet locations. However James remains adamant that, under ideal circumstances, their service could “deliver 45Mbps up to 7km from the base station” and 30Mbps at around 9km.

The problem here is that, in an FTTC setup, the fibre optic cable only runs so far as the street cabinet. Meanwhile the “last mile” connectivity into homes and businesses is usually handled by VDSL technology over the existing copper cable, which is a distance dependent technology.

In other words the currently stated top speeds of 80Mbps soon start to fall away after 400 metres or so from the cabinet. Line bonding and future vectoring might be able to help but suffice to say that it would be more of a challenge than simply “dropping base stations” in at the end of FTTC’s reach, where speeds would be at their lowest.

On the other hand James’s remarks seem open to interpretation. He could easily also mean putting the base station on top of the FTTC cabinet itself, although the government are less likely to fund a solution that would threaten duplication of an existing service.

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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7 Responses
  1. Michael says:

    Slightly confused by this article.

    The idea and reality of placing a “base station cabinet” next to an FTTC Cabinet already exists. With those customers who are close enogh to get good service on VDSL2 and those that aren’t get a wireless service over a multipoint or point to point link. This has been done around the world using a range of frequencies, mostly using WiMax kit.
    I also believe this to be the BT Architecture for using whitespace if the trials go well.

    Critical question as usual is who’s business case works for this hybrid service delivery approach.

  2. What 3G? says:

    Why would it be “quite challenging to deliver 30Mbps at the end of a FTTC cabinet” rather than anywhere else, that doesn’t make sense? No matter where a BTS is located, assuming it has a fibre feed with a CDR of at least 30Mbps, then UKB should be able to deliver 30Mbps over wireless to at least a 5km radius (terrain permitting). This has been achieved many times over around the world, using both TD-LTE and WiMAX.

  3. Mark Jackson says:

    Mr James talked about placing “fixed wireless where the cabinet runs out”, which doesn’t necessarily mean at the cabinet itself but could mean where the service runs out of reach (i.e. at the extremes of FTTC coverage where the service is no longer available). On this point James has sadly left his comments somewhat open to interpretation.

    Meanwhile BT would perhaps rather use White Space tech for the task, unless it picks up some of its own 4G of course. They’re less likely to share cabinet data with UKB. By contrast the government prefer not to fund solutions that result in duplication (excluding Wales), so they’re unlikely to put money into a solution that would also be available where FTTC exists already.

    1. DTMark says:

      This is what makes me particularly interested in seeing the tender specifics for the various counties, because this is far from an urban vs rural issue, bearing in mind that FTTC “runs out” by just 2km and is pretty well useless for superfast broadband much beyond 1km, in some instances, even less than that.

      Have the local councils been secuded by a solution with the word “fibre” in it, and simply signed away taxpayers money for a one-size-fits-all solution that is actually no solution in terms of the reference goals for the project, or actually, has the careful and necessary planning been done to actually ensure superfast coverage by, for instance, including Wi-Fi where needed if the compromise that is FTTC is to be part of the overall solution?

      For rurals, though, anywhere with low population density, Wi-Fi has to be the answer. By this point in the BDUK project I’d have thought we’d be hearing about widespread Wi-Fi deployments to achieve the goals.

  4. tony says:

    Theres hope for rural locations like Darragh Cross County Down northern Ireland Fttc 3 miles away and we are stuck with sub 1meg!

  5. PhilT says:

    It could make sense to use a modest length VDSL2 feed to a wireless base station, in order to get the wireless in the right place – if the cabinet was in a dip or surrounded by trees for example.

  6. Seppi says:

    Why not install at the exchange? No need to run fibre, power and a ready made building with all the right connections available.

    I’m about 6 miles (line of sight) to my local exchange, but over a mile to the cabinet which is not on the rollout schedules for FFTC. Even if the cabinet were enabled I would still get considerable faster speeds using fixed wireless.

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