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

Thursday, Sep 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.

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 X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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