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UPDATE BT Confirm UK Plan to Trial 1Gbps G.Fast and FTTdp Broadband

Monday, October 21st, 2013 (1:26 pm) - Score 4,050

BT Group has quietly confirmed that it plans to trial the next generation G.Fast (aka – FTTC2) broadband solution alongside another future enhancement – Fibre-to-the-Distribution-Point (FTTdp) – at its Adastral Park R&D facility near Ipswich in Suffolk (England).

The G.Fast (ITU G.9700) technology is a potential successor to FTTC (VDSL2) and one that alongside other enhancements, such as VDSL Vectoring to reduce interference (currently in trial), could potentially deliver top theoretical Internet download speeds of 1000Mbps (Megabits per second). Some recent tests performed by Alcatel-Lucent were very promising (here).

However the G.Fast specification isn’t due to be finalised until early 2014 (here) and in order to get the best speeds BT would need to find a way of shortening the copper run between street cabinets and homes (i.e. it works best over very short distances), which is what Fibre-to-the-Distribution-Point (FTTdp) is intended to do (read our FTTdp preview article).

Earlier this year Ofcom suggested that it might be wise for BT to run an FTTdp pilot before its telecoms market review period had ended, although during the summer a spokesperson for BTOpenreach informed ISPreview.co.uk that it didn’t have any formal plans for a trial of FTTdp technology. But this stance appears to have changed.

According to Huawei, BT will now trial G.Fast alongside FTTdp. A few tentative details about the “field trial“, which will be conducted using kit from Huawei Technologies, were revealed during the recent ECOC Exhibition in London (Europe’s largest Conference and Exhibition on Optical Communications).

It’s understood that G.Fast line cards will be deployed in underground distribution points (i.e. these are often installed underneath pavements) at the facility, which Huawei claims could deliver top 1Gbps download speeds over copper runs of up to 100 metres (though the technology can work well up to 250m). Apparently BT’s UK network currently has 4 million distribution points that are said to be suitable for a related FTTdp roll-out.

The development, if successful, might delay the need for a full ultrafast fibre optic (FTTH/P) roll-out to every home, which is something that in the much longer term could become inevitable. But no firm dates for the closed technical trial have been released and it’s unlikely to take place before mid-2014 due to the on-going Vectoring trial, which would need to be completed and then analysed first before proceeding to test G.Fast. Similarly the G.Fast standard must first be finalised.

Tim Whitley, MD of BT’s R&D Division, said:

The G.FAST trial has the potential to demonstrate how ultrafast bandwidth access may be more efficiently delivered to consumers and businesses. We will be observing the results of the trial with interest to see whether G.FAST technology could play a role in ensuring BT has the best network in the short, medium and long term..”

Mr. Gao Ji, Huawei Chief Strategy Officer (EU), said:

Copper wires remain an important resource to telecom carriers and are assets that have yet to be fully exploited. By utilising new copper wire technologies, such as Vectoring and G.FAST, carriers can make more efficient use of their resources and quickly implement bandwidth strategies, helping to achieve commercial success. Huawei will continue to invest in copper wire technology and plans to lead further innovations in this area.”

However G.Fast and FTTdp, while more affordable than a national FTTH/P network, would not be a cheap upgrade. On the other hand ISPreview.co.uk is aware of several innovations, some of which we’ll be writing about very soon, that could slash the costs of FTTdp and thus make both upgrades more viable. But ordinary consumers are unlikely to see the end product for several years, assuming it passes all of the tests and that’s often easier said than done.

As a side note we should say that BT has been playing with the preliminary G.Fast spec in limited lab trials for a while, although the field trial will be quite a step up from that.

UPDATE 2:46pm

Added some comments from the official PR.

Leave a Comment
28 Responses
  1. TheFacts says:

    The IET Innovation Awards 2013 – Shortlist includes:

    Delivering 1Gbps to the Home Using Fibre to the DP
    BT plc
    Fibre to the distribution point (FTTDP) provides the ultimate in xDSL access where speeds of up to 1Gbps can be achieved (i.e. is equivalent to that of optical fibre) but where the installation cost is significantly cheaper.

  2. Anoyed Tax Payer says:

    After reading many articles about FTTdp, I still don’t see how it makes sense to implement it over full FTTP. In order for FTTdp to work efficiently the cable run should be less than 100m, well if that’s the case how does that make it more cost effective when a phone line is about 500m from the cabinet, that’s still 400m of fibre that needs to be installed to get FTTdp to work??? Can it be that much difference in cost between 500 and 400m of fibre?

    The quicker BT realize that putting off full fibre is going to cost more in the long run the better, yes full fibre is going to take a lot of money, but the sooner it’s started the sooner it’s finished.

    1. FibreFred says:

      Its probably not the cost difference in the fibre length itself I imagine its cheaper as you don’t have to visit the premise and one fibre run to a DP can serve multiple properties

    2. Anoyed Tax Payer says:

      As FTTdp needs a very short run, I can’t see the DP’s covering many properties and there is the cost of the installation of the line cards/mini DSLAM’s

    3. Ignitionnet says:

      It’s the savings of not having to install the fibre drop that this technology provides.

    4. MikeW says:

      Perhaps the difference in cost is that it is only one installation of 400 metres, rather than 8 individual installations of 500 metres.

      The averages suggest that a DP represents 7-8 properties (4 million DPs, and 28 million properties). This ties in with the sizes used by an FTTP manifold (which would be sited where a DP would) of either 7 or 12 drop positions.

      There is also no need to arrange the 8 separate installation appointments, which appears to be an expensive business… Have you heard of the concept of “FTTW”?

      W=Wall, and means that the fibre extends to the outside wall of a property, where electronics would be installed to convert back to copper – leaving the copper to enter the building. This is proposed as a way to rollout fibre without the need for appointments to enter each property.

      I have seen mention of FTTW because it is roughly the same price to rollout as FTTH: the added cost of organising appointments turns out to be equivalent to the cost of installing an extra DSLAM-like box of tricks at every subscriber.

      As FTTdp means installation of 10% of the fibre and either 12% of the electronics (when compared with FTTW) or 0% of the appointments (compared with FTTH), you can certainly see there will be cost savings.

      But will they be enough of a saving to be worthwhile? Will the gain be worthwhile in a UK environment? I guess the aim of the trial is to inform BT of exactly these things.

    5. FibreFred says:

      @Anoyed Tax Payer

      I read the DP being the pole or a pavement chamber, our pole serves about 20 properties so it would be worthwhile.

    6. Anoyed Tax Payer says:

      I’m curious to know what distance the pole covers in order that it provides to around 20 properties? It would be interesting to know this to see if BT would consider this as a viable DP point or not.

      Where I live all the lines are in ducting underground and my nearest DP covers about 3-4 properties. I would also imagine that the number of properties would be lower in somewhere like a rural area to.

    7. FibreFred says:

      Right yeah you must be similar to a new estate near me, they are using chambers and I can imagine each probably serves about 4 or 5 properties based on the spacing.

      Our pole is on the corner of a cul-de-sac so it serves the properties up to the end of the cul-de-sac (about 60m away) and then some around closer to the pole on the bend. 23 cables in total

  3. JNeuhoff says:

    “But ordinary consumers are unlikely to see the end product for several years, assuming it passes all of the tests and that’s often easier said than done”

    This says it all! Copper VDSL is already an obsolete technology today, let alone in several year’s time. G.Fast, crosstalk reductions, etc may buy some time before the unavoidable introduction of fibre broadband. Give users the option to order an appropriate fibre-on-demand product now, everywhere, and stop wasting taxpayer’s money subsidising copper VDSL. Almost every exchange already has a fibre-backbone, if leased lines can be installed almost everywhere, so could a contented fibre broadband at similar distance setup costs.

    1. FibreFred says:

      This isnt VDSL its G.Fast

    2. Ignitionnet says:

      Do you have the cash for the set up charges for a leased line?

      Most people don’t.

    3. MikeW says:

      I also find it interesting that FTTdp is castigated as old obsolete technology that should be discarded before it is even evaluated.

      Lots of people laud the business of Hyperoptic, who are currently bringing gigabit speeds to blocks of flats and apartments. Their technical model? FTTB combined with gigabit ethernet carried on copper from the basement to the flat.

      Why is gigabit over ethernet any different from the gigabit offered over G.fast?

    4. FibreFred says:

      Because it contains copper Mike, some hate anything with the word copper in it 🙂

    5. MikeW says:

      Ironic too that in FTTP as it is being deployed in the UK, one single GPON serving 32 properties will share 2.4Gbps.

      That’s a mere 75Mbps each, if everyone used it to the max at the same time. Our poor old obsolete copper will manage that under FTTC (with the addition of vectoring) to 50% of people. FTTdp is likely to offer more than this.

      People who just intrinsically hate copper fail to realise what an asset we have buried at our feet, and just how much capacity is distributed throughout the country. Failing to make the best use of it is economically criminal – with the usual proviso that “best use” doesn’t equate to the most distant, likely rural, users.

    6. TheFacts says:

      Reality is people don’t all max at the same time, it’s called network design.

  4. MikeW says:

    There is a very good reason that BT are likely to follow the FTTdp path, which is the same reason that they followed FTTC: Economics.

    I’m not just talking about the total cost to install FTTH (around £1,500 per property).

    What I’m talking about is how much an operator is willing to invest in new technology for a line (or property) when he isn’t assured of future income from that investment.

    Without an assurance of monopoly conditions, an operator needs to recoup his investment quite quickly – in case the subscriber leaves for an alternative provider. That requirement limits the investment down to (apparently) around the £300 level, for investment in some new technical leap.

    Therefore we will get widespread FTTH when it becomes a £300 increment on top of the technology that exists at the time, or maybe a slightly higher amount if Ofcom allows longer contract lengths.

    Three years ago, FTTP was touted at being £1500 per home, based on the old copper topology.

    Now, FTTP could be nearer £1000 per home with FoD and a three-year tie in – simply because the first portion of fibre has been effectively installed with the FTTC rollout.

    It wouldn’t surprise me to find that we need one more step before FTTP becomes an affordable increment – and that FTTdp is likely to be the tool to provide that step.

    I also reckon that FTTdp could be offered/installed in the same fashion as FoD, but at a cheaper level.

    What would you do if you lived in an FTTC area, and were offered Vectored-FTTC at 100Mbps for £50 install, 400Mbps FTTdp-on-demand for £500, or FTTP-on-demand for an install cost of £1500?

    1. FibreFred says:

      Very interesting and yes I can see the sense in this.

    2. Ignitionnet says:

      All we need now is for Openreach to actually make such things available to the masses rather than demanding a 3 year, 330Mb/30Mb contract using the data-only product variant that ends up with a 3-figure per year retail price.

    3. Ignitionnet says:

      Or 3-figures per month. It’s early.

    4. MikeW says:

      I agree Ignitionnet.

      Most high-tech introductions attempt to fleece the early adopters, with prices reducing as mass-market appeal increases.

      Some suppliers keep these early prices high for longer as either a part of appearing exclusive (Apple springs to mind), or as a way to restrict demand because they can only service limited numbers (mobile phones, back in the early Nineties, were this way).

      For FoD, perhaps enhanced with FTTdp, I think BT have to act like the latter case.

      I suspect that BT have something like a 20 year plan for FTTP to eradicate copper, so they obviously don’t want to attract too much conversion work in year 1. Setting the price too low, too fast, would erode the payback of the FTTC cabinets too.

      I’m sure BT’s prices will come down over time, as the early adopters are pulled in, as the underlying infrastructure gradually grows, and as BT’s engineers gain experience. If I’m right with the 20 years, then expect the FoD install cost to come down by £50 per year.

    5. Mike Baker says:

      As someone who lives in a rural area, and receives at present 1.5 meg’s over a 3.4 mile runfrom the exchange, I will not receive much of a speed boost when we get FTTC in 18 months time under the BDUK programme, because the cabinet is only 0.9 of a mile from the exchange, still leaving 2.4 miles of copper to the DTP, so I would definatly pay £500 to get Fibre to our DP in the centre of the village. This technology if it ever become a proven technology, I believe, is the best we can hope for in the next ten years, whereas FTTP because of it’s complex difficulties in deploying it, remains just a pipedream.

    1. MikeW says:

      A really interesting way to refactor the copper architecture.

      There are a few problems in implementing it in a mature network – mainly that you have to refactor the entire network, chunk-by-chunk. Every house needs to take part in the process, even if they don’t want to pay for superfast broadband – or even don’t want it at all. Each house will need an appointment as part of the process. The copper paths back to the exchange, for POTS, will no longer exist – so there will be problems related to emergency call access.

      All of these things *are* solvable, but you shouldn’t under-estimate how conservative BT are when it comes to keeping emergency call access available 99.999% of the time. It means any new entrant that wants to introduce new tech in this arena (the plain old telephone system) has to demonstrate comparable reliability – things such as dual-processor hardware, with automatic failure detection, switchover and recovery, while calls in progress continue without being dropped.

  5. Chris Conder says:

    BT want to keep everyone on phone lines because they get the line rental on top. Most people use mobiles now, they wouldn’t miss a landline connection. They often don’t use it apart from broadband.
    If they can pull this off then that’s the country shafted for another decade. The phone network was never designed to deliver this sort of service, and its going to cost a great deal of money to keep patching it up in this way. Bit like putting a jet engine up the ass of a donkey.
    Its time to recycle the copper. Get fibre to the masts. Get fibre to the businesses and homes who can’t get broadband now, and then start to bring it to all in the cities. Start at the hard bits first, where people need it most. Government intervention is needed because its not economic for the telcos as they have such large overheads. It is much cheaper to fund altnets who are more agile and don’t have £9million payouts for ex executives to find.

    1. FibreFred says:

      “Pull this off”

      So if they can get the same speeds as fibre for less cost that’s a bad thing? You truly truly are misguided Chris.

      This isn’t about patching things up its about making the most of existing assets it is what all of the telcos around the world are doing not just in this country

      All we ever see if waffle like ” Get fibre to the businesses and homes who can’t get broadband now, and then start to bring it to all in the cities. ” with nothing behind it, no talk of how or who pays and when your asked to provide more info you toddle off until we see another set of sound bites that mean nothing

      Why would we fund altnets? altnets that are going bust, altnets that start rolling out networks and due to poor planning run out of money and have to put their plans on hold hoping for more money?

      The “phone network” you speak of doesn’t exist like it did in the past, all that’s left of my “phone network” is 500m of copper, the rest isn’t a “phone network” its now a network that carries data/voice and probably soon tv.

      Your so hung up on fibre but pay no interest to costs, if you take the same approach with farming I’m not surprised farming can’t support itself…

    2. Ignitionnet says:

      ‘BT want to keep everyone on phone lines because they get the line rental on top. Most people use mobiles now, they wouldn’t miss a landline connection. They often don’t use it apart from broadband.’


      ‘If they can pull this off then that’s the country shafted for another decade. The phone network was never designed to deliver this sort of service, and its going to cost a great deal of money to keep patching it up in this way. Bit like putting a jet engine up the ass of a donkey.’

      Nope. FTTDP is essentially FTTB. I don’t see you ranting at Hyperoptic over their use of copper for the drop. It is in no way detrimental to the performance of the service that it has a short run of copper in it. FTTB or FTTDP both can deliver GigE to a premises. Who cares whether it comes over fibre, copper or smoke signals?

      ‘Get fibre to the masts.’

      It’s already there.

      ‘Get fibre to the businesses and homes who can’t get broadband now, and then start to bring it to all in the cities. Start at the hard bits first, where people need it most.’

      Absurd. Spending 5-15k per premises passed isn’t feasible. There is a very good reason why Hyperoptic deploy to apartment blocks and nothing else right now.

      ‘Government intervention is needed because its not economic for the telcos as they have such large overheads.’

      Right, because clearly b4rn can match BT’s economies of scale. You are familiar with economies of scale, right?

      ‘It is much cheaper to fund altnets who are more agile and don’t have £9million payouts for ex executives to find.’

      The last project involving altnet supplied FTTP didn’t go so well. Those lovely people are I believe using Openreach FTTC now.

    3. TheFacts says:

      Guess who said “Its all a scam to make sure BT protect their monopoly. Be sure their sins will find them out.”.

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