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UPDATE BT Prep UK Fibre-to-the-Remote-Node FTTRN Broadband Trials

Sunday, March 23rd, 2014 (8:11 am) - Score 6,878
telegraph_pole_broadband_maintenance

The Superfast North Yorkshire project in England, which last week touted extra funding to help reach their 100% coverage target for BT’s “fibre broadband” (FTTC/P) network (here), now looks set to become the first UK county to trial the operators latest Fibre-to-the-Remote-Node (FTTRN) technology for even faster speeds.

Most people probably haven’t heard of FTTRN before and indeed it’s not a popular acronym for the technology being proposed, which holds more than a passing similarity to the Fibre-To-The-Distribution-Point (FTTdp) approach that we’ve reported on before. Ofcom wants BT to conduct a trial of FTTdp before the end of its 3-year Fixed Telecoms Market Review period and FTTRN might well be their answer.

According to SNY’s latest update document, which was spotted via way of a post on Thinkbroadband, BT’s proposed FTTRN service could eventually deliver speeds of above 25Mbps (Megabits per second) to 5,000 premises in the area, with the trial itself expected to involve a much smaller figure in the market town and civil parish area of Leyburn (Richmondshire).

In this update the FTTRN solution is described as being a variant of Fibre-to-the-Cabinet (FTTC) but using “small cabinets that can be attached to telegraph poles etc.” (you can explain FTTdp in a similar way). In theory this could, depending upon how it’s deployed, also shorten the run of copper cable between homes and the “remote node” to improve speeds (assuming they do take the fibre optic cable all the way to the node but they might not).

One other significant bonus extracted from the latest update is that we now have a better idea of how many premises in North Yorkshire’s roll-out plan will actually be able to receive “superfast” (25Mbps+) download speeds (4.2.1 below).

SNY Status Update – FTTRN Trial Plans

4.2 BT Proposal

4.2.1 Following lengthy negotiations with BT since October 2013, BT have now proposed that they will connect a further 17,700 premises delivering 11,100 premises above 25Mbs. For the Intervention Area this will see 97% (188,404) of premises connected to fibre broadband with 83% (161,044) above 25Mbs; this is equivalent to 89% in the combined IA and commercial areas. Because this additional spend with BT effectively reduces the cost to BT of fulfilling their USC obligation BT has released £2m (of the £5m referred to in paragraph 3.1.4 above) to augment the additional funding of £8m.

4.2.2 BT have indicated that within this funding envelope a further 5000 premises may be uplifted to above 25Mbs using Fibre to the Remote Node (FTTRN). FTTRN is a variant of Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC) but using small cabinets that can be attached to telegraph poles etc. This approach enables fibre to go deeper into rural areas, on a more cost effective basis, than otherwise would be the case using FTTC or FTTP. BT is still developing the FTTRN product in anticipation of it ‘solving’ their problem of getting fibre based broadband into more deeply rural areas.

4.2.3 If the FTTRN technology can be successfully deployed in North Yorkshire the further 5000 premises referred to would increase the above 25mbs coverage to 85% (166,044 premises) in the Intervention Area and 90% in the combined IA and commercial areas.

4.2.4 Because the FTTRN proposal is not substantive at this stage BT will, before 30 September 2014, confirm the number of premises that will receive above 25mbs from FTTRN/FTTC/FTTP under Phase 2.

4.2.5 SFNY will then have the option of either accepting the revised number of premises, or continuing the roll out of Phase 2 using FTTC/FTTP.

4.2.6 If SFNY choose to stop, no further payment is made to BT under the Phase 2 change request, and all other contractual obligations with respect to Phase 1 remain in place (including the USC obligation for properties with < 2mbs and the use of satellite technology being limited to 3895 premises)

4.2.7 Before 30 September 2014, BT will also confirm the additional number of >25mbs, and fibre connected, premises that could be reached, using the USC £3m, were SFNY to remove the cap on satellite provision for those not receiving 2mbs.

It’s noted that at this stage the council has not made any firm plans for the deployment of FTTRN, outside of the initial trial (assuming they green light that too), because they don’t yet know “whether FTTRN technology [is] effective“.

Naturally the use of FTTRN would attract a cost but it appears as if the scheme has found a way to handle it within the existing budget and serving 5,000 premises for the given amount (4.2.1/2 above) doesn’t seem too shabby, although it’s not cheap. “Once it was known whether FTTRN technology works, it could then be consolidated into the Phase 3 planning,” proposed council officer John Moore.

As we’ve said before, BT currently has no plans to roll-out a national Fibre-to-the-Home (FTTH) style network due to the lengthy timescales and high costs involved. But the idea of shortening their runs of existing copper cable via FTTdp / FTTRN technology and then using Vectored FTTC or G.fast (aka – FTTC2) to boost speeds is often seen as more attractive (no need to dig up your garden for it etc.),

However a complex web of nodes might also make BT’s network harder to maintain and even FTTRN / G.fast can still attract a sizeable deployment cost (albeit not the £20bn – £30bn needed for FTTH). But then that’s why you conduct real-world trials, to find the answers to such questions.

In theory a G.fast and FTTRN/dp combination could make mass market speeds of around 250Mbps plausible but it’s too early to say what BT’s approach will be and for now they’ll probably stick to FTTC’s headline rate of up to 80Mbps.

UPDATE 25th March 2014

One of our readers has noticed that the latest March 2014 newsletter for the Bedford Broadband project, which also covers Milton Keynes, has made a less specific mention of the new FTTRN technology; albeit as part of a trial under the Government’s new £10m fund. The relevant piece is as follows.

5. Technology Developments, Take Up and Other Routes to Greater Superfast Broadband Access

Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC), which then uses existing copper from the cabinet to premises is the main technology of the Borough’s current broadband plan. However, Fibre to the Premise (FTTP) can be requested (‘on demand’ though typically costly) and Fibre to the remote Node (FTTrN) is being developed (and may be tested further through an Innovation Fund project). Wireless is quite capable of delivering superfast broadband (see 3) and there are fast broadband options like satellite and, increasingly, 4G mobile.

Some of these options offer the prospect of reducing costs in the current broadband project, as would superfast take up greater than the 20% assumed and a reduction in the extent of activity required to achieve a Borough-wide minimum of basic broadband … everything therefore looks to point towards much greater superfast access than originally expected.

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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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