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BT FTTrN Superfast Broadband Tech Trial Goes Live in North Yorkshire

Monday, February 9th, 2015 (3:18 pm) - Score 6,071
telegraph pole rural broadband openreach engineer

After a small delay some 16 premises in the tiny North Yorkshire village of Ulshaw have become the first in Northern England to get access to superfast broadband (24Mbps+) speeds thanks to BT’s trial of a new broadband technology called Fibre-to-the-Remote-Node (FTTrN). Now if they could just get the power supply issues fixed.

As a quick recap, FTTrN is similar to BT’s existing ‘up to’ 80Mbps capable and VDSL based Fibre-to-the-Cabinet (FTTC) technology. But while FTTC takes a fibre optic cable from the telephone exchange to your local street cabinet (note: your existing copper line is used between the cabinet and homes), FTTrN sees the fibre optic cable being taken to a significantly smaller Remote Node (“mini fibre cabinets“) and these can be positioned on nearby telegraph poles or inside manholes even closer to homes etc.

The approach taken by FTTrN is ideal for situations where it might otherwise prove to be prohibitively expensive or too difficult to build the infrastructure for a new street cabinet or a pure fibre optic (FTTP) network. A network diagram for FTTrN is shown below, albeit edited slightly by us in order to make it fit.

fttrn network diagram v1 ispreview edited

It’s also possible to use this method in urban areas as a solution for tedious Exchange Only Lines (EOL). Several other trials, such as one in London, are already looking at addressing that problem.

Meanwhile the trial itself forms part of the wider state aid fuelled Superfast North Yorkshire project in England, which has already deployed BT’s “fibre broadband” (FTTC/P) services to around 90% of local premises.

An additional £8m is now being invested to push the deployment even further with the aim to make the technology available to another 11,100 homes and businesses across England’s largest rural county by 2017.

Paul Carlo, Senior Project Manager for Superfast North Yorkshire, said:

Using FTTrN was the ideal solution for Ulshaw. With such a small number of premises we couldn’t really justify the cost of building and installing one of our more common green fibre cabinets. Instead we have installed this node in an existing joint box and it will serve the whole village.

Customers’ premises are connected up to the fibre node in the same way as they would be to a green roadside cabinet, so there is no need for any special equipment in the home. The increase in speed and subsequent benefits are exactly the same.”

Luke Pearce, Local Resident of Ulshaw, said:

Without the remote node technology we and everyone else in the village would have been scuppered. For me the great advantage is the sheer bulk of things we can now do online at the same time without ever having to worry about the connection falling over. I have four children between the ages of five and 13 and they’re all pretty tech savvy. At any one time there’s a huge amount of streaming and downloading going on – everything from online music services to iPlayer and Netflix.”

The FTTrN approach looks like an excellent solution, although reaching this point hasn’t all been plain sailing. A council report published last year (here) stated that BTOpenreach were facing a “challenge … in terms of training engineers and ensuring continuity of power supply“. On top of that any plans for the wide scale deployment of FTTRN were delayed by up to a year, which is due in no small part to the cost of powering the trial (the trial uses the same power as would serve a cabinet with 200 premises or more).

At the time BT suggested that the solution was to find a way of aggregating multiple FTTRN nodes to a single power supply, but this is expected to take a bit longer and wouldn’t make it in time to benefit phase 2 of the local deployment. It’s likely that BT will test some solutions for this as part of their trial.

We should mention that FTTrN could, in theory, also adopt a different power approach that would suck electricity from local homes. But this has drawbacks in other respects and as yet we’ve not seen any firm plans to test related kit.

Separately another North Yorkshire village, Hirst Courtney, has just got access to 330Mbps FTTP.

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Mark Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he is also the founder of ISPreview since 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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14 Responses
  1. GNewton

    Now could this also be combined with new Fibre on Demand product? After all the FTTC mess installed in the UK, a (nearly) nationwide genuine Fibre-on-Demand from e.g. those remote nodes would make sense, wouldn’t it?

    • FTTdp you mean, which is slightly different from FTTrN and has so far only been trialled with G.fast. I suspect we will hear more about that in the future and Openreach claims to have further plans for FoD, but right now it’s too early to say. All of this stuff is in trial or due to be put through one. Give it time.

    • Steve Jones

      The answer is (in general) yes. At least by the time this gets to g.fast, which is the logical conclusion of hybrid fibre/copper solutions. Then it’s a matter of either installing a separate gpon splitter or (conceivably) a combined g.fast/gpon nod (I don’t see why that can’t be done).

      However, power provision to for FttDP is the key thing to solve. There are prototype circuits out there which aim to “leach” power from phone lines in a “fair” manner. This is clearly designed at “reverse power” (RP) solutions, but could, theoretically, be used for “forward power” (FP), although that power would have to come from a fairly local source. Given the gauge of the wire in use, useful power is going to be limited to perhaps 400m or so (and that’s using multiple lines).

      So if I was a telco, I’d be pestering suppliers to produce a combined gfast/gpon node with the ability to “leach” power off of multiple lines as well as suitable “RP” modems to be available for the customers’ premises.

      Of course there’s a serious problem with RP, and that’s not the principle. The problem arises where it’s necessary to have a minimum number of lines equipped with RP in order to power the node. That’s going to be difficult to achieve as it would require several lines on the DP to be so enabled at the same time.

    • GNewton

      @Steve Jones: I agree, the RP problem can be quite tricky. However, is this also an issue with a GPON splitter?

      The biggest issue is the UK has clearly taken the wrong approach with its FTTC philosophy, and the fact that there are multiple parallel access networks (ADSLx, VDSL, coax cable etc), and often with VDSL suffering from low takeups and therefore becoming often uneconomic to provide. At the same time, there is a genuine demand by many customers and businesses for fibre broadband (real ones, not hybrid fibre/copper). A decent and affordable nationwide Fibre on Demand product where the customer pays for the install, but where the monthly rental is then similar to native FTTP, is really needed and would offer somewhat a solution out of this mess.

    • Steve Jones

      RP is not an issue for GPON as it’s passive and doesn’t require any power at the node.

      As for FTTC being uneconomic, then hardly. Yes, it needs a minimum takeup level as the fixed costs are fairly high. However, once the break even point is reached (generally taken at 20%, but it does vary greatly by cabinet costs), then the marginal cost is low per extra connection.

      The issue with the fibre “big bang” approach is that the fixed costs are even higher (at least 5x that of FTTC for commercial roll-out). In consequence, you need very high levels of takeup. Short of making it compulsory (as in Jersey), then it’s difficult to see how that can be achieved in anything other than remote areas with unworkable broadband levels.

      In any event, FTCC can be rolled out much faster than FTTP. It may not be perfect, but it provides for an incremental approach which puches fibre further into the network.

    • MikeW

      “could this also be combined with new Fibre on Demand product?”

      I imagine the properties fed by the FTTRN node do indeed meet the current qualification criteria for FoD.

      However, whether the existence of an FTTRN node actually makes it cheaper or easier to supply FoD is hard to say.

      We know that FoD is meant to be fed from the nearest suitable aggregation node using GPON, and requires at least one splitter node, a fibre distribution point, and a manifold to exist in the route.

      It isn’t clear what kind of fibre feeds the FTTRN node, and how it gets there. I can think of a few details that might make a difference:

      – If a new aggregation node is added (ie extending the spine), then this would make FoD cheaper, as there would be less distance to cover.
      – If the RN node is fed by GPON fibre, it likely means that “the right kind of fibre” has been deployed to the site, making it easier to add FoD premises to be built from the splitter and DP nodes that would already exist.
      – If the RN node is fed by PtP fibre from the aggregation node, like the existing cabinets, this doesn’t necessarily bring all the hardware necessary for GPON FoD. The fibre gets out there, but not necessarily the splitter nodes needed for GPON.
      – If the RN node is fed by PtP fibre as a child of the existing cabinet, again there may be a lack of suitable hardware.

      We know that the Aggregation Nodes are designed for the spine, and route both PtP and GPON fibre. It isn’t clear whether the splitter nodes and DPs (used for GPON) will also allow for transit of PtP.

  2. New_Londoner

    @GNewton
    “…there is a genuine demand by many customers and businesses for fibre broadband (real ones, not hybrid fibre/copper).”

    Where is the evidence to back this up? If you believe takeup of FTTC services is low, from what I hear from those offering FTTP, takeup of any of the speed options that actually need FTTP is minuscule. It makes a lot of sense to offer FTTC and then upgrade in increments to meet demand, otherwise most would be waiting many years for any sort of advance on ADSL.

    • No Clue

      “…most would be waiting many years for any sort of advance on ADSL.”

      Most have been waiting well over 10 years. Trials of ADSL by BT started in the UK in 1998 and it went commercial in 2000.

      I suspect if history is anything to go by FTTC we will also be stuck with for 10+ years and any trials like this will be 2+years.

    • MikeW

      TBB, in their report on Hyperoptic, are reporting that native FTTP is available to 170k premises, and 25k have taken some sort of service.

      I make that a take-up of nearly 15% – bang in line with the take-up of FTTC.

      No breakdown of the service level for those 25k properties, but I recall previous reports say that the preference is for the entry-level products. Just as with FTTC.

    • gerarda

      Many have been waiting many years for any sort of ADSL

    • No Clue

      “TBB, in their report on Hyperoptic, are reporting that native FTTP is available to 170k premises, and 25k have taken some sort of service.

      I make that a take-up of nearly 15% – bang in line with the take-up of FTTC.

      No breakdown of the service level for those 25k properties, but I recall previous reports say that the preference is for the entry-level products. Just as with FTTC.”

      Super impressive then, even more so when they get that same percent of subs without a single national TV advertising campaign, adverts every day in national newspapers, company shills on websites like this trying to pimp their product, government funds or the worst of all a government paid for TV campaign.

      If only some others could had managed that saved a few more billion and spent that on FTTP…….. No names as to who i mean needed LOL

    • X66yh

      @No clue
      Hyperoptic would have been running highly targeted advertising directed at their proposed installed base.
      Indeed the places which HO target would be chosen PRECISELY because of the likelyhood that the sign up rate to them would be high.
      So that will be lots of leaflets and posters in the apartments plus local champions chosen to pump out the message to their fellow residents, open days, meetings with the residents, discussions with owners and apartment management companies etc.

      This is all quite different from a national advertising campaign

      In fact you could argue that HO’s takeup rate mentioned of 15% is actually very low for the circumstances – they should be seeing in excess of 30% like Gigaclear.
      Possibly this is why HO were running ‘money off/cheap deals’ a month or so ago…….

    • No Clue

      Nope that cant be how they reach the same percent take up either. The same other organisation i mention which does national TV advertising campaign, adverts every day in national newspapers, has company shills on websites like this trying to pimp their product, government funds and a government paid for TV campaign.

      IN ADDITION puts posters up and delivers regular junk snail mail when their “fibre” products are available in the local area also….. NOPE Try again.

      Unless of course you agree Hyperoptic spend less and achieve the same result.

      “In fact you could argue that HO’s takeup rate mentioned of 15% is actually very low for the circumstances – they should be seeing in excess of 30% like Gigaclear.
      Possibly this is why HO were running ‘money off/cheap deals’ a month or so ago…….”

      LMFAO no dount the same reason the same company with no name needed above has also just lobbed £5 per month off their “fibre” service eh LOL

  3. Tony

    I live in Hirst Courtney and have 11 orders cancelled so far. the latest I’ve been told is that FTTP is no longer available to us despite neighbours up and downstream from us connected and the connection node right behind my house. My neighbour and also some others are also experiencing this. BT’s Executive Level Complaints department are currently looking into this but I’m not hopeful. We’ve been treated very poorly to say the least.

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