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BT Trials Wireless-to-the-Cabinet VDSL Broadband in the Village of Westow

Tuesday, February 10th, 2015 (8:31 am) - Score 4,652

BT has launched another trial of their VDSL2 based ‘up to’ 80Mbps Wireless-to-the-Cabinet (WTTC) broadband technology, this time via the small village of Westow that sits on the edge of the North Yorkshire Moors in England.

The latest trial is arguably all part of the battle to secure public funding to help connect the final 5% of the United Kingdom to superfast broadband (24Mbps+) speeds. The former Secretary of State, Maria Miller MP, once said, “We want to get to the last 5%, but the back-of-the-envelope cost is huge – literally in the billions of pounds – so let’s do some research before we go back to the Treasury to say what it is likely to cost.”

So far the Government has worked on this front by establishing a £10m Innovation Fund, which in responding to criticism of BT’s dominance in the Broadband Delivery UK programme initially featured 8 non-BT pilot projects (reduced to 7 for the deployment phase). But that doesn’t mean to say that BT itself isn’t busy promoting their own alternative solutions for the same areas (e.g. FTTP, FTTrN etc.), perhaps in the hope of getting a slice of any future funding.

One such solution is WTTC, which over the past two years has also been deployed to the remote island of Rathlin (here) and the Devon village of Northlew (here), with the Gloucestershire village of Hardwicke also likely to benefit. Now BT appears to be showing some confidence in their solution by also bringing it to 136 homes and businesses in Westow.

microwave wireless to the cabinet

In a normal FTTC (VDSL2) setup BT runs a fibre optic cable from a telephone exchange to your local street cabinet and then uses VDSL technology over the existing copper cable (between cabinets and homes) to deliver the broadband. As the name suggests, WTTC works in a similar way except the fibre optic line is replaced by a line-of-sight style point-to-point Microwave wireless radio link for its capacity supply.

Helen Yarrow, BT Project Manager, said:

Using microwave radio was the ideal solution for Westow as we knew that it wouldn’t be viable to lay a fibre optic cable to such a small and remote community. When we surveyed the village we realised that trying to lay fibre cables in the ground would not have been cost-effective – given the terrain and lack of existing infrastructure between the exchange and the fibre broadband cabinet.

Laying cable would also have meant having to close off a single track road for a prolonged period, which would have caused considerable disruption for villagers, who would have had to make a lengthy diversion.”

As usual the latest WTTC deployment required Openreach (BT) engineers to install a small “football sized transmitter dish” at the top of a specially built 12 metre high wooden pole, which resides in the grounds of the local telephone exchange building at Whitwell Hill. The receiving antenna was then erected on another pole situated 3 kilometres away in Westow (previous trials have been conducted over a slightly longer distance), which usually sits right next to a street cabinet.

It’s an interesting solution, although as usual BT’s commercial confidentiality means that we have no idea how the costs of taking this approach would practically compare with doing FTTC, FTTP or FTTrN etc. for the same area. Clearly BT see it as a cheaper solution, but how much cheaper we do not know.

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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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