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UPDATE2 BT Confirm Third 500Mb UK G.fast Broadband Pilot Set for Swansea

Monday, April 20th, 2015 (7:36 pm) - Score 7,853
copper and fibre optic hybrid broadband cables uk

Earlier this year BT announced a decade long deployment plan for their next generation G.fast (ITU G.9701) broadband technology (details), which will begin in 2016/17 and should eventually make download speeds of ‘up to’ 500Mbps available to “most homes” across the United Kingdom.

As a quick recap, G.fast works in a loosely similar way to the operators current ‘up to’ 80Mbps Fibre-to-the-Cabinet (FTTC) technology, except that it requires significantly more radio spectrum (FTTC = 17MHz vs G.fast 106MHz+) and must thus operate over a much shorter run of copper cable (ideally less than 200 metres).

Due to this the high capacity fibre optic line has to be taken even closer to homes, usually as far as a smaller remote node or distribution point (FTTdp / FTTrN) that can be built on top of a telegraph pole, inside a street cabinet or possibly even put underground.

In an ideal setup it’s predicted that a home with a G.fast node right outside, and no existing VDSL2 (FTTC) services to gobble part of the shared spectrum, might be able to achieve top speeds of approaching 1000Mbps; although BT has wisely avoided promising such performance (even if they could deliver it, the capacity demands might be a problem).

g.fast broadband bt network diagram

BT had originally announced that its commercial roll-out would be proceeded by two Summer 2015 pilots, one in Huntingdon (Cambridgeshire) and another in Gosforth (Newcastle). Each of these would involve around 2,000 premises (total of 4,000).

However today also saw BT’s Chief Network Architect, Neil McRae, give a speech at the UK Network Operators Forum (UKNOF) in Manchester, where he released a few slivers of new information to the public.

The speech included the above diagram and a few details about another “Early Technical Trial” that the operator had conducted (see below for a useful overview of BT’s deployment strategy), which suggested that initially you’ll probably have to live within around 50 metres of a G.fast distribution point in order to receive 500Mbps. All of this in roughly in keeping with what we already know from BT’s even earlier prototype trial (details here and here).

gfast broadband bt early trial

But the most interesting bit of information to come out of Neil’s speech was that the operator now plans for a third trial to take place during the summer, which will be conducted somewhere in the city of Swansea (Wales). The suggestion is that this too would involve 2,000 premises.

BT also suggested that the stated speed of 500Mbps might not be what the operator actually offers at launch. Mr McRae said, “[G.fast] will initially provide hundreds of megabits, rising up to 500Mbps within ten years. … We are aggressively pursuing further industry standards to improve the rate vs reach of G.fast and enable new kit to be developed.” The trials will likely mirror Openreach’s current top FTTP speed of around 300Mbps, although this may not reflect the commercial launch product.

At this stage it’s still too early to say precisely what approach BT will take to G.fast deployment, such as with regards to the target distribution point distance (note: most of their early trials seem to set an upper limit of around 100 metres) and how they’ll manage G.fast’s coexistence with VDSL2 / FTTC services in the same area because the two share some of the same spectrum.

One tricky solution would be to automatically upgrade lines to G.fast as it goes live, as opposed to tolerating a lower speed with FTTC coexistence (initially we suspect they’ll allow the two to work side-by-side and accept a loss of top G.fast performance). Another problem is that some Sub-Loop Unbundled (SLU) ISPs with their own FTTC deployments are unlikely to benefit due to incompatible G.fast hardware, although we doubt BT will lose sleep over that.

We hope to have more details on the summer trials in a few months. The trials will represent the first time that BT has taken G.fast out of a more controlled environment and deployed it using commercial grade hardware. As such we’re keen to see how it performs once subjected to the mucky real-world.

UPDATE 21st April 2015

BT informs that the Swansea trial is not, contrary to the slides, the same size (2,000 residential premises) as the other two areas because it will be a technical rather than residential trial. The operator has also furnished us with a statement.

A BTOpenreach spokesperson told ISPreview.co.uk:

We are looking at the possibility of conducting a technically-focused G.fast trial in Swansea, drawing on our expertise and experience in South Wales, rather than a large-scale residential trial. We will reveal more details in due course.”

UPDATE 21st April 2015 – 3:32pm

Sadly it looks as if the Powerpoint slides have been taken offline, so we’ll paste in some of its other details from our copy below for future reference. Firstly, BT said that they have identified 5 key developments required to deliver their ambition for future copper broadband services (G.fast):

* Enable higher bits per tone
* Improve the receiver sensitivity (Noise floor)
* Increase the transmit power
* Optimise the frequency usage with VDSL
* Increased vectoring group sizes

The slides also included mention of how the above trials would also involve some testing of new fibre optic deployment methods and a revised approach to Fibre on Demand (FoD / FTTP on Demand). Apparently a pilot is already live in Thornton Heath (London) with “positive feedback”.

Using easier to deploy cable
* Push/Pull instead of [blown fibre]. SST versus tube
* Fast Access Cable – Peels like a banana
* Less issues at customer site with splicing and presentation.
* Testing easier

As one of our readers (MikeW) appears to have correctly pointed out, the Push/Pull approach most likely refers to fibre being blown with a leading piston/missile that adds the “pull” element, alongside a standard “push” given by a fibre-blowing machine.

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Mark Jackson
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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26 Responses
  1. Avatar X66yh

    Seems sad there there is no one on any of these trials interested enough and willing to comment on either here, TBB or the Kitz forum.
    Likewise the full FVA exchange of Deddington trial – about which we hear nothing

  2. Avatar gerarda

    “Most of the UK” could of course be as little as 51%

    • Avatar FibreFred

      Yeah rubbish. It’s 100% or nothing eh?

    • Avatar Matt

      They might stretch it out to there commercial FTTC rollout percentage if we are lucky.Imagine they will need at least 60% though to compete with Virgin as they are expanding there network to that much.

  3. Avatar MikeW

    Shock, horror!

    BT must be lying to us – they are telling us they are powering these DPUs in parallel over multiple copper pairs.

    Quick – get in No Clue and Raindrops. They know that just isn’t possible!

  4. Avatar PeterM

    Living in rural Sussex with a top speed of 5Mbps on my bonded lines this all sounds pie in the sky to me. First of all, why would anyone need speeds of 500Mbps. Secondly we would need around 50 G. fast distribution points on the West Chiltington exchange to service around 2,000 lines. No one will fund that!
    At the moment I can’t even get superfast because my cabinet is 2km away.

    • Avatar Matt

      The Government/Tax Payer will of course be funding your G.Fast under BDUK Phase 4/5 we all know it will have to happen specially for lines that won’t benefit much from current Phase 1/2/3 [With Three aiming at last 5%].

    • The UK Guarantees Scheme, which provides a sovereign-backed guarantee to help projects access finance, may be used by BT to help deploy G.fast around the country. But since they will probably be rolling out first in their commercial footprint then I doubt BDUK funding itself will come into play, but it’s too early to be 100% sure.

      As to whether we need 500Mbps, well that’s a good question. Of course initially I suspect we’ll see something more modest, perhaps a 200Mbps or 300Mbps product to match Virgin Media’s forthcoming new speed tiers. The power of marketing often drives this kind of progress.

    • Avatar Matt

      I was kind of messing about I meant some Tax payer type thing would be used to help rural areas get G.Fast. UK Guarantees Scheme I had forgot name of it but thanks for reminding me. Really hope it does roll out to rural areas though to make sure there isn’t a big divide between commercial and rural areas again. I don’t personally think we need 500Mbps I think if everyone could access 50Mbps than that would be enough for a fair few years. Though if the infrastructure without further investment could support 500Mbps I suppose that is good future proofing.

    • Avatar PeterM

      The thing is that it all comes down to one thing in the end. That is getting the fibre to street level. In a rural area with blocked ducts, bad access and old infrastructure etc the investment needed would be totally unrealistic.
      We need to explore new ways of getting faster broadband to rural areas without using the fixed broadband network.

    • Avatar Matthew Williams

      There is physically no other way of supplying high speed broadband without a limit. Even using wireless increasing latency a fair bit even on 4G and you will get a limit on data a month. With everything needing updates at moment that goes pretty quick I know quite a few people who have been shocked they went through the 20GB BT FTTC limit they had. 5G sounds like it will be great but we are talking at least a decade before it hits rural areas and even then there will be data limits. Satellite broadband is a no go completely.

    • Avatar PeterM

      @Matthew
      When the BDUK roll-out is complete and it delivers superfast to most rural areas I think that the governments obligation is also complete.
      What I would like would be the option to be able to order an added value service at a reasonable cost. Businesses in any part of the UK need this option. On todays values I would say that a budget of around £100 per month, for a small business, to supply good quality broadband at the speed needed would be acceptable.
      The trouble is at the moment that option is not available!

    • Avatar MikeW

      Note that one other thing Neil McRae talked about was fibre – where he gave a couple of examples of things they are trialling to make it cheaper to deploy.

      One aspect was the use of “push/pull SST fibre”, rather than current blown fibre, which would help to deploy fibre through blocked ducts. That saves the need to call in a digging team – and would likely help in the deployment of fibre to the street level in PeterM’s blocked rural areas.

      (I had to look it up, but “push/pull” seems to refers to fibre being blown with a leading piston/missile that adds the “pull” element, alongside a standard “push” given by a fibre-blowing machine. The SST fibre was mentioned by Neil, and referring to Corning, as having strength members running along the cable which helped push through blockages)

      Other aspects included use of connectors to reduce splicing, and use of easily peelable (fast access) fibre. Both of these look like they help more in or around the home, for FTTP solutions.

      Neil mentioned all of these in the context of making FTTPoD more viable. I guess anything that helps get fibre to the premises is equally likely to make FTTdp more viable too.

    • Avatar PeterM

      @MikeW
      Yes, I can see that would be a game changer. If I could actually order fibre on demand at an affordable price or around £1,000 I certainly would. I guess that would apply to many business and even residential customers.

    • Avatar fastman2

      the community could always fund a new cabinet in your location

  5. Avatar Steve Jones

    5G might sound good, but it has the fundamental issue that the faster you want to go, the lower the reach. What that means is lots and lots of nodes, all of which need power and data feeds. As such, the problem remains on how to get fibre and power deeper into the network in relatively sparsely populated areas. As it’s difficult to make a commercial case, it will require some form of subsidy, whether through public money or an enforced cross-subsidy model via regulatory action (as for phone lines). With 4G it’s the threat of regulatory action that’s increasing coverage (and the regulator being more tolerant of industry consolidation).

    The ideal of combining very long reach and few nodes with very high speed in wireless isn’t going to happen. The future for 5G looks more like many micro-cells in densely populated areas, and not as a solution for covering rural areas. As such, it starts looking more like an alternative to using WiFi to cover urban areas. It’s possible that such an approach could, theoretically obviate the need to the last hundred metres or so of connection, but it will still need fibre and power pushed out deep into the network.

    It’s interesting, that in urban areas we would end up with a mesh of overlapping broadband deliver systems, all with multiple a high density of nodes, all requiring power and fibre. That would be 5G, g.fast, FTTB and cable (VM’s node density is already far higher than BT’s FTTC; just count the CATV cabinets vs the number of FTTC ones).

    Of course FTTP doesn’t require power, whether in “native” or GPON form. Whether, in the long run, that would make it a winner, who knows. It’s a big bet to make.

  6. Avatar Tim

    I’d rather see G.fast used to bring superfast to those that see no improvement in speed from FTTC because they are too far from the FTTC cabinet or the cabinet is to small to enable for FTTC. They need to sell the standard 40/10Mbps and 80/20Mbps at the same price as standard FTTC + ~250Mbps and ~500Mbps to take advantage of G.fast.

  7. Avatar TheManStan

    Random detail, early tech trial pictured was in Heathersett…

  8. Avatar Louise

    More new cabinets for drunks to urinate up and kids to graffiti. Thanks BT

  9. Avatar Kyle

    What happened to the powerpoint slides????

    • Avatar MikeW

      It looks like UKNOF took them away.

      The PDF slides are still available, but they don’t mention Swansea, don’t mention the early technical trial, and don’t have the extra trials on fibre deployment/splicing etc.

    • I think BT realised that Neil shouldn’t have revealed all that detail quite so soon and removed it, so we’ve taken the link down as it’s dead. Sadly the only ones left are the PDF documents, which say nothing new.

      https://indico.uknof.org.uk/getFile.py/access?contribId=4&resId=0&materialId=slides&confId=33

      However I do have a copy of the slides and since then been removed then I’ll add some of the extra data in an update above.. just give me a few mins.

    • Avatar Kyle

      Looks like Neil has taken them down and replaced them with information that was provided back in January this year. I doubt very much UKNOF or BT took them down as any slides you plan on presenting at UKNOF have to be uploaded at least 2 days BEFORE the event, so UKNOF and BT should had known exactly what would be presented.

      I guess we will know and be able to see what was said when the videos are uploaded. I assume BT would know they had an employee going off to an event which would be recorded? If it was them that asked the slides to be removed seems a bit silly considering many in the industry were sat their and saw it anyway.

    • Avatar MikeW

      Video now uploaded to YouTube, with original slides embedded:
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LLpk2dz6nBQ

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