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First Customers Live on BT 500Mbps G.fast Broadband Trial in Huntingdon

Tuesday, August 25th, 2015 (12:02 am) - Score 6,311

As expected BT has confirmed that their first large-scale (2,000 premises) live customer trial of future G.fast broadband technology (ITU G.9701), which will initially offer Internet speeds of up to 330Mbps (rising to 500Mbps in the future), have begun in the market town of Huntingdon (Cambridgeshire).

The 6-9 month trial involves hardware and services from several major international vendors, such as ADTRAN, Alcatel-Lucent and Huawei. On top of that around 8 ISPs are currently taking part, such as Zen Internet (here), AAISP and Merula among others. A further trial is planned for Gosforth (Newcastle) and a smaller “technical trial” for Swansea (Wales) from September 2015.

BT has previously spoken of its hope that the new service could start its 10-year commercial roll-out to “most homes” in 2016/17, although today’s announcement reiterates the operators warning that this may not happen unless “UK regulation continues to encourage investment” (i.e. they don’t want Ofcom to split out Openreach). However, assuming G.fast proceed, then the roll-out would most likely focus on the operator’s more lucrative urban and sub-urban areas (i.e. the first 60-70% or so of UK premises).

On top of all this BTOpenreach are also testing a 1Gbps Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) upgrade and various tweaks to their long-stalled Fibre-on-Demand (FoD2) product, which allows small businesses and rich home workers with deep pockets to cover the cost of having a pure fibre optic line built directly to their property (this is only available in certain FTTC areas that have been enabled for FoD).

Joe Garner, CEO of BTOpenreach, said:

Today is the start of a new chapter in building Britain’s connected future. This is the largest trial of G.fast technology in the world and it builds on the pioneering research of BT’s world-class R&D teams.

We conducted the world’s first G.fast trial in 2013, and our experts have been heavily involved in creating global industry standards for this technology. We’re now eager to support all our service providers in learning how customers enjoy the service.

The people of Huntingdon will play an extremely important role in helping us gauge how the technology performs, and how we might deliver ultrafast speeds to more of the UK over the coming years.”

John Whittingdale, Culture Secretary, said:

The UK already leads Europe when it comes to superfast broadband coverage and speeds, with around 40,000 more homes and businesses getting access every week thanks to the government rollout.

We want to stay ahead of the competition and so it’s good to see this continued investment and innovation in the industry. BT is harnessing its world-class technology and engineering expertise to help the UK lead the way on ultrafast broadband and remain a world leading digital economy.”

In fairness Whittingdale is not entirely correct when he states that “the UK already leads Europe when it comes to superfast broadband coverage and speeds” as a number of states in Europe actually have superior fixed line infrastructure performance to ours (Sweden, Netherlands etc.), although we are broadly above the major states like Germany, France, Spain and Italy. Usually the Government makes that distinction in their PR, but this time they seem to have forgotten.

It’s also worth noting how BT confirms that “various methods of deployment” will be tested as part of the trial in order to “provide a valuable insight into how the technology can be used on a day-to-day basis, including how usage might grow over time“. We’ll explain a bit about the deployment approaches below.

How Does G.fast Work?

G.fast works in a roughly similar way to the current 80Mbps capable Fibre-to-the-Cabinet (FTTC) service that dominates the UK market (many ISPs market this as “fibre broadband“), except that it requires significantly more radio spectrum (FTTC= 17MHz vs G.fast 106MHz+) and thus needs to operate over a much shorter run of copper cable (ideally less than 350 metres).

The service can reach several million premises by being installed inside / alongside an existing street cabinet, although in other situations (i.e. where the property resides further away) then Openreach’s high capacity fibre optic lines may need to be moved even closer to homes. At this point the fibre may be taken to a smaller remote node or distribution point (FTTdp), which can also be built on top of a telegraph pole or possibly even put underground.

g.fast broadband bt network diagram

Currently we still don’t know much about Openreach’s deployment plan or the likely service costs (it will probably sit somewhere between FTTP and FTTC), although the whole purpose of such trials is to establish the real-world costs, spot bugs and identify the most economically viable deployment method or hardware choice.

However BT will be playing a game of catch-up in this field because Virgin Media are about to double their top speeds from 152Mbps to 300Mbps and they’ll complete the deployment to around 45% of UK premises by early 2016, long before G.fast’s commercial roll-out has even begun. Virgin’s network is also being expanded to 17 million premises by 2020 (60%+ of the UK) and even faster speeds will follow via Gigabit capable DOCSIS 3.1.

Never the less it’s worth noting that both approaches will require a significant investment in order to deliver upon what they’ve promised, with Virgin Media investing around £3bn. The figure for BT is not yet known (that’s what the trials are for), although it’ll still be significantly cheaper than rolling out a pure fibre optic (FTTH/P) network.

On the other hand there’s always the prospect of that last little bit of copper in G.fast’s mix causing significantly slower speeds in some areas, it all depends upon what deployment approach the operator chooses (e.g. will they limit the copper run to 350 metres or push that figure higher to cover more people, albeit with a big hit to performance?).

Openreach has also setup a new website for the trial service (here), although it contains very little detail.

UPDATE 9am

Changed the article picture to one from the G.fast trial.

UPDATE 27th August 2015

We also picked up on the related announcement from Huawei, which added this little nugget of information: “The G.fast trial located in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, has been deployed using Huawei’s latest multi-port G.FAST temperature-hardened and waterproof equipment installed in a manhole. In addition to G.fast equipment, Huawei also provides a full end-to-end solution, including a headend optical line terminal (OLT), G.fast terminal, and a network management system. Another key enabler for this technology is the remote power solution which Huawei has provided for this trial as well as the commercial deployment of Fiber to the remote node (FTTRN). With this, the need to deploy fiber to the home is mitigated and users can obtain the same ultra-broadband services experience as fiber, to enjoy applications such as multiple 4KTV streams.”

Leave a Comment
41 Responses
  1. Avatar adslmax Real says:

    Bring it on! We want G.fast!

  2. Avatar NeilM says:

    Good to hear first trial customers are connected, hopefully come the end of this a better idea about speeds vs distance (IE copper run) will be discovered. Im assuming the 2000 on the trial will all have different length copper runs.

    Anyone any pictures of new G.fast cabs?

  3. Avatar Bob2002 says:

    Any idea how close they are typically placing the G.fast nodes to customer premises?

    1. Avatar FibreFred says:

      They are at the existing cabinet mostly that’s the point of the trials?

    2. Mark Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      The trial will test several approaches, although in order to attain the +/- 330Mbps headline figure they seem likely to be going with a distance of around 350 metres max. Past trials have also used distances of 19-66 metres, albeit while achieving significantly faster speeds.

  4. Avatar Max says:

    Where abouts can we find out more information on their FoD for home users ? I’m due to get FTTC next month when the cab goes live and would be interested in upgrading if and when it becomes available, but there doesn’t seem to be any easy to find source of info on it.

    1. Avatar Max says:

      Thanks, yes I saw they had suspended sale. Good to hear that it may be available again by the end of the year.

      I’ve suffered with < 2mb for 15 years, although it's undoubtedly extremely expensive the idea of 330Mbps or even 1Gbit is just too tempting after such a long time with slow speeds!

  5. Avatar Craski says:

    Good to see progress with in field trials going live.

    Question: Why would BTOR deploy FTTRN/VDSL when this is essentially the next generation of the same thing? Does this essentially kill FTTRN/VDSL?

    1. Avatar TheManStan says:

      Because FTTRn/VDSL is in essence a “mature product” which uses the same distribution technolgy albeit with extended fibre network, whilst GFAST is new tech all round.

      As soon as FTTRn trials are done, then this can immediately be used for appropriate small clusters, if BTOR can pull it’s finger out that is.

      GFast is still but a glimmer in BTOR Capex budget.

  6. Avatar Neil says:

    What is the upload speed on these new trials?

    1. Avatar mrpops2ko says:

      i think it was marketed as 30mbit (same as the FTTPOD)

    2. Avatar Neil says:

      Ah, that’s a shame.

    3. Avatar Craski says:

      Yeah, its a shame download speeds get the focus. Once you’ve got “enough” download to satisfy most purposes the upload becomes far more important so services like online backup etc become much more usable … says me currently on 0.38 Mbps up 🙂

    4. Avatar Ignition says:

      30-50Mb.

  7. Avatar MrWhite says:

    The above diagram shows a G.Fast cabinet. Does this mean OR will need to build these and run fibre from the DSLAM to these cabinets (or telegraph pole)? In areas where there’s Virgin, would it be possible to use their ducting to reduce digging up the road?

    1. Avatar Steve Jones says:

      Virgin ducting is not available to any other operators. Virgin are not obliged to provide wholesale infrastructure services. In any event, in many locations OR will have their own ducting or overhead delivery systems which might have spare capacity for fibre (albeit always subject to issues like blockages).

      I suspect a bigger cost than running fibre to remote nodes is the provision of power. Getting mains power to a node ranges from expensive to prohibitive. Virgin’s technique is to have the occasional power cabinet and run power to other, relatively nearby cabinets at low voltage using dedicated cables. It was pretty easy to see this when local vandals ripped off the doors of my two local VM cabinets. It is possible that BT might find a way of delivering power that way, possibly using “spare” pairs (but they’d have to connect several in parallel due to voltage drop).

      This power issue is the biggest problem on any of the remote node systems where there’s no readily available mains source.

    2. Avatar MrWhite says:

      Thanks for the reply Steve.

    3. Avatar NGA for all says:

      MOst of the innovation and delay around G.FAST was getting reverse power (power from the customers hub) to feed the unit. Had this changed? Hence these could be small and feature on DPs.

    4. Avatar FibreFred says:

      Most of the innovation is actually getting great speeds at much greater distances, g.fast was originally aimed at very short copper runs

    5. Avatar MikeW says:

      Its a strange split.

      Most of the comms innovation centred around G.fast, and the continuing innovation is to get it further – plus adding things like non-linear coding.

      But a lot of focus was also placed around FTTdp, and the means to deploy the box easily – including ETSI reverse powering. I’m not sure the overall G.fast standard was delayed by FTTdp though.

      Putting FTTdp together with reverse power has a few consequences – including the fact that the node can disappear from the network when all subscribers shut off power. A persistent management agent is needed to cope with this – which makes for more management nodes within the Openreach network. I suspect too that the reverse power mechanisms haven’t yet been integrated well (or at all) with trial DPU’s.

      It seems to me that the slowest part of deploying FTTdp is likely to be the gradual gain in trust about how reverse power works in practice. I expect it to be at least a couple of years behind forward-power DPU’s.

    6. Avatar NGA for all says:

      @MikeW so if the power cost remains and BDUK will already have susbidised c30,000 lots of power costs for VDSL, the option to terminate fibre on a manifold on a DP where the customer then orders an FTTP connection remains open.

      If the power costs are high then BT’s business models will not work anyway, as we are dividing these cabinet and engineering costs over a smaller number of cusomers. BT Group cost models were breaking even, with <£20k costs for VDSL to serve 400 premises. What is the expected ratio here, £5k to serve 50 premises?

    7. Avatar MikeW says:

      @NFA
      Not sure of your point here.

      BT can obviously choose to “terminate fibre on a manifold on a DP” anywhere in the country, irrespective of power issues for FTTC, FTTRN or FTTdp. The option remains open forever.

      Power costs remain an issue for anything that needs to be powered, full stop.

      FTTdp, however, gives BT a lot more options: As well as the “local power” supplied just like today’s FTTC, they have the option of “forward power” and “reverse power”. Both of these options can massively change the budget.

      Their technical trial in Norfolk seemed to make use of “forward power”, with mains power centralised at the existing FTTC cabinet, then forwarded over copper to the various G.fast nodes.

      The budget for doing this might be minimal, with re-use of the cabinet supply, and re-use of existing copper. Or it might bloom out of control, needing a separate power pedestal plus extra copper just for power. Who knows?

      Reverse power is the unknown, that offers potential for small clusters. Will it work? Will the public accept it? Will BT choose to offer it?

      But I agree – for the business models to work, one of these 3 solutions must come out cheaper than just fibre.

  8. Avatar adslmax Real says:

    Will G.fast be available to all FTTC cabinets nationwide by 2020?

    1. Avatar TheManStan says:

      I would expect a similar timeframe to that of planned VDSL rollout, so 6 or so years from start of main roll-out.

    2. Avatar Ignition says:

      The news articles indicated a timescale of a decade for the commercial deployment.

    3. Avatar adslmax Real says:

      Does it need to build anopther cabinet (G.fast) along with FTTC cabinet and pcp cabinet? (that’s make three cabinets)?

    4. Avatar themanstan says:

      FTTC delivery was almost 2 years ahead of schedule with improved working methods. The same should be possible here as it is an evolution of the same technology and methods.

    5. Avatar Craski says:

      Its funny to hear someone describe FTTC as being ahead of schedule when lots of us are still #ExploringSolutions 🙂

    6. Avatar TheManStan says:

      Was referring to commercial part with the least technically demanding first 2 thirds of properties.

      Unfortunately, I think people and LA are relying on BTOR to deliver solutions to the next 20-25%, when BTOR do not have the best technical solutions for the more challenging portions.

      I’ve said time and again that BTOR lacks the dynamic, flexible and specialist approach required for hard to reach areas. They are far better suited to the masses solutions, I think it misplaced faith by the public and LAs to expect a solution from a telcoms provider for the masses. The assumption that a national ~100% telecoms provider will be a good national ~100% broadband supplier is not certainty, in fact i believe that the way OFCOM has regulated in the past without looking to future evolution has resulted in a situation where BTOR inability to serve as a ~100% national BB supplier was guaranteed.

      More Gigaclear like solutions are the only way.

    7. Avatar NGA for all says:

      @TheManStan I admire GigaClear efforts and progress, but their reach has to be limited and few others have emerged.

      It was BT Group choice to to reduce its commitment to a mixed FTTx solutions and switch to FTTC mostly, even though the subsidies were available to do significant amount of FTTp if BT began resourcing in 2012 when the Framework was agreed.

      Instead we had to endure three years of blagging and denials on costs and investments for FTTC, all of which is slowly unravelling. There are underspends everywhere and BT is adjusting its models where no BT capital contribution has yet to be recorded. However this will not fix the resource issue and this G.FAST while welcome could be equally be a red herring. Resource is needed now to begin doing far more work overlaying fibre into the distribution network. If not most what will be the best part of a £1bn of underspends will be dissipated and lost to other LA projects.

    8. Avatar MikeW says:

      @TheManStan

      Gigaclear have their niche certainly, but I’m not sure they’re a 100% supplier even in an area they choose to enter.

      The size of village that grabs their attention seems to be around the 92nd, 93rd percentile (population-wise), and in local cases, only seems to happen as a consequence of a separate business-oriented opportunity going on too. Coverage then seems to stick to the actual core village, and not drift too deeply into the sparser surroundings.

      They’re a great choice for part of the second phase – once they choose to be involved, they don’t need much subsidy. But I don’t think they’re the people to get good coverage beyond the 95th percentile.

      B4RN do a great job of going beyond the 95th percentile … but the process there requires antipathy towards commercial involvement of any sort. It also still requires the inclusion of villages around the 93rd percentile to give them enough subscriber volume to allow the project to stand financially.

      I think you’re right that Ofcom’s style of regulation means that a cost-conscious Openreach cannot serve the final few percent. But who can, without resorting to wireless solutions?

    9. Avatar TheManStan says:

      I can see Gigaclear giving solutions deeper into hard to reach… they would need more gap funding per household, but it can be seen that they are more efficient with funds.

      OFCOM regulatory method is very much slanted to consumer benefit, without consideration to evolution of the market and technology application. In a sense it’s function to regulate the market to protect the consumer and ensure fair market opportunity, has prevented it from being more active in considering how the market may evolve.

      This can be seen in the lateness (almost a full decade after the first European deployments) in the UK incumbent being allowed to begin fibre based deployments from residential properties…

  9. Avatar adslmax Real says:

    10Gbps/10,000Mbps connection any time soon, however. Further advances to FTTC and VDSL2, and then G.fast — which is in the process of being ratified by the ITU — are the next steps that will be rolled out by ISPs over the next few years. G.fast and its promise of 1Gbps will require running fiber a bit closer to the home — probably FTTdp (distribution point; either under the sidewalk, or up a pole) — and will thus cost a significant amount of capital expenditure. XG.fast will almost certainly require FTTB (fiber to the basement), though FTTdp may be possible in some situations. [Read: The secret world of submarine cables.]

    Ultimately, though, these are all just stopgaps. By far the best solution is to run fiber to everyone’s home right now. Sure it would cost billions or trillions of dollars, but ISPs should think big and future-proof themselves now, rather than constantly scrabbling to keep up with piecemeal patches and updates. Sadly, unless there’s a massive grant from the government, that’s rarely how things are done in this world.

    1. Avatar Steve says:

      100% agree they seem to be stop gaps until Fibre is directly fed to the property. Problem is all the direct buried cable they decided to install would have to be dug up and this has added time to the deployment. Delaying FTTP is in their best interest and the newer companies Gigaclear & City fibre Bt doesn’t mind as its filling in their stop gap and its another place they don’t have to invest in.
      It drives the attention away fro the Cabinet not spots too and how many customers who are connected to FTTC can get the above the 24mb speeds.
      I’m only bitter as i’m one of the cabinet Not spots and need a decent connection to the house which is limiting the amount of work i can do…lol…

  10. Avatar fastman says:

    there is no commerial case for fibre to the home (he most expensinve part is the DP to premuses or even cab to the DP — FTTP is 4 – 5 times for expensive that FTTC – you can do alot more premises for same ammount of money by maximisiosing FTTC and only doing FTTP where you have o — sureley where public money is concerned more premsies for the same amount of money is better than less premises 1!!! — that real Vale for money 1!!! – i am sure intervention areas would be much bigger had more FTTP been done either commeriaally or under bDUK

  11. Avatar kevin matthews says:

    i would just like to point out that i managed to achieve a pure fibre to the premise connection here in rural cumbria on the workington exchange, this in part was due to having 12 years of “intermittent” line faults for the phone and pitifully slow adsl/adsl 2+ of no more than 2.5 mbps, i have now for the the last 4 months been getting on my fttp connection 200 mbps,along with my fibre phone, altyhough this connection is fast i did have the option of a faster 330 mbps package,i advise those readers that are recieving slow/unreliable to keep complaining to bt/openreach via email this trick has worked for me,as i know recieve what i beleieve to be the fastest fixed line connection from bt in the whole of cumbria :),and i didnt pay any connection charges either

    1. Avatar Lee Rees says:

      We’ve got it here in Cornwall too, they rolled out the “Superfast Cornwall” project which I believe means that the government pays for the installation costs. The project fell apart but luckily most of us were upgraded in time.

  12. Avatar MikeW says:

    @Mark

    That update from Huawei almost begs to be a story in its own right! If for no other reason than it tells us that there looks to be a “commercial” rollout for FTTRN to be expected. A remote-power solution is what that trial needed … so perhaps things haven’t entirely died there.

  13. Avatar Lee Rees says:

    What about us FTTP customers? I know we are a minority but why is there no mention of speed upgrades for us? Shouldn’t we be upgraded to 500MB or 1GB, why are our speeds restricted to match up with FTTC customers? FTTP is the future, BT could take the hit by rolling out FTTP nationwide but that’s not how you run a business.

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