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ISP Zen Internet Joins UK Ultrafast G.fast and 1Gbps FoD2 Broadband Trial

Friday, August 14th, 2015 (1:51 pm) - Score 4,074

Last month BTOpenreach began inviting ISPs to join the first large-scale customer trial of next generation 500Mbps capable G.fast and 1Gbps FTTP-on-Demand broadband technology, which is starting this month in Huntingdon (Cambridgeshire). Zen Internet has now become the first to confirm their participation (8 ISPs are involved).

At present Openreach hopes to begin its 10-year commercial deployment of G.fast (ITU G.9701) technology in 2016/17, which should eventually make broadband download speeds of up to 500Mbps available to “most homes” across the United Kingdom.

However the top speed may initially be capped at 300Mbps or lower, at least during the trial period, which will match Openreach’s existing Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) service. Another major trial is also planned to take place in Gosforth (Newcastle), while a smaller “technical trial” will follow for part of Swansea (Wales).

On top of that the trials will also see Openreach testing some improvements for their long-stalled Fibre-on-Demand (FoD) service, which allows small businesses and rich home owners with deep pockets to cover the cost of having a pure fibre optic (FTTP) line built directly to their property (this is only available in certain FTTC areas that have been enabled for FoD).

It’s worth reminding readers that the FoD2 trial will also increase the services top speed to 1000Mbps. Existing Zen customers in Huntingdon and Gosforth will all be offered the opportunity to benefit, provided they can afford it.

Apparently the FOD2 trial will officially begin during the last week of this month and then run for six months. We should remind readers that FoD is also separately being made available to the majority of Wales (here).

Andrew Sayle, Zen’s Broadband Product Manager, said:

This is the future of broadband. As the technology we use in our personal and professional lives progresses, customers are demanding more bandwidth to power more complex devices. There are only two ways of doing that; you can build new fibre connections into the ground – which is costly and can mean a lot of upheaval – or you can utilise newer technologies, which is where G.Fast and FOD2 come in.

We want to see how these new broadband services perform in real-world scenarios, so have already made contact with customers in Huntingdon and Gosforth to get them prepared for the start of the trial later this month.

We hope that, shortly after the trial, these technologies can be made available to our wider customer base, as it really will herald a new level of broadband experience. We’re excited to be one of just a handful of providers able to offer this trial to customers.”

As a quick recap. G.fast works in a roughly similar way to BTOR’s current 80Mbps capable Fibre-to-the-Cabinet (FTTC) service, 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 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 BT’s high capacity fibre optic lines will need to be moved even closer. 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

At this stage 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 methodology or hardware choice.

Mind you BTOR isn’t likely to win the performance crown quite so easily. G.fast will take a good ten years to roll-out, most likely to around 60-70% of the country at first (commercial footprint). By comparison Virgin’s planned DOCSIS3.1 upgrade, which will initially deliver similar top speeds in many of the same areas, may only take a couple of years (add two years on top if you include their current network expansion footprint).

At present we don’t have a full list of trial ISPs, although we know that Merula is involved and you can bet that BT and or PlusNet are there. We’d also be quite surprised if Sky Broadband and TalkTalk hadn’t put in an application.

Leave a Comment
30 Responses
  1. adslmax Real says:

    10 years roll out G.fast seem a long times!

    1. MikeW says:

      Yet the FTTC started life as trials in 2009, with the first real deployments in 2010. We expect deployment of the phase 2 (90% -> 95%) to continue through 2017, and possibly into 2018.

      Doesn’t that make for the best part of a 10-year rollout for NGA1?

      Why would you expect NGA2 to be any quicker?

    2. Rusty says:

      Glad you said that MikeW… I’m surprised he even asked the question!

  2. DTMark says:

    “Openreach hopes to begin its 10-year commercial deployment of G.fast (ITU G.9701) technology in 2016/17, which should eventually make broadband download speeds of up to 500Mbps available to “most homes” across the United Kingdom.”

    Leaving aside the pure comedy aspect of that last sentence (how many nodes? ROFL) and the inclusion of the words “up to” which render the announcement largely devoid of any meaning..

    When was this commercial deployment confirmed? There’s a linked article from January, however BT have publicly said at least twice since then that there are *no* future plans.

    1. Mark Jackson says:

      Hence the word “hopes”, although the 2016/17 period keeps cropping up in most of the presentations we’ve seen and is often reference to us in private communications. You might find that some of the chatter about no future plans is linked to political aspects and Ofcom’s Strategic Review (BT warning they won’t invest if broken up etc.).

    2. Ben Haines says:

      Won’t this just leave the tax payer with another big bill for BDUK 2.0 when BT claim it isn’t commercially viable to keep the nation’s broadband infrastructure up to scratch using G.Fast?

    3. DTMark says:

      Yes.

    4. MikeW says:

      @ben
      Which bits won’t be commercially viable? Is this just cynicism talking, or from knowledge of deployment costs?

      I’m sure some parts will be unviable, but some will be viable … but I doubt the distinction will be a simple urban/rural one like last time. The availability of fibre is obviously very different now, as the spines cover a wide area. The need for power is a very different picture too – and we don’t yet know how well (or poorly) reverse power will turn out.

      Obviously the 5% where NGA-1 can’t reach is the most likely to remain unviable. Those who did not get a FTTC upgrade at all will be far from a spine; those too far from an FTTC cab will be likely 1.5km – 2km away.

      For the rest, though, fibre will have already reached to within 1.2km. It’ll be interesting to see whether subsidies are needed to bring it a further 400-800m.

    5. Life in the slow lane says:

      Some of us like me in central bradford still cant get FTTC. We are told we can get Virgin, and can, along with their TERRIBLE oversubb’d service. The people in power seem to think link speed = service speed 🙁

      No FTTC or FTTP (HAH!) as there is no enabled cab for me, though the exchange does have it *SIGH*

  3. chris says:

    Whereas FTTC is a slow speed cul-de-sac, gfarce is a high speed cul-de-sac. You really couldn’t make all this up.
    https://neil-fairbrother.squarespace.com/blog/2013/7/1/gfast-a-high-speed-cul-de-sac
    The time will come when they stop this superfarce, nationalise the infrastructure and do the job properly. I think 19 metres is the furthest they have got a gig to work on gfarce in lab conditions.
    Add in the power issues etc and it is a total waste of time and money, unless you’re the incumbent telco protecting billions of obsolete assets that is. And FOD at £99 +vat a month plus ECC is beyond the reach of most people, even for 330Mbps asymetrical – when a group of villagers can get real fibre to the home and 1000Mbps symmetrical for £30 a month it makes you wonder why government still supports openreach instead of altnets.

    1. AndyH says:

      Chris – You’re seriously like a broken record… The B4RN model does not work nationwide – there are things BT have done that you couldn’t dream of.

      The fact remains that many telecom providers in the world will be making the natural progression from VDSL to G.fast. Until there is a need for 1Gig in every house around the world, telecom providers just will not roll out fibre to every home. It’s neither economical nor practical at this stage.

    2. Ignition says:

      I believe there are far better things for my taxes to go to than nationalising BT.

      At a guess as far as Openreach support goes it’s probably in our case related to that altnets weren’t interested, and the B4RN model couldn’t work as most of the construction needs to go through pavement and carriageway.

      We sadly didn’t have a bunch of retirees available to dig what little verge was available, and even fewer people still with the skills and equipment to excavate in pavement and carriageway.

      You would have had us receive nothing and be stuck on sub-1.5Mb ADSL still.

      No thank you.

    3. Bob says:

      Yes the copper local loop is still a problem . The logical thing with GFast is to roll it out to those furthest from the street cabinets but I doubt BT will do that , They will roll it out to those nearest the cabinets and who in most cases also have the choice of VM so speed will already be high and take up of Gfast will be low

    4. Steve says:

      TBH the B4RN will not work everywhere in the UK, but what they have done with the resources and in a short amount of time is something that should be appreciated, they are doing it right first time. I know BT have done some great things and the stuff they are working on down at the research laboratories is out of this world. BT moving from VDSL to GFast was a natural progression, but it is a costly one too, which doing FTTH would be more cost effective but the cannot keep up with the government targets to cover everyone with a minimum speed as they don;t have the people/resources with the correct skills to deploy it in that amount of time. Look over in East Yorkshire, FTTH with exactly the same Ducted/Overhead network as BT. and is coming in quite cost effective.
      One of the only good things that BT are holding back is, its bringing alternative companies to deliver FTTH to the UK with another competitor deploying early 2016.

  4. Steve Jones says:

    With g.fast, there is likely to be a big question over take-up levels. For many people, the functional case for moving from ADSL or ADSL2 to VDSL2 on FTTC will make a real difference. It can be all the difference between not being able to stream HD video at all to being able to run three or more simultaneously. It also means being able to upload photos and the occasional video at a reasonable speed. It also greatly assists working from home, enabling video conferencing and the like yet still with sufficient bandwidth for some other users. That’s certainly the position in my case.

    However, will there be the same incentive for a mass market for the sort of speeds that g.fast ought, in theory, to be able to provide if there’s a significant cost difference? That’s not to say that there aren’t a significant number who will demand it. Some for functional reasons, some simpl;y because they like fast things. The point is whether this is a viable market that is, one that can justify the considerable investment – especially if fibre has to be pushed deeper into the network. Possibly some killer app will emerge, like mass-market UHD TV, but even that may not be that important. For a great many people the difference between HD and UHD will be imperceptible given typical viewing distances and the size of TVs they may be prepared to live with. Personally, I tend to think its the quality of content that matters most, not its resolution.

    We will see in time, and certainly number-chasing will be a factor for marketing reasons. But I think the pace of change might slow down. Broadband has been going through its own version of Moore’s Law given early trials in this country maxed out at 2mbps, and we’ve no had 5-6 doublings since then (that’s excluding the still relatively few fast FTTP installs). It’s not that the ways of speeding things up aren’t obvious, it’s just that (unlike Moore’s law and silicon fabrication), the costs will not naturally come down as it requires a great deal of investment (much more, in real terms, than investing in silicon foundries).

    1. DTMark says:

      In short, I don’t see G.Fast as a stepping stone from 80/20 VDSL.

      I see G.Fast as a potential NGA technology that can provide where legacy VDSL tech cannot, so an enabler.

      It is not about going from 80/20 to 300/30. Here, for instance, it would be about going from around 15/3 (VDSL estimate, slower than 3G) to 300/30.

      Which means BT now have a product to sell, and a circuit that has been dead for seven years starts attracting line rental. Finally, a modern, current generation product is available. I might even see BT as a telecoms company then.

      I also see it as a way of BT not losing lucrative revenues as alt nets finally wake up to deploying to business parks that have been so sorely neglected for so very long.

  5. Telecom Engineer says:

    The further fibre gets pushed the better. However having previously worked on both copper and fibre; i have to say installation is vastly easier with copper. On a good day I could hit 4 installations of copper but couldnt ever get more than 1 fibre. New splicing techniques and prefabricated cable will help (plus skills improving with time) but engineering time is probably the major cost telcos are concerned about post rollout.

    If there was a major revenue stream apparent iam sure fttp would be more prevelant. Sat here on 80 / 20 with 100 max (150 if vectored -come on OR open up the profiles!) I Have couldnt see a personal benefit unless 4k multiroom really took off.

    As previously stated for now its a nice enabler; in 10 years perhaps a genuine need.. looks like the rollout (if it happens) is about right.

    1. Matt says:

      Pretty sure BT can’t afford not to do G.Fast. Virgin are upping to around 60% of the of UK and they will easily be able to offer over 200MB to that part of the country [The Commercially Relevant part] DCOIS 3.1 can go easily 500MB. BT’s only choice to compete is to do G.Fast or FTTP they have no other choice they couldn’t afford revenue loss.

    2. DTMark says:

      But why is BT so grossly inefficient?

      Are all the installers lazy and useless?

      Is the network that poor?

      Pretty sure VM’s installers get round to more than one property in a day.

      And as you’d know, you only have to move the proverbial stone’s throw down the road – maybe just 800m or so – for your 80/20 VDSL to fall to 3G speeds.

    3. Telecom engineer says:

      Dtmark, it’s the extra work which causes the issue. You have to erect the drop tube or pull it in from the dp, the installation of which must conform to much stricter standards regarding radius bends, entry into house via a tube rather than direct, a re provision of the copper internal /leadin plus configuring the nte. Plus the network splicing and blowing. Not to mention the time to set up, prep and splice each joint compared to a 10 second crimp on copper. Every aspect is time consuming and requires exact standards.

      Copper is ready made cable,, can be fit in an hour or so and the line plant is already in situ – a cab jumper often the only network intervention required by the installer ( other than the dp).

      Then of course the fact that most houses are already prewired with copper (sometimes even working on arrival)… It’s a case of comparing volume servicing vs network build.

      So the majority of fttc requires only a cabinet rejumper and internal normalisation (increasingly just an ssfp). Saying the cost difference etc is down to lazy ness or incompetence is like criticising a mechanic who took all day to replace a gasket vs his colleague who changed 10 tyres.

    4. Steve Jones says:

      @DTMark

      has it escaped your attention that VM is copper too? It just happens to be coax. Whilst it’s a bit more bulky than phone cable, it’s simpler in that it’s essentially just a T connection rather than an individual point-to-point of a phone pair (although, traditionally in the UK, both a cable and phone pair connection was provided).

      Fibre is a whole different thing. It’s much more demanding to install, requires specialist equipment and simply takes a lot longer.

      If you want to see the advantages of copper versus fibre, I suggest a visit to a major computer centre. You will find that optical fibre is used for the very fast backbone links as it always has a technical edge. However, it’s usually castly outweighed by the amount of copper UTP cabling as the latter is much more flexible (in more than one sense of the word), is cheaper, faster to install, less demanding and amenable to rapid changes.

    5. Carl says:

      EuroDOCSIS 3.0 is quite capable of 500Mb without any requirement for newer DOCSIS 3.1.

      Virgin could start delivering 500Mb next year if they thought the commercial need were there.

    6. Robert says:

      Ive no idea how two individuals above have been splicing fibre but to splice two bits together takes literally seconds also. The heat shrink over them takes longer that splicing the fibre.
      Crimping things such as RJ11s, RJ45 and punching down multiple pairs of copper takes far longer.
      My FTTP install took less time than my FTTC install did, dismantling the faceplate and moving it took far longer than screwing the fibre termination point to the wall and splicing the fibre.
      G.fast surely complicates things further due to having to work with both copper and fibre. Then again BT will charge thousands to install it and probably want to milk the government for another round of funding, so i doubt cost for time comes into things. It is never going to be a home user product, more a tick box product to say xxx speed is now possible.
      Unless im looking at that diagram wrong also it means another bunch of ugly cabinets. A truly stupid solution to the next generation of speeds.

    7. Malcolm says:

      I must be missing something here. When my Gigaclear connection was done it took about 40 minutes, but most of that was drilling a hole in the wall and then fixing the cable to the outside wall of the house. The actual fibre connection took 1-2 minutes. In fact the job was so easy that several people with better DIY skills than me did the whole thing themselves without any problem.

      So why does BT need to take more time?

    8. MikeW says:

      @Malcolm
      The gigaclear connection is connectorised – just plug things together. Upside: quick; downside: greater loss in signal; risk: too much signal reflected, and not enough getting through especially when multiple connections get connectorised.

      Quick & dirty.

      And, of course, all the work on your side of the property line is down to you.

      BT have chosen to splice everything everywhere. More work, more time, more cost … but in engineering terms, it is a better, more consistent, less risky approach.

      And, @robert, there is more to splicing than just the splice of two fibres. You have to get the multi-fibre cables into place first. As BT have only spines in place, installing FoD means getting the splitter and distribution nodes into place, getting all those fibre cores into trays, and then making the couple of splices needed for this one job. After that comes the BFT to the home, blowing the fibre, and making more splices.

      FoD2 looks like a change in policy, with BT looking at different types of cable, and using connectorisation. It seems they think they have some link budget to play with.

  6. Telecom Engineer says:

    As above. There is a lot involved in accessing, setting up, prepping etc thats simply isnt there on copper. Even an rj11 is more complex than the actual crimping of pairs in the network (if you know what you are doing). Copper splice is hold two wires, pop a crimp ontop and squeeze – you can do that upside down or lying on the floor etc with ease… doubt you could get a splicer into 90% of the places there are copper joints let alone do a good job… specific standards.. extra build requirements for access etc.. all costs money and demands higher engineering standards to maintain (again more cost).

    If firms appear to be doing it in 40mins then there is a fair amount of prep work in network being done before the visit (bear in mind bt can also multistep installs so customer is only in for the internal part of the install). Also non openreach firms dont include a copper rearrangement (linking legacy network with fibre for pstn / ip switching at eu) which is another fit again.

    I also suspect that most gfast will overbuild the vdsl2 footprint; many homes will already have ssfp etc an engineering visit may only be required at the network node lowering costs and also allowing self install and faster rollout.

    1. Bob says:

      Fibre is now easy you join and splice and probably quicker to do than copper. Fibre has been used by the military in battlefield situations for decades as it is light and easy to deploy

    2. Robert says:

      Lets not let simple truth and facts get in the way of his opinions 😉

  7. TheManStan says:

    We use fibre optics in some our instruments, i’ve watched our engineers doing it… the actual splice takes seconds… but preparing fibre optic cable for splicing takes far longer.

    You need to strip the outer from both cables, strip the inner from both cables, trim the optical cable itself to the right length, then (the most important bit) clean and inspect the ends, then you can manually or thermally splice.

    With a manually splice it’s normal to use a visible test source to adjust the splice for minimal loss.

    The prepared connector route reduces labour time and costs, but increases hardware and back office costs…

  8. steve says:

    Tbh it should be done right first time and FTTP/H should be the preferred method of deployment. Less faults with fibre compared to copper.
    The 5% remaining is not just the rural areas but the cabinets BT refuse to upgrade too due to the amount of subs coming off (unfortunately i’m one of them) the 5% remaining does look good on paper but when you count the amount of subs coming off the new FTTC cabs that are too far away to get decent speeds off vdsl and the amount of cabinets requiring upgrade the figure has to be nearly 20% without decent speeds if not higher.
    Regarding connectorised solutions having too much reflection and losing signal i would disagree. Infact field fit connectors or pigtails can have greater losses (installer dependant) than the factory terminated cables installed. My preference is to splice as losing the slack on some of the preconnectorised solutions can be a pain especially when densly populated.
    Gigaclear taken 40 minutes is similar to kcom in hull where the majority of works are done before hand and its just the very last customer connection that needs doing. Unlike BT they can change process’s and installtion methods quickly and have less different departments and politics to go through so it can be more efficient.

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