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More VDSL2 Based Openreach FTTB and FTTrN Broadband Pilots Go Live

Thursday, Aug 13th, 2015 (8:52 am) - Score 3,682

BTOpenreach appears to have expanded their pilots of ‘up to’ 80Mbps capable VDSL2 based Fibre-to-the-Basement (FTTB) and Fibre-to-the-Remote-Node (FTTrN) broadband technology to parts of Gatwick airport (West Sussex) and Rotherhithe (London), respectively.

Openreach’s “basement” FTTB technology, which is not to be confused with the similarly named but normally significantly faster Fibre-to-the-Building (FTTB) service, is being seen as one potential solution for connecting large buildings (e.g. multi-dwelling units or office blocks) in areas where Exchange Only Lines (EOL) have traditionally been a hindrance.

EOLs are copper lines that are directly connected to a primary telephone exchange and thus do not go through one of the more traditional street cabinets (PCP). Unfortunately upgrading these to support more familiar solutions, such as Fibre-to-the-Cabinet (FTTC), would require an expensive network rearrangement and so other solutions are being investigated.

At the end of last year Openreach announced that they were going to trial VDSL2 based FTTB as one such solution (here), which is similar to FTTC but optimised for basements / comms rooms where the operator has a wayleave (legal permission) from the landlord and access to power. It’s akin to installing an FTTC cabinet inside a building, which can be a lot cheaper.

The first two trials involved 225 homes at the Middlesex Street Estate and around 50 SMEs based at 65 London Wall. Since then we haven’t heard much from Openreach, until today when it was revealed that 300 SME businesses in Gatwick’s Cargo terminals (North and South) would also benefit from the technology.

Dave Axam, BT South East Regional Director, said:

Hard to reach locations present unique challenges when it comes to upgrading fibre broadband. For example, there might be less room for us to install a fibre cabinet on the pavement, and it can be harder to get permission to close roads to do the work. We also need to secure permission from multiple landlords to run new cables across their land and properties.

We’re optimistic that this new solution will prove that fibre broadband can be installed into building basements quickly, smoothly and economically.”

Separately we’ve also noted that another trial of Fibre-to-the-Remote-Node (FTTrN) technology has recently gone live in Rotherhithe (London), albeit only capable of serving just 16 premises in Gwent Court (Rotherhithe Street). This too is also a solution that’s intended to cater for both digitally isolated rural and or urban areas, such those where EOLs are still a problem.

FTTrN is also similar to FTTC, except the high capacity fibre optic cable is run to a much smaller “remote node” (think of this as a tiny street cabinet) instead of a main street cabinet, which can be positioned on nearby telegraph poles or inside manholes etc. As with FTTC, your existing copper line is then used to link with local homes.

fttrn network diagram v1 ispreview edited

On the surface FTTrN seems like a good approach, but it’s also one with a number of restrictions and that can seriously limit the areas where it could be used. One of the main problems is with ensuring continuity of the power supply, which means that a small trial can end up consuming the same power as a 200 line street cabinet. Not ideal.

Openreach had previously suggested that the solution was to find a way of aggregating multiple FTTrN nodes to a single power supply, although so far as we are aware the operator has not yet been successful on this front. In fact getting any update on their FTTrN process has been rather challenging, which to us suggests that the technology won’t have a big role to play.

Put another way, if power is easy and there are small, tight clusters, and you think BDUK’s focus on 24Mbps+ is the right one, then FTTrN can still be more cost effective than FTTC or FTTP. But if power is hard, existing copper tails are poor and clusters are spread out (as they can be in the last few %) then it makes less sense.

Needless to say that the Rotherhithe Broadband Group said it was “underwhelmed” by the development and that’s understandable because 16 premises is nothing to a large EOL suffering area. On the upside BT and the local authority have recently announced an “in-principle” decision to improve broadband for most of Rotherhithe by 2017.

But locals are accustomed to broken promises and will remain sceptical until there are some solid plans on the table. A related meeting is supposed to have been held on Tuesday between BT and Southwark Council to debate the subject, although we’ve yet to see any outcome from that.

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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 X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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