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UPDATE Can BT’s Long Reach VDSL Fibre Broadband Help Rural Homes

Friday, September 25th, 2015 (2:43 pm) - Score 6,341
bt openreach big van

Earlier this week BT announced plans to make a minimum broadband speed of 5-10Mbps universally available by around 2020 (here) and one part of that involved the use of Long Reach VDSL2 (FTTC), which could help bring “higher speed broadband to hard-to-reach communities“.

At the time of writing we still don’t know a great deal about the specific technology that Openreach have been playing with, although Thinkbroadband has today posted an interesting performance chart that depicts, albeit very hypothetically, what kind of difference it could make. Take with a pinch of salt.

Just to clarify. In the current ‘up to’ 40-80Mbps capable Fibre-to-the-Cabinet (FTTC) setup BTOpenreach runs a fibre optic cable from their telephone exchange to your local cabinet and then they use VDSL2 technology over the remaining copper wire that runs from the cabinet and into your home.

The length of that final copper run is crucial because signal attenuation and other environment factors or electrical interference will cause the performance to drop away sharply over distance (i.e. the shorter the copper cable, the better).

Generally speaking you need to live less than 300-400 metres (copper line length) from your street cabinet to get the best performance, while some people who reside just over 2000 metres (2km) away have reported speeds of 15Mbps and it dies away quickly after that (experiences will vary and it’s very difficult to know the true length of your line).

By comparison the new chart appears to suggest that at around 1.3km the current VDSL solution would deliver 30Mbps, yet with “long reach” you could get this same speed at around 1.6km to 1.8km from the cabinet. Similarly speeds of 10Mbps are achieved with VDSL at 1.8-1.9km, but “long reach” can apparently deliver the same at anything from 2.5km to 3.5km (this would put a lot of extra premises within reach).

long reach vdsl2 fttc performance prediction

Sadly not much accompanying content has been supplied for this illustration and our experiences of real-world FTTC / VDSL2 performance suggest that the predictions above are almost aggressively optimistic, although it’s not clear whether the Megabits per second (Mbps) rate is purely download speed or an aggregate of downloads and uploads combined.

In practical terms BT’s 5-10Mbps announcement doesn’t add much information to this, although they did specifically confirm that their plan would offer to “boost speeds for 400,000 customers currently getting under 3Mbps on their copper broadband.” This suggests a more targeted upgrade, rather than a general network-wide roll-out, but the details are still wafer thin.

In the past various upgrades have been suggested that could deliver a “longer reach” FTTC solution, such as VDSL Amplifiers or the similar SuperVector technology (here). But as Openreach told us earlier this year, they’re “just a nice idea and some simulations,” although we have asked for more details. It’s not even clear if Long Reach has been fully trialled yet, we’ve certainly seen no mention of it on their roadmap.

In the meantime BT has indicated that their future approach will depend upon the outcome of Ofcom’s Strategic Review and regulatory model, which by the end of this year may or may not cause a huge change in their plans and the market as a whole.

UPDATE 3:49pm

The illustration used above stems from Clive Selley’s (BT) speech on Tuesday and we’ve just been furnished with the relevant extract, which adds a bit more information.

Clive Selley said:

My labs are also looking at new engineering solutions and we have some exciting new ideas to significantly raise broadband speeds on very long copper lines. We are going back to basics, revisiting the physics associated with high speed transmission over copper cables.

For example, at our labs up at Martlesham, Joe Garner and I recently reviewed a new technology that we are calling ‘Long-reach VDSL’. This demonstrated how we could take a 2km long copper line currently achieving 9Mb/s on standard VDSL, and increase this to 24Mb/s, and longer term, through standards changes, we could achieve even higher speeds.

The graph illustrates a recent lab measurement and some of the simulations we are carrying out. This is very exciting new technology and something that could play a key role in delivering Gavin’s [BT CEO] pledge.

Such new technology options are not without challenges: they may require new standards, they may require new products and they may require discussions with industry and the regulator alike regarding coexistence with legacy products. But the lab work proves that we can deliver technology enablers to materially uplift speeds for many customers on very long lines.”

Leave a Comment
19 Responses
  1. Avatar dave

    what i would like to know is what effect would this have on people who live near to a cabinet e.g 200m would their speeds be increased too, stay the same or lowered. Would there be a frequency just for people who are a long way from the cabinet and the rest of us use a different frequency? This sounds like it could be a great improvement, 10Mbps is sufficient and will be for 10yrs+ but obviously it isn’t a long-term solution.

    • Avatar TheManStan

      @Dave

      Given all the info I’ve seen on long reach relies on pinching the ADSL bandplans, it seems likely that a card using those freqs would be installed… anyone those on the longest lines would be put on it…

      However, i’d hazard a guess that everyone would have to go onto VDSL products to prevent interference… and no ADSL products would be supplied… which might irk TalkTalk…

    • Avatar Craski

      @Dave
      Agree regarding the 10 Mbps. I could live with that for a few years.

      @TheManStan
      Keeping ADSL running alongside VDSL products appears to be needlessly complicating and crippling the roll out. I wish they (BT / LLU providers) could find a way to move/migrate ADSL users onto equivalent speed VDSL products as a way to unlock the full potential of VDSL.

    • Avatar dave

      @craski I too wish that everyone was moved off ADSL2+ to VDSL2, this would result in better speeds for those on ADSL2+. BT could create a 17mbps capped tier at the same price they charge for ADSL2+.

    • @ Dave

      10 years is a long time in the Internet world. 10 years ago people were getting along with 500 Kbps, now most households probably need 5 Mbps to operate comfortably. At the same rate of growth they would probably need 50 Mbps in 10 years’ time.

    • Avatar AndrewH

      Yeah things are starting to really accelerate now. The next 10 years won’t be the same as the last 10 years. At least twice the amount of advancement will happen if not more.
      By 2025 we will be looking at a baseline of 100-300Mbps I reckon.

    • Avatar Gadget

      Not sure how all the LLU operators who also have money invested in MSANs in the exchange would react to a VDSL only proposal?

  2. Avatar Craski

    Being between 4 and 5 km from my serving cabinet this tech looks like it could help improve our speed quite a bit. I hope they do continue developing and push it out to the areas that need it.

  3. Avatar PeterM

    It looks to me as though we are heading to a situation where BT are saying what they could theoretically do but they won’t be able to do it because ADSL will get in the way.
    ADSL is still a major product in UK broadband and the chances of OFCOM, the LLU providers and the politicians making any sort of decision about its removal to help the final 5% would seem to me to be very remote.

    • Avatar Craski

      @PeterM
      Its a good point. I do wonder at what stage keeping the old exchange based ADSL hardware up and running in parralel to the new FTTX hardware becomes uneconomical to the point they decommission it.

    • Avatar themanstan

      Took them 4 years to decide BT FTTC/P was worthwhile…

    • Avatar Craski

      @TheManStan
      So potentially just another “Please dont separate BT/Openreach” plea to Ofcom?

    • Avatar PeterM

      @Craski
      With many customers still on ADSL, more than 80% on my exchange, don’t expect any change for the foreseeable future.
      This is simply a distraction keep looking at other broadband delivery options.

  4. Avatar themanstan

    Maybe something to get a response from TalkTalk… i.e. we´ll invest in delivering what you ask but you´ll lose your investment too by us doing it…

  5. Avatar MikeW

    Nice find on Clive’s additional speech. It does tell us this is blue-sky material, some way off.

    However, BT has been driving G.fast stuff through the ITU at a pace recently, so perhaps they’ll manage to get this into standards form quite quickly too.

    • Avatar PeterM

      @MikeW
      Obviously BT would like to increase speeds for customers on long lines using Long Reach VDSL2, but would it actually make sense for them commercially to get rid of ADSL to do that?

  6. Avatar mazy

    I don’t see this happening any time soon, if at all. The majority are still on ADSL and a switch to VDSL would require many to get modems and possibly engineer installs, which would be costly for ISP’s. All these technologies are just delaying the fact that fibre needs to be closer to premises, preferably directly to the premises… 20 years later. Also isn’t ADSL far cheaper for ISP’s than GEA-FTTC? If so I wouldn’t expect to see the “Free Unlimited Broadband for 18 months” that we see today.

  7. Avatar Douglas Dwyer

    My 9km line to the exchange fails regularly as a pots line my Isp says their router should work.
    It worked once 10pm to 10am for 100kbps never again. There is another nearer exchange I have offered to pay for a second line to that exchange but I am told told Ofcom wont allow.
    Can this be really true.
    Doug

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