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BT Updates on UK G.fast, SoGEA and “Slow Speed” Broadband Plans

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2016 (2:51 pm) - Score 9,337
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BT has revealed some interesting new information on their UK plans for deploying ultrafast 300-500Mbps G.fast broadband technology, as well as SoGEA’s trial status, a possible extension of VDSL (FTTC) Vectoring, a new 18Mbps “Slow Speed” product for upgrading sub-2Mbps rural lines and more.

The new information officially surfaced as part of BTWholesale’s ISP Forum event, which was held at the end of last month and is often used to brief Internet Service Providers (ISP) on the operator’s plans for the forthcoming year. In that sense the first forum of the New Year is usually the most interesting as we get a clearer roadmap and time-scales.

All of the plans and technologies that we’re about to talk about should already be familiar to most of our readers and as such we’re just going to do a simple summary of the most interesting highlights, albeit with a short explanation for those who might not be keeping such a close eye on industry developments.

But before we get started it’s worth noting that BT’s 21st Century Network (21CN) powered Wholesale Broadband Connect (WBC) platform, which is the foundation for a lot of modern Internet connection technologies on the operator’s network, has now expanded its coverage to more than 94% of premises in the United Kingdom and moreis on the way (understandable given the Broadband Delivery UK targets). This is often a useful gauge for where more modern connectivity services might reach in the future.

bt_wholesale_broadband_connect_jan_2016

Speaking of “fibre broadband” (FTTC/P) coverage, so far 72,000 related street cabinets have been installed for the service and well over 24 million premises are now able to order the service. However it’s worth noting that around 1,500 older 20CN telephone exchanges have also been adapted to support FTTC (VDSL).

Highlights from BT’s January 2016 ISP Forum

Tackling Sub-2Mbps Broadband Areas

Last year BTOpenreach hinted that one approach for helping to achieve the Government’s proposed 10Mbps Universal Service Obligation (USO) might be to conduct a “Slow Speed” technology trial for broadband lines that suffer from sub-2Mbps speeds (original news). It might also be possible via ADSL2+ from the street cabinet instead of exchange (here), but both approaches have their limits and problems.

We now know that this product, which has yet to be fully defined, could deliver download speeds of 18Mbps (2Mbps upload). A 6 month trial, which will start within the next few weeks or months (early 2016), is due to be conducted “with no commitment to launch after trial.” Apparently the trial “upgrade” will be limited to qualifying lines in specific geographic areas/cabinets and will only be available on an ISP’s existing services (BTWholesale will not participate in this trial).

Fibre-on-Demand Status

BTWholesale still has not set a date for lifting their “Stop Sell” on Fibre-on-Demand (FoD) orders, which allows ultrafast FTTP to be installed on lines that can get an FTTC service (albeit via a very expensive install process). This is almost certainly because Openreach are continuing to trial the FoD2 improvements to cut install times / costs, which is being conducted alongside their G.fast trials that are running until September 2016.

Incidentally the FoD2 trials have also been shown to push FTTP to top speeds of 960Mbps, although there’s still no firm date for when the long awaited 1Gbps FTTP product tier might surface.

FTTC/VDSL Vectoring

BT indicates that we might see a wider deployment of VDSL (FTTC) Vectoring technology, which is designed to improve broadband performance by combating cross-talk interference on copper lines. So far VDSL Vectoring has only been deployed in a very limited and selective way (here), although the latest update states that Openreach are now expecting a second DSLAM vendor enablement to happen “soon“, although BTWholesale is still awaiting a “deployment plan“.

Network Rearrangements (Tackling EOLs)

BT expect to conducted a lot more Network Rearrangements in the near future, which is what Openreach often does when they want to install a new FTTC street cabinet on long copper lines, Exchange Only Lines (EOL) or in busy areas in order to improve broadband speeds / cater for rising demand.

Apparently 2,800 street cabinets could be provided as part of this latest effort, which would be installed between February 2016 and finish in 2020/21. No doubt some of those will be funded by the Broadband Delivery UK programme as already happens.

G.fast Trials and Commercial Rollout

Yesterday’s results from BT revealed that the current G.fast trials would come to an end in September 2016, which represents an extension from the original spring 2016 completion window. As a result of that BT now say that they will conduct a larger scale pilot from Summer 2016, with the commercial launch being tentatively pegged for Summer 2017 (the first time we’ve seen a solid date for their UK roll-out).

The Summer 2016 pilot is expected to deliver “further functionality” (there’s currently no indication of what that means), while more detailed roll-out plans, pricing and device standards have yet to be finalised.

Single Order Generic Ethernet Access (SOGEA)

Finally there’s a small update on the future SoGEA product, which people may know better as being Openreach’s solution for a truly standalone (naked) FTTC / VDSL “Fibre Broadband” line without also having to pay a separate rental for the phone service.

We’ve already revealed a lot of technical and trial details for the SoGEA service (here and here), although today’s update confirms a slightly adjusted time-scale for the trials. Apparently the “Alpha” trial will now start in October 2016, with a “Beta” trial set to follow in April 2017 and the final Pilot due to happen in August 2017.

At that rate we might not see a commercial SoGEA solution until early 2018.

The ISP Forum event also released plenty of other details, but we’ve covered nearly all of that in prior articles and have thus above chosen to only focus upon the new or changed developments in their roadmap.

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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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27 Responses
  1. Avatar MikeW

    If I understand that “slow speed” trial correctly, it looks like Openreach will be offering FTTC (or FTTP) at a slow rate of 18/2, but this rate will only be available in locations that suffer from sub-2Mbps speeds on exchange-based service.

    Presumably the product will be priced to persuade people that it is worth swapping.

    • Avatar DTMark

      “We now know that this product, which has yet to be fully defined, could deliver download speeds of 18Mbps”

      I doubt that it means “We’ll install a VDSL cabinet within about 850m line length (erring on the side of caution given how old the line plant is) of every home that can’t get 2Mbps”.

      What it does mean is.. yet to be fully defined.

    • Avatar MikeW

      Even though the article mentions “isn’t fully defined yet”, remember that is Mark talking of ISPR’s knowledge. It doesn’t necessarily mean that Openreach hasn’t fully defined it yet.

      We have to glean whatever information we can.

      So what else do we know?
      a) Given that Openreach are already inserting additional cabinets to reduce D-side line length, and haven’t felt the need to create a CP-based trial (that BTW isn’t taking part in), we can be sure that, whatever the new product definition is, it isn’t that.

      b) One thing that can be gleaned from the BTW slides, that isn’t obvious from Mark’s report: context.

      Mark reports the item within the context of dealing with sub-2Mbps lines, and the USO. However, BTW reported it within the context of their session on “Fibre”. Not WBC, not 20C, not 21C, but Fibre. Reported immediately after the 55/10 product, immediately before the withdrawal of the Openreach VDSL2 modem. It doesn’t mention USC or USO. It doesn’t mention coverage.

      Taking that context into account, it is a reasonable step to believe that whatever the product turns out to be, it involves the GEA/NGA infrastructure. Given it was reported next to the 55/10 item, it would also be reasonable to assume this is “just” a speed step.

      In fact, I don’t believe the new product has anything whatsoever about improving coverage of technology to people on long, sub-2Mbps lines.

      Instead, I think it is all to do with convincing people on sub-2Mbps lines to choose to upgrade to an NGA fibre offering that is already available to them.

      Improving take-up, not coverage.

      And, as if by magic, a minimal amount of googling turns this up:

      In early 2016, we’re introducing enhancements to our existing Next Generation Access (NGA) portfolio, with two new fibre propositions that have different speed variants.

      {snip the 55/10 information}

      We’ve developed a product and a special offer that’ll be specifically available for those end customers with the slowest ADSL broadband lines, provided over our network. The 18/2 Mbps tier is a ‘stepping stone’ option that can be used to upgrade end customers on the slowest ADSL lines to GEA-FTTC. We’re launching a six month special offer to help us size the demand for this ‘stepping stone’ product and understand if fibre is the right solution for this customer segment. The special offer will be a lower monthly rental price than existing GEA-FTTC tiers, and we expect this to be available from early February.

      We’re not all hicks on here.

    • Avatar MikeW

      On shakier ground, I think we can go further…

      – BTW isn’t taking part, so we have to assume this is for LLU-based operators, and perhaps specifically requested by one of them.

      – The pricepoint is therefore likely to be sensitive.

      – Given that basic FTTC is often seen as a £5 premium on ADSL, I can see a reduced-price GEA tier of 18/2 being used to market a much lower premium (possibly even “free”) way to get off a “below-standard” line.

  2. Avatar Dave

    What does exchange-based service mean?

    • Avatar GNewton

      @Dave: Exchange-only line, going directly from your premise to the exchange, and not through a street cabinet. EO lines are a curse for many who want to have a VDSL service, but can’t get it, because the VDSL equipment is not allowed inside an exchange building (crosstalk issues, regulations etc). Often requires a network re-arrangement to get the line through a fibre cabinet. IMHO replacing EO lines with fibre would have been a better approach for many high-density populated clusters where EO lines often are located.

    • Avatar Ignition

      Exchange-based = ADSL and telephony services sourced from an exchange rather than a DSLAM in a cabinet.

      Different thing from lines that are exchange-only and don’t go through a copper cabinet at all.

    • Avatar MikeW

      I meant a service (for you) whose other end is provided by equipment based in the exchange building. If the service is distance-limited (like all DSL), then the limitations you encounter will be based on the length of the line to the exchange building.

      This is in contrast to cabinet-based services, where any distance limitations will be based on the line length to the cabinet. Likewise any future services where the active node could be located anywhere between the home and the cabinet.

      I didn’t particularly mean anything about EO lines, even though they are indeed currently limited to only exchange-based services until the copper is re-arranged to include a cabinet.

  3. Avatar simon bull

    I live in a rural location with speeds of 0.2meg, i welcome vectoring to make my speed to 18meg.
    I dream of the day i can watch a movie online. In the 21st century. !!!

    • Vectoring is more about fixing problems in busy VDSL/FTTC areas where speeds have dropped due to cross-talk interference. In that sense it’s not really about bringing faster speeds to rural areas on longer copper lines.

  4. Avatar gerarda

    Our exchange has been enabled for WBC for years but is still one of the worst in the UK for both ADSL and superfast availability

    • Avatar TheFacts

      Which one is it?

    • Avatar MikeW

      Do you mean UK? Or just GB?

      The network structure in Northern Ireland has made for a very high percentage of “fibre coverage” but a relatively low percentage of “superfast speeds”.

      Long D-side lines are very endemic over there.

    • Avatar gerarda

      Its Stowmarket exchange and I guess I was thinking worst in terms of numbers outside the reach of ADSL or superfast, not percentages, as its big exchange with hundreds of premises outside the reach of workable ADSL and the FTTC rollout has barely touched those

    • Avatar MikeW

      @gerarda
      From the SamKnows maps, Stowmarket does look like it covers some fair distances.

      However, the appearance of the exchange on Codelook was really surprising – positively surprising, that is. It showed every single cabinet as having FTTC either working or in some state of progress. And more than that, it showed almost every EO-bundle as tagged for upgrade too.

      I’m not sure I’ve seen an exchange quite so comprehensively covered.

      It doesn’t tell me anything directly about the lines that will still have too long a D-side, obviously. However, I noted that, when viewing all postcodes, every entry also indicates fibre coverage … but there is no mention of cabs 42 and 44.

      It looks like a couple of cabs are being added for something – whether that is EO coverage, or for those properties with lines that are too long.

    • Avatar gerarda

      SamKnows figures are hugely optimistic – ~1Mbps appears to be a euphemism for probably can’t get ADSL. They were of course the people who reported to Suffolk County Council at the start of the BDUK process that ADSL was universally available in Suffolk.

      As far as fibre coverage is concerned have a look at http://www.betterbroadbandsuffolk.com for the wider Stowmarket area which will give you a flavour of how much still needs to be done.

      It does look like 2 new cabs are planned and that might solve the issues in two of the surrounding villages, unless they are going to be used for groups of EO lines all of which seem to be in Stowmarket itself.

      There are also discrepancies between Codelook and Better Broadband Suffolk. eg Cabinet 33 and 36 are down to be live by October this year on Codelook, but the postcodes are not in the planned area of Better Broadband Suffolk, which goes up to September 16.

    • Avatar MikeW

      Sorry – I only use the SamKnows exchange search & mapping part. Their maps help you identify neighbouring exchanges easily, and identify where exchange boundaries are likely to be.

      I wasn’t attempting to use any of their speed data – which is essentially Ofcom’s anyway, isn’t it?

      As for the better-broadband site … it seems their map-colouring data runs out in September, while all the current Stowmarket work is scheduled for October or later. That doesn’t help a lot.

      There were some other internal discrepancies in the Codelook data. This looks to be related to places where copper re-arrangement is happening, and EO lines are being converted over to a nearby cabinet. Cabs 38 and 39 seem to appear a lot in these areas; I wonder if they were originally deployed for EO upgrades, or if they have always existed.

    • Avatar Lee D

      “~1Mbps appears to be a euphemism for probably can’t get ADSL. They were of course the people who reported to Suffolk County Council at the start of the BDUK process that ADSL was universally available in Suffolk.”

      You’re spot-on there. I’m in one of the outlying villages from the Stowmarket exchange and I cannot count the number of times I’ve been told in no uncertain terms by BT/TalkTalk that I can get ADSL – when I know full well that I can’t because the signal quality is so low. I’m an engineer by trade and I get frustrated when call centre staff try to talk down to me!

      Anyway, this year things are changing – at long last. OpenReach are currently installing a DSLAM in our village. I have to pinch myself to make sure I’m not dreaming, because we were promised this by the government, BDUK and BT every year since 2012, and until now it has failed to materialise. I understand many of the Stowmarket exchange not-spots will soon be covered by this work, so at last we can enter the 21st century…

  5. Avatar MikeW

    There was also an interesting aspect of WBC – more migration to WBC.

    The slide above mentions that around 3,600 sites have been enabled for WBC. I believe that includes sites that have had limited room for expansion, so have had a phased migration strategy: Add one 21C MSAN; migrate users to clear one 20C DSLAM; Replace DSLAM with 2nd 21C MSAN; Migrate users to clear another 20C DSLAM; etc. Upgrade & migration done over the course of a few months.

    The next batch of sites – some 1,900 – don’t even have the space to follow that strategy. They need to remove a 20C DSLAM, put in a 21C MSAN, and migrate the affected users … all in one night.

  6. Avatar Alan D. Key

    I really can’t wait for the FOD stop-sell to be lifted, a fibre pipe runs past our premises (50 yards away) and feeds the local exchange from the main network, but we can only get 4mb on an EO line.

    I’ve been told if FoD comes back they will be able to splice into the pipe and give us FTTP, I’m praying this to happen soon!

    • Avatar Lee

      I was under the impression that FoD was only available (when the ban is lifted) to those on an FTTC cabinet.

    • Avatar Alan D. Key

      So was I Lee, but after speaking with BT’s area leader on email he said it shouldn’t be a problem to splice into that fibre once FoD is back on. Here’s hoping!

      EDIT: We’re actually on a cabinet, but the cab is right outside the exchange (so it might as well be an EO line!) 2km from us.

    • I guess they should know where the optical aggregation node your FoD service would run from is.

      Obviously you can’t be spliced into that cable, hopefully the fibre node is nearby.

    • Avatar MikeW

      Having FTTC available is “just” a qualifier that allows you to place an order; what happens in the field ends up with virtually nothing to do the FTTC cab. FoD only really requires that an aggregation node has been sited somewhere nearby (which having an FTTC cabinet helps assure), and is going to be accessible via the ducts & poles that already route back via that cabinet.

      On the other hand, I’m pretty sure that they will NOT splice your access-network fibre into an exchange-exchange backhaul circuit. For a start, that circuit won’t have any of the GPON hardware that your connection will need, but it is otherwise just bad network engineering practice to mix things up that way.

    • Avatar Alan D. Key

      I must admit I did think this myself, but I live in hope 🙁

    • Avatar Alan D. Key

      I just wish there was a way for us to get faster internet for our business without forking out an arm and a leg (I’d be prepared to spend maybe a grand or two but can’t justify any more), it seems so close (fibre running past) yet so far (no way to access it)

  7. Avatar Lee

    I operate from 2 locations, 1 have a 74MB FTTP connection and the other is rural ADSL that connects around 7MB.

    To be completely frank, once the excitement of having a 74MB connection wore off I came to realise that the 7MB connection was able to do everything just fine, from web browsing to streaming Netflix. If you have a similar connection and it’s constantly buffering chances are you actually have a noisy phone line which means you’ll need an open reach engineer not a fibre broadband upgrade.

    As a consumer sometimes you just have to step back and think, do I really need this product they are trying to sell me. All consumer services are designed to work on slow connections. If you can get more than 10MB then you have a good internet connection. The only service I know of that actually would need fibre are 4K streaming sites. On top of this a shared 10MB connection would easily accommodate 3 people watching Netflix at the same time with some bandwidth spare for others on the network who are just browsing the web.

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