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BT Unveil Large Ultrafast G.fast Broadband Pilot and 1Gbps FTTP Trials

Thursday, March 10th, 2016 (12:31 pm) - Score 9,496

Telecoms giant BT has today announced an expansion of their “ultrafast fibre” broadband plans in the United Kingdom, which will see a pilot of 330-500Mbps capable G.fast technology going live with 25,000 premises in Cambridgeshire and Kent, as well as a new 1Gbps business FTTP pilot in Bradford.

On top of that the operator has announced that it will also expand upon last month’s agreement to deliver “fibre based” (FTTC/P) broadband connectivity into new build properties (here) by offering to build Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) “free of charge” to new housing developments with 250+ premises (a joint funding option is available to smaller developments.).

However it’s worth noting the caveat to the new build housing pledge, which states: “Construction of Fibre to the Premises infrastructure (the ducting, poles and wires) will be carried out for free on developments of more than 250 premises. Standard connection and ongoing service provider charges will apply and excess construction charges will continue to apply where the site is more than 4.5 kilometres from Openreach’s existing fibre network.” So it will be free, albeit only so long as you’re near their fibre network, which is understandable.

Clive Selley, CEO of Openreach, said:

“The UK is a leader when it comes to superfast broadband. Nine out of ten premises have access to fibre today and this will grow to 95 per cent by the end of next year – but I want to get high speeds to everyone, so we’re also developing solutions for the final five per cent of the country.

I’m determined to roll out ultrafast broadband, and G.fast technology is the best way to deliver that to the majority of the UK as quickly as possible. We also plan to roll out significantly more fibre-to-the-premises, and we’re trialling a range of options in Bradford to use that technology increasingly in future – wherever it makes sense.

A large number of new housing developments will also get fibre-to-the-premises infrastructure built for free under our latest plans, so that’s great news for developers and homeowners too.”

Under the current plan BT intend to begin the commercial roll-out of G.fast during summer 2017 (here), which will follow the aforementioned pilot this summer, and they’ve pledged to make the new service available to 10 million homes and businesses by 2020, with “most of the UK” expected to be covered by 2025.

At first G.fast will only offer speeds of up to 330Mbps (50Mbps upload), but this will eventually reach 500Mbps. The two new pilots (12,500 premises in each location) will be conducted in Cherry Hinton (Cambridgeshire) and Gillingham (Kent), which follow the current trials being conducted in parts of Swansea (Wales), Huntingdon (Cambridgeshire) and Gosforth (Newcastle).

We should add that Openreach has also set a downstream prioritised rate 80Mbps for their G.fast service, which is also the top speed of their current VDSL based Fibre-to-the-Cabinet (FTTC) technology that can reach 24 million premises (over 80% UK coverage).

Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP)

Meanwhile the new FTTP trial in Bradford (Kirkgate High Street and Listerhills Science Park) aims “to explore if the technology can be installed faster and more efficiently in business parks and high streets“. Apparently work has already started on the network and the first businesses are expected to be connected in late Spring 2016.

The trial will complement several existing FTTP related trials, such as those occurring in the North Swindon development of Haydon Wick and other locations like the villages of Campton and Meppershall (details).

The press release added: “Although every business in the UK already has access to ultrafast speeds via dedicated lines or ‘Ethernet’, the results of the Bradford trials – and feedback from industry – could lead to a new business-grade FTTP product being developed for SMEs with speeds of up to 1Gbps and strong service guarantees.”

Unlike G.fast, which is a hybrid-fibre and copper broadband technology, FTTP is a pure fibre optic connection that can deliver even faster and more reliable speeds. However it does have the disadvantage of also being slower and more expensive to deploy, which is why BT tends to prefer the cheaper VDSL (FTTC) and G.fast approach.

At present the top download speed available on BTOpenreach’s FTTP network, which is available to well over 200,000 UK premises, is 330Mbps and the new “premium” (business) trial of 1000Mbps (1Gbps) FTTP has long been expected. We should add that the new trial is expected to offer upload speeds of 100Mbps and the downstream prioritised rate will be set at 100Mbps.

Today’s news flows on from yesterday’s report, which saw BT Group’s CEO, Gavin Patterson, confirming that they were working to “accelerate the deployment of fibre-to-the-premises significantly” (here) and much of that is in the hope that it will help to placate some of Ofcom’s Strategic Review findings (here).

However, outside of trials and support for new build home developments, there’s still no firm commitment to a wide-scale national roll-out of FTTP. Hopefully we might see more on that in the near future.

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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 Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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30 Responses
  1. Ignition says:

    I congratulate Openreach on the progress here, and lucky Gillingham, there has to be some upside to living there.

    Beyond that – humbug. I’m PO’d with BT Group, amongst others, right now.

    1. GNewton says:

      “Beyond that – humbug. I’m PO’d with BT Group, amongst others, right now.”


    2. Chris C says:

      Isnt this from the cabinet only? meaning no new fibre, all the claims that I was wrong about there been no nodes installed on poles etc. seem not the case with this announcement.

  2. alusufferer says:

    keep reading this term – downstream prioritised rate – but cant find any info on what it refers to? is it like the guaranteed speeds before fault?

    1. MikeW says:

      More like the minimum speed during congested periods.

    2. alusufferer says:

      thanks @MikeW that makes sense

  3. Steve Jones says:

    I can’t imagine many housing developments of 250+ properties which won’t be reasonably close to a fibre aggregation point.

    One interesting point to know is whether OR are required to also provide a traditional phone line (ie MPF) to these premises. The ONT does provide for up to two analogue phone lines over fibre but that cannot, of course, be used for LLU and, to date, the only one of the three major ISPs supporting GEA-FTTP is BT Consumer.

    1. Steve Jones says:

      That’s three major ISPs using the OR network of course. The fourth, VM, have their own network.

    2. Ignition says:

      What did you have in mind as far as ‘reasonably close’ goes, Steve?

    3. Ignition says:

      Answering your other point unless the developer explicitly asks for both greenfield FTTP is just that, no copper involved.

    4. Steve Jones says:

      I should have been more specific and used the 4.5 km limit mentioned. Most large housing developments are in, or on the periphery of existing settlements which are likely to have aggregation points nearby.

      As far as the telephone lines are concerned, I’m talking about individual orders, not developer requirements. The USO has got a cost limit before the excess construction cost issue comes up (I seem to recall it’s about £3k). No doubt many such orders would exceed that, even if the ducting/poles could be used, but I’m more interested in the principle. I there a right (under the USO) to have a traditional copper phone line provided even if fibre is available. There are, of course, a couple of services (besides LLU) which don’t work over fibre.

    5. MikeW says:

      Given that the developers will also be funding any extension of other utilities – Gas, Water, Sewage and Electricity – new developments are almost always relatively close to existing civilisation. Some of those will be more expensive to “backhaul” than the telecoms infrastructure.

      As for the USO, I think you are right. Someone could indeed ask for copper. I suspect this is one aspect of the USO that will be “fixed” in the new USO consultations.

  4. bdo21 says:

    Hopefully more FTTP only deployments will mean FTTP will start to have more critical mass and Sky and others will start to offer FTTP services.

    1. Bob H says:

      Sky and TalkTalk is already working with Cityfibre on FTTP in York.

    2. bdo21 says:

      I should have been clearer- hopefully Sky and TalkTalk, etc. will start to offer FTTP services using Openreach’s infrastructure. There is not much consumer choice if you are restricted to one ISP or a very small number because they each only operate on their own network.

  5. Sunil Sood says:

    The larger G.Fast trial should also give us a better idea of whether BT are looking initially to just upgrade cabinet locations or push fibre further into the network

    1. Lee says:

      Seems to be from the cabinet based on what I’ve read.

  6. Ignition says:

    Feel the enthusiasm in the comments section 🙂

  7. cyclope says:

    Why is it nearly always Cambridge picked for their trials ?

    1. Stuart Andrews says:

      Wish they pick Bath for a trial…

  8. Jazmin says:

    Where do they pick the trial households. I live in Gosforth and wasn’t asked and don’t know anyone who was

    1. Lee says:

      There’s about 2000 homes in Gosforth on the trial. Given that there are over 18500 premises served by that exchange, some which may have multiple lines, it’s not a huge proportion of the exchange (around 10% or so).

      It will be kept to quite a small geographical area, to reduce the amount of kit that was initially deployed for the trial.

    2. MikeW says:

      There’s a map of the Huntingdon locations in this presentation:

      As you can see, it is a small percentage of Huntingdon too.

  9. bdo21 says:

    I realise this isn’t a real problem but why can B4RN, Gigaclear, etc. offer 1Gbps at retail prices but when Openreach is contemplating a 1Gbps FTTP product, it is graded as business (with presumably a ‘business’ price tag to match)?

    1. MikeW says:

      Things labelled “business” tend to come, from BT and others, with low contention ratios or no contention at all. This means there is little or no risk of congestion either within the access network, or across the core cross-country network, or out at the other end.

      Residential products tend to come contended – particularly within the core, or in the connection out at the other end (usually, for residential products, into the ISP). These products rely on the fact that not everyone is going at full speed all the time.

      If you order a BT-based business product at 1Gbps, that’s likely what you will get at all times, no matter what anyone else does. The extra money buys the bandwidth end-to-end.

      Comparison: In the business world, you can buy a 20Mbps symmetric leased-line, which uses an FTTC connection for the access network portion, but comes with uncontended bandwidth across the core network. These products are around £150pm, instead of the ~£20pm we pay for contended internet access. 85% of the money goes on the core provision.

      A B4RN product of 1Gbps will give you a 1Gbps connection in the access network. But you don’t get a guaranteed 1Gbps throughput into the internet – not if everyone tried to do so together. With 1,600 customers, they’d need 1,600 Gbps backhaul (1.6 Tbps) into Manchester – and agreements to use that kind of bandwidth out of Manchester into anywhere else.

      Last I read, they were using 4 wavelengths for backhaul, each of 10Gbps – a total of 40Gbps lit into Manchester (that might be wrong now, mind). The average, per customer, of 25Mbps is statistically fine for today’s residential usage.

    2. bdo21 says:

      Thanks Mike. I remember asking a Gigaclear user on a forum about their real world speeds, assuming they would rarely get 1Gbps. However, I was surprised by the response which claimed at any time of day they would get 1Gbps. Perhaps the Gigaclear network is just not very congested yet or the particular user didn’t use it at busy times of day (or just had rose tinted spectacles!)

  10. cyclope says:

    With FTTC over BTW business grade bb can and does suffer congestion , because BT overload their Svlans , if a business were to operate 24/7 they would likely see the same as home users during evenings as that is their busy time ,

    1. MikeW says:

      Note that a Broadband circuit, with FTTC as the access leg, is very different from a leased line with FTTC as the access leg. Even when bought as a business service with higher care levels.

      The former remains a contended product, though might share different paths than residential subscribers. The latter is the uncontended stuff.

  11. Tom says:

    I am currently a Virgin Media customer … I have been a customer since they were NTL … Im like a stupid faithful old dog … My internet speeds have never reached the speeds that I have been paying for ever- I also have the full package incl Tivo / Movies / Sports and telephone. Costs quite a bit from my hard earned they are bugging me lately and after 20 odd years of shelling out to them dont feel like they are as committed to me as I have been to them.

    Seriously are BT any better ? because I am cosidering changing my provider for the whole shaboo.

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