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Northumberland Village Gets 80Mbps Wireless-to-the-Cabinet Broadband

Thursday, May 5th, 2016 (10:20 am) - Score 1,643
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Homes and businesses in the remote rural Northumberland (England) village of Coanwood, which is home to around 200 people, have become the latest to benefit from BT’s hybrid Microwave (radio) and VDSL based ‘up to’ 80Mbps Wireless-to-the-Cabinet (WTTC) broadband technology.

Over the past 3 years we’ve seen BT pilot WTTC in a number of areas, such as on the remote island of Rathlin (here), in the Devon village of Northlew (here) and around the small village of Westow that sits on the edge of the North Yorkshire Moors (here). So far it seems to be a niche technology that targets very specific areas, such as those where a normal fixed line approach wouldn’t be cost effective.

In a normal Fibre-to-the-Cabinet (FTTC) network BT will run a fibre optic cable from their nearest Telephone Exchange and use it to connect with a local Street Cabinet. After that your broadband service would be delivered using VDSL technology over the existing copper line that runs between the cabinet and your home or business.

WTTC works in a similar to FTTC but it replaces the fibre optic line, which runs between the exchange and your local street cabinet, with a line-of-sight style point-to-point Microwave wireless radio link for the capacity supply. Otherwise ISPs treat the service in the same way as they would a normal “fibre broadband” (FTTC) product.

microwave wireless to the cabinet

Likewise the deployment in Coanwood harnessed a 5 kilometre Microwave radio link to the village, with a small football sized transmitter dish being installed at the top of a specially built 11 metre high wooden pole close to the telephone exchange building. A similar receiving dish is then constructed alongside the local street cabinet.

Mike Reynolds, Project Manager at Openreach, said:

“Using microwave radio was the ideal solution for Coanwood. We were determined to find a way to make superfast fibre available to the village, however the cost of laying five kilometres of new duct and fibre was prohibitive and the necessary roadworks would have caused significant disruption.

We still had to overcome other technical challenges including the need for a specialist rock hammer drill to dig down deeper than usual as we needed to erect a 11m high poles. We also needed temporary ground matting for our specialist vehicle, used to erect the radio dishes to overcome the effects of ground water saturation caused by Storm Desmond.

The microwave link uses a dedicated radio spectrum so there is no possibility of the signal being lost or interfered with. For people using broadband in the village, it will be exactly the same as if they were connected up using fibre optic cables in the ground. The increase in speed and subsequent benefits are exactly the same. Customers’ premises are connected up to the fibre cabinet in the usual way so there is no need for any special equipment in the home.”

It’s interesting to note that the 5km radio link is a greater distance than BT’s pilot in Westow, which was conducted over a distance of 3km. Never the less we haven’t seen many deployments like this, which is despite the first known trial popping up all the way back in 2013. As ever it remains a useful tool for BT, albeit one that is only viable for certain specific areas.

Never the less we may see more solutions like WTTC or the equally rare Fibre-to-the-remote-Node (FTTrN) being deployed as BT’s roll-out through the Government’s Broadband Delivery UK programme has begun to reach some increasingly remote rural communities, where traditional methods are often too expensive to use.

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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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37 Responses
  1. Avatar Marvin Smith

    Are customers being sold a “fibre” product?

    • No doubt yes, but there’s no (or minimal) extra ‘fibre optic’ involved compared with regular ADSL…

      Fibre-over-the-air will likely be the excuse. It compliments the existing ‘fibre-over-copper’ that makes up the last mile in regular fibre broadband products 🙂

  2. Avatar fastman

    I see a Typical Sarcastic response as ever

    This will be FTTC product — the wireless element (which is a dedicated radio Spectrum is brtween the fibre node and the cab

    • Please don’t take offence, it’s the marketing and sales positioning of these products that I am frustrated by, nothing against the great people who develop, test and deploy them!

      I am very happy that such innovative solutions are being deployed 🙂

    • Avatar wirelesspacman

      It would be interesting though to see what the ASA made of this – they have yet to rule on fibre-over-the-air as far as I know. Having said that, I get the impression from the diagram that BT themselves are referring to it as WTTC rather than FTTC.

      I also (more seriously) do wonder if the cabinet will be fed with sufficient capacity to minimise congestion issues – particularly if the cabinet is “used” by CPs other than BT (such as TalkTalk and Sky). I doubt they will get more than 1 (or perhaps 2) Gbps over that distance (esp if it really is just a “small football” sized antenna), and if this has to be “shared” between CPs, then congestion could well be an issue if there are some mega downloaders fed by the cabinet.

    • Avatar Lee

      As far as I know, the capacity of the link from the cabinet, whether on FTTC or WTTC is not broken down to ISP/backhaul level. All data, regardless of ISP or backhaul supplier will go via the same link. It’s not until the data gets to the Layer2Switch that the data is offhanded to the relevant backhaul network.

    • Avatar wirelesspacman

      You might well be correct Lee, though in my view that would def go against the spirit of “VULA” as it could mean that traffic of the customers of one ISP causing congestion to the customers of another ISP.

    • Avatar Lee

      I think that’s why Openreach provided 6? Fibres to each cabinet although initially only one is “lit up” as one provides enough capacity to the exchange/handover point but obviously there is the possibility to very quickly increase capacity if a specific cabinet is subject to very high demand from a higher than usual number of very heavy users.

      As far as I know, it’s all the same shared Openreach kit all the way from port to the L2S regarldess of which ISP you’re with.

    • Avatar MikeW

      Yeah, it’s all shared between the L2S and the cabinet – though the CP’s are allowed to tag the packets with QoS information for use when things need to be dropped.

      The multiple fibres into the cabinet allow extra backhaul capacity, still shared, to be brought on-stream if need be. Plus spares, of course.

      The hidden details of FTTC products, that no-one tells the end-user, include the mechanisms for coping with congestion. There are “prioritisation rates” of 15Mbps and 30Mbps, and a variety of QoS flags. Some of these mechanisms regain the spirit of VULA by ensuring that some of the traffic for each user gets through. SIN 498 holds details.

    • Avatar wirelesspacman

      I appreciate that the traffic is “shared” as it passes between the L2 switch and the cabinet (using VLANs), but I was under the impression that each CP determines how much bandwidth they wish to purchase along that path (in multiples of 1 Gbps) – and that Openreach will configure the links such that there is no congestion even if all CPs are “consuming” all the bandwidth they have purchased. After all, even 1 fibre could quite easily provide a 10 Gbps link these days, which would probably allow for enough “paid for” capacity for most cabinets.

      I thought that the QoS tags and prioritisation rates etc were to allow the CP to manage the usage of the bandwidth they themselves had purchased between the L2 switch and the cabinet, and not to manage congestion between CPs.

    • Avatar MikeW

      Buying capacity in multiples of 1 Gb to each and every cabinet? Guaranteed capacity, at that?

      I think most, if not all, cabinets are connected by a single gigabit connection. Without signs of congestion anywhere.

      In this Cornish picture, the labels of the FTTC fibres (24 of them, into the cards near the centre) don’t seem to imply any widespread use of multiple links to the cabinet. (FTTP GPON cards on the right, cablelink uplink card on the far-left)
      http://www.coolwebhome.co.uk/fibre-cornwall/pages/image/imagepage24.html

      I thought the UK was still only averaging around 1Mbps per user in the peak hours. Would we really want to try to have many multi-Gb links to an FTTC cab that likely has around 64 users?

    • Avatar wirelesspacman

      As I say Mike, I could be wrong it is just my understanding of how it works. A CP has to buy a GEA Cablelink to connect the L2 Switch to its own kit, and this is sold in multiples of 1 Gbps, with 1 Gbps being the smallest. The CP is responsible for “managing” traffic over the GEA Cablelink.

      As I mentioned in the last post, one fibre is quite capable these days of connecting the L2 Switch to the FTTC cabinet at 10 Gbps, thus I would also expect there to be only a single fibre used in almost all FTTC cabinets at the moment.

      You are right that the average is still probably only around 1 Mbps, but congestion management needs to account for peak usage. 20 end users deciding to download at full wack could easily swamp a single Gbps link.

    • Avatar wirelesspacman

      Oh, and excellent set of photos Mike. Don’t think I have seen such good ones before.

    • Avatar MikeW

      I can’t claim responsibility for the photos – they were taken by Andrew at TBB. But they are good … I just wish we could see some equivalent Huawei ones.

      Openreach have explicitly mentioned 10Gb cablelink variants, but only as part of the NGA2 trials, and only in locations where FoD2 is being trialled; those places “only” trialling G.Fast stick to 1Gb cablelink products. Their 2012 video on Youtube, describing FTTP to their CP customers, mentions 1Gb cablelink solutions “with options to scale with requirements”

      I couldn’t give you concrete evidence, but I’m pretty sure cabinets are working just fine on 1 single Gb link, and cablelinks remain at the 1Gb level. For now.

      Yes – a gaggle of individual consumers could swamp the link, depending on demand patterns … so congestion becomes an issue for statisticians. How likely is it that 20 subscribers will all swamp their own links at the same time? How long are we willing to put up with such congestion? 2 minutes during peak hours? Telecomms has always been this way, driven by the statistics (lookup the Erlang unit, as related to voice calls).

      As an example, take VM’s use of EuroDOCSIS. Up until recently, they’ve tended to run cable segments with 16 channels available to the group of houses (numbered in the hundreds) … 16 channels @ 55Mbps = 880Mbps. However, any one cable modem would bond a group of 8 channels. That modem (and all others sharing those 8 channels) would share a total downstream capacity of 440Mbps.

      Yet at this time, VM were selling packages of 152Mbps … so just 3 subscribers could swamp the 8 channels that are likely being shared by 100+ properties.

      The statisticians tell VM whether they can run this kind of ratio for long, and how often they will need to re-segment the cable to serve smaller groups. BT will have similar statisticians – all using modern equivalents to the Erlang formulae, fed by papers like this one: http://file.scirp.org/pdf/CN20110300004_72803119.pdf

    • Avatar MikeW

      As a further source of information, there’s an interesting presentation by a BT researcher on “how much bandwidth”: http://www.bcssouthwest.org.uk/server.asp?page=videoview&event=56

      A part of that research examines one evening period, and the 20,000 “busiest” lines – the ones that sustain a load for 30 minutes+. Of those, the majority are using video, and the sustained load level averages between 5 and 10Mbps. These are the busiest 20,000 out of perhaps 3.5 million lines, some 0.5%, using BT fibre-based products.
      (about 17 minutes into the video, or page 29 of the PDF)

      I’d imagine that the statisticians would want to use this kind of number to represent the sustained load level, multiplied by some number of subscribers per cabinet (which we don’t see, but it could just be one user per cabinet) to figure out how much backhaul is needed.

      I could see them employing numbers like
      – 50Mbps for one user
      – 10Mbps for 10% of users
      – 1Mbps for 50% of users

      In an average cab today, with 80 users, that might make a peak-hour total requirement of 170Mbps.

  3. Avatar Patrick Cosgrove

    Can anyone tell me if this can only work wih one “hop” to a cabinet or FTTRN), or can it be taken further (e.g. up small valleys) using relays? Thanks in anticipation.

  4. Its great to see new technologies being trialled by BT and particularly in West Northumberland. However, I am slightly puzzled that BT Openreach chose not to take advantage of our fibre (funded by BDUK’s market test pilot) which passes approximately 250m from BT’s Coanwood cabinet. I’m sure there are very good reasons, but its a shame that we have not been able to provide BTO with a passive product on this occasion.

  5. Avatar adslmax Real

    WTTC is bad idea because of high risk of cancer

    • Avatar wirelesspacman

      I’m ok then, as I am a scorpio! 🙂

    • Avatar themanstan

      Yup… bacon too… pretty much anything man made…

    • I suppose if you erected a ladder and stuck your head right up against the dish (seeing as it’s a narrow point-to-point link) and stayed there for several years then you might potentially be at a heightened risk of cancer. But you’d probably die from other things far sooner and would also struggle to add your wonderful comments on this site, which I’m certain would sadden everybody 🙂 .

    • Avatar FibreFred

      🙂 !

  6. Avatar FibreFred

    So is the microwave link actually to the exchange? If so where is the fibre?

    • Avatar MikeW

      Running up the side of the pole?

    • Avatar FibreFred

      This must be labelled as a different product to customers, could be a bit confusing otherwise but it won’t be common place by the sound of it

  7. Avatar fastman

    Fibre Fred it is FTTC

    • Avatar FibreFred

      It’s wttc?

    • Avatar GNewton

      @fastman: It is WTTC, according to the article which says:

      “WTTC works in a similar to FTTC but it replaces the fibre optic line, which runs between the exchange and your local street cabinet”

      And then, from the cabinet onwards, it’s VDSL over the existing copper wires. You can still order the same “fibre broadband” products, e.g. Infinity-1 or Infinity-2, thanks to the ASA allowing for this misnomer.

  8. Avatar Daniel Heery

    Its great to see new technologies being trialled by BT and particularly in West Northumberland. Cybermoor has fibre (funded by BDUK’s market test pilot) passing approximately 250m from BT’s Coanwood cabinet. We will have to get in touch with BT Openreach and see if we can provide them with dark fibre to their cabinet and save all the hassle with the ASA etc.

    More details on our BDUK pilot project are available here https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/497369/BDUK_Market_Test_Pilots_-_Emerging_Findings_Feb_2016.pdf

  9. Avatar fastman

    Fibre Fret — to be Clear WTTC is the method on delivery of the fibre to the cab — it is FTTC which is sold from the cab to the consumer as any other cab in the country

    • Avatar FibreFred

      There is no fibre to the cab is there?

      Or from the cab to the consumer?

      If this is literally:-

      Exchange – Microwave Dish – air – Microwave Dish – cabinet, copper to the premise

      That isn’t FTTC at all its WTTC

    • Avatar Lee

      Is there no fibre from the exchange to the microwave dish? And from the other microwave dish to the cabinet?

    • Avatar wirelesspacman

      Lee will be correct here – there will be fibre from the exchange to the microwave dish and a second fibre from the microwave dish to the cabinet. Thus, taking it literally, it is indeed FTTC.

      I do love the sound of fastman using microwave to “deliver” fibre to the cab – though perhaps a drone might do a better job! 🙂

    • Avatar MikeW

      It is, of course, all a consequence of using the word “fibre” as a short-hand adjective in place of “the latest shiny variant of broadband that puts hardware closer to the house, so it can run faster, and feeds backhaul with some sort of very-high-speed connection, normally fibre, but other technologies might apply”.

      Would here be the right place to point out that the group of people known as “high frequency traders”, who try to make their data connections as straight as possible (say, between Basildon and Frankfurt) to make better money from commodity or equity exchanges, choose to use microwave links because they are faster than fibre links?

      http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p026qp2x
      Fibre latency, Basildon to Frankfurt, is 8.4ms.
      Microwave latency, Basildon to Frankfurt, is 4.4ms.

      WTTC isn’t necessarily worse than FTTC.

    • Avatar wirelesspacman

      Lol, nice one! 🙂

  10. Avatar fastman

    I’m not delivering anything on this !!!! but the average punter in the village who frankly doenn’t care how its delivered and only that it is will be able to buy and FTTC service from their service provider of choice (assuming they offer FTTC)

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