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BT Reveal Massive UK G.fast Pilot and LR-VDSL Broadband Trial Areas

Thursday, Sep 22nd, 2016 (11:37 am) - Score 15,536

The CEO of Openreach (BT), Clive Selley, has today given a progress update on their plans to improve national broadband connectivity. Among other things this included improvements to their FTTP roll-out for new build homes, a list of trial locations for the 10Mbps USO focused LR-VDSL technology and a huge extension of their G.fast pilot to 138,000 UK premises.

Selley’s update comes at a time when BT’s network access division is under a spotlight as part of Ofcom’s once-in-a-decade review of the United Kingdom’s digital communications market, which has yet to reach a final deal with BT due to a conflict over the issue of Openreach’s governance (here).

In keeping with that Openreach’s boss was keen to show that the operator wasn’t just standing still and did plan to make big improvements. The result is that we today received a shotgun blast of important updates and we’ll go through the main ones first.

Free FTTP for New Build Developments of 30+ Homes

As most people know BT has committed to rolling out ultrafast Fibre-to-the-Premise (FTTP) broadband technology to 2 million UK homes and businesses by 2020, which is up from around 330,000 premises today (here). As part of that the current top speed of Openreach’s FTTP service will be lifted from 330Mbps (30Mbps upload) with the addition of 500Mbps (165Mbps Upload) and 1000Mbps (220Mbps Upload) tiers.

The first 9 areas to benefit from this have already been announced (here) and it’s important to note that a lot of the extended roll-out will focus on catering for new builds, which partly reflects the deal that was agreed earlier this year in order to make Openreach’s service more attractive for new builds (here).

Crucially Selley today unveiled a plan for broader FTTP coverage of new builds by making the following tweaks, which should bring FTTP to even smaller developments.

New site developments

• All new site developments of 30+ homes registered from November 2016 will be able to get FTTP built for free (reducing the threshold from 100+ homes)
• This will mean at least 9 out of 10 new sites homes can have access to free FTTP
• New site orders since May:
– All orders – 64% will get FTTP
– Orders from sites with over 100+ homes – 98% of plots will get FTTP

New Long Reach VDSL Trial Areas

Openreach are currently in the process of trialling their new fixed line “Long Reach VDSL” (FTTC) broadband technology, which could be used to deliver the future 10Mbps Universal Service Obligation (USO) and possibly even to expand the availability of “superfast” (24Mbps+) speeds (full details).

The technology, which is currently being tested in Isfield (East Sussex) and North Tolsta (Isle of Lewis), is a variation of the existing VDSL2 based Fibre-to-the-Cabinet (FTTC) broadband technology that can reach most of the UK.

However LR-VDSL has been tweaked (i.e. higher signal power and wider frequency ranges) so that it can deliver faster speeds over longer runs of copper line from your local street cabinet (e.g. a 2km line might deliver around 9Mbps via normal VDSL2, while LR-VDSL could potentially do 24Mbps+).

Today Selley confirmed that their original Proof of Concept trial with up to 200 lines in Isfield was able to deliver an average increase in download speeds of 13Mbps to locals, which is a nice boost to have (sorry for the lack of labels on the chart below, but that’s how it was presented and the change is still evident).

lr_vdsl_ispreview_performance_trial

On top of that Openreach also confirmed the next batch of trial locations, which includes Ashcott in Somerset and Peatling Magna in Leicestershire, launching in early 2017. More trial locations will also be launching in 2017, covering 1,500 homes.

G.fast Pilot Extended to 17 Locations

Under the current plan BT hopes to roll-out their new G.fast service to 10 million premises by 2020, with “most of the UK” then likely to be done by 2025 (we’re guessing that “most” will equate to around 60% UK coverage). See here for the technical details.

Initially G.fast will offer top download speeds of ‘up to’ 300Mbps (50Mbps upload), although they will also offer a middle tier at 160Mbps (30Mbps upload). In the future BT has also talked about squeezing a top speed of 500Mbps out of the technology, but that’s still a long way off.

The commercial roll-out is likely to get underway later in 2017 and BT has already run a number of trials (apparently these attracted 550 customers and “average headline rates” of 300Mbps were attained), but before that the operator has already announced their intention to conduct a larger scale pilot (12,500 premises for each location) in Cherry Hinton (Cambridgeshire) and Gillingham (Kent).

Today Openreach confirmed that they were already rolling out the pilot network and have confirmed that their equipment partners for the G.fast service will be Huawei and Nokia (nobody will be surprised to see Huawei chosen as BT has built a strong history with them); this covers switches, modems and cabinet ‘side pods’. The first pilot pricing details will also be “confirmed in the coming weeks“.

However the big news is that Openreach now intend to extend their G.fast pilot to 17 locations from January 2017, reaching around 138,000 UK premises by the end of March 2017. Strictly speaking this is perhaps big enough to be considered the unofficial start of their commercial roll-out.

When combined with FTTP this means that BT’s roll-out of “ultrafast broadband” should have reached 500,000 premises by April 2017.

G.fast Pilot Locations

* Bolton, Greater Manchester
* Cherry Hinton, Cambridgeshire*
* Cheltenham, Gloucestershire
* Derby, Derbyshire
* Donaldson, South East Scotland
* Gillingham, Kent*
* Langside, Glasgow
* Donaldson, Edinburgh
* Gosforth, Tyne & Wear
* Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire
* Luton, Bedfordshire
* Rusholme, Manchester
* St. Austell, Cornwall
* Swansea, Wales
* Swindon, Wiltshire
* Sheffield
* London: Balham / Upton Park, London

Several of the areas listed above are of course reflecting a continuation / expansion of the earlier G.fast trials (e.g. Swansea, Gillingham, Huntingdon etc.).

Other Bits

Elsewhere Selley also revealed that Openreach would be making some additional data available on the performance of their copper and fibre network, as well as missed appointments, although this largely seems to consist of a few limited statistics (similar to their Our Responsibilities page). For example, Openreach engineers fixed 81.9% of network faults on time in Q1 vs 77.7% in the same quarter last year.

We also got an update on the trial of Ofcom’s required cable Duct and Pole Access (DPA) product, which gives ISPs access to install their own cables within BT’s existing infrastructure. The trial with 5 ISPs (details) has been running since July and is due to complete in December. So far 65km of duct has been reserved, with 51km under construction.

As part of the DPA trial Openreach claims to have received “Positive feedback on transparency and process, especially use of distribution joints and ability for CPs to use their own contractors to unblock ducts,” although we know that Vodafone and Cityfibre have had a few problems (here).

In keeping with that Openreach plans to release further mapping enhancements and improved access to network data next Spring 2017. The goal is for “CPs [to] have the same data as Openreach when building their own networks.”

Finally, Openreach confirmed that their FTTC dominated “fibre broadband” network can now reach 25.9 million UK homes and businesses, with 6.5 million premises having subscribed (across all ISPs).

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 X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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