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Virgin Media Brings FTTP Broadband to Village via Gigabit Wireless

Wednesday, June 26th, 2019 (10:54 am) - Score 7,497
virgin_media_radio_trial_square

A new trial has enabled cable operator Virgin Media UK to deploy a 1Gbps (150Mbps upload) capable Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP / RFoG) broadband network into the Berkshire village of Greenham near Newbury, which was made possible by feeding the network via a 10Gbps high-capacity millimetre wave (mmW) radio link.

The mmWave bands (30GHz to 300GHz) aren’t terribly useful at providing wide area coverage but they can be handy for providing high capacity Line of Sight (LOS) wireless links over a shorter range. In this case Virgin’s trial used radio equipment from Ericsson to connect two “trunk” points over 3 kilometres with a 10Gbps signal, which was then converted within a local cabinet (DAA node) to help feed capacity for their full fibre network.

NOTE: The trial used E-band radios (ML6352 MINI-LINK) that operate in light licensed spectrum (Ofcom governed) of 70-80GHz.

As a result some 12 homes in the village of Greenham can now access download speeds of up to 1Gbps and uploads of 150Mbps, as well as the operator’s usual TV services, all of which are delivered via their existing Hub 3.0 broadband router and V6 set-top-box. The village itself is located just on the edge of the market town of Newbury (source of the radio link).

The idea of feeding a fixed line FTTP deployment via a wireless link might seem odd to some but it’s been done before (e.g. Airband have a similar approach with Rural Optic but Virgin seem to be using a more advanced setup) and can save a lot of money by reducing the need for extensive civil engineering.

virgin_media_radio_trial_diagram

Virgin Media suggests that the “wireless backhaul could mean that trunk network build costs are reduced by up to 90%,” which in turn makes such deployments more economically viable (particularly for rural communities and some apartment blocks). “The connectivity could also be used to help connect mobile providers and business customers,” said Virgin.

Jeanie York, VM’s Chief Technology and Information Officer, said:

“As we invest to expand our ultrafast network we’re always looking at new, innovative ways to make build more efficient and connect premises that might currently be out of reach. While presently this is a trial, it’s clear that this technology could help to provide more people and businesses with the better broadband they deserve.”

The operator notes that the 10Gbps link used in their trial may only connect 12 homes but they claim that this technology could “sustainably support delivery of residential services to as many as 500 homes when considering a 40% average annual growth in data consumption.” The radio link can also be upgraded to support a 20Gbps connection (i.e. meaning 2000 homes could “comfortably be connected in one area“).

The 3km distance is currently considered the “optimal target to guarantee reliability in all weathers” but like other wireless connections these radios can be “chained together and used back-to-back,” which increases the range and scope of connectivity without compromising capacity or availability.

As part of the trial Virgin Media also tested and optimised the wireless trunk signal in a range of weather conditions, including 80mph winds and 30mm rainfall, to ensure the connection remained stable throughout. The operator said they expect to conduct further trials of this technology later in 2019.

The operator claims that their trial marks the first time in the world that a wireless trunk link has been used to deliver services in a Distributed Access Architecture (DAA) model, which they say “decentralises and virtualises certain aspects of network functionality to create a more software-defined network and bring digital fibre signals closer to premises.

virgin_media_radio_trial_map

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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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10 Responses
  1. Avatar Joe

    12 homes – amazed they built it for this even as a test case.

  2. Avatar Tim

    Well done Virgin Media. We need more like you for us out in the sticks. 🙂

  3. Avatar CarlT

    Heh that’s pretty funny. I did a presentation on DAA / DCCAP just last week.

    With cable networks moving more and more intelligence out into cabinets in the field there’s a lot more potential for this to happen in the future.

  4. Avatar Chris

    Is the asymmetrical connection (1Gbps down, 150Mbps up) because of this type of chain, or just due to deliberate throttling?
    And what with recent news about government/law trying to define what these internet technologies actually mean to the consumer, isn’t having a wireless link as part of a “full fibre” network just going to add even more confusion? Doesn’t sound like FTTP to me, just because the wireless connection “is that good”. Otherwise wifi and ethernet could be classified the same if both matched the same bandwidth.

    • Avatar CarlT

      I’m trying to work out how to make a constructive reply to this but it would require a ton of explanations of the technologies involved.

      Once the technologies are understood much of it makes sense.

      The asymmetry is nothing to do with the wireless link, the wireless link bears no resemblance to home WiFi and actually has superior characteristics to a 10Gb link over fibre in terms of latency.

    • Avatar Phil

      @Chris

      The asymmetrical connection is due to the final delivery using DOCSIS. The type of system deployed by Virgin was originally intended to deliver TV to many people at once, i.e. it was a broadcast system and one way. Sending data backup the same cable arrived later and started off as a bit of a hack, which as been changed and improved over time. However sending data back up is more challenging and so speeds can’t be as high as download, but as home users typically wanted to download more than they upload, it kind of didn’t matter anyway, and for many people that is still the case. At the very start of piggybacking data over cable TV, the upload link was via a modem and telephone!

      This is set to change as newer versions arrive of DOCSIS that can provide symmetrical connections. Whether Virgin enable symmetric connections will then depend on markets and demand.

      FTTP as Openreach use (GPON) has a similar issue, in that the way it works means upload capacity is lower than download. Again improvements to the technology used will see this limitation removed in time.

      ADSL/VDSL again have technical reasons why uploads are slower than download speeds. G.Fast fixes these technical issues, it can run symmetrical, however it has to be set as a ratio, so as you increase the upload speed, the download speed is reduced.

    • Avatar Chris

      @Phil

      I’m confused. You say the connection finishes with DOCSIS, but the article states FTTP, i.e full fibre, not cable. Doesn’t any model of DOCSIS mean there’s copper in the connection? If it’s fibre from one end to the other, it’s FTTP, not FTTC(DOCSIS). That’s why I asked about the wireless link in the middle.

    • Avatar Rob

      @Chris actually you can have DOCISS over FTTP
      This is what Virgin do for most new builds these days.

      Take my village – Oakley Hampshire – as an example. They did a full FTTP rollout for all homes. Yet they use a technology called RFoG (RF over Glass) to deliver DOCISS over a fibre connection.
      This means their headend equipment and consumer modems are the same as everyone else, just the delivery from node to house is fibre. It also means upgrades in the future to GPON based FTTP would be super easy if virgin wanted to do it (But I doubt they will – they’ll keep using DOCISS until the market forces them to change).

      In this deployment what they’ve done is use a high capacity link to the local node (what would usually be fibre from the headend to the local street cab in my village) and then using the same RFoG FTTP to go from node to house.

      If you’re wondering “why install fibre just to use DOCISS over it” (which has less bandwidth) it all boils down to cost. It’s cheaper/simpler for virgin to have one headend kit/platform for the whole network/area than build some DOCISS and some GPON. Less confusing for customers as well (as they don’t care about the L1 layer!). All in all it’s a good compromise that’s relatively future-proofed

  5. Avatar Techy

    Note in the press release that standard VM superhub 3 and v6 Box has been used here – This means that RFoG has been used as the final FTTP delivery method and as Phil already pointed out, it is the DOCSIS broadband delivery that is driving the Asymmetry and not the wireless trunk capacity.
    Since the Access network and TV services have already been digitized onto a 10Gbps Ethernet link, in future there’s nothing stopping VM from using other technologies at the far end such as 10G EPON or XGS PON, VOIP,IPTV etc.
    There’s also tons of capacity there to support more homes, but as its a proof concept, they’ve started smaller scale to support the current products and customer premises equipment.

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