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AT&T Explores G.fast for MDUs

Alan Breznick
3/31/2016
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Now that AT&T has committed itself to wiring more than 12 million US homes for 1Gbit/s service over the next few years, company executives are targeting network technology options to bring higher broadband speeds to other customers.

One option that's being strongly considered by AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) officials is the new G.fast standard that telcos and vendors around the world are now starting to explore for delivering higher broadband speeds without the need for pricey new fiber networks. G.fast is a technology that can significantly boost the broadband speeds that can be delivered over existing copper lines, albeit over short distances (within 100 meters or 300 feet).

In an interview with Light Reading, Bill Smith, President of AT&T Technology Operations, said his engineering team is now testing G.fast in the labs to see if it makes the grade. While no field tests have been conducted yet, he's optimistic that the new technology will provide AT&T with a complementary way of bringing speeds as high as 300 Mbit/s to its broadband subscribers without having to lay fresh fiber. Right now, AT&T is relying on GPON technology over its all-fiber GigaPower network to deliver speeds as high as 1 Gbit/s to broadband customers.

"We haven't quite made the call yet on G.fast," Smith said. But, he noted, "hopefully it turns out to be part of our arsenal."

In particular, Smith would like to use G.fast over copper connections to serve apartment buildings, townhouse complexes, and other multiple dwelling units (MDUs) throughout the provider's nationwide footprint, including MDUs where it's unable to obtain permission to take fiber all the way into the living units. The idea would be to place the fiber network terminals outside the MDUs and serve four to eight units with each terminal, enabling faster broadband service, making use of existing internal wiring in the MDUs, and cutting down on installation time and costs.

"The big opportunity for G.fast is in the MDU space," Smith said. He also said that he will probably ask his engineering team to craft per-unit cost estimates for wiring MDUs with G.fast.

If AT&T decides to go the G.fast route, it would join BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA) and other telcos around the world that are now trying out the next-generation copper standard, as they seek to compete with cable operators rolling out DOCSIS 3.0 and, shortly, DOCSIS 3.1 technology. As Light Reading has previously reported, BT is now expanding its field trials of G.fast in the UK, while leading access equipment vendor Adtran Inc. (Nasdaq: ADTN) boasts that it's conducting G.fast trials with 60 operators around the world, including BT. (See Adtran Boasts 60 G.fast Trials and BT Expands G.fast Pilot Plans.)


Want to learn more about Gigabit Cities? Join us for Light Reading's second annual Gigabit Cities Live event taking place this year on April 5 in Charlotte, N.C.


But AT&T still plans to rely on its bread-and-butter high-speed technology, GPON, to meet the bulk of its ultra-broadband commitment to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) . As part of the conditions imposed when the FCC approved its purchase of DirecTV last year, AT&T agreed to extend its fiber reach to 1.6 million homes by the end of 2015, 2.6 million homes by the end of this year, and 12.5 million homes by the close of 2019. "Our intent is to exceed the FCC schedule," Smith said.

As part of that drive, AT&T announced Tuesday that it is now rolling out GigaPower in the Los Angeles area, making 1-Gig service available to "tens of thousands" of locations. "In single-family areas, full GPON will be the way to go," Smith said. "In multi-family properties, G.fast would give us additional options to deliver faster speeds."

Seeking to cut its fiber installation costs further and improve service, AT&T is now switching to smaller, more efficient optical network terminals (ONTs) in customer homes in some new housing developments, rather than placing larger ONTs in the garages and running Category 5 wiring into the homes. "We're looking at how practical that is to do uniformly," Smith said.

In addition, AT&T is looking for other ways to reduce its fiber installation expenses. Smith noted that the carrier has now brought its installation costs well below its once-ambitious target of $1,000 per home. "We're way, way beyond meeting that target," he said. "We just can't figure out a better way to dig a trench."

This blog is sponsored by AT&T. It is the first part of a ten-part series examining next-generation broadband technologies titled "Behind the Speeds."

— Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading

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brooks7
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brooks7,
User Rank: Light Sabre
3/31/2016 | 11:41:29 AM
Re: Alt DSL technologies
The basic problem is that its not cheap.  Let's talk about this problem G.fast for MDUs.

1 - The building is likely served by copper.  In most cases, there is no electronics in the basement,

2 - First, AT&T needs to pull access fiber past the building.  In most cities this is underground construction (note this is required whether you are doing G,fast or FTTP).  It is expensive and there has not been a lot of movement to loewr the cost of construction...in particular when unions are involved.

3 - Now, it turns out that AT&T can not guarantee that it can put electronics in everyone's basement or wherever the telco space is.  It has to reach an agreement with the owners in some if not all cases about this.

4 - For large buildings, you might not meet the reach requirements with units in the basement.  Given that you are depending on the quality of the in-house wiring you need to derate the best case.  Again, this might cause issues with owners.

5 - Now, you have put in the DSLAMs and can start selling people.  What do you do for people that don't upgrade?   You can't just bulk cut off service that they already have.  That means that you have to be able to pass through service that does not get terminated at the DSLAM.  So, you have to also look at NEXT/FEXT for other services.

Which leads to the basic question (and I am not going to go through potential powering issues here):  What number of buildings can you realistically put this in and get enough of a take rate to make it worth it?

On top of that, will they offer video over this service?  I can imagine that the Direct folks would like that as MDUs are hard for them.  One challenge is that some MDUs (I lived in one in Florida) do their own video service.  

Again, all of this potentially limits the percentage of lines that can be serviced by these technologies unless you just go for it.  Like U-verse or FiOS.  

Why would they do this?  You could feed the DSLAM with GPON and poof you could up your Gigabit offering without doing a lot of work in comparison to burying fiber to SFHs

seven

 
KBode
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KBode,
User Rank: Light Sabre
3/31/2016 | 10:26:59 AM
Alt DSL technologies
These alternative DSL technologies have been pushed for a decade but I rarely see them actually deployed in the States in any scale (I think because there's no competitive incentive to upgrade in many, many markets). You'd think AT&T'd be chomping at the bit for a technology like this that could inexpensively let it compete with cable, not just casually contemplating it as a possible solution. 
davidhoffman5
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davidhoffman5,
User Rank: Lightning
3/31/2016 | 9:04:56 AM
G.Fast
If AT&T had properly supported VDSL2 for their entire POTS network they would have already pushed fiber deeper into thier network. G.Fast would not be such a huge effort.
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