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Belfast Joins Europe's Fiber Access Clan

Ray Le Maistre
8/6/2008
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As BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA) continues to talk up the (conditional) prospects of fiber access for British broadband users, one small part of the U.K. is pushing ahead with a fiber access development of its own, but with an altogether different technology message that's inspired by municipal developments in Sweden.

While BT has plans to deploy GPON technology (where each fiber is shared by up to 64 end users) to take fiber connections to up to 1 million homes around the U.K. by 2013, a private development on the waterfront in Belfast is building out a point-to-point active Ethernet fiber access network that will hook up about 5,000 new homes and a few hundred business units as they're built during the next seven years.

The project, part of a €7 billion ($10.8 billion) redevelopment of the former Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast called the Titanic Quarter (the Titanic was built at the shipyard), plans to deliver symmetrical 100 Mbit/s connections with guaranteed uptime, and it's doing this by taking two fibers to each home or business to build in full-access redundancy.

"It's most definitely not GPON -- it is definitely in the mold of the city networks in Sweden," says David Brunnen of Groupe Intellex, which has been acting as consultant and project manager during the planning phase of the broadband project.

Brunnen says GPON wasn't suitable for the open-access-network plan that will see British business communications services firm Redstone plc build the fiber access infrastructure on the waterfront site. (See Redstone Lands FTTH Deal.)

"We chose a design that was most suitable for multiple service providers to connect to it. We've done everything we can to make sure it suits every service provider, and that they can be assured of getting the symmetrical bandwidth needed to deliver their services, with no contention difficulties."

But Redstone will be able to use some existing resources, as one small part of the former shipyard has already been developed as a business park (known as the Science Park) housing major companies such as Citigroup and Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT). That's already hooked up with fiber and connected to a backhaul service managed by Northern Irish wholesale specialist Bytel -- which will also provide backhaul services for Redstone.

Bytel will manage Redstone's development as an open access network that invites multiple service providers to ride over the infrastructure.

Redstone will initially deploy network infrastructure from Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and PacketFront AB , and while project costs haven't been disclosed, the capital outlay required is believed to be around £5 million ($9.7 million) for the initial 5,000 homes and additional businesses. In the longer term, up to 15,000 homes could be built on the greenfield site.

While it's only a small FTTH plan, the Titanic Quarter project is just one of many European fiber-access projects that are adding to the region's high-speed access numbers, which FTTH supporters believe will grow from the current 1.4 million fiber-access connections to more than 19 million by the end of 2012. (See Asia, Europe Still Dominate FTTH and Report: EMEA Set for FTTH Surge.)

— Ray Le Maistre, International News Editor, Light Reading

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