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.)
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