Can G.fast play a role in the backhaul strategies of major telcos?
BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA) clearly thinks so. The UK incumbent operator, which has already made public its plans to deploy G.fast technology in its fixed broadband access network, is one of a number of companies involved in a European research project that is examining the potential application of G.fast, the latest standard technology that can boost the bandwidth of copper lines, in backhaul networks. (See Euro Project Probes G.fast Role in Backhaul Networks and BT Puts G.fast at Heart of Ultra-Fast Broadband Plans.)
Currently, backhaul links that feed voice, data and video traffic from the edge of the network (mobile cell towers, street cabinets, multi-tenant buildings) are being upgraded to fiber or (in the case of cell towers) next-generation packet microwave in order to cope with the growing volumes of traffic.
But as urban networks become more dense as outdoor small cells get deployed, and end-user broadband speeds (fixed and mobile) ramp up beyond 100 Mbit/s as a result of LTE-Advanced deployments in mobile networks and FTTH, DOCSIS 3.x and vectoring/G.fast deployments in fixed networks, so the costs of laying dense fiber backhaul networks start to look daunting.
That's clearly on BT's mind, not least because it's set to become the owner of a significant high-speed mobile network for the first time ever. (See BT Threatens Price War With New 4G Offer and BT Locks Down £12.5B EE Takeover Deal.)
So BT is one of the participants, along with Adtran Inc. (Nasdaq: ADTN), Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU), Marvell Technology Group Ltd. (Nasdaq: MRVL), Orange (NYSE: FTE), Sckipio Technologies and others, in a three-year project called Gigabits Over the Legacy Drop (GOLD) project, which aims to "develop alternative backhauling options" based on copper instead of fiber.
The focus is on the second iteration of the G.fast standard. The first, ratified in late 2014, is for 106MHz transmission over copper lines, which can potentially enable capacity of up to 800 Mbit/s over short copper lines (less than 20 meters) and a still very respectable 700 Mbit/s at distances up to 50 meters (but it's very dependent on many factors, including the physical state of the copper plant itself).
The hope is that by the time the next iteration of G.fast is standardized, 1Gbit/s aggregate speeds will be possible (dependent on the length of the copper loop).
It is that kind of performance that has BT and other operators excited, with the expectation that the second phase of G.fast technology might even deliver multi-gigabit transmission speeds over copper.
"G.fast is quickly turning into a key technology for European operators," said Trevor Linney, head of Access Network Research at BT in the GOLD project announcement. "During our lab evaluations, it has outperformed our expectations in terms of bitrate and reach for fixed-line subscribers. Now, we have formed the GOLD project to drive further improvements in the capabilities of this exciting technology, working closely with vendors and other global operators."
Linney is one of the presenters on a Light Reading webinar, G.fast: Turning Copper Into Gold, being held on March 31, during which Linney will outline BT's G.fast aspirations, Oliver Lamparter, senior product manager, will outline how G.fast fits into Swisscom AG (NYSE: SCM)'s broadband strategy and Jack Zhu, senior marketing manager, Access Networks Group, will talk about how Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. is developing its G.fast technology for network operators.
I will be hosting that webinar -- please join me on March 31 to find out more about how BT, Swisscom and Huawei view the potential of G.fast in fixed broadband networks.
— Ray Le Maistre, , Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading