BT Gets G.fast Confidence Boost From Trials

MUNICH -- Gigabit Europe -- BT says it is convinced G.fast is the right solution for supporting ultra-fast broadband services in the UK after managing to provide 300Mbit/s services to nearly all of the customers already involved in its trials of the emerging technology.

Speaking earlier today at Light Reading's Gigabit Europe event in Munich, Peter Bell, the chief information officer of BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA)'s Openreach access division, told attendees the results of the trials so far were shoring up BT's confidence about moving ahead with a commercial G.fast rollout.

Pushing G.fast
Peter Bell, BT Openreach's CIO, discusses the operator's ultra-fast broadband plans
Peter Bell, BT Openreach's CIO, discusses the operator's ultra-fast broadband plans

BT has been carrying out G.fast trials in the towns of Gosforth and Huntingdon, where its aim is to connect about 4,000 homes to the technology.

G.fast is attracting interest from operators keen to boost their broadband capabilities without having to make heavy investments in extending fiber all the way to customer premises.

The technology effectively super-charges the last-mile copper connections into homes by extending the range of frequencies over which broadband signals travel. (See G.fast: The Dawn of Gigabit Copper?)

Earlier this year BT said it was examining G.fast as a means of providing 500Mbit/s services to most homes in the UK by 2025, and the operator last week set a new target of covering 10 million homes and businesses with G.fast-based 300-500Mbit/s services by 2020. (See BT Outlines Conditional Gigabit Vision for UK, BT Puts G.fast at Heart of Ultra-Fast Broadband Plans and BT Plots G.fast Rollout, Mobile Launch.)

The operator also intends to offer 1Gbit/s services to customers that demand higher speeds, using a mixture of G.fast and FTTH networks.

But G.fast poses a number of challenges for BT because its effectiveness is nullified over longer distances.

The original expectation was that G.fast operators would roll fiber out to distribution points close to customer premises and use G.fast technology for the final drop.

Bell says the economics of that approach are untenable, with BT currently maintaining around 4 million distribution points across the UK.

Instead the operator is looking to provide G.fast from many of its 90,000 street cabinets up and down the country.

While this would reduce costs and logistical challenges, it would, of course, require G.fast to be effective over much longer distances, but BT reckons the potential of the technology is growing.

"It's fair to say there were a few technologists aghast when we said we wanted 300 Mbit/s but we are seeing more support," says Bell. "We are in lots of discussions with the vendor community and are seeing positive feedback."

The rollout of gigabit broadband access networks is spreading. Find out what's happening where in our dedicated Gigabit Cities content channel here on Light Reading.

If BT and its vendor partners can prove the effectiveness of G.fast over much longer distances they could fuel considerable interest in the technology among service providers in Europe.

Operators such as Deutsche Telekom AG (NYSE: DT), Germany's former state-owned monopoly, have previously sounded a cautious note when discussing G.fast due to its distance-related limitations.

BT's G.fast update came on the same day the UK's CityFibre revealed it had connected the first trial customer on the York gigabit network it is building in partnership with Sky and TalkTalk , the country's second- and fourth-biggest broadband operators respectively.

Although much smaller than BT, CityFibre is positioning itself as an infrastructure rival to the UK incumbent and believes it can attract customers by offering much higher-speed services than BT at lower or comparable cost. (See UK Needs Fiber Infrastructure Rivalry – CityFibre.)

The York project involves the deployment of FTTH services to around 20,000 premises and could ultimately serve as a template for rollouts in other UK cities and towns.

"This is the first time two major service providers are launching gigabit services in the UK market," says Mark Collins, CityFibre's director of strategy and public affairs.

— Iain Morris, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, News Editor, Light Reading

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