We went at looked at some pre-release G.fast hardware at the BT test labs in 2014 and now three months later Openreach is announcing an ultrafast future with deployment starting in 2016/2017 some eight years after FTTC started to be rolled out.
G.fast is being described as delivering up to 500 Mbps and the BT ambition is to have this rolled out to most of the UK within a decade, so we presume 2025, in the shorter term the talk is of availability to millions by 2020. Of course this is subject to nothing untoward turning up in some public trials, and 4,000 homes and businesses in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire and Gosforth, Newcastle will be able to take part in two pilot roll-outs in Summer 2015. This will build on the core work at Adastral park and help to train staff and verify that the expected speeds can be delivered.
Not everyone reading this will know what G.fast means, but basically it means a small box being attached to the pole that feeds your home, or dropped into a hole in the pavement and rather than your fibre broadband being delivered by a cabinet the fibre is ran to this small box and then your existing copper phone line delivers the G.fast signal. Higher frequencies are used which combined with the shorter distance means higher speeds are possible.
While we know that there will be those that complain that this is just Openreach exploiting its copper monopoly, the deployment of G.fast would not have been possible without the pushing of fibre out from the 5,500 exchanges to what is some 61,000+ street locations currently and pushing it again to a point within 100m or so of a cluster of premises means that just maybe in 2025 we may actually see the final decision to roll-out FTTP/H to millions by Openreach. Of course competitors like Hyperoptic, CityFibre and Gigaclear should have millions of FTTH connections by then too if their plans come to fruition.
What is clear is that the EU 2020 Digital Agenda target of 50% of the EU actually subscribing to a 100 Mbps or faster connection is likely to be a reality and the UK will be above the average across the EU. The lower standard of everyone with a 30 Mbps connection will depend on how the Governments final 5% pilots work out, though some areas are pushing ahead to 100% targets already.
The roll-out timing is interesting as it overlaps with the phase 2 BDUK dates and we would be shocked if G.fast did not feature in the superfast roll-outs in those local authorities aiming for 95% to 100% coverage at superfast speeds. The cost of powering a G.fast node may be the deciding factor between a small hamlet getting G.fast or FTTH/P.
Update 12:10pm In response to a few questions we have learnt that some G.fast nodes may be deployed from the fibre cabinets, the advantage being that DC power is available. Another alternative being DC power from the exchange. The need for mini-cabs and footway deployment is recognised and this announcement is about intention to deploy rather than a precise plan for the future. In terms of the future roll-out Openreach acknowledges that local demand hotspots will be one of the many factors and the trials will be looking closely at peoples desire to upgrade from superfast to ultrafast, i.e. how willing are people to pay for even more speed than they can sensibly use at once or put another way how valuable is waiting 1 minute for a large download versus 5 minutes.
A small note, there will also be a Gigabit trial, that we believe will look at delivering Gigabit speeds over the existing GPON GEA-FTTP network. Technically there is no problems, but understanding willingness of people to upgrade and pay for higher speeds and usage patterns are probably more a factor in that trial.