Openreach cranking up the ultrafast engine out of 1st gear
While the debate about what is best for the UK in terms of its broadband future continues with the public battle of the PR machines between BT/Virgin Media and the group behind the FixBritainsInternet campaign continues Openreach is still in the game of delivering connectivity and the CEO Clive Selley has announced some key changes for the coming year and beyond.
- Following on from previous FTTP options for developers of larger new build developments, this has been extended so that where developers engage with Openreach, FTTP will be delivered for free to developments of thirty or more premises. For smaller new builds a cost share model allowing FTTP is available too.
- LR-VDSL (Long Reach VDSL) has shown average increases of 13 Mbps across eight lines in the Isfield trial and 2017 will expand on existing the two trial locations (Isfield and North Tolsta) to cover 1,500 premises including in Ashcott, Somerset and Peatling Magna in Leicestershire.
- New delivery methods (e.g. the North Swindon trials of connectorised fibre) have delivered cost savings and Openreach is looking to seeing if this reproduces itself for other FTTP areas delivered.
- G.fast is moving onto production equipment, and therefore the pilots are extending to around 140,000 homes and businesses by the end of March 2017 in seventeen locations. Bolton, Cherry Hinton, Cheltenham, Derby, Donaldson, Gillingham, Langside, Gosforth, Huntingdon, Luton, Rusholme, St. Austell, Swansea, Swindon, Sheffield and in London - Balham and Upton Park. Initial production kit trials will start in Cherry Hinton and Gillingham to verify that the production volume hardware matches the performance of the much more hand built kit of the early pilot projects.
- Two vendors for the production G.fast hardware, Huawei and Nokia and further iterations of the hardware is expected further improving performance. Ambition to have passed 500,000 premises by the end of April 2017, making the two speed tiers of 160/30 and 330/50 (Mbps down/up) available as option.
- The PIA product is in a concept trial running until December 2016, with some 65km of duct reserved so far and 51km under construction and is running with five communication providers involved.
The overall aims of making ultrafast broadband available to some 12 million premises by 2020 is still in place, but we are sure that as that deployment reaches volume that we can expect to hear more about what will happen from 2020 onwards in the next few years. There is always the possibility that those saying FTTP is cheaper to install than G.fast might be proved right and by 2020 might see an even higher ratio of FTTP delivered by Openreach. At the end of the day the majority of the public care little about the technology, they just want a connection to be at the right price point, plus offer speeds that let them do what they want (i.e. decent speeds and low latency).
For those struggling along on a sub 2 Mbps connection of having to drive to the next village to check email, the news about more faster products will annoy, but areas such as the Universal Service Obligation were addressed and in some cases we are already seeing FTTP being delivered to premises with sub 2 Mbps type connections in areas like Northumberland and Herefordshire to name a couple of areas.
Obviously by still working on G.fast, Openreach will be accused of sweating its copper assets, but in a climate where people want better connectivity yesterday and no-one is willing to put the money on the table to achieve 100% FTTP within a short time frame (hardware costs remain the same no matter what time frame, but labour costs and work force size become more of an issue the shorter the time frame is) using solutions such as G.fast mean you can hit premises passed targets faster. So while G.fast is not future proof for the whole of the 21st century it will help the UK retain its position in the global digital economy.
On the Isfield LR-VDSL trial we are seeing speed tests in the area, but do not have the same level of before and after information to verify the Openreach average claim, but as the trials expand to more premises it will be easier to get a significant sample to look at. Also as the G.fast footprint increases we will endeavour to add G.fast to our speed test analysis so that an idea of what speeds people are choosing to buy and achieving become clearer, i.e. is G.fast actually ultrafast.