Copper: speed demon or technology cul-de-sac

17 Jun Copper: speed demon or technology cul-de-sac

Copper: speed demon or technology cul-de-sac

By Mary Lennighan, Total Telecom, at Connected Britain

Wednesday 17 June 2015

Alcatel-Lucent unveils G.fast residential gateway, TalkTalk focuses on fibre launch, and INCA predicts the end of the road for copper networks but sees potential in mining their worth.

The debate over the future potential of copper networks heated up at Connected Britain this week. While some industry stakeholders are predicting the end of the road for copper, others are pushing ahead with plans to bring G.fast technology to market.

“There will always be a space” for all technologies in the evolving broadband ecosystem, said David Cullen, chairman of the Independent Networks Cooperative Association (INCA), a group representing alterative broadband operators in the U.K. However, there is one exception.

While the likes of satellite and fixed wireless access options will continue to find a niche, “the only one we see…[as being] a technology cul-de-sac is copper,” Cullen said. Further, copper networks represent a “commercial cul-de-sac” too, he added.

The market is based on a 50 to 100-year-old telephony-architected infrastructure, Cullen said. Does that work for the future development of the high-speed broadband industry?, he asked. “Not in a million years.”

But an industry heavyweight would doubtless beg to differ.

Alcatel-Lucent on Wednesday presented a new G.fast residential gateway, a plug-and-play device that enables operators to provide high-speed broadband to their customers over existing copper infrastructure. Telcos have yet to commercially launch G.fast, which was standardised late last year and can theoretically provide aggregate speeds of up to 1 Gbps over short copper loops, but the market is developing quickly.

“At the moment we are in [a] trial phase,” Miek Dekeyser, business lead, product management at Alcatel-Lucent’s wireline networks business, told Total Telecom ahead of the announcement.

Alcatel-Lucent sees the opportunity in the copper network space. It has helped operators in various markets deploy VDSL2 vectoring and now has “12 million lines deployed worldwide,” Dekeyser said. In addition, the firm is involved in G.fast trials with around 30 telcos, including Telecom Austria, Saudi Telecom and Taiwan’s Chunghwa Telecom. It is also trialling the technology in the U.K.

G.fast hit the headlines in the U.K. earlier this year when BT shared its plans to trial the technology in two towns this summer with a view to delivering 500 Mbps broadband to much of the U.K. within a decade.

Technologies like G.fast make sense for incumbents like BT, with extensive copper assets to sweat. But alternative players are unsurprisingly much less enthusiastic and are instead talking up the benefits of fibre.

TalkTalk’s general manager of ultrafast, Richard Sinclair, reminded the Connected Britain audience on Wednesday that his company is involved in a joint venture with Sky and CityFibre to roll out a fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) network in York. It plans to connect its first customers with 1 Gbps broadband in the autumn.

“That’s 100 times faster than copper,” Sinclair said, without addressing the additional speeds that vectoring and G.fast can bring.

The near ubiquity of copper networks in the U.K. has been an important factor in fostering digital inclusion, he conceded, but fibre-based ultrafast broadband will bring “revolutionary change,” he said.

Sinclair said it is not his intention to “denigrate copper”. However, “everyone needs access to ultrafast,” he said. With fibre “you don’t need to think about the broadband speed.”

Telcos’ technology choices are not just based on the speed of the network though; there’s also the speed of rollout to consider.

“[G.fast] changes the business case,” said Alcatel-Lucent’s Dekeyser. It allows for a faster rollout of high-speed broadband and “as an operator you get revenue quicker,” he said.

And that revenue can be used to fund the rollout of fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) in future, he said. “G.fast is helping to accelerate the rollout of fibre-to-the-home.”

Exploiting the copper that is already in the ground can help operators pay for fibre in other ways too.

Copper extraction technology – where the copper core can be removed from a cable, the sheath cleaned and fibre installed in it – is “not ready just yet,” said Cullen, but companies are working on it and identifying possible locations where it could be used.

“You end up with a micro-trench for fibre,” said Cullen. “It works up to 40 metres,” which is within reach for many premises already covered by fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC).

Cullen shared some research that he claimed shows that if 50%-60% of the world’s copper was removed from the ground and monetised, “we have more than paid for FTTP to everyone on the globe.”

via Copper: speed demon or technology cul-de-sac.