Since 2009 the international 4GBB consortium has been developing a solution to offer people at home internet speeds of up to 1 Gb/s on a major scale without the need for a direct fibre-optic network connection.
In less than six years the solution, which will be known as G.fast, has been rolled out from just an idea to the development of fully fledged products, international standards (Dec 2014, ITU), real-life testing and a market. Operators such as BT will be rolling out G.fast this year and expect to have realised 10 million connections by 2020. Various other operators will follow or incorporate G.fast seriously in their planning.
This development has delivered the 4GBB consortium the Eureka Innovation Award for ‘Competitiveness’ earlier this week in Stockholm.
The alternative that has been developed uses as much as possible of the existing copper cabling once laid for telephony. However, this new G.fast copper technology enables speed of 500 Mb/s to 1 Gb/s per copper pair. That is substantially faster than VDSL with speeds of between 100 and 200 Mb/s per copper pair. In both solutions the speed doubles when using two copper pairs simultaneously (pair bonding). The total concept, which is a mix of fibreglass and copper, and is called “Hybrid Fibre to the Home”, can significantly accelerate the large-scale rollout of fourth generation broadband (4GBB, between 100 and 1000 Mb/s) and, with it, the ongoing development of services that use these speeds and bandwidth.
A major advantage of this technology is that homes can access high speeds without the need to incur the high costs of the laying and rollout of a fibre-optic cable. The biggest expense is contained within the laying if the final 30-300m and so the combination of fibreglass and copper is much more cost-efficient and faster to roll out than a fully fibre-optic solution. A lot of digging and installation is made redundant, along with the respective inconvenience caused. This hybrid fibreglass-copper approach also prepares for a fully fibre-optic network in the longer term in those places where this is currently still too expensive to realise. At the moment fibre-optic networks are mainly being rolled out in areas where it is relatively easy to lay, which means areas where it is relatively easy to dig and where more than 30% of homes also want to have a connection straightaway. But that growth is beginning to stagnate as the more difficult areas are next on the list. These include not only towns and cities but also existing apartment blocks where the cabling has to be modified to feed in the fibre-optic cable.
From the outset, Dutch research institute TNO has played a key role in this consortium, bringing in specific knowledge about the possibilities for the existing copper, detailing case studies on the cost savings in cities and performing lab tests with the initial prototypes. Other partners within the 4GBB consortium are: BT, Lund University, FTW, Adtran GmbH, Nokia, Ericsson AB, Marvell, Orange, Sckipio, Telefonica I+D, Telnet-RI.