BT puts G.fast at heart of its broadband strategy

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BT is set become one of the first operators in Europe to plan the widespread deployment of G.fast, a technology that delivers faster broadband speeds over copper wires.

In a statement, BT CEO Gavin Patterson set out the company’s ambition to transform the UK broadband landscape from ‘superfast’ to ‘ultrafast’. G.fast can provide broadband speeds of up to 500Mb/s to most of the UK within a decade, he claimed.

BT will test G.fast in two pilot locations starting this summer. Deployment will start in 2016/17, assuming the pilots are successful.

Like other forms of broadband over copper wires, the speed provided by G.fast depends on how close the technology is to a customer’s premises. BT appears confident that G.fast can provide speeds of ‘a few hundred’ megabits per second to millions of homes and businesses by 2020. Speeds will then increase to around 500Mb/s as further industry standards are secured and new kit is developed, the operator said.

Patterson said: “We believe G.fast is the key to unlocking ultrafast speeds and we are prepared to upgrade large parts of our network should the pilots prove successful. That upgrade will depend however on there continuing to be a stable regulatory environment that supports investment.”

The two pilots will start this summer in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire and Gosforth, Newcastle. Around 4,000 homes and businesses will be able to participate in the pilots which will explore what speeds can be delivered using G.fast at scale.

The pilots will build on recent tests carried out at BT’s innovation centre at Adastral Park, Suffolk, which showed that G.fast has the potential to deliver significant speed increases from existing and new fibre street cabinets as well as from other points closer to the customer.

The use of G.fast will allow BT to deploy faster broadband technology in a more efficient and rapid manner than previously thought. BT says it is likely to deploy G.fast from various points in the network, with pilots allowing the operator to assess the various roll-out options. "It [G.fast] will transform the UK broadband landscape from superfast to ultrafast in the quickest possible timeframe,” said Patterson.

BT says it is also planning to develop a premium fibre broadband service for residential and business customers who want even faster broadband, of up to 1Gb/s. It is not clear whether this service would be delivered over full fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) connections or whether BT is expecting advances in G.fast technology to enable those kind of speeds in the future.

Improvements to G.fast are certainly possible as scientists and engineers keep pushing the capabilities of copper-based technology. In the lab tests carried out last autumn, BT demonstrated combined downstream and upstream speeds of 1Gb/s over a 19m length of copper cable, and around 700M downstream and 200Mb/s upstream over longer lines of 66m. And last summer Bell Labs demonstrated 10Gb/s transmission over 30m on two copper pairs and 1Gb/s over 70m on a single copper pair.

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