news British telco BT has demonstrated that it is possible to deliver broadband speeds of up to 10Gbps over its normal fibre infrastructure extending to some homes and businesses; the same Fibre to the Home infrastructure which is being deployed in Australia as part of the Federal Government’s National Broadband Network project.
BT, which is the UK’s former monopoly telco (similar to Telstra in Australia) is currently rolling out fibre to the node infrastructure in the UK as part of plans to significantly upgrade the country’s existing copper network to deliver speeds of up to 80Mbps. In addition, the telco recently announced that it would be allowing customers to choose to have fibre fully extended to their premises, delivering a large speed upgrade to 330Mbps. However, overnight the telco revealed the results of a trial which promised even higher broadband speeds that would be possible for widespread use in the future.
In a statement, BT noted that it had conducted a live trial of 10Gbps speeds on its normal fibre network, using Cornwall-based engineering firm Arcol UK as the testsite for the new technology. The 10Gbps service actually runs in tandem with the company’s existing 330Mbps service on the same fibre, and merely requires different networking equipment connected to the customers’ premises. The trial uses new fibre technology called XGPON (Tens of Gigabits on a Passive Optical Network) and was supplied by Chinese networking giant ZTE, in partnership with BT’s Openreach wholesale infrastructure division.
Ranulf Scarbrough, Programme Director for the Cornwall SuperFast Broadband Programme, said: “What is exciting about this trial is that these hyper-fast speeds have been obtained over the exactly the same fibre that carries BT’s fibre broadband services today. All we are doing is changing the electronics at either end. This trial shows we are thinking and ready for the future even though there are no current plans to deploy this technology. A lot of this project is about future proofing – making sure that it’s not just the fastest speeds today but that we can continue to be at the cutting edge for five, ten, twenty years.”
The 10Gbps trial runs over high speed fibre optic network established by the Superfast Cornwall Programme, a broadband partnership between the EU, BT and Cornwall Council, which has made fibre optic broadband available to over 100,000 Cornish homes and businesses.
Until recently, Arcol’s 40 staff had shared a 1.5Mbps internet connection, according to BT. The Superfast Cornwall Programme has delivered high speed fibre-to-the-premise to the business park enabling Arcol to connect at 330Mbps. Alun Morgan, technical director at Arcol, said the ability to connect at such fast speeds was “opening the door” for the company to achieve much more.
“We are still only just discovering the sorts of things we can do with these speeds, such as taking advantage of services like videoconferencing and using a cloud-based ERP system so we can access this information elsewhere, and it has enabled us to be much more efficient and aggressive,” Morgan said.
BT’s trial does much to demonstrate how the future of next-generation broadband in Australia could evolve. In Australia, the Federal Government is currently deploying fibre to the premises as part of its National Broadband Network project; a more ambitious style of deployment than BT as the fibre is being extended all the way to most premises nationally. The company deploying the infrastructure, NBN Co, has said that speeds of 1Gbps will be achievable over the network in the short-term future, but it is likely that speeds of 10Gbps will eventually be possible over the network, as the BT trial demonstrates.
The Coalition currently has a policy featuring a very similar network rollout style to BT, featuring a Fibre to the Node-style deployment, with the possibility that such a network would be extended in a similar fashion to the way BT is currently deploying fibre all the way to the premise in some areas. It is likely that any FTTN-style deployment in Australia would eventually be upgraded to fibre in many areas over the next several decades, should demand for Internet bandwidth continue to increase at the same speed it is currently.
What BT’s trial shows is the future of both the NBN policies espoused by the Coalition and Labor. If Labor’s NBN vision continues to be rolled out following the next Federal Election, it is likely that we will eventually see the NBN’s networking equipment upgraded to support speeds of 10Gbps, especially in areas where business and government is concentrated. If the Coalition’s FTTN policy goes ahead, it seems inevitable that fibre will eventually be extended all the way to premises in many areas, again, especially in areas of high demand where business and government exists, and that the same 10Gbps speeds will eventually be in the offing, but perhaps much further down the track.
Will we need these speeds? The past several decades of trends in networking and bandwidth demand shows that it is very likely. And in any case, as the networking equipment to provide these speeds becomes increasingly commoditised, there will eventually be few reasons not to deliver these speeds. We saw what happened with copper networks around the world; they were eventually built to provide telephone calls with manual – manual! – switching of connections. Eventually the end point equipment was upgraded to provide unthinkable bandwidth speeds; up to 24Mbps as is common under the ADSL2+ standard. It is inevitable that this same upgrade cycle will occur with fibre – whether it starts off as fibre to the home or fibre to the node.