BT follows NBN with ‘skinny’ fibre trials in UK


news British telco BT has reportedly followed the NBN company in Australia and conducted trials of so-called ‘skinny’ fibre technology that could allow the telco to substantially cut the cost of deploying fibre throughout its network.

Several weeks ago Delimiter and a number of other media outlets published a set of leaked documents produced by the NBN company in August last year. The documents detailed the fact that the NBN company was set to trial a new style of fibre cable deployment in the ‘Local Fibre Network’ which delivers fibre to neighbourhoods as part of the NBN rollout.

The aim of the project was to test a new kind of “skinny” fibre deployment which the NBN company hopes will allow it to drive down the cost of rolling out fibre cables around Australia. The cables are physically thinner than the usual cables used by the NBN company, meaning they can be deployed more cheaply and in locations where thicker cables could not.

Since the leaks, NBN chief executive Bill Morrow has confirmed trials of the skinny fibre cables were able to cut the cost of deploying Fibre to the Premises infrastructure by $450 per premise, as well as the rollout time by four weeks.

Morrow believes the technology would primarily be used as part of the NBN company’s plans to use Fibre to the Distribution Point as part of its network. This network rollout method pushes fibre further out into neighbourhoods, but not all the way to customers’ premises.

Late last week, it was revealed that BT was set to use similar technology in the UK. UK site ISPreview reported that the internal magazine of BT’s wholesale division Openreach had trialled a new 5mm cable which “could save a bit of time and money”. We recommend readers click through for the full article.

The UK currently has substantially better access to broadband than Australia, due to the fact that BT commenced a nationwide Fibre to the Node rollout back in 2008, while Australia was still debating how to progress our own National Broadband Network project. The country’s HFC cable operator, Virgin Media, also provides high-speed broadband through its competing infrastructure.

In Australia, the Opposition and commentators such as telco analyst Paul Budde believe that the combination of skinny fibre with Fibre to the Distribution Point (FTTdp) technology may allow the Government and the Opposition to both switch to a policy of the NBN deploying FTTdp/skinny fibre as a substantial part of the NBN rollout.

This would have the effect of allowing the NBN company to provide similar speeds as Labor’s original FTTP rollout, but at a cost comparable to the Coalition’s preferred Fibre to the Node model.

BT appears to primarily see the skinny fibre option as a solution to areas where it finds it difficult to get full fibre cables through its ducts, due to their width. However, like the NBN company, it too has trialled FTTdp as a potential technology that could be used within its network.

In September 2014, BT said it is greatly encouraged by the potential of the FTTdp technology. The telco said: “FTTdp is potentially a more cost effective and simpler solution than both FTTP and dedicated business lines such as Ethernet. This is because less fibre and civil engineering is required. It also has the potential to be less disruptive for the customer given it is likely it could be a “self-install” product with no need for home engineering visits.”

Dr Tim Whitley, MD of Research and Innovation, BT Group said: “We see G.FAST as a very promising technology with significant potential – that’s why we’re putting some of our best minds on the case to assess it fully in a purpose-built facility.”

Image credit: Parliamentary Broadcasting


    • You keep posting about FTTN being ADSL, it isn’t. It is a form of DSL yes, but ADSL is a specific thing, FTTN is using VDSL2.

  1. If NBN, who are allegedly agnostic on delivery method, wanted to sidestep Turnbull and Fifield all they have to do is put forward an argument of costs over a 10-15 year period and include ongoing maintenance costs such as electricity. Turnbull has always hidden behind his 4-5 year timeline, never including ongoing maintenance, nor acknowledging reducing deployment costs for fibre. Now that skinny fibre is out there he has nowhere to hide. Skinny fibre used for FTTdp may initially cost a bit more but the fact that the power requirements are covered by the consumer, as opposed to the 60 million or so per year to power the nodes means it makes a very compelling argument. That would potentially be the biggest bitch-slam given to Turnbull ever.

    • Not really, they are still bound by the SoE and only the Government can change that.

    • Theres a story from a couple of weeks ago that sorta covers this. Problem is that the Liberal SoE emphasises quicker and cheaper, and FttDP is neither by the definitions supplied, and for the reasons you list.

      There is never any mention of the longer term costs, only the cost of getting the current plan operating, so if FttDP costs $1 more, its not cheaper, and if it takes an extra week, its not faster, and those are technicalities they need to address.

      Its a political loophole that common sense doesnt support, but this hasnt been about common sense since the Lib’s came out with their ‘fully costed plan’ at the start of 2013.

      I think both parties will head down the FttDP path myself, knowing that to ignore it is gifting an opportunity to the opposition, but we wont hear anything about it until May.

  2. It would be good if they’d let you run CAT5E to the pit and then be able to use a waterproof GPON NTD. From my understanding it’s still a GPON system but using a VDSL/GFAST pit based type ISAM. The whole point of this is to save money on site visits so if you are willing they should let you…

    • Might get a bit tight, the pits aren’t huge, and each pit services more than a single premises.

      • As far as I can tell (it IS a little hard to tell), the FttDP nodes are about the size of a house brick. With a street level pit generally every 2-3 houses, it shouldnt be that big a squeeze. Once you clear out a lot of the other tech in there that would be redundant, it should be easier to stack a few bricks.

        Of course, thats not necessarily the situation for 100% of the population, but its going to cover most. Hell, for novelty’s sake, build them into a wall if you need to :)

        End of the day, for me the biggest thing with DttDP is that no user is left behind. There is a clear and immediate upgrade path, unlike with FttN, that leads directly to FtTP.

        Interesting summary of options from a couple of years ago, focusing on FttDP.

  3. The BT approach is nothing like what NBN are proposing. The linked article talks about a 5mm, 72F cable, whereas NBN are talking about using a single fiber cable of similar size. They are letting vendors like Corning dictate their architecture. Pathetic!

  4. Why don’t the NBN ook at an ABF solution like NZ are building with 5mm mini cables and fibre units

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