In a world where telcos are often derided as being increasingly irrelevant, UK national operator BT has shown that the old guard amongst the communications service providers can still make a difference.
Several years ago, a new technology called G.fast emerged that looked like it might be able to boost downstream broadband speeds over copper access lines to hundreds of megabits per second, possibly even a Gigabit -- but only over very short distances, up to 50 meters or so. That made its potential quite limited, but still interesting for niche opportunities where fiber could be run to distribution points (FTTdp) from which very short (but already deployed and active) copper lines could be turbocharged to ultra-broadband speeds over the final short distance to a customer's premises.
BT really liked G.fast's capabilities and knew that there was a gamechanging opportunity if that technology could be deployed in street cabinets hundreds of meters away from customers.
By building a business case around what you might call 'longer reach' G.fast and taking very specific technical requirements to the broadband community (particularly the chipset developers), BT has helped accelerate G.fast's development into a technology that looks like it will enable broadband service speeds of more than 300 Mbit/s over copper lines hundreds of meters long.
That makes G.fast much more attractive to many more broadband network operators running existing copper access networks that, for reasons mainly fiscal, want to sweat those copper assets for as long as possible before making the big leap to 100% FTTH.
BT has just announced that its first commercial deployments of second generation G.fast technology are set to take place in the coming months, using technology supplied by Huawei and Nokia, and that its G.fast trials will be extended through 2017. (See Huawei, Nokia Land Initial G.fast Deals at BT's Openreach.)
Ultimately, BT envisages a broadband future where 10 million homes and businesses will be served by G.fast-enabled broadband lines.
The UK operator has, you could argue, almost single-handedly created a whole new broadband technology sector (though, of course, with a lot of help from the vendor community and like-minded operators).
G.fast could have been a niche technology that burnt some VC investment dollars and took up time in ultimately fruitless network planning meetings. Now it looks like it's going to impact the broadband strategies of major broadband network operators in all continents of the world.
That's quite a story and something of a successful mission accomplished.
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