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BT boss: Don't get attached to fibre - even that could be obsolete one day

Wednesday, October 21st 2015 by Ellen Branagh

People must "place their bets" on a range of broadband technology, or risk the future of "UK Plc", a BT boss has said.

Mike Galvin, managing director of next generation access for BT’s Technology Service & Operations division, said no technology is futureproof, and even fibre may one day be rendered obsolete.

Mr Galvin's comments come as BT unveiled its latest development in G.fast broadband technology, dubbed XG.fast, which it said has reached speeds of more than 5Gbps in lab trials carried out with Alcatel Lucent.

G.fast - a combination of fibre and conventional copper wires - has been championed by BT as a way of delivering ultrafast broadband speeds to consumers without the disruption or expense of laying fibre all the way into someone's home.

But gigabit broadband providers have previously criticised the experiment as a "temporary fix" that is just "delaying the inevitable".

Speaking to Cable.co.uk at Broadband World Forum in London, where BT revealed the results of its G.fast trials in Huntingdon and Gosforth, Mr Galvin said the technology would allow BT to roll out an ultrafast network in 3-4 years.

Customers involved in the trials are getting up to 330Mbps download speed - more than 10 times the UK average - BT said, and speeds could rise to 500Mbps as the technology is rolled out across the country.

XG.fast, a potential future development of the technology, is in the early stages of lab testing at Adastral Park, BT’s global research and development campus in Suffolk, and Alcatel-Lucent’s labs in Antwerp, but has already exceeded expectations, BT said.

It delivered speeds of 5.6Gbps over 35 metres of BT cable, as well as speeds of 1.8Gbps over 100 metres.

But Mr Galvin said any technology could be rendered "obsolete" in the future.

'Inconceivable'

"Do not get emotionally attached to any sort of technology," he said. "I guarantee you that fibre to the home will become obolescent to future technologies, just as other technologies will become obsolescent as well.

"Some people think, 'that's it, we're sorted for time immemorial'. That is completely untrue. All these technologies will require to be replaced in time.

"Already we can see with some of the new technologies coming up over copper, they're actually much higher bandwidth than fibre to the premises."

Describing successes in experiments with XG.fast, he said: "That would have been inconceivable even at the beginning of this year, but it shows that actually when you look at a technological roadmap sometimes it goes on and on and on, you get a lot more out of it than you thought.

"We need to place our bets in several areas and anybody who's placing their bet just in one area at the moment I think is taking a chance with the future of UK Plc."

If its G.fast trials are successful, Openreach hopes to start rolling it out in 2016/17 alongside its fibre to the cabinet (FTTC) and fibre to the premises (FTTP) services.

The technology is at the heart of plans for Openreach to provide ultrafast speeds to 10m premises by the end of 2020, and to most of the UK by the end of 2025.

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