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'Dark fibre' will force 4G costs down, capacity up - EE

Monday, November 24th 2014 by Phil Wilkinson-Jones

Using dark fibre – unused fibre cables already in the ground – will give EE the flexibility to improve its 4G network, the company’s principal network architect has said.

Professor Andy Sutton said a new framework agreement with fibre optic infrastructure providers CityFibre will allow EE to meet a number of its objectives.

“We’re pushing cost down yet we’re pushing capacity up and we’re pushing performance up,” he said.

“Dark fibre allows us to do that because it is literally what it says on the tin – it is unlit, point-to-point fibre connectivity which we then deploy our own optical terminating equipment to.

“That could allow us to run ethernet, it could allow us to run various wavelength-based services, so it gives us lots of flexibility as well.”

Prof Sutton said EE wants to improve its customers’ browsing experience by minimising latency – the delay between sending a request and receiving a response.

“We also want to eliminate packet error loss rate so we can make the most efficient use of our radio resource, our spectrum, and not have to re-transmit because we are dropping packets anywhere.

“It also gives us the flexibility to evolve our radio access network then because having very low latency, very high capacity, highly available mobile backhaul infrastructure means that we can implement new features.”

Prof Sutton said a “huge increase” in 4G content was driving the need to evolve EE’s backhaul strategy.

“4G makes people go wow and they start to consume more and more content so we are seeing more subscribers and they are using significantly more data than they were with a 3G device,” he said.

EE is working with CityFibre and other potential providers to use dark fibre to link its base stations and core network.

“Having the ability to scale the capacity density and the performance as necessary without any concerns about backhaul being a constraint is effectively removing that backhaul bottleneck which has been talked about for many years in the industry.

“We did that in the first instance by moving to gigabit ethernet, the next step is to deploy dark fibre where necessary which really does open up the capacity capability of the underlying fibre infrastructure to us.

“Our expectation is that we’ll have a rollout of dark fibre or something similar so it may well be some kind of managed wavelength product or a managed fibre product which allows us to achieve the same objective.

“I’ve been a fan of dark fibre for quite a long time, albeit dark fibre hasn’t been available in the UK for a number of reasons.

“We’re starting to see the first shoots of a dark fibre eco-system now and we’re very keen to embrace that and promote that.”

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