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EE says 'dark fibre' will deliver gigabit speeds to mobiles

Wednesday, November 19th 2014 by Phil Wilkinson-Jones

EE says a new deal to deploy dark fibre – fibre cabling that is already in the ground but has not yet been connected to carry traffic – backhaul connections to mobile masts will deliver gigabit speeds to rural and suburban areas as well as cities.

Both EE and Three last week signed a long-term national framework agreement with fibre optic infrastructure provider CityFibre to overhaul their networks using dark fibre.

Professor Andy Sutton, EE’s principal network architect, said: “This is going to enhance the whole network in the fullness of time.

“The expectation is that we’ll rollout a new form of fibre infrastructure over the fullness of time across maybe 10,000 sites across the country.

“This will not just be in the urban areas where we’ve got high capacity but also will ensure the suburbs have got great experience and push fibre deeper into the rural areas to make sure rural broadband is really delivering on its objectives.”

The first project of the framework is already underway in Kingston-upon-Hull, where CityFibre is in the process of overhauling the network of EE and Three’s joint infrastructure venture, Mobile Broadband Network Limited.

“The idea with Hull is to revolutionise the way we connect cell sites into the core network,” said Prof Sutton.

“We are in conversations about future opportunities above and beyond this with CityFibre and other potential providers.

“It is a very strategic programme and will be delivered over the next three to five years.”

He said the nationwide rollout would involve both a lot of physical work as well as overcoming a number of regulatory issues.

“Currently there’s a fibre tax you pay on dark fibre and we’d be very keen to see that removed, but also in terms of passive infrastructure access we’re very keen that [it is] opened out to allow other providers to help them to push the infrastructure out and help us to complete some of those last-mile connections.

He named wayleaves – the written consent needed to carry out work on privately-owned land – as another stumbling block.

“There’s a number of factors coming into play but the aspiration is to push this out into rural areas," he said.

“That gives us the opportunity then to run more point-to-point microwaves from those high capacity fibre hubs, so actually then we can use a combination of fibre and microwave to deliver very, very high capacity into rural areas.

“The aspiration will be all-fibre in the urban areas, with small amounts of wireless backhaul, a mixture of fibre and wireless in the suburbs and then that same mix of high capacity fibre supporting gigabit ethernet radio in the rural areas so we’re really starting to deliver gigabit-type speeds throughout the whole network.”

CityFibre’s project for the mobile sites in Hull is the first step in an anticipated larger build-out following its ‘Well-Planned City’ model, under which the company’s shared fibre infrastructure is also available for use by service providers covering multiple market segments.

Chief executive officer Greg Mesch said: “CityFibre is dedicated to overhauling the UK’s digital connectivity.

“Mobile operators are amongst the largest providers of connectivity services for data hungry UK consumers.

“Between them, EE and Three carry about 75% of the data used by UK mobile users, so we are thrilled to announce this market-leading partnership.

“This framework illustrates a valuable new segment in CityFibre’s Gigabit City model for ubiquitous fibre connectivity.”

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