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G.fast ultrafast copper great for BT, bad for competition

Monday, November 3rd 2014 by Ellen Branagh

G.fast technology is a “great solution” – but mainly for those who own the copper it uses, experts have suggested.

Craig Thomas, from telecoms equipment provider Calix, said the much-heralded technology could theoretically provide fantastic speeds but it will be difficult for competitors to current “incumbent” providers to get involved in, as they do not own the last section of copper that it makes use of.

G.fast technology uses a combination of fibre and conventional copper wires to deliver gigabit speeds to commercial and business premises.

Recent tests conducted by BT saw fibre lines running to central distribution points, often within 250m of buildings, with the remainder of the journey completed with copper.

Mr Thomas told Cable.co.uk: “G.fast is fantastic, first and foremost, especially if you own the copper that goes into the home.

“Because really G.fast is all about bringing fibre to the last distribution point, which is predominantly probably round about either right next to the home or no more than 30 or 40m from the home.

“So it’s a great solution, first and foremost, especially if you own that last bit of copper that goes that last 20 or 30m.”

Mr Thomas previously said that Europe needs competitors to challenge incumbent service providers and "change the rules" in order to drive progress.

On the subject of G.fast, he said: “For incumbents it makes a great story, and for anybody wholesaling the incumbents’ products once again it’s a good story.

“But you're a ‘me-too’ provider, you haven't changed the rules.

“Because the last distribution point may be 12 or 20 homes, there’s no way that people can start putting their own little boxes on the telegraph pole, you’re going to have a totem pole of little boxes sitting up the telegraph pole.

“But it is a great solution. And for MDUs (multi-dwelling units), apartment blocks, it's really good, because then it can go inside.

“So really there’s two stories. You can migrate bringing the fibre closer and closer and closer and what G.fast means is you don't have to physically enter the home, you don’t have to wait for somebody at home to install it or anything like that.

“But once again it’s an incumbent's play.

“What we're seeing in the rest of the world, the real driver is a competitor threatening to move to G.fast.”

Mr Thomas said Europe had been relatively slow in providing fibre to the cabinet, and any rollout of G.fast could be just as slow, if not slower, unless a competitor was pushing for it to happen quicker.

He added: “I think the competitive landscape is critical to this deployment, as well as consumer demand.”

“G.fast – theoretically the speeds can be fantastic, you're looking well above 100Mbps.

“Like the rest of us, we’re really excited by the technology but we’re still seeing that as a play from incumbents because they still own that last copper drop.

“If you're looking at a competitor, how do they access that last copper?

“It takes big investment, it takes somebody that has big deep pockets or communities working with an operator to make theirs.”

Oliver Johnson, chief executive of market intelligence firm Point Topic, told Cable.co.uk there are a number of issues to overcome to make it a “level playing field”.

He said: “BT might own it (the copper) but because it’s an open network they are forced to wholesale bandwidth effectively to other ISPs who can then resell the service.

“There’s an issue here because both TalkTalk and Sky are frustrated because they can’t unbundle and therefore differentiate their services at this level.

“There’s a number of technical and technological issues to overcome if you do want to make it a level playing field.”

He added: “G.fast satisfies the requirements certainly on the residential market for at least the next five if not next 10 years in terms of what the mass consumer demand is likely to be.

“So the fact that BT are adopting this should be a boon to everyone.”

BT, which has not yet committed to rolling out G.fast, is carrying out trials of the technology.

Dr Tim Whitley, MD of Research and Innovation at BT Group, previously 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.”

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