Monday, October 9, 2017

BT Update – UK Progress of G.fast, FTTP Broadband, 21CN and Qube Engineers

telegraph pole three openreach bt engineers

BT recently held another one of their periodic meetings with ISPs from across the United Kingdom, which among other things revealed the latest roll-out progress for G.fast and FTTP "ultrafast broadband" tech, as well as a trial of Qube engineer visits and the status of their 21CN upgrades.

Generally the event didn't reveal much in the way of new information, although there were a few highlights. Anybody with a deeper interest in the industry will probably want to know how the operator is doing with respect to their current trials and roll-out progress across various different broadband technologies.

G.fast and Fibre-to-the-Premises

We'll kick things off with news that Openreach now expects to have covered 500,000 premises with their "full fibre" FTTP broadband technology by the end of October 2017 (as usual there's a question mark over how many of those will be completed and order-able premises), which is then expected to reach 650,000 by the end of March 2018 and then the current target of 2 million by 2020.

As expected the "majority of footprint growth on FTTP is new housing developments" (thanks largely to the operator's offer of free FTTP to new developments of 30+ homes), although new homes in related developments are likely to be FTTP only with no copper WLR3 (Wholesale Line Rental) option and that did recently contribute to some complaints over phone services (here).

Openreach are still consulting on the possibility of doing 10 million premises by around 2025 and the latest update didn't expand on that, except to say that a "major investment option" was being considered that could potentially involve building for the "next 20-50 years" (possibly all of the UK on FTTP? Maybe one day).

Meanwhile there was a small update on the new 330Mbps capable hybrid-fibre G.fast broadband roll-out, which has recently begun an expansion of its pilot to 1 million premises by the end of 2017 and followed by the goal of hitting 10 million by 2020 (here). On current progress, BTWholesale said they expect G.fast to cover 1.1 million premises by the end of March 2018.

SOGEA, LRVDSL and XdB Trials

Elsewhere BT said that Openreach's pilot of FTTC based Long Reach VDSL (LR-VDSL) technology was not currently being planned for expansion to more sites. LR-VDSL could be used to support the Government's proposed 10Mbps Universal Service Obligation (USO) by pushing hybrid "fibre based" broadband out to 99% of the UK by 2020 or 2022 (here and here).

Naturally the operator is awaiting the outcome of the Government's USO consultation, which is expected by the end of 2017 or early 2018, before deciding what to do. It also noted that the current trial "hasn't proved as much as expected, especially for the sub 10Mb lines" (i.e. Openreach may need to get more volume / data from testing). On this point it's worth checking out the latest LR-VDSL performance data from the June meeting (here).

Separately there was a tiny update concerning the on-going XdB upgrade, which can in some circumstances boost FTTC speeds by supporting a target downstream noise margin (SNR) of less than 6dB (current default), with the margin dropping to just 3dB on some lines. So far this has only been deployed on their Huawei based FTTC network, although we recently noted that a solution for ECI kit was about to be tested (here). The latest update merely reveals that 1.6 million users are now actively on sub 6dB profiles.

Finally, we also got a small update on the Single Order Generic Ethernet Access (SOGEA) trial and its G.fast sibling, SOGFast. This is Openreach's product solution for giving consumers a standalone (naked) "fibre broadband" (FTTC VDSL2 / G.fast) line without the phone / voice service (more details here and here).

The update states that the WBC SOGEA development is "nearing completion", with availability expected to "grow very quickly when launched". The on-going trial was recently extended to the end of December 2017 and BT still expects this to be followed by a short-ish pilot during early 2018, before the commercial launch. Similarly SOGFast's target launch "remains on track" for April 2018.

21CN and Qube Engineer Trials

We're often asked about the progress of the operator's 21st Century Network (21CN) powered Wholesale Broadband Connect (WBC) roll-out, which is the foundation for a lot of modern internet connection technologies on the operator's network (e.g. ADSL2+). Quite a few of the operator's telephone exchanges remain old 20CN setups, but these are rapidly being retired.

Back in February we noted that the current plan was to replace all remaining IPstream exchanges with WBC by the end of 2018 (here) and the latest update confirms that this target has not changed, with the expectation being to "provide nationwide ADSL2+ coverage by 2018." Over 220 sites have been enabled since June 2017 (around 50,000 end user upgrades) and, despite a few postponements in September, the operator claims to be completing between 6 to 10 sites per night.

However one of the most interesting pieces of information in BT's update was their plan for a Qube Engineer Trial to help "resolve broadband issues within the customer premises," which we've heard about before but never in so much detail. For those who don't know, QubeGB is a national UK alternative field engineering service provider for ISPs (currently used by BT, TalkTalk and EE).

BT Wholesale now propose offering Qube engineers, at a lower price (£60 +vat per visit vs SFI2 charged at £140+ if no Openreach fault found), in order to help ISPs to make "significant savings" when resolving broadband issues. The trial, which is open nationally to all ISPs with no volume constraints, has just started this month and will run for 6 months before being launched with full automation.

Apparently Qube engineers will be available for all BT Wholesale broadband products (IPStream Connect, WBC copper and fibre both purchased directly and through WBMC).

Qube can perform the following activities:
• Test the performance of the end user's CPE (routers etc.) and compare with known good CPE.
• Upgrade or replace the NTE if required, replacing the NTE with a SSFP (from month 4 of the trial).
• Relocate the NTE (extension socket).
• Test the performance of the line at the master NTE with the extension wiring disconnected.
• Test all extension wiring and repair if required.
• Review and advise of optimum positioning of CPE (e.g. for optimal wireless signal strength).
• Prove internet connectivity to the customer (both wired and wireless).
• Co-op with the CP to attempt to resolve any issues.
• REIN testing –still under discussion with Qube.

We'll be keeping a close eye on that to see what BT-based ISPs think. That's all for today.

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