G.fast's place in a full fibre world

The shadow communications minister Malcolm Turnbull is keen to bring G.fast into his NBN mix and while the technology isn't a magic bullet it can play a part in delivering the super-fast broadband revolution.

The announcement last month that Alcatel-Lucent and Telekom Austria subsidiary A1 had achieved downstream speeds of 1.3Gbps over copper using the emerging G.Fast technology has presented Asia Pacific broadband operators – especially incumbents – with a very tricky choice.

G.Fast delivers very high speeds – with vendors expecting at least 500Mbps over 100 metre copper length and 200Mbps at 200 metres – by using very high frequencies and achieves optimum results when deployed with vectoring which eliminates crosstalk caused by operating at those high frequencies.

With G.Fast scheduled for commercial deployment in around 2016 Asia Pacific operators wanting to deploy or expand their high-speed services are now faced with something of a dilemma.

That is, do they proceed with Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) services – an option which will cost a lot of money and take a long time – or do they wait for G.Fast to arrive and allow them to launch ultra-fast services on existing last-mile copper networks?

Different strokes

The answer to that question will depend very much on a case by case basis but there is little doubt that G.Fast can play a significant role in Asia Pacific.

Firstly, even in the region’s leading FTTH markets such as South Korea, Japan and Hong Kong, there is still potential for G.Fast to play a role in helping operators achieve ubiquitous high-speed broadband coverage.

For example, in South Korea and Japan a substantial portion of fibre subscribers are still receiving Fiber-to-the-Building (FTTB) services with the last-mile services by VDSL – probably around 40% – rather than full FTTH services.

This means that operators are faced with the choice of either going in and connecting those subscriber residences – most of which are in Multi-Dwelling Units – with FTTH or waiting a while and – as long as the copper is in good enough condition – using G.Fast.

The likelihood is – and some Asia Pacific operators in these cutting edge markets have already alluded to this –that these operators will mainly use G.Fast as a means to deliver ultra-fast broadband in circumstances in which deploying full FTTH is just too expensive.

This will usually be because in-building fibre installation in some buildings is just too problematic, because of either administrative or logistical reasons, so they need to find an alternative delivery mechanism using existing copper.

Outside of these cutting edge markets and into the mid-tier markets where FTTH is less prevalent, principally markets like Australia, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia, there may be a different role for G.Fast.

The NBN dilemma

In Australia the potential incoming communications minister Malcolm Turnbull has already signalled that he would be willing to see if G.Fast could play a role in the country’s National Broadband Network (NBN) if his Liberal Party is returned to government in the September 7th election.

In particular, Turnbull has suggested that G.Fast could play a role in deliver 1Gbps services to MDU’s in Australia without all of the hassle of re-wiring buildings or embarking on lengthy negotiations with building managements that are required to deliver FTTH.

The NBN’s being deployed in Singapore and New Zealand are now almost certainly far too advanced in their deployments to consider G.Fast except in a small minority of homes where FTTH is problematic to deploy.

Similarly, Taiwan’s Chunghwa Telecom is also well down the track –regulatory problems not withstanding – of deploying near nationwide FTTH so would probably not consider G.Fast deployment.

However, Telekom Malaysia’s High-Speed Broadband (HSBB) network also uses VDSL for much of its last-mile connectivity and currently offers speeds of just 5Mbps, 10Mbps and 20Mbps – making G.Fast a good option.

Deploying G.Fast would allow Telekom Malaysia to substantially increase those speeds – probably well in advance of 100Mbps – at a fraction of the cost of connecting subscriber homes to full FTTH.

Meanwhile, operators such as True Online in Thailand and Telkom Indonesia also have good reason to look long and hard at deploying G.Fast as they try and expand ultra-fast broadband services in their countries.

Both operators are already installing FTTH in new-build apartment buildings – as are operators in other countries such as China – but brownfield deployments remain extremely difficult because of the time and cost involved.

As a result, operators like True – which is actually currently expanding its HFC network footprint – and Telkom Indonesia – which is in the middle of an ambitious fixed-broadband network upgrade – could be very tempted by the attractions of G.Fast.

Three big reasons

While there are multiple considerations for operators to bear in mind when considering the choices between G.Fast and FTTH there are three factors which make the former a compelling proposition.

Firstly, one big advantage of G.Fast is that it allows operators to offer symmetrical speeds – so with 1Gbps of bandwidth an operator could offer 500Mbps downstream and upstream to achieve – something other copper acceleration technologies cannot do.

Secondly, G.Fast is designed to be self-installed by the customer – thereby saving hundreds of dollars per engineer ‘truck roll’ – with some European operators having around 80 per cent of VDSL2 customers perform self-installs – this represents huge potential cost savings.

Thirdly, the commercial business case for G.Fast is that because it can be deployed much quicker that operators can start generating revenues much faster than with FTTH and can then use these funds to help finance their eventual full FTTH upgrade.

To be clear, nobody should suggest that G.Fast is some kind of magic bullet for every deployment type, but equally nobody should doubt that the technology clearly can play a part in delivering the super-fast broadband revolution.

Tony Brown is senior analyst with Informa Telecoms & Media.

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