US Telcos Indifferent to G.Fast

Speed_Street_SignG.Fast is a new technology that can deliver a large swath of broadband over copper wires for a short distance. The technology uses some of the very high frequencies that can travel over copper, much in the same way that DSL does for lower frequencies.

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) just approved the final standard for the technology with the G.9701 standard for “Fast Access to Subscriber Terminals.” Several vendors including Alcatel-Lucent and Huawei have been producing and testing units in various field trials.

British Telecom has done a number of these tests. The largest such test was started in August for 2,000 customers in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire. During the trial they are offering customers speeds of 330 Mbps, but they expect at the end of the trial to be able to raise this to about 500 Mbps.

The technology involves building fiber along streets and then using the existing copper drops to bring the bandwidth into the home. This is the most affordable kind of fiber construction because a telco can overlash fiber onto its existing copper wires on the poles. That means very little make-ready work, no permits needed, and no impediments to quick construction. This kind of fiber construction can literally be done at half of the cost faced by other fiber overbuilders.

British Telecom has done a number of trials across the country. Alcatel-Lucent has also done trials with Telkom Austria. But for the most part American telcos have shown no interest in the technology. The only real trial here that I’ve read about is a trial with CenturyLink in Las Vegas.

And I frankly don’t understand the reluctance. G.Fast is a halfway solution on the way to a full fiber deployment. As cable companies and overbuilders like Google are stepping up deployment of gigabit speeds, either through fiber or through fast cable modems using DOCSIS 3.1, the telcos have been announcing fiber builds to remain competitive. AT&T has announced gigabit fiber builds in more than twenty markets. CenturyLink says it will be passing 700,000 homes with fiber in 2016.

So why wouldn’t an American telo seriously consider G.Fast? With capabilities up to 500 Mbps in real-world applications it gives them a product that can compete well with other fast technologies. And by overlashing the fiber to deploy G.Fast the telco will have tackled one of the major costs of building an FTTP network, by getting the fiber deep into the network. And with G.Fast a telco can avoid the expensive fiber drops and electronics which are the most expensive part of a FTTP network for them.

I could envision somebody like CenturyLink building fiber to the more lucrative parts of town while deploying G.Fast to older copper neighborhoods. This would give them a far greater fast broadband coverage, making it easier and more cost effective to advertise their broadband.

But it seems like most of the US telcos just want out of the copper business. And so, rather than take this as an opportunity to milk another decade out of their copper networks before finally building fiber, they seem prepared to cede even more broadband customers to the cable companies. That has me scratching my head. The cable companies have clearly accepted that their entire future is as ISPs and that data is the only real product that will matter in the future. It just seems that the large telcos have not quite yet come to this same conclusion.

5 thoughts on “US Telcos Indifferent to G.Fast

  1. Some likely reasons:

    1. Market strategy incompatibility. Telcos are redirecting their consumer market focus on wireless and away from wireline.

    2. The condition of legacy telco copper cable plants is deteriorated such that they’d be facing lots of repair calls trying to integrate the old wineskins of copper with the new wine of fiber. This likely led to high opex and repair costs on VDSL-based hybrid architectures like AT&T’s U-Verse triple play product offering.

    3. Title II’s universal service/non discrimination requirements. Once the telcos begin reengineering the last mile to fiber/Gfast, they’d come under pressure from consumers and regulators to make it available to all premises in their service territories and not size constrained “footprints” of their current DSL-based offerings.

  2. Dirty, not so little secret: the copper plant in many communities is so old (high impedence) that no amount of new boxes at each end is going to make a difference in bandwidth delivered. Your summary statement is correct, “telephone companies” are too stodgy to see the obvious.

  3. This is where I disagree with all of you. In late 2015, I briefly spoke to former Frontier CEO Maggie Wilderotter about the technology. Wilderotter explained that Frontier is currently testing the technology in their labs. It does work she stated however is coming which can deliver speeds at even greater distances and is awaiting further certification.
    Fast forward to 2016 and current CEO Dan McCarthy has stated that Frontier will aggressively pursuing newer technologies to expand service to previously underserved areas that Verizon was unwilling to bring prior to the large three state acquisition.

    What Frontier is doing in the markets they serve is laying down a middle mile fiber with the copper delivering the last mile to customers. It is the most reasonable and cost-effective solution. Nobody wants their homes and businesses damaged/defaced by trying to rip up all that copper. It’s not feasible.

    Everyone thinks that Verizon Fios is fiber all the way to the customer. While part of that is true, NOT everyone has it. A friend of mine showed me his building’s set up that has Verizon FIOS. He showed me where the new fiber optic cable comes on the telephone pole right up to the building into the service room. From there is a GPON switch box and another distribution point where the telephone wires to all apartments connect to the unit. So in reality, this is VDSL. His speeds are about 100 megs and works with a VDSL-capable modem.

    I wasn’t surprised. I knew that the Verizon marketing of FIOS being “pure fiber” was too good to be true. I don’t really care anyway. I’d be happy with a minimum of 25 megs with no data caps.

    Don’t count out CenturyLink, Frontier and Windstream just yet. They know that this is a good enough solution instead of ripping out all the copper. They are waiting for to pass regulatory certification in the U.S. which can take the F.C.C. years of testing to complete.

    That’s what stopping the telcos from delivering it.

    • I hope those companies are looking at G.Fast. It’s still an expensive deployment because the fast speeds on the technology only go a very short distance, making this best used in a fiber-to-the-curb deployment. Thus, anybody deploying it will still have to build fiber past homes, and that’s the expensive part of building a fiber network. But certainly, the technology could be very useful in those places where the these companies already have fiber in place. But I don’t suspect that any of those three companies have a lot of fiber already in residential neighborhoods.

      Frontier and Windstream are particularly vulnerable since their networks are mostly copper and the companies don’t have the financial wherewithal to upgrade to fiber on a large scale. They have to find a way to make their copper last longer and keep working. But putting in G.Fast is not very much cheaper than putting in fiber to homes and I’m skeptical on how widely they could afford to deploy it.

      And your comment on Verizon FiOS is a bit curious because in the vast majority of instances the FiOS fiber goes the whole way into the home. Verizon faces the same challenge as anybody in wiring apartments because many of them are too expensive to rewire, and I could see them using fiber-fed VDSL in those cases. But that is not FiOS, although they might cheat a bit and market it as such. It’s a very typical deployment for all telcos to run fiber to the front of an apartment and use VDSL or ADSL2+ to get to units, but I’ve never heard any of them claiming that as fiber.

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