A New Technology for MDU Broadband

A Canadian company recently announced a new device that promises the ability to deliver gigabit speeds inside of MDUs using existing copper or coaxial wiring. The company is Positron Access Solutions and I talked to their CTO and president, Pierre Trudeau at the recent Broadband Communities event in Washington DC. Attached is an article and a PowerPoint talking about the new technology.

The technology is built upon a framework of the G.hn standards. You might remember this as the standard supporting powerline carrier that was used before WiFi to distribute broadband around the home using the electrical wiring in the home. G.hn over powerline was a sufficient technology when broadband speeds were slow but didn’t scale up to support faster broadband speeds. In thinking back, I recall that the biggest limitation was that there are dozens of different types of electrical wires used in homes over the last century and it was hard to have a technology that worked as promised over the various sizes and types of in-home wiring.

Positron has been around for many years and manufactures IP PBX systems and DSL extenders. They are referring to the new technology as GAM, which I take to mean G.hn Access Network.

The company says that the technology will deliver a gigabit signal about 500 feet over telephone copper wires and over 4,000 feet on coaxial cable. Large MDUs delivering the technology using telephone copper might require spacing a few devices throughout parts of the network.

The technology operates on unused frequency bands on the copper cables. For example, on telephone copper, the technology can coexist on a telephone wire that’s already carrying telephone company voice. On coaxial cable, the Positron device can coexist with satellite TV from DirecTV or Dish Networks but can’t coexist with a signal from a traditional cable company.

Positron says they are a natural successor to G.Fast which has never gotten a lot of traction in the US. Positron says they can deliver more bandwidth with less noise than G.Fast. The Positron GAM spits out Ethernet at the customer apartment unit and can be used with any existing CPE like WiFi routers, computers, TVs, etc.

This is a new technology and the company currently has only a few test units at clients in the field. Like all new technology, a company should consider this as a beta technology where the vendor will be working out field issues. But this technology has a lot of promise if perfected. There are a lot of older MDUs where the cost of rewiring is prohibitive or where the building owners don’t want fiber strung through hallways. Getting to apartment units through existing copper wiring should be less disruptive, less expensive and faster to market.

I always caution all of my clients about using first-generation technology. It’s bound to suffer from issues that aren’t discovered until deployed in real-world situations. First-generation equipment is always a risk since many vendors have abandoned product lines that have too many field problems. The supply chain is often poorly defined, although in the case of Positron the company has been providing technical support for many years. My main concern with beta technology is that it’s never comfortable using end-user customers as guinea pigs.

However, an MDU might be the perfect environment to try new technology. Many MDUs have been unable to attract better broadband due to high rewiring costs and might be willing to work with an ISP to test new technology. If this technology operates as touted it could provide a cost-effective way to get broadband into MDUs, particularly older ones where rewiring is a cost barrier.

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