Telekom Austria has been trialling a copper-based broadband technology from Alcatel-Lucent that can support download speeds of more than 1Gbps.
The innovation could be hugely significant, allowing operators to avoid making costly investments in fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) networks in order to provide superfast services.
The product from Alcatel-Lucent (Paris, France) combines VDSL2 and vectoring – are already in commercial use – with a new transmission technology called G.fast, which uses a wide frequency band to boost connection speeds on copper lines over short distances.
Most operators looking to improve their broadband offers have been digging up roads to replace those copper lines with fiber, but the civil-engineering work is extremely costly.
To make a real difference, G.fast needs to be used in conjunction with vectoring, which boosts connection speeds by reducing so-called ‘cross-talk’ between the copper lines that serve neighboring homes.
Alcatel-Lucent says initial trials of G.fast with Telekom Austria (Vienna) achieved maximum speeds of 1.1Gbps over a distance of 70 meters and 800Mbps over 100 meters.
Trials on older unshielded cables – typical in Austria – resulted in speeds of 500Mbps over 100 meters, but when a second line was introduced without vectoring the speed dropped to just 60Mbps.
Vectoring brought the speed back up to 500Mbps, claims Alcatel-Lucent.
Unfortunately, it seems that G.fast will not be commercially available for several years, but Alcatel-Lucent describes the technology as a natural evolution of VDSL2 that – with vectoring – could provide a substitute for costly investments in FTTH infrastructure.
Another issue may be the reluctance of telecoms regulators to give the go-ahead for vectoring.
The technology is incompatible with sub-loop unbundling (SLU), a type of wholesale access that European authorities have traditionally favored as a means of fomenting broadband competition.
Nevertheless, SLU has failed to catch on because of its questionable economics, and authorities in several European countries – including Austria – have now introduced rules allowing operators to deploy vectoring in preference to SLU.
Alcatel-Lucent already claims to have established something of a lead in the VDSL2-with-vectoring market, having shipped one million lines so far, and is trying to reposition itself as a specialist in IP networks and ultra-fast broadband access.
European regulatory moves are clearly working to the company’s advantage, although many operators may prefer to invest in fiber than wait several years for G.fast to become commercially available.