Networking

Cheat Sheet: FTTx

Are you getting enough fibre?

Fibre then. Good for your digestion, so I hear.
Apparently so. But we're not talking about that sort of fibre. We're talking about fibre in the broadband sense - as in fibre to the home (FTTH), fibre to the premises (FTTP), fibre to the cabinet (FTTC) or FTTx, the overarching term for any or all of these terms.

What to you mean by "in the broadband sense"?
Currently, if you live in the UK, the chances are that your broadband is delivered to your home or office by means of copper wire. However, in certain parts of Europe and the Asia-Pacific region, you might get your broadband delivered over a fibre optic network.

Right. And what difference does that make for me, hmmm? It's all about speed, essentially. In their present form, copper networks can offer speeds of around 8Mbps. Fibre optic cables, however, can provide speeds of up to 100Mbps.

Nice. Fibre sounds good. So why does the UK have a lot of copper and not a lot of fibre?
Copper was laid for the UK's landline network and was then used to supply broadband - a cheap way of getting connectivity, given the UK's roughly 100 per cent penetration with copper. To install fibre connections, telcos would have to dig in new cables - not very cheap and therefore not very popular.

In other countries which don't have legacy copper networks, installing fibre becomes a more cost effective option.

So is there any hope of getting fibre over here? 100Mbps puts my copper broadband to shame.
There are a couple of small scale rollouts in the UK and some others being planned, in Walsall for instance, but at the moment fibre connections remain a very small part of Europe's broadband landscape.

UK telcos have traditionally been reluctant to go fibre due to the costs involved. Last time silicon.com caught up with BT about FTTx, the incumbent said that its investment in its 21CN has scuppered chances of a fibre deployment and at present, the economics of rollout just don't add up, although the telco has already trialled the tech two years ago. Some industry types have suggested government handouts will be necessary to subsidise any future fibre rollouts in Blighty.

If we're not going to get fibre any time soon over here, will we get 100Mbps internet some other way?
At the moment, in an effort to drive up broadband speeds, several suppliers are looking at next-generation fat pipe tech such as ADSL2+ and VDSL which can promise top speeds of around 24Mbps. But, like the ADSL we know now, such technologies see speeds decrease the further away the premises are from the telephone exchange and it's thought the 24Mbps speeds are only achievable for those less than a few hundred metres away.

Another option for broadband speeds in three figures is wireless. Assorted mobile operators are studying their options and some believe the LTE mobile standard, set to be deployed in 2009, will enable 100Mbps speeds.

But if I did want to get a good dose of fibre, where should I go? Who is already working on this?
Lots of people around the world. France Telecom, for example, has championed the technology in the past and has deployed some fibre in its home market.

Japan and South Korea are thought to be world champions in the fibre stakes and analysts estimate there will be more than 30 million fibre subscribers in Japan alone by 2011.

About Jo Best

Jo Best has been covering IT for the best part of a decade for publications including silicon.com, Guardian Government Computing and ZDNet in both London and Sydney.

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