Openreach is to pilot its Long Reach VDSL technology in some remote parts of Scotland. Long Reach VDSL has been designed to increase broadband speeds over long phone lines, using higher power levels and wider frequency ranges to boost speeds and the distance they can be delivered over. As a result, it could be an option for communities in remote areas that often struggle with poor connectivity, as broadband speeds typically slow down over long distances.
Openreach has already carried out successful trials in the Isle of Lewis1, and is now extending the pilot to areas including Argyll and the Hebrides. Kim Mears, Managing Director of Openreach, commented: “Long Reach VDSL can potentially improve speeds for thousands of homes and businesses across Scotland and the rest of the UK – particularly those connected by long lines.
“Getting faster speeds to rural communities is one of our biggest priorities.”
Ms Mears added that Long Reach VDSL is “a great piece of British engineering”, but not something Openreach can implement alone. This, she said, is why it is working with some of its service provider customers on the pilots, as this will help determine if the technology works with their home routers and TV boxes.
HOUSEHOLDS in three rural Scottish communities have been chosen to take part in the first commercial trial of a new technology that will increase the speed of fibre broadband over very long phone lines. Around 60 premises in the villages of Clachan and Whitehouse on the Kintyre peninsula and on the island of Eriskay in the Outer Hebrides will join the pilot scheme to test the technology — known as Long Reach VDSL — by infrastructure provider Openreach. The pilot builds on the success of proof-of-concept trials which began in North Tolsta and Barvas on Lewis, in the Western Isles, and in the village of Isfield, East Sussex, last summer. The three Scottish sites are among six new UK locations that have been chosen to help Openreach understand how the technology can improve broadband speeds for more homes and businesses across the country. The others are in Northern Ireland and West Sussex.
Broadband speeds tend to slow down when travelling over long distances, posing a challenge that Openreach is constantly seeking a solution for. Long Reach VDSL operates at higher power levels and makes use of a wider range of frequencies to increase broadband speeds and the distance over which they can be delivered. Openreach has migrated all eligible lines in Clachan and Whitehouse and on Eriskay to the new technology and, if it proves successful, they will remain in operation at the higher speeds for the foreseeable future.
The company said early results have been positive, with most households seeing a significant increase in their fibre broadband speeds. Kim Mears, Openreach managing director for infrastructure delivery, said: “Long Reach VDSL can potentially improve speeds for thousands of homes and businesses across Scotland1 and the rest of the UK — particularly those connected by long lines.
“Getting faster speeds to rural communities is one of our biggest priorities.
“We believe we can get fibre-based solutions to almost 99 per cent of homes by the end of 2020 including the use of Long Reach VDSL, and our current plans would see most homes in the final five per cent of the UK receive speeds well in excess of 10Mbps.
“This technology is a great piece of British engineering, but it is not something Openreach can just implement alone so we’re delighted to be working with a number of our service provider customers on these pilots to make sure it works with their home routers and TV boxes.”
Brendan Dick, BT Scotland director, added: “Being able to test new technologies like this in a real-life setting is a crucial step before we can deploy them on a much wider scale.
“I hope people in these three new trial locations will see real improvements in their broadband speed.
“I’m acutely aware of the frustration this causes for those at the end of these lines. We’re working hard to develop technology to help us fill the remaining gaps in the UK’s high-speed broadband jigsaw.” Openreach said it is ready to support the UK Government2‘s ambition that all premises can order a service that delivers a minimum of 10Mbps, regardless of where they are.
Clachan, Whitehouse and Eriskay were chosen due to their remoteness, and because existing fibre cabinets serving the communities support a cluster of long lines where download speeds are less than 10Mbps.
More LR-VDSL as Openreach stretches its legs on long range tech
Openreach has announced another six locations where Long Reach VDSL is being tested with the potential at a future date for the technology to be more widely used and help more people get speeds above 10 Mbps, and bringing others from the 12 to 18 Mbps mark into the heady atmosphere of superfast services. Long Reach VDSL is still experiencing an evolution, but the basics of higher power levels and a wider set of frequencies usually mean people on LR-VDSL enabled lines see a boost, the exact level of boost varies, and while the boost is often less on the shorter lines adding just 4 Mbps to a 7 Mbps line can make a massive difference in terms of what is possible for a home or business. The new locations are:
- Clachan on the Mull of Kintyre, cabinet 1 has two postcodes out at distances of 2.3 to 2.6km (e.g.
PA29 6XW and PA29 6XN) that will be very keen to see what boost they get.
- Eriskay in the Outer Hebrides, cabinet, where 5 cabinets hit the superfast mark already but a further 4 postcodes with one at approx.
2.7km need help.
- Kesh, Northern Ireland is a larger exchange compared to the others and cabinet 12 is similar with a superfast core and others at 2-3km.
- Plaistow, West Sussex will see both cabs 1 & 2 take part, and worst distance is slightly lower at 1.6 to 2km
- Pomery, Northern Ireland cabinet 3 that is already 10km from the exchange is in the trial.
- Whitehouse on the Mull of Kintyre, cabinet 1 covers just 3 postcodes 1 currently superfast the other 2 in the 10 to 20 Mbps region
“Being able to test new technologies like this in a real-life setting is a crucial step before we can deploy them on a much wider scale. I hope people in these three new trial locations will see real improvements in their broadband speed as they help us find an answer to the challenge of delivering faster, fibre broadband over longer lines. I’m acutely aware of the frustration this causes for those at the end of these lines.
We’re working hard to develop technology to help us fill the remaining gaps in the UK’s high-speed broadband jigsaw. Our trials in several rural communities in Argyll and the Hebrides could prove to be a significant part of the puzzle. Brendan Dick, BT Scotland director (referring to three Scottish locations)
Long Reach VDSL is one of the potential Universal Service Obligation technologies and if it has a smaller incremental cost and speed of deployment compared to the rolling out full fibre it may fulfill the desire to get coverage levels ever closer to 100% in a short timeframe.
We don’t believe Long Reach VDSL is the only answer but given it is unlikely that anyone is going to write a blank cheque to ensure all those lonely premises some 2km or more from a VDSL2 cabinet get access to full fibre then its a lot better than another decade of campaigning. What Openreach and other broadband operators do in terms of deployment in the longer term e.g.
2025 onwards is of course a very different matter and even if a national full fibre roll-out started today it cannot start in all the places people want it to at the same time. Openreach has the information from its earlier trials in Isfield (East Sussex), North Tolsta and
Barvas on the Isle of Lewis on what speed improvements are achievable, so wider trails will make it a little easier for us to start seeing a difference, but the sample size is still somewhat small.
What impact will this have on UK coverage figures if more widely deployed, well as things stand today we are tracking ‘fibre’ (as in VDSL2/FTTP/cable with any speed) coverage at 96% and once you factor in the performance of VDSL2 this drops to 92.9% at over 24 Mbps (or 92.3% at 30 Mbps or faster if you prefer a tougher target).
This suggests that if and when the UK hits a 95% superfast coverage target fibre based coverage will be in the range 97 – 98% and thus suggesting 99% fibre based coverage for December 2020 is very likely (remember there are extensions underway that may push superfast to 96% to 97%), or put another way it is possible that the percentage needing USO intervention could around 1.25 to 1.75% or just 500,000 premises.
The word ‘just’ though is not ideal as if you live or work at one of those locations you will be chomping at the bit for something better that does not have other issues like tight usage allowances or high latency.