In our latest 'Viewpoint' we consider how to optimise existing copper infrastructure for high-performance broadband so let's start by providing some context.

Growth in bandwidth demand today is being fuelled by new customers, new applications, and increasing mobility. Everyone is using mobile data now, both on mobile and WiFi networks. Residential customers have begun consuming multiple streams of HD video, and small to medium-sized businesses are rapidly becoming consumers of both high speed IP/Ethernet and Cloud services. Intelligent traffic systems, industrial, environmental and security sensors and HD surveillance cameras are being deployed almost everywhere throughout the metro.

The network is bringing unprecedented value to subscribers, resulting in greater bandwidth utilisation everywhere. But that growth in network utilisation has required getting more bandwidth to more places, and offering services at far lower revenue per bit than ever before, which creates a problem as the fibre network is not designed to do this cost effectively, and wireless technologies can meet only a fraction of the need while introducing greater operational complexity.

Fibre networks are best for delivering high bandwidth to areas with a high concentration of users, such as major buildings, city centres, office parks, or macro cell sites. Fibre is not optimal for aggregating moderate amounts of bandwidth from many locations. FTTH is extremely expensive, and FTTC still involves the expense of pushing many smaller and less efficient DSLAMs closer to customers and having to back-haul traffic from so many locations. Likewise, wireless microwave is not optimised for getting bandwidth to many buildings scattered throughout the metro, or to small cell locations that are down at street level. Another solution is required.

Copper cable, a widely available and fully amortized asset, offers the quickest and most cost-effective way to provide connectivity to many places throughout the metro. But historically it was limited to n x T1/E1 bandwidth scalability and to native DSL transmission rates, and it is subject to some performance variability due to EMI, crosstalk, and transients.

Copper will continue to be needed to reach more residential subscribers, small and medium businesses, WiFi hotspots, 3G/4G small cells, mini DSLAMs, intelligent traffic systems, environmental, utility and industrial sensors, and HD surveillance cameras, more securely, quickly, cost effectively, and profitably than can be done with fibre optics or microwave. This trend will continue well into the future, but over time it will use an increasing variety of technologies. VDSL2 is complementing G.SDHSL, and likewise will complement VDSL2 and vectoring to provide an increasingly diverse suite of copper access technologies that complement the overall access toolkit and cost optimize broadband builds.

G.SHDSL, will continue to have a role delivering 5, 10, 15 and Nx10 Mbps Ethernet services throughout the metro where longer distances without regeneration are needed, and where symmetrical services are required. G.SHDSL will be used for these situations where relatively more pairs are available. Broadband over copper solutions supporting both G.SHDSL and VDSL will be important for non facility-based providers such as CLECs that do not own their own copper and cannot implement amplification.

VDSL2, which offers more bandwidth over a few kms with bonded copper, will continue to be used for both business and residential applications in the future. For businesses, bonded EFM over Copper will transport asymmetric high speed services more efficiently over fewer pairs with greater distances using Actelis’ Broadband Amplifiers. This will meet the need for many and small and medium business Ethernet applications and for many small cell and WiFi back-haul needs. In residential applications, VDSL2 Broadband Amplifiers will operate with vectoring to increase the distance and bandwidth of existing DSLAMs, enabling larger customer serving areas. This will reduce the need to push quite as many very small DSLAMs as close to customers and expand the customer serving area, resulting in savings in site acquisition, greater DSLAM fill rates, and reducing the number and cost of back-haul links required. VDSL2 combined with vectoring and broadband amplification will therefore continue to offer strategic value to broadband providers offering services using mixed copper and FTTx architectures well into the future., a newer technology on the horizon that will support 1+ Gbps over a 100 meters, will enable high speed access within buildings, and will complement VDSL2 for use in certain broadband access applications where cost effective. For instance, will be used in applications such as MDU broadband access, where customer density is very high and the location is not so far from the fibre ring as to make back-haul unduly expensive.

Over time, as standards mature and newer ones become available, G.SHDSL, ADSLx, VDSL2, VDSL2 in combination with vectoring, and technologies will provide an increasingly broad toolkit of copper technologies that help cost optimize a wide array of applications. As standards continue to evolve, the mix of copper technologies used may change, but the need for copper economics to fuel growth in a price sensitive market that is increasingly required to take bandwidth to more places - will not.

Our partner Actelis Networks, has overcome the limitation of copper by developing best in class Ethernet First Mile (EFM) over Copper transmission and broadband amplification technology. This standards-based innovation overcomes the challenges of EMI, crosstalk, and transients to make copper a highly reliable, high performance transmission media that scales Ethernet services into the 100s of Mbps and beyond, and enables serving far more residential subscribers with high speed broadband access and triple play services.

Actelis’ high performance broadband over bonded copper more quickly and cost effectively reaches the many buildings occupied by small and medium businesses, and the WiFi hotspots, small cell base stations, HD cameras and sensors where copper meets and exceeds bandwidth and performance requirements and where the cost and complexity of fibre or microwave are simply not justified. Only by using copper wherever possible can service operators truly maximise profitability for high growth applications and services offered to price sensitive customers.

For residential broadband, leveraging existing DSL assets makes tremendous sense – but operators looking to deploy or migrate to VDSL2 need a more cost effective means of upgrading the network than pushing a large number of DSLAMs very close to customers. They need better VDSL2 performance – both without vectoring, and adding to it once it has been deployed.

Customers today view broadband as a “must-have service” and this shift in customer behaviour, coupled with the substitution of broadband for plain old telephone service (POTS), is changing the rules of the game -- which means carriers need to get broadband in play as fast as possible, because playing catch up risks high customer churn as well as missing out on a major opportunity to take their business forward into a new operational era. However, the limited funding available to implement broadband everywhere means the plans of many carriers are faltering. Deploying new fibre everywhere is expensive, especially when it comes to extending existing core networks to suburban and rural areas. What’s more, it’s disruptive to install, slow to market and, therefore, payback is protracted. Faced with enormous upfront costs and competition from large cable operators, satellite, and wireless players also means time is running out when it comes to capitalizing on pent-up broadband demand and signing up new subscribers.

In order to deliver on the promise of universal broadband and adequate bandwidth carriers must carefully evaluate their existing infrastructure, fibre and emerging wireless technologies. If speed to market and cost are not key considerations, it is clear that fibre is the right choice for carriers. If the sole driver is delivering mobility at all costs, wireless might be the right option. But with available technology leveraging the existing copper-based infrastructure provides a very credible alternative. The good news for carriers is that there is available technology that leverages their existing infrastructure to immediately deliver broadband to locations previously considered uneconomic to serve and increase the amount of bandwidth to match the needs of business and residential subscribers. Since the technology leverages the existing infrastructure, it allows for the immediate delivery of broadband services over pre-existing copper links. The simplicity of installation of this solution means that it takes minutes to install and generates little to no incremental operational complexity for existing services. The currently available technology does not require major network upgrades or changes, which means that the capital investment required to provide the services is minimal. A key advantage of this approach is that existing services and, subsequently, revenues are not impacted, since POTS functions just as before. Similarly, there is no adverse impact on any existing broadband service. Indeed, broadband rates can be boosted to allow delivery of broadband where none was available before and increase bandwidth to allow delivery of Triple Play services where the amount of bandwidth delivered was previously limited.

Broadband networks of the future will continue to rely on a diverse access toolkit, one that includes copper as the strategic asset that cost optimises the time to market, CapEx, and TCO of the overall network build. The copper transport options within that diverse access toolkit will rely on increasingly expanding and optimised choices in copper transmission technologies. Actelis Networks, a pioneer in broadband over copper, the industry leader in Ethernet First Mile (EFM) bonded copper, and the innovator creating more profitable residential broadband builds with its VDSL2 and ADSLx Broadband Amplifiers, is committed to continue investing in copper to stay on the forefront of making a more profitable future for broadband services a reality.

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