BT Newsbyte
BT's quarterly newsletter for analysts and investors - Issue 41 - September 2016

Openreach tests boost fibre broadband speeds over long lines in the Outer Hebrides

By Brendan Dick, MD, BT Regions

Brendan DickBroadband speeds can be slower in rural areas because homes are often further from the exchange than in towns and cities. Distance matters. The further a signal has to travel, the weaker it becomes. This applies to fibre-to-the cabinet (FTTC/VDSL21) broadband as well as exchange-based broadband. The shorter the distance, the better.

Openreach and Technology, Service & Operations are working to find solutions to the challenge of getting faster broadband to hard-to-reach communities. And that means tackling the fact that many properties in rural areas have long lines.

One prospective candidate is Long-Reach VDSL (LR-VDSL) - a new technology to increase the speed of broadband over long lines. We're currently testing it on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. The 'proof of concept' trial is taking place in the village of North Tolsta - chosen for its remoteness and because its fibre cabinet supports a cluster of long lines.

A British innovation story

LR-VDSL operates at higher power levels2 than standard VDSL and makes use of a wider range of frequencies3 to increase broadband speeds and the distance over which they can be delivered.

Openreach engineer, Stuart Macdonald, working in North Tolsta on the Isle of LewisIt's a British innovation story. Our research labs are pioneering the technology which could improve speeds for thousands of homes and businesses across the UK – particularly those connected by long lines of between 2.5km and 3.5km from the cabinet. We've gone back to basics, revisiting the physics associated with high-speed transmission over copper cables.

Tests in the lab prove that LR-VDSL has the potential to significantly boost broadband speeds over long copper lines. But lab tests are one thing, testing the technology in a real-life setting is a crucial part of the learning and development process. The trial in North Tolsta is providing our engineers with valuable information on how the new technology works in one of the UK's remotest locations. Initial results are encouraging with most households seeing significant increases in their broadband speeds.

Testing the technology on a larger scale

In addition to North Tolsta, LR-VDSL is also being tested in Isfield (East Sussex) and we're planning to go to full field trials in five locations, covering up to 1,500 homes. The next batch of trial locations includes Ashcott in Somerset and Peatling Magna in Leicestershire and will launch in early 2017. More details will be announced in due course.

1 VDSL2, or Very-high-speed Digital Subscriber Line 2, is the technology we use to deliver Fibre-To-The-Cabinet broadband service
2 Compared to VDSL
3 Compared to ADSL