Celtic-Plus Seeks to Mine Gigabit Access Speeds from Copper with GOLD Project

Erik Keith

Erik Keith

Summary Bullets:

  • Celtic-Plus, a research initiative composed of operators, fixed access systems and CPE vendors, chipset suppliers, and two universities, has initiated its “Gigabits Over the Legacy Drop” project, or GOLD, to develop copper-based multi-gigabit fixed access solutions based on the G.fast standard.
  • The GOLD initiative demonstrates that telco operators are clearly still interested in “sweating” their copper network assets to the greatest extent possible, again highlighting the fact that full-fiber FTTH networks are still too expensive, at least within the current EU regulatory environment.

Last week, Celtic-Plus, a European research initiative, announced a new project: “Gigabits Over the Legacy Drop” (GOLD). The goal of the GOLD project is to leverage the newly-minted G.fast standard – which itself is designed to support up to 1 Gigabit (aggregate) connections to end users – to enable operators to expand their ultra-broadband networking capabilities to include multi-gigabit services over last-run access copper. This will be achieved by using the next proposed step in the G.fast standard, presumably, the 212 MHz frequency (the current standard is based on a maximum frequency of 106 MHz). The GOLD project, which started in January 2015, will run for three full years, finishing in December 2017. The GOLD consortium participants are listed below:

Company or University

Product/Service

Country

British Telecom (BT)

Service Provider

United Kingdom

Orange SA

Service Provider

France

ADTRAN

Broadband Systems Vendor

Germany

Alcatel-Lucent

Broadband Systems Vendor

France

Ericsson

Broadband Systems Vendor

Sweden

Sagemcom

Broadband CPE Vendor

France

Telnet Redes Inteligentes SA

Broadband CPE Vendor

Spain

Marvell Semiconductors

G.fast Chipset/Silicon Vendor

Spain

Sckipio Technologies

G.fast Chipset/Silicon Vendor

Israel

Lund University

Research/Project Coordinator

Sweden

TNO

Research

Netherlands

So, what exactly does this mean? Well, fundamentally, it seems to highlight (again!) the fact that full-fiber access networks – FTTH, regardless of whether they are PON or active/P2P Ethernet architectures – are still too expensive for European operators to implement on a wider scale. But, with literally hundreds of operators in North America and APAC having already deployed FTTH networks of all types, why is it so difficult in Europe? Two reasons come to mind:

1) Local-Loop Unbundling (LLU) Regulations: Within the European Union, many will assert that LLU regulations have been the single biggest factor in preventing a mass-market upgrade from copper to full-fiber networks. This is in stark contrast to the United States, where the operators that deploy FTTH networks have been exempt from LLU requirements; this was a major factor for Verizon when it executed the FiOS fiber network build-out. And in the APAC market, operators deploying fiber either have similar exemptions or were actually required to meet FTTH network build-out goals set by the government (i.e., Japan, South Korea).

2) Labor Costs: For better and/or worse, labor costs are higher in most of Europe than almost anywhere else in the world. This means that transitioning to a full-fiber access network is an extremely expensive proposition. While on one hand, the high density of many European cities would seem conducive to a FTTH build-out, on the other hand, the cost of actually pulling fiber to individual residences and businesses within a given apartment building (for example) is prohibitively expensive, especially when the operator will be forced to share its fiber with competitors (as required under LLU regulations).

The Celtic-Plus GOLD project is aiming to demonstrate, and ultimately deliver, multi-Gigabit access solutions for operators over their existing copper plant. One of the project graphics is “4GBB” – 4 Gigabit Broadband – and this is certainly achievable when one factors in the increased frequency range (up to 212 MHz in the next G.fast specification) and even shorter copper loops. In fact, Alcatel-Lucent has already announced 10 Gigabit connectivity over short copper loops, which the company has termed XG-FAST, and several weeks ago, Alcatel-Lucent CTO (and Bell Labs President) Marcus Weldon mentioned that Bell Labs was working on taking copper to its truly upper limits, i.e. 30 or even 40 Gbps, albeit well down the development road.

Of course, such ultra-high connection speeds over copper will require even higher frequencies, over even shorter last-run copper lines, i.e., 500 MHz or even 800 MHz, over 30 to 50 meter loops. But, the fact that these capabilities are being talked about and explored now means that they are likely to come to market, and probably sooner than we expect. So, once again, we are seeing that copper in fact remains a potential GOLD-mine, given its ongoing potential for ultra-broadband service enablement.

About Erik Keith
As Principal Analyst for Fixed Access Infrastructure, Erik is responsible for tracking major technological, strategic and tactical developments in the wireline broadband access market. Erik's primary areas of coverage include FTTP/PON systems, DSLAMs, DLCs/MSAPs, cable access and head-end systems, as well as digital media infrastructure solutions.

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