Time to Put Homes on a High Fibre Health Plan

I’m an ordinary bloke but I can see the future.

I’m not blessed with super-powers, I don’t wear Lycra and a cape in office hours and I don’t have X-ray vision. But I know the shape of things to come. This is because we are already travelling the path to an indisputable conclusion: bandwidth demand and speed will accelerate. It is a sure-fire certainty and very good for CI. 

Even though the nature of home entertainment is evolving faster than ever before, we’re able to understand the dynamic forces at play and plan for the future of residential networking. Primary force for change: the Internet. It’s transformed how your customers consume entertainment and their appetite for it will balloon. Traditional broadcasters know they’re in a fight when YouTuber kids and increasingly their parents would sooner pick up a tablet than watch whatever’s printed in Radio Times. Families have abandoned the Simpsons' sofa to gobble up films, games and share social media content in every corner of the home.

For your customers it’s about choice, quality and delivery. For service providers (that means you, me and all the pros in the delivery chain, including the ISPs) it’s all about bandwidth distribution, and it behoves the CI community to prepare not only for what’s coming up the drives to our customers’ homes but what will be happening within them.

Squeezing greater capacity from legacy copper infrastructure has been exercising the resources of national governments and carriers for over two decades. Their unanimous conclusion has been to replace it with something altogether more efficient in the form of fibre.

With the objective of giving us the best broadband network in Europe, the UK Government is placing public money behind the rollout of superfast fibre broadband to 95% of UK homes and businesses by 2017. BT has already sunk £2.5bn into the project to deliver Fibre-to-The-Cabinet (FTTC) and ultimately, Fibre-To-The-Premises (FTTP). Not only does fibre carry vastly more data, it suffers virtually no signal loss in the process, unlike copper, which can leak signal like a sieve.

Currently the most widely available fibre takes the form of FTTC, which fibre-links the exchange to the street cabinet and relies on the existing copper to the home. Using Very High Speed Digital Subscriber Line 2 (VDSL2) technology to limit losses in ‘last mile’ copper, FTTC can manage download speeds of up to 76Mbps and uploads at 19Mbps (the best old copper tech ADSL2+ is stuck at 24 Mbps downstream).

Even so, these figures underplay the possibilities. BT is planning to install a new tech called G.fast, which brings the Digital Subscriber Line Access Multiplexer (DSLAM) currently in the street cabinet to fibre-connected distribution points within 250m of the home. Last month it announced an ambition to make G.fast speeds of up to 500Mbps available to as many as 10 million properties by 2020.

Still, FTTC’s big weakness is the lossy copper. The alternative and pricier FTTP option brings fibre to the door. Although BT is now playing down the cost/benefit practicality of FTTP and recently increased its on-Demand tariff to customers and other ISPs, there is a significant degree of inevitability about FTTP’s future deployment, simply because fibre-all-the-way effectively means open-ended bandwidth potential.

In January 2014 Alcatel-Lucent and BT achieved 1.4Tbs (that’s Terabits) over fibre between the BT Tower and BT’s Adastral Park research facility in Suffolk, using a new ‘Flexgrid’ infrastructure to manage the gaps between multiple transmission channels. To put it in perspective 1.4Tbs will shift as many as forty-four uncompressed HD films in a single second. Given this astonishing power, proven in real-world conditions, none of us needs a TARDIS to visualise the fibre future. Your customers and their families are already exhausting the limits of copper in the thirst for ready-made entertainment now available from a growing myriad of channels laden with high-definition bandwidth-hungry content.

Today Amazon Prime, BT, Netflix and others are streaming compressed UHD, which requires at least 15Mbps (the Netflix site actually recommends 25Mbps). Throw in everything from YouTube, iPlayer, Lovefilm, Spotify; downloads from the likes of Sky Anytime Plus, real-time video on Skype and back-ups from Cloud services, and in the absence of fibre, a typical four TV, Sonos-ready, game-addicted home becomes a bandwidth sink-hole.

Worse than that, if there’s a growing gulf between the present capacity of incoming bandwidth and demand, imagine the chasm that will open up inside the home when the legacy copper CAT backbone is asked to distribute uncompressed UHD with full 4:4:4 colour sampling at up to 60fps from the UHD HDMI 2.0 Blu-ray players expected next year. In this scenario we’re talking at least 16Gbps between rooms. Double it for native UHD2 (formerly 8K). Don’t laugh—even though you won’t be able to experience the full effect any time soon, UHD2 video is already on the Internet (Google 8K), along with the news that Japanese broadcaster NHK has teamed up with Panasonic to offer the Tokyo Olympics at an eye-popping 4320p—that’s 7680 pixels wide by 4320 pixels tall (33.18 megapixels): sixteen times as many pixels as 1080p HDTV.

Not only does fibre carry vastly more data, it suffers virtually no signal loss in the process, unlike copper, which can leak signal like a sieve.[/caption] So prepare for the inevitable home network bottleneck now by including fibre in your plans, because the days of high cost, finicky fibre installs are behind us and quite patently, the future before us will need it. Fibre has evolved to become much easier to terminate through products like Cleerline’s Non-Strip Fibre (NSF), and it’s surprisingly inexpensive.

Although some of Habitech’s integrator customers maintain that fibre is still too complicated and point out that very little system architecture is presently running on light, this will change – and soon! In the meantime head-off the payload pressure and pull fibre into new walls or refurbs today. Run a Duplex (shotgun) 50/125 multimode OM3 cable to each TV point and 2 duplex cables to each potential switch point. Then leave it in ‘dark mode’ ready for action. In this way you’re covered for the next twenty years. Take a tip from an ordinary bloke. Install a little future-proof fibre every time you get the opportunity. It won’t be long before the market and your clients demand the bandwidth magnitude that only fibre can deliver, and you’ll shine like a star whenever it lights up!

Jonathan Pengilley is the Managing Director of Habitech, a value added distributor of home entertainment and home automation products. Comments are welcome below.

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