BT's fibre-to-the-cabinet pilot goes live

The north London suburb of Muswell Hill and the Cardiff suburb of Whitchurch are the first locations for the rollout of BT's next-generation broadband access

BT began a fibre-based broadband pilot on Monday in the north London suburb of Muswell Hill and the Cardiff suburb of Whitchurch.

The pilot follows an internal Openreach trial in Ipswich of fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC) technology, which achieves speeds of up to 40Mbps. Service providers participating in the pilot include BT's retail arm and other ISPs, such as TalkTalk, Sky and O2.

FTTC involves installing fibre up to a cabinet in a street, and the homes and businesses in that street use existing copper lines to hook up to that cabinet. According to BT, the Muswell Hill and Whitchurch deployments each cover over 15,000 premises.

BT's plan is to make 29 of its exchanges FTTC-enabled by early next year, as the company works towards its stated aim of rolling out fibre connectivity to 40 percent of the country by 2012.

At the moment, the whole section between the exchange and customer premises is copper-based connectivity. The choice of FTTC is something of a compromise between this existing setup and fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP), where fibre cables are laid all the way to the customer's building. FTTP is more expensive to roll out, but it would offer even higher speeds than 40Mbps.

FTTP has been deployed at the Ebbsfleet housing development in Kent, where BT has taken advantage of the new build to trial taking fibre right to the home. A wider BT pilot of FTTP — also known as fibre-to-the-home, or FTTH — is set to take place in March 2010, covering up to 40,000 homes and promising speeds of up to 100Mbps.

Meanwhile, rival provider Virgin Media is currently conducting a trial in Kent, where it is assessing the viability of 200Mbps connectivity using cable technology.

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